An Oakeshott for Our Time

Paul Franco, a professor of government at Bowdoin College, describes his book on English political theorist Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) as an “introduction.”  That modest claim is fully justified in light of the many volumes on politics, philosophy, aesthetics, education, and religion that Franco’s subject left behind in his productive life of 89 years.  Franco observes in Chapter One that Oakeshott

lived through virtually every important event of the twentieth century: Both world wars; the rise and fall of fascism and the Cold War; the rise and fall of communism; and of course, the steady decline of Britain from the most powerful country in the world to a struggling middle power.

Noting the darkness of his century, Oakeshott once remarked, with a British sense of understatement, that “it is characteristic of political philosophers that they take a somber view of the human situation: they deal in darkness.”

In the late 20’s, Oakeshott was already a Cambridge don, contributing to the prestigious Journal of Theological Studies and hobnobbing with British idealists T.H. Green, Bernard Bosanquet, F.H. Bradley, and J.M.E. McTaggart.  Although he rejected the positive view of the managerial state that these British neo-Hegelians put forth, the young don applied their skepticism to the reality of the material world.  He never believed...

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