A pragmatist asks: what will work best? What will people accept? What will lead to peace, order and stability? — What is the most sensible and workable way to resolve this issue?
Conservatives do not regard themselves as ideological in that they do not believe in absolutes. Instead they advocate a ‘what works’ approach based on circumstances and experience. This can make the ideology itself quite hard to pin down for students and can also suggest that conservatism is not an ideology at all but is merely what conservatives themselves might describe as ‘common sense’ and critics might describe as advocating what might be popular in order to win elections. It also suggests that conservatism is flexible and able to vary its values.
However, the end result of pragmatism- i.e. order and stability, is highly ideological.
Pragmatism suggests that politics should be based on circumstances and events rather than on ideological objectives. Conservatives reject abstract and rigid theories such as those associated with Marxism and see them as dangerous as they are not rooted in history and traditions and can therefore cause chaos and instability in society. They are supporters of empiricism. This view is linked to their rather negative view of human nature. Conservatives therefore reject all utopian ideas as they are a rejection of tradition, knowledge and learned wisdom. Despite conservatism’s claims to be a tradition rather than an ideology, it is clear that conservatives share a range of core beliefs, alongside some variables. So conservatism is not entirely based on pragmatism.
Because of its organic character, conservatives also look upon society in empirical terms. This means that conservatives will deal with society’s issues in a practical, evidential, ‘this is how it is’ fashion, with no clear view of how society might evolve in the years and decades ahead. This empirical take on society is in sharp contrast to the normative view taken by progressive ideologies like liberalism and socialism, which have principled views of how society ‘ought’ to be and ‘plans’ for how to create it. As Oakeshott observed, the conservative society is one that merely aims to ‘stay afloat’ in uncertain waters, rather than sail steadily towards some specific destination (such as a fairer or more equal society) which may ultimately prove illusory.