Cover image for A Companion to Michael Oakeshott Edited by Paul Franco and Leslie Marsh

A Companion to Michael Oakeshott

Edited by Paul Franco, and Leslie Marsh


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A Companion to Michael Oakeshott

Edited by Paul Franco, and Leslie Marsh

“This timely collection brings together an important set of essays exploring various aspects of the philosophy of Michael Oakeshott. For those unacquainted with Oakeshott's brilliant but sometimes enigmatic writings on civil association, history, the nature of human experience, education, and political authority, this volume stands as a tribute to his growing intellectual stature in the twenty-first century. It shows just how far Oakeshott studies in the Anglophone world have come in the past two decades, and it lays out a path for where they might productively go in the future.”


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Michael Oakeshott has long been recognized as one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century, but until now no single volume has been able to examine all the facets of his wide-ranging philosophy with sufficient depth, expertise, and authority. The essays collected here cover all aspects of Oakeshott’s thought, from his theory of knowledge and philosophies of history, religion, art, and education to his reflections on morality, politics, and law.

Aside from the editors, the contributors are Corey Abel, David Boucher, Elizabeth Corey, Robert Devigne, Timothy Fuller, Steven Gerencser, Robert Grant, Noel Malcolm, Kenneth McIntyre, Kenneth Minogue, Noël O’Sullivan, Geoffrey Thomas, and Martyn Thompson.

“This timely collection brings together an important set of essays exploring various aspects of the philosophy of Michael Oakeshott. For those unacquainted with Oakeshott's brilliant but sometimes enigmatic writings on civil association, history, the nature of human experience, education, and political authority, this volume stands as a tribute to his growing intellectual stature in the twenty-first century. It shows just how far Oakeshott studies in the Anglophone world have come in the past two decades, and it lays out a path for where they might productively go in the future.”
“Michael Oakeshott remains one of the great political philosophers of the twentieth century. Yet his writings—at least in America—rarely get the time or attention they deserve. This wonderful anthology beautifully covers virtually every aspect of Oakeshott’s life and thought. It helps us appreciate Oakeshott’s own voice in the conversation of mankind.”
“Paul Franco and Leslie Marsh have put together a companion that does something that few companions actually do: it provides a serious introduction to the man and to the full range of his thought. The book does a nice job of locating Oakeshott in relation to other thinkers and of bringing out Oakeshott’s distinctive intellectual style. This is a book anyone who is starting in on Oakeshott can greatly benefit from, and which anyone who knows Oakeshott will enjoy.”
“This book is handsomely produced, easily readable, and having a good reproduction of Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel on the dust jacket was an inspired choice.”
A Companion to Michael Oakeshott can therefore legitimately claim to serve as an authoritative guide to Oakeshott’s thought. It will be of great value to advanced scholars as well as students unfamiliar with his ideas.”

Paul Franco is Professor of Government at Bowdoin College.

Leslie Marsh is Assistant Director of the New England Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Studies and a Research Associate in the Dean’s Office of the Medical School at the University of British Columbia.



