The Roots of Conservatism: Michael Oakeshott and the Denial of Politics

The Roots of Conservatism: Michael Oakeshott and the Denial of Politics

The seemingly uncontrollable movement of American policy toward domestic repression and imperial warfare makes it of the utmost urgency that we understand what is involved in our “new conservatism.” The most perceptive understanding may come not from a hurried look at the phenomenon itself, but through distance, theory, and an examination of roots. For conservatism is not just one phenomenon but many; and much can be learned about our current domestic variant by examining the tradition in political theory on which it sometimes draws. This essay, then, is concerned with the thought of Michael Oakeshott, with occasional glances backward toward Edmund Burke and sideways toward Hannah Arendt. Though he is not well known in America, Oakeshott, a professor emeritus of political science at the London School of Economics, is one of the few great living spokesmen of the conservative tradition; he has been called “the most profound and original political thinker that England has produced in the twentieth century.” We shall find that Oakeshott understands much that is missed or denied by the new conservatism in America, indeed, that he might even want to disown it. But in the end the two conservatisms share some fundamental weaknesses.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels