A reader writes:
You almost got it right, when you said this:
"And I might add that this balancing act as a whole - sometimes favoring reformed liberalism, sometimes favoring chastened conservatism - might itself be called conservative in a philosophical sense because it rests on a prudential judgment as to what is right at any particular moment in a particular time and place. I.e. it is not a fixed ideology. It is about prudence or practical judgment. Which is, at root, a conservative insight."
Might? There is no might. It most certainly is conservative, and the idea of balance, prudence, and practical judgment comes from Edmund Burke himself. It's all in the last paragraph of "Reflections on the Revolution in France":
"I have little to recommend my opinions but long observation and much impartiality. They come from one who has been no tool of power, no flatterer of greatness; and who in his last acts does not wish to belie the tenour of his life. They come from one, almost the whole of whose public exertion has been a struggle for the liberty of others; from one in whose breast no anger durable or vehement has ever been kindled, but by what he considered as tyranny; and who snatches from his share in the endeavours which are used by good men to discredit opulent oppression, the hours he has employed on your affairs; and who in so doing persuades himself he has not departed from his usual office: they come from one who desires honours, distinctions, and emoluments, but little; and who expects them not at all; who has no contempt for fame, and no fear of obloquy; who shuns contention, though he will hazard an opinion: from one who wishes to preserve consistency, but who would preserve consistency by varying his means to secure the unity of his end; and, when the equipoise of the vessel in which he sails may be endangered by overloading it upon one side, is desirous of carrying the small weight of his reasons to that which may preserve its equipoise."
It is indeed the duty of the conservative to go to the other side if his side is the one marching towards tyranny. Principled, rather than partisan, conservatives will vote Democrat or abstain this fall.