List of Abbreviations


Paul Franco and Leslie Marsh

1 The Pursuit of Intimacy, or Rationalism in Love

Robert Grant

Part One: The Conversation of Mankind

2 The Victim of Thought: The Idealist Inheritance

David Boucher

3 Philosophy and Its Moods: Oakeshott on the Practice of Philosophy

Kenneth McIntyre

4 Michael Oakeshott’s Philosophy of History

Geoffrey Thomas

5 Radical Temporality and the Modern Moral Imagination: Two Themes in the Thought of Michael Oakeshott

Timothy Fuller

6 The Religious Sensibility of Michael Oakeshott

Elizabeth Corey

7 Whatever It Turns Out to Be: Oakeshott on Aesthetic Experience

Corey Abel

8 Un Début dans la Vie Humaine: Michael Oakeshott on Education

Paul Franco

Part Two: Political Philosophy

9 Michael Oakeshott on the History of Political Thought

Martyn Thompson

10 Oakeshott and Hobbes

Noel Malcolm

11 The Fate of Rationalism in Oakeshott’s Thought

Kenneth Minogue

12 Oakeshott and Hayek: Situating the Mind

Leslie Marsh

13 Oakeshott as Conservative

Robert Devigne

14 Oakeshott on Civil Association

Noël O’Sullivan

15 Oakeshott on Law

Steven Gerencser

Notes on Contributors



Paul Franco and Leslie Marsh

It is now more than twenty years since Michael Oakeshott died on December 18, 1990. In that year the first book-length studies of the whole compass of his thought appeared: Paul Franco’s The Political Philosophy of Michael Oakeshott and Robert Grant’s Oakeshott. Since then there has been a veritable flood of scholarship, consisting of dozens of monographs and many more dozens of articles, devoted to every aspect of his thought, from his conservatism, political philosophy, and theory of history to his aesthetics, philosophy of religion, and ideas on education. Given the sheer volume of this scholarship, the time is ripe to harvest some results and come to some provisional conclusions about the nature and significance of Oakeshott’s multifarious philosophical contributions. This is what this volume of essays aims to do. We have asked a variety of Oakeshott scholars—some of them long-established authorities, others promising younger researchers—each to write an essay on a particular aspect of Oakeshott’s thought, summarizing its main features and assessing its ultimate significance. The result, we believe, is an authoritative and synoptic guide to the wide-ranging achievements of one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century.

Who was Oakeshott? Born in Chelsfield, Kent, on December 11, 1901, he attended a progressive coeducational secondary school, St. George’s, Harpenden, before going up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in 1920. At Cambridge he took the political science option of the history tripos—there was no separate political science department at this time—and in 1923 he graduated with first-class honors. In 1925 he was elected to a fellowship at Caius and shortly thereafter began teaching in the history department. His writings from this period show him to be preoccupied with two principal themes: political philosophy and theology. With respect to the former, he defended a philosophical understanding of politics against various positivistic attempts to transform political science into a natural science, either by focusing on the empirical classification of political institutions and forms of government or by treating the nature of human sociality in terms of the behavior of ants and prairie dogs. With respect to theology, Oakeshott’s purpose was primarily apologetic. He defended religion against the criticisms of science and history by arguing that religious experience is not to be judged by its theoretical truth but by a pragmatic criterion.

In 1933 Oakeshott published his first book, Experience and Its Modes. It was a bold and unusually precocious book—Oakeshott was only thirty-one years old when it appeared—devoted to working out the idea of philosophy as “experience without presupposition, reservation, arrest, or modification” (EM 2). He developed this idea of philosophy by examining the forms of experience of science, history, and practice and showing them to be abstract and incomplete in comparison with the concrete standpoint of philosophy. That philosophy was superior to these abstract modes of experience, however, did not mean that it could dictate to them. Oakeshott argued that, within its own sphere, every mode is autonomous and immune from the authority of other forms of experience. History is independent of science and the practical attitude, and practice has nothing to learn or fear from history or science. Most important, philosophy has nothing to contribute to practical or political life. Oakeshott frankly acknowledged in the introduction to Experience and Its Modes that his argument was heavily indebted to the idealism of G. W. F. Hegel and F. H. Bradley, but this did not do justice to what was fresh and distinctive about it. In its engagement with twentieth-century positivism and the problem of history, Oakeshott’s idealism was much closer to that of R. G. Collingwood and Benedetto Croce than to nineteenth-century British idealism.

