Oakeshott's Politics for Gentlemen

The Review of Politics 69 (2):244-272 (2007)

Steven J. Wulf
Lawrence University
Michael Oakeshott's concerns about political developments in twentieth-century Europe seem to shape his philosophical writings. Yet Oakeshott persistently portrays himself as a philosopher who has little practical interest in politics. This essay argues that Oakeshott's genteel conception of the good life leads him to develop a political doctrine for practical reasons while disclaiming any practical motives. His diagnosis of collectivist politics in the 1930s reluctantly solicits a philosophical defense of a pluralist political order that is hospitable to his ethical ideal. His writings concerning the self, society, and state develop such a defense. Yet for Oakeshott, political engagement is incompatible with gentility because it conflates worldliness with spirituality. Oakeshott, therefore, disavows the practical aspirations that shape his work.
Keywords Skepticism  Conservatism  Liberalism  Oakeshott  Idealogy
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