A Different Legal Conservatism

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
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  • 1 Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Virginia Tech, USA, luke.plotica@vt.edu

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In Conservatism and Pragmatism, Seth Vannatta posits and explores several major conceptual and practical affinities between classical (especially Peircean) pragmatism and conservatism. Characterizing both as essentially methods rather than ideologies, he argues that the two ought to be understood as mutually supportive and corrective, and that they conjointly supply an especially robust set of intellectual resources relevant to contemporary moral, political, and legal concerns. This essay critically examines Vannatta’s marriage of conservatism and pragmatism in the realm of legal theory. It argues that while Vannatta’s work provides a rigorous pragmatist alternative to the familiar legal formalism adopted by many American conservatives, its foundations may be narrower than Vannatta appreciates and the resulting theory may have little necessary connection to the dispositional, methodological conservatism upon which it is purportedly based.

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