It perhaps seems strange that Oakeshott’s first book was devoted wholly to the theory of knowledge, mentioning political philosophy only once—in a footnote. But nothing was clearer in his writings from the 1920s than that such a methodological prolegomenon was necessary before the substantive issues of political philosophy could be taken up. In one such writing, he declared, a “political philosophy founded upon no metaphysical prolegomenon, or upon one fundamentally in error, is doomed to propagate not truth, but falsehood.” Oakeshott spent the rest of the 1930s drawing out the implications of the idea of philosophy defended in Experience and Its Modes for political philosophy. In the most important of his methodological writings from this period, “The Concept of a Philosophical Jurisprudence” (1938), he criticized several of the most prominent conceptions of the philosophy of law—analytic, historical, sociological, and economic—from the standpoint of his conception of philosophy as “thought and knowledge without reservation or presupposition” (CPJ, 170). During this time, Oakeshott also began to write on the history of political philosophy, with essays on Locke and Bentham and two lengthy reviews of books on Hobbes. To this period also belongs the book that Oakeshott co-authored with Guy Griffith, A Guide to the Classics (1936), which, to the disappointment of many an earnest student of political philosophy, turned out to be not about Plato and Aristotle but about the fine art of judging horseflesh and picking a Derby winner.

In 1940, after the outbreak of World War II, Oakeshott enlisted in the army and served until 1945 in an intelligence unit called “Phantom,” whose mission was to penetrate behind enemy lines and report on the effectiveness of artillery targeting. After the war he returned to his teaching duties at Cambridge. He was asked to edit Hobbes’s Leviathan for Blackwell’s Political Texts series, and from this came his celebrated introduction to Leviathan in 1946. One year later Oakeshott took over the editorship of the newly founded Cambridge Journal and began to write a series of remarkable essays that trenchantly criticized the collectivist policies of the Attlee Labour government and the rationalist mentality that lay behind them. At its core, he argued, this rationalist mentality sought to reduce the “tangle and variety of experience to a set of principles” or ideology and to impose on the complexity of society a single overarching purpose or plan (RP, 6). Such a rationalist mentality inevitably gave rise to the idea of central social planning favored by the postwar Attlee government. The recent experience of war, of course, had done much to nourish the ideal of central social planning, but Oakeshott, like his famous contemporary Friedrich Hayek, rejected the popular view that society in wartime should be used as a model in peacetime.

Oakeshott’s attack on rationalist politics attracted considerable attention and transformed him almost overnight from a rather obscure Cambridge don into a major public intellectual. In 1950 he was offered the prestigious chair of political science at the London School of Economics (LSE), an appointment greeted with dismay on the left. In his celebrated inaugural lecture, “Political Education,” he continued his neo-Burkean critique of rationalist or ideological politics, arguing that a political ideology is merely an abridgement of a concrete political tradition and should never be taken as a self-sufficient or self-contained ground of political activity. Politics is better understood as the pursuit of the intimations of a concrete tradition of political behavior. Oakeshott summed up his skeptical understanding of politics in a memorable (and to some, nihilistic) image: “In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination. The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel; the sea is both friend and enemy; and the seamanship consists in using the resources of a traditional manner of behaviour in order to make a friend of every hostile occasion” (RP, 60).

Much of Oakeshott’s time during the 1950s was taken up with his teaching duties at the LSE, which included his legendary lectures on the history of political thought and his administrative duties as head of the government department. He did manage to write two important essays, however. The first, “On Being Conservative” (1956), disclosed a subtle shift in his thinking, reflected in his rejection of Burke as a useful guide for modern conservatism. The problem with Burke and his modern followers—Russell Kirk, for example—was that they burdened conservatism with controversial beliefs in natural law and a providential order. But such metaphysical and religious beliefs, Oakeshott argued, were not necessary to defend the conservative disposition in politics. All that was needed was the recognition that in our current circumstances, marked by radical individuality and diversity, the conservative understanding of government as a limited and specific activity was more appropriate than the alternative understanding of government as the imposition of a substantive conception of the common good. One of the important implications of Oakeshott’s argument in “On Being Conservative” was that, against the claims of what Andrew Sullivan has referred to as the “fundamentalist” right, there need not be a tight connection between political conservatism and cultural conservatism. “It is not at all inconsistent,” Oakeshott wrote, “to be conservative in respect of government and radical in respect of almost every other activity” (RP, 435). Robert Grant’s biographical essay shows in graphic detail how Oakeshott exemplified this duality in his own life.

