Modality, Practice, and the Limits of Political Activity: Michael Oakeshott's Philosophy of Politics

Dissertation, Tulane University (2003)

In this dissertation, I offer a reading of Michael Oakeshott's philosophy of political activity which stresses the underlying continuity of his major writings on the subject and which takes seriously his rigorous pursuit of the implications of understanding the world in terms of modality. The interpretation which emerges in this work suggests strongly that Oakeshott's philosophy of political activity cannot be reduced to a branch of conservatism, liberalism, or postmodernism. Nor can Oakeshott's work be reduced to a theory or set of doctrines which fit neatly into any conventional school, like that of Idealism or Skepticism. Rather, Oakeshott's philosophy of political activity is a challenge, a provocation, to all of the currently dominant schools of political theory and political practice. It questions their presuppositions and exposes as ambiguous, arbitrary, or confused all of the supposed certainties which they take for granted. It does all this by offering profound insights into the nature of political activity in the modern world. I will also have occasion to criticize Oakeshott for inconsistencies, especially in his essays on the historical emergence of modern political activity. However, my primary concern is to bring to light once more the main outlines of Oakeshott's consistently held and rigorously explored philosophy of human experience in general and modern politics in particular
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