The Politics and Philosophy of Michael Oakeshott (Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought)

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He has also successfully supervised a large number of undergraduate and graduate dissertations, including an Oxford doctorate. He has taught a wide range of subjects within history and politics, including 18th , 19th , and 20th century British history, 19th and 20th century European history, comparative history and historiography, the history of political thought, gender history, economic history, analytical political theory, post-war European politics, and the politics of the EU. Dr Neill has extensive experience of examining undergraduate papers in modern British history, the history of political thought, and historiography.

He also has extensive experience of dealing with undergraduate admissions, having interviewed potential undergraduates at Oxford for many years. Stipendiary Lecturer in Modern History, St. Reviewed book manuscripts for both Cambridge University Press and Palgrave Macmillan in my areas of expertise. Current students Offer holders Staff Only. Start your application Download a prospectus Book an Open Day. The Political Philosophy of Michael Oakeshott. What is History? Silence: Lectures and Writings. Selected writings.

Morality, Politics, and Law. Wright Mills. The politics of truth: selected writings of C. Selected Writings. Politics and Morality.

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On World Politics: R. Selected Writings of Max Reger. Selected Writings: Word and Language. Conservatism therefore rests on what may be termed particularist scepticism concerning abstract rational principles. I cannot [praise or blame] human actions…on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction; Burke, WS III: For conservatives, abstract propositions cannot simply be applied to specific circumstances.

Unlike liberals and socialists, therefore, conservatives are particularist in rejecting universal prescriptions and panaceas; they reject the Enlightenment-modernist requirement that practical rationality is liberated from all particularism Beveridge and Turnbull The parallel is incomplete, however; political conservatives do not deny that there are general principles, as Dancy does, they just deny that one should apply them.

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Their position is an essentially epistemic one—that one cannot know the general principles whose implementation would benefit the operation of society. The conservative vision is that people will come to value the privileges of choice…when they see how much in their lives must always remain unchosen. Conservative scepticism is quite distinct from Cartesian or external world scepticism, therefore, since the latter scepticism is based on reason; rather, it is sceptical about the claims of theoretical reason, in politics and ethics.

Nor does its scepticism constitute a critique of society in the Marxist sense. For conservatives, society rests on prejudice, not reason; prejudice is not irrational, but simply unreasoning. Burke advocated educated prejudice as an antidote to its bigoted forms—arguably, not a rejection of reason, but a scepticism about its inordinate pretensions.

Philosophers might speculate about why we have the duties that we do, but prejudice makes us act, without having to calculate all the consequences—or indeed to reason about ends. This is not the irrationalism of Nietzsche or Freud, for whom much of human behaviour is irrationally driven, but rather, a non-rationalist standpoint. It is sceptical about proposals of reform based on a priori commitment to a value such as freedom or equality. See 2. Conservatives believe that values of justice, freedom, and truth are important and should be pursued by the state, but they interpret those values in a concrete fashion.

As we have seen, it is generally recognised that conservatism is not dogmatic reaction.

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It advocates piecemeal, moderate reform, which follows from its scepticism concerning reason, and its valuing of experience concerning human affairs. But change must be cautious, because knowledge is imperfect and consequences can be unintended. According to conservatives, institutions and morals evolve, their weaknesses become apparent and obvious political abuses are corrected; but ancient institutions embody a tacit wisdom that deserves respect.

Conservatives are sceptical of large-scale constitutional, economic or cultural planning, because behaviour and institutions have evolved through the wisdom of generations, which cannot easily be articulated. Central to conservatism is the notion of tradition, whose self-conscious, contrastive use arises only in modernity.

For conservatives, vital political relations are organic. Unlike reactionary thinkers, they regard traditions not as static, but as in a gentle and gradual flux, encouraged by the astute reformer. Reform must be practically and not theoretically-based:. I must see with my own eyes…touch with my own hands not only the fixed but the momentary circumstances, before I could venture to suggest any political project whatsoever…I must see the means of correcting the plan…I must see the things; I must see the men.

For Kekes, conservatism adopts a stance of scepticism between extremes of rationalism and fideism belief based on faith , and steers a middle course of pessimism between claims of perfectibility and corruptibility 54, 89, Conservatives aim to. Kekes It is reaction and not conservatism that is inherently authoritarian. For conservatives, individuals and local communities are better assessors of their own needs and problems than distant bureaucrats. Free from utopian planning, conservatives hold, society finds its own, largely beneficial, shape. But conservatism is generally regarded as a philosophy, if not a systematic one.

Two contrasting interpretations of conservatism distinguish it from mere pragmatism.


The judgement of whether something is broken or runs reasonably well appeals to values accepted in the relevant society. Thus conservatives in reasonably functioning socialist, feudal and fascist countries advocate different modes of social organisation and gradual improvement, according to prevailing values.

On this view, conservative particularism is relativistic. On this interpretation of conservatism, particularism does not imply relativism. Revolutionary systems, and autocratic systems with no possibility of incremental change—societies that do not exhibit living traditions—are not amenable to a conservative outlook. On this view, conservatism is situational, but some situations do not permit conservative responses.

The sarcastic dismissal of Burke by a liberal defender of the Revolution, J. In the case of public institutions, Mr. Burke had…worked himself into an artificial admiration of the bare fact of existence; especially ancient existence. Everything was to be protected, not because it was good, but, because it existed. Evil, to render itself an object of reverence in his eye, required only to be realised.

James Mill Vol. V, —1. This non-relativist position is minimally rational and universal, while remaining particularist. This terminology is elucidated further at 2.

Michael Oakeshott — Wikiberal

Lock regards 1 and 2 as an unBurkean choice between constructed opposites, arguing that Burke is not strongly relativist, but recognises temporal and geographical differences that amount to a kind of relativism. Perhaps he overlooks the contestability of conceptions of the good life, and of arrangements that preserve it; liberals, for instance, stress the value of individual freedom, independent of what they may see as burdensome constraints of tradition. According to 2 , there is a conservative conception of the good life, and of the arrangements that preserve it—one that rejects the over-valuation of Enlightenment rationalism and revolution.

But as we will see, conservatives must steer a course between an unconservative pragmatism, and an unconservative substantive policy. The issue recurs throughout this entry, especially in sections 2. But these are hard to separate. Liberals and socialists stress the malleability of human nature under the influence of changeable historical conditions.

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The anti-conservative Rousseau had an optimistic conception of human nature, blaming government and society for failings that—according to conservatives—belong to individuals. Conservatives, in contrast, regard human nature as weak and fallible, unalterably selfish rather than altruistic Kekes Scruton is typically conservative in regarding human beings as frail creatures of limited sympathy, which they do not easily extend to those remote in space or time Scruton Conservatism is popularly conflated with neo-conservatism and with libertarianism.

But right libertarians and neo-conservatives, unlike Burkean conservatives, reject state planning for doctrinaire reasons.