The other crucial essay from the 1950s was “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind” (1959) in Rationalism in Politics. In this substantial essay, Oakeshott not only provided the most complete statement of his aesthetics but also reformulated his understanding of the relationship among the various modes of experience in terms of the image of conversation. To what extent this reformulation marked a significant shift in Oakeshott’s earlier idealist outlook and his conception of philosophy as presuppositionless experience is a question taken up by David Boucher and Kenneth McIntyre in their essays.

In 1962 Oakeshott gathered together many of the essays he had written between 1947 and 1961 and published them as a book under the title Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays. Over the next thirteen years, he published very little. Teaching and administering the government department of LSE continued to demand much of his time. In the mid-1960s he set up a popular one-year master’s course on the history of political thought, which attracted a devoted following of graduate students, many of them from the United States. The approach of the seminar was novel in that it concerned itself more with historiographical issues—the nature of intellectual history and of the history of political thought—than with the long march through the canonical texts of the Western philosophical tradition. Oakeshott officially retired from his chair at the LSE in 1968, but he continued to preside over the History of Political Thought seminar until about 1980.

In 1975 Oakeshott finally published the masterpiece of political philosophy he had long contemplated, On Human Conduct. The central ideas of this book went all the way back to “On Being Conservative” and the writings immediately following it, “The Masses in Representative Democracy” (1957) and the 1958 Harvard lectures on Morality and Politics in Modern Europe. In the latter two writings especially, Oakeshott anatomized the modern European political consciousness as a divided consciousness, composed of two opposing moral dispositions and two divergent understandings of the office of government. On the one hand, there was the morality of individuality, to which corresponded a juridical understanding of government as essentially an umpire or referee. On the other, there was the morality of collectivism, formed in reaction to the morality of individuality by those unable to bear its burdens, to which corresponded an understanding of government as a manager of an enterprise, a leader, a promoter of substantive purposes, and a provider of substantive benefits.

In On Human Conduct, Oakeshott used the Latin expressions societas and universitas to designate these two poles of the divided European political consciousness. The former designated an understanding of the state as a nonpurposive association in which members are related solely in terms of legal rules. The latter designated an understanding of the state as an enterprise association in which the members are related in terms of a common, substantive purpose, whether it be religious salvation, moral virtue, or economic productivity or redistribution. The great achievement of On Human Conduct was Oakeshott’s philosophical account of the former mode of association, what he called “civil association,” in terms of its essential postulates.

Oakeshott published three more books after On Human Conduct, but they consisted for the most part of earlier work. Hobbes on Civil Association (1975) gathered together four of Oakeshott’s most important essays on Hobbes, and the title underlined Oakeshott’s philosophical affinity with his great English predecessor. On History and Other Essays (1983) contained the “Three Essays on History” that Oakeshott had honed over the years of the History of Political Thought seminar and that represented the final fruit of his career-long preoccupation with the problem of historical knowledge. This volume also contained an important new essay on “The Rule of Law,” which clarified Oakeshott’s views on the relationship of law and morality. Finally, The Voice of Liberal Learning (1989) was a collection of Oakeshott’s earlier and very eloquent essays on education. In the year after this last volume was published, Oakeshott died in the village in Dorset to which he had retired permanently after 1980.

