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Rationalism in Politics and other essays Paperback – June 1, 1991

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 582 pages
  • Publisher: Liberty Fund; Expanded edition (June 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865970955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865970953
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Constant Reader on February 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
Originally written in 1947, this is still the most powerful and elegantly written and reasoned critique of modern political thought.

Oakeshott has long been well known in the UK (Andrew Sullivan did his Doctoral dissertation on Oakeshott), but his particularly British way of writing some Americans find difficult. Perhaps that accounts for his lack of popularity here, but I suspect something deeper.

In the title essay of this collection, Oakeshott builds a devastating critique of reason as an instructive mode of knowledge for governing political behavior. The argument he constructs equally calls into question the validity of the concept, indeed the very existence, of the particularly optimistic and American belief in progress. This is probably hard for us Yanks to stomach as we've been raised on a diet rich in unlimited optimism.

Recently, an essay was published in a UK newspaper which stated that Oakeshott's popularity was increasing in the academy and compared his rising intellectual reputation with Isaiah Berlin's diminishing one. While this may not be fair to Berlin (you decide), it certainly is overdue in regard to Oakeshott. He's influenced generations of opinion makers on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Rationalism in Politics" is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the limits of human knowledge but doesn't have the time and wherewithall to read Kant and Hume.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
It's always interesting how different readers can react so differently to the same book. Unlike some of the reviewers below, I found Rationalism in Politics to be gracefully written and vastly more learned and interesting than most political philosophy these days. It's a great book for a rainy afternoon, with essays that can be read (and reread) in any order, illuminating every subject they touch on, whether Hobbes, or poetry, or historiography. Oakeshott was pigeon-holed as a "conservative" during his life but his thought is too wide-ranging and nuanced to be shoved into simple categories. He was not as profound or influential as Isaiah Berlin, another great philosophical essayist -- but anyone who likes philosophical and political essays will enjoy and learn from this book.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 1, 1998
Format: Paperback
michael oakeