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Tuesday Archives: A Question About What I Do Not Get About Michael Oakeshott...

NewImageJacob Levy (2008): "There is no modern work to teach alongside Theory of Justice and Anarchy, State, and Utopia...

...that really gets at what's interesting about Burkean or social conservatism.... The problem is... that history keeps right on going--and so any book plucked from the past that was concerned with yelling "stop!" tends to date badly to any modern reader who does not think he's already living in hell-in-a-handbasket.... Oakeshott has his own version of these problems; doesn't "Rationalism in Politics" end up feeling faintly ridiculous by the time he's talking about women's suffrage?...

Yes, he does:

The modern history of Europe is littered with the projects of Rationalism. The most sublime of these... Robert Owen for 'a world convention to emancipate the human race from ignorance, poverty, division, sin, and misery'--so sublime that even a Rationalist (though without much justification) might think it eccentric. But not less characteristic... the common disposition to believe that political machinery can take the place of moral and political education.... The notion of founding a society... on the Declaration of the Rights of Man... 'national' or racial self-determination... re-union of the Christian churches... open diplomacy... a civil service... [with] "no qualifications other than... abilit[y]"... the Beveridge Report, the Education Act of 1944, Federalism, the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Votes for Women...

And:

The outstanding characteristic of European politics in the last four centuries is that they have suffered the incursion of at least three types of political inexperience--that of the new ruler, the new ruling class, and the new political society--to say nothing of the incursion of a new sex, lately provided for by Mr. [George Bernard] Shaw...

And all this leads to:

Among much else that is corrupt and unhealthy, we have the spectacle of a set of sanctimonious, rationalist politicians preaching an ideology of unselfishness and social service to a population in which they and their predecessors have don the best to destroy the only living root of moral behavior...

The rhetorical vibe I am getting is very unpleasant--about how we all know that ideas like women's suffrage and unemployment insurance are ridiculous--so ridiculous that there is no need to spell out why a world in which job losers don't begin to starve immediately and women can vote is worse-off thereby...

Is there any way to read Oakeshott other than as a male mid-twentieth-century English Tory upper-class-wannabe twit talking only to other male mid-twentieth-century English Tory upper-class-wannabe twits? Telling them that they should not think about the fact that they have no good arguments for why they should keep their privileges, their power, and their wealth?

I don't get it.

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