The account of Oakeshott’s life just given of course comprises only his public or official life. What about his private, intimate life? This brings us to the first essay in this volume, Robert Grant’s “The Pursuit of Intimacy, or Rationalism in Love.” As the title suggests, this essay is concerned with Oakeshott’s love life, which he considered to be not merely peripheral but in many ways the main business of his life. It is, of course, well known that Oakeshott loved women: not only did he marry three times, but he enjoyed many, many affairs throughout his life. But Grant—who is currently working on a full-length biography of Oakeshott—takes us far beyond these well-known facts. Drawing on not only the letters and notebooks in the public archive at the LSE but also private diaries and letters as well as extensive personal interviews with Oakeshott’s friends, family, and lovers, Grant shows just how central erotic love was to Oakeshott’s life and how obsessively, irrationally, selfishly, and often destructively he pursued it. This Dionysiac aspect of Oakeshott’s private life stands in stark contrast to the polished, Apollonian character of his writings and philosophy in general, and it will no doubt shock those who are familiar only with the latter. Nevertheless, it is no part of Grant’s purpose to reduce Oakeshott’s philosophy to his private life or, Nietzsche-like, to see it as a mere rationalization of his personality. Instead, he sees a more complicated dynamic at work: Oakeshott’s anti-utopian politics serve as both a counterweight and a Hobbesian foundation for his erotic utopia.

The rest of the volume is divided into two parts. The first deals with Oakeshott’s reflections on the various forms of human experience—philosophy, history, morality, religion, and art—what he referred to as the “conversation of mankind.” The second takes up his reflections on politics and political philosophy. Because Oakeshott is best known as a political philosopher, the theme of the second part does not require elaborate justification. But Oakeshott also made important contributions to a wide variety of fields outside of political philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of history, ethics, the philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and the philosophy of education. The essays in part 1 explore these multifarious contributions and enable us to appreciate the entire range of Oakeshott’s achievement.

The first two chapters deal with Oakeshott’s theory of knowledge or experience in general. In “The Victim of Thought: The Idealist Inheritance,” David Boucher examines the relationship of this theory of knowledge or experience to philosophical—and especially British—idealism. He makes two fundamental points about this relationship. First, he argues that although idealism was on the wane in Britain the 1920s and 1930s, Oakeshott’s brand of idealism was hardly as unfashionable as many suppose. Second, he rejects the contention that Oakeshott jettisoned or severely attenuated his idealist commitments over the course of his career, arguing instead that Oakeshott’s philosophical outlook exhibits remarkable consistency over the course of fifty years. In particular, he claims that Oakeshott never abandoned his early commitment to absolute idealism or monism and that the introduction of the analogy of conversation in “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind” did not alter his view of philosophy. Boucher rounds off his analysis by teasing out what he takes to be the distinctive features of Oakeshott’s idealism.

In “Philosophy and Its Moods: Oakeshott on the Practice of Philosophy,” Kenneth McIntyre continues the discussion of Oakeshott’s conception of philosophy begun by Boucher but takes a somewhat different view. Though he admits that Oakeshott’s conception of philosophy as a fundamentally skeptical activity devoted to relentless interrogation of the conditions of human understanding remains unchanged throughout his career, he also maintains that there is a subtle shift in Oakeshott’s conception of philosophy away from the emphasis on criticizing modal abstraction in Experience and Its Modes to a more pluralistic defense of the autonomy and validity of the modes of experience in “The Voice of Poetry” and On Human Conduct. In addition, he contends that the later Oakeshott abandons the notion of philosophy as unconditional, presuppositionless knowledge and conceives of it instead as a conditional practice that, like any other practice, rests on traditional or tacit knowledge. In this regard, he suggests that Oakeshott’s later conception of philosophy has much in common with the outlook of ordinary language philosophers such as Austin, Ryle, and the post-Tractatus Wittgenstein.

Apart from his contributions to political philosophy, Oakeshott is perhaps best known for his contributions to the philosophy of history. Over the course of fifty years, from the important chapter on historical experience in Experience and Its Modes to the three essays on history in On History, Oakeshott applied himself to investigating the nature and presuppositions of historical knowledge. In “Michael Oakeshott’s Philosophy of History,” Geoffrey Thomas analyzes and assesses Oakeshott’s achievement in this regard. He reduces Oakeshott’s constructivist philosophy of history to four fundamental theses: first, that the past does not exist, only the present exists; second, that only experience exists; third, that the historical past is an inferential construction from experience; and fourth, that historical inquiry is autonomous and not ancillary to science or practice. He then subjects each of these theses to rigorous analysis and finds them all wanting in one respect or another. The first two theses raise large questions about the nature of time and consciousness that Thomas believes Oakeshott’s idealist epistemology in Experience and Its Modes is unable to handle satisfactorily. With respect to the third thesis, he questions Oakeshott’s coherence theory of truth and reconstructs the criterion of historical explanation in terms of what he calls “inference to the best explanation.” Finally, in regard to the fourth thesis, he finds Oakeshott’s attempt to exclude practical and scientific categories from historical explanation highly problematic.

The next set of essays takes up Oakeshott’s conception of practical life and the attempts to overcome the permanent dissatisfaction he associates with it in poetry and religion. In “Radical Temporality and the Modern Moral Imagination,” Timothy Fuller, the dean of American Oakeshottian studies, powerfully evokes Oakeshott’s conception of the endlessness of practical life, which ceaselessly attempts to reconcile “what is” with “what ought to be.” This constitutes the “radical temporality” referred to in the title of his essay, and Fuller goes on to elaborate the various ways in which the modern moral imagination has responded to it. The modern moral imagination, as it expresses itself in Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Smith, and Kant, is marked by a faith in human self-perfection, a faith in humanity’s ability to escape the radical temporality of the human condition. Fuller argues that Oakeshott offers two alternatives to this modern politics of faith: first, a politics of skepticism that does not envisage the evanescence of human imperfection; and second, the voice of poetry, which, without denying the radical temporality of the human condition, offers a temporary release from it in contemplative delight.

The theme of the unremitting nature of practical life also appears in Elizabeth Corey’s essay “The Religious Sensibility of Michael Oakeshott.” Drawing on Oakeshott’s two essays on the Tower of Babel to flesh out his critique of the perfectionism and obsession with achievement that vitiate modern life, Corey shows how Oakeshott conceived of religion as a corrective to these spiritual maladies. She does not conceal that Oakeshott’s conception of religion, which stresses living in the present, unburdened by anxiety for worldly success or achievement, is not exactly orthodox; nevertheless, she insists that Oakeshott’s work is full of authentic religious insight. Corey is particularly attracted to Oakeshott’s assimilation of the religious disposition to the poetic disposition. Both dispositions eschew the frenetic quest for worldly achievement and opt instead for delight in the present, and both offer a temporary respite from the tyranny of practice.

Corey’s discussion of the poetic character of religious experience leads nicely into Corey Abel’s essay “Whatever It Turns Out to Be: Oakeshott on Aesthetic Experience.” Focusing his analysis on the lengthy “Voice of Poetry” essay, Abel provides a robust defense of Oakeshott’s nonrepresentational and nonpractical conception of art. Critics who suggest that Oakeshott goes too far in severing art from truth and morality fail to grasp that Oakeshott’s fundamental philosophical concern is to identify the differentia of aesthetic experience vis-à-vis other forms of experience. One of the most important differentiating features of aesthetic experience, according to Oakeshott as Abel interprets him, is its timelessness, its denial of historicity; here Oakeshott parts ways with the historicism of thinkers such as Gadamer and Ricoeur. Another important differentiating feature of aesthetic experience is its playful character versus the unavoidably worklike character of practical experience.

Paul Franco’s essay on Oakeshott’s philosophy of education, “Un Début dans la Vie Humaine,” fittingly concludes part 1 of this volume, for it is in connection with the theme of university education that Oakeshott first introduces the image of conversation. Franco acknowledges the enormous appeal of Oakeshott’s ideal of the university as a conversation between the various modes of understanding that make up our civilization, a conversation pursued for its own sake and not in the service of practical life or some social purpose. Nevertheless, he questions whether Oakeshott’s philosophy of education adequately addresses the problem of specialization and cultural fragmentation that exercised earlier theorists of education from Newman and Nietzsche to Arnold and Leavis. Franco contends that Oakeshott’s attempt to hive off education from any sort of moral or practical or societal effect ultimately leads to a formalism that deprives the university of its necessary role as a unifying cultural power.

The essays in part 2 of this volume concern themselves with Oakeshott’s political philosophy, and the first two are specifically concerned with Oakeshott’s reflections on the history of political thought. What did Oakeshott mean by the “history of political thought”? This is the question Martyn Thompson addresses in his essay “Michael Oakeshott on the History of Political Thought.” He highlights two features of Oakeshott’s conception: first, that the historical past is a construction of the historian, and therefore the meaning of any given historical text will depend on the specific question a historian is seeking to answer; and second, that political thinking takes place on different levels, some more practical, some more theoretical, and the historian should never confuse these levels. Taken together, these two features point to a multidimensional conception of the history of political thought that contrasts sharply with Quentin Skinner’s attempt to reduce it to a history of ideologies. Thompson draws out this contrast by considering Oakeshott’s and Skinner’s respective interpretations of Hobbes’s Leviathan.

Oakeshott’s interpretation of Hobbes is the central subject of Noel Malcolm’s essay “Oakeshott and Hobbes.” Malcolm notices that there seems to be a discrepancy between Oakeshott’s hostility to rationalism, on the one hand, and his admiration for Hobbes, an archetypal rationalist if ever there was one, on the other. In the first instance, Oakeshott seems to overcome this self-contradiction only by misunderstanding Hobbes and overlooking the deeply rationalist strains in his thought—for example, his antipathy to prejudice and tradition, his faith in scientific method, and his preoccupation with certainty. But Malcolm does not leave it at that. He argues that Oakeshott ultimately admired Hobbes because he saw him as an exponent of a noninstrumental conception of the state. This noninstrumentalist or nonteleological interpretation of Hobbes raises questions of its own, and Malcolm takes us through the rich debate over it in the 1930s—between Collingwood, Schmitt, Strauss, and others. In the end, though, he finds the interpretation problematic, given that Hobbes seems to see everything as instrumental to civil peace or individual self-preservation. Once again, Hobbes appears to be more of a rationalist than Oakeshott’s interpretation suggests.

Oakeshott’s critique of rationalism is taken up in greater depth in Kenneth Minogue’s essay “The Fate of Rationalism in Oakeshott’s Thought.” Minogue, Oakeshott’s longtime colleague at the LSE, focuses his analysis on the posthumously published manuscript The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Scepticism, believed to have been written somewhere around 1952. This manuscript is of particular interest because in it Oakeshott attempts to go beyond the simple condemnation of rationalism found in his earlier essays and to understand the phenomenon in a more philosophical and dispassionate manner. This leads him to interpret European politics as a salutary balance between the rationalistic politics of faith and the politics of skepticism. Minogue questions, however, whether Oakeshott succeeds in salvaging a place for faith and rationalism in our politics. In the first place, the politics of faith and the politics of skepticism are no longer in balance; the former has carried the day, and the latter is all but lost. Second, in seeking to domesticate the politics of faith as the balancer of the politics of skepticism, Oakeshott attributes to the latter some problems it does not necessarily possess. Minogue concludes that it is not altogether surprising that Oakeshott chose not to publish this work.

The theme of rationalism provides Leslie Marsh with the opportunity to compare Oakeshott with another important critic of rationalism, Friedrich Hayek, in his essay “Oakeshott and Hayek: Situating the Mind.” Invoking Oakeshott’s famous dismissal of Hayek in “Rationalism in Politics,” Marsh makes the case that Oakeshott got Hayek plain wrong. If one understands both men to be centrally concerned with the anti-Cartesian project of socializing the mind, then a more fertile vista opens up for comparing them. Marsh approaches the topic from the perspective of the philosophy of mind and locates both Oakeshott and Hayek within the non-Cartesian wing of contemporary cognitive science known as “situated cognition.” Marsh concludes his essay by showing that the commonality between Oakeshott and Hayek with respect to the theory of mind extends to their political philosophies as well, a fact that is often obscured by labeling the former thinker conservative and the latter liberal.

The topic of Oakeshott’s conservatism is a contentious one, as Robert Devigne shows in his essay “Oakeshott as Conservative.” Using Burke as a touchstone, Devigne demonstrates that Oakeshott’s conservatism is complex and shifts over time. In his essays from the late 1940s and early 1950s, Oakeshott displays a Burkean antipathy toward rationalism and appreciation for tradition, though he also dissents from Burke on the value of philosophy and the rationality of history. Beginning in the mid-1950s, however, Oakeshott’s differences with Burke become more pronounced, as he moves in a more liberal and legalistic direction. Despite this, Oakeshott’s justification of the “salutary stalemate” between societas and universitas in the European political tradition seems to bring him closer to Burke’s identification of the “is” and the “ought.” Devigne concludes his essay by contrasting Oakeshott with the other seminal conservative thinker of the second half of the twentieth century, Leo Strauss, bringing out their very different assessments of modernity, Burke, and history.

The final two chapters in the volume deal with Oakeshott’s most mature statements of his political philosophy in On Human Conduct and “The Rule of Law.” In “Oakeshott on Civil Association,” Noël O’Sullivan offers a magisterial account of Oakeshott’s ideal of civil association, showing that it is addressed above all to the moral problem of reconciling authority with freedom in the highly pluralistic circumstances of modern Europe. Hobbes made significant progress in this normative endeavor to find a shared sense of public order, according to Oakeshott, but even he failed to provide a completely moral conception of civil association. O’Sullivan identifies several confusions about civil association in contemporary political thought: the belief that it is a mechanism for promoting spiritual renewal (Havel); the identification of it with the minimal state (Nozick), capitalism (Friedman and Hayek), democracy, liberalism, or the impossible ideal of neutrality. But he also considers some well-founded criticisms of Oakeshott’s model of civil association, chief among which is the charge that it is too narrowly procedural or legalistic to have any motivating power for citizens. He concludes by examining Oakeshott’s pessimism about the prospects of civil association in modern mass democracies, and in this regard he paints a very different picture of Oakeshott’s later attitude toward history from the optimistic Burkean one found in Devigne’s essay.

Going all the way back to his early essay “The Concept of a Philosophical Jurisprudence,” Oakeshott always saw an intimate connection between political philosophy and the philosophy of law. Steven Gerencser subjects Oakeshott’s philosophy of law to careful analysis in his essay “Oakeshott on Law.” He argues that there is a fundamental tension between the traditionalist conception of law implicit in Oakeshott’s antirationalist writings and the formalistic conception of law found in his later writings, especially “The Rule of Law.” In the former, laws possess authority insofar as they reflect the customary beliefs and sentiments of a people; in the latter, they possess authority only insofar as they are the product of a formal legislative procedure. Can these opposing views be reconciled? Gerencser suggests that they can and looks to Hegel and the positivist jurist Georg Jellinek as possible models for such a reconciliation.

As is evident from the preceding summaries, the contributors to this volume, while they all agree that Oakeshott is a philosopher eminently worth studying, have widely different views about the meaning and significance of his philosophy. Such disagreement is healthy and a sign of the vitality of a thinker. It also complicates the labels—for example, “conservative” and “idealist” (to name but two)—that have sometimes prevented Oakeshott’s philosophy from gaining a wider hearing. As mentioned at the outset, this volume is not meant to bring the debate about Oakeshott’s philosophy to an end—his thought is too rich and multifaceted for that. Rather, the hope is that this volume can serve as a platform from which the next generation of scholars and philosophers can carry the debate forward. Oakeshott, the great philosopher of open-ended conversation, would have it no other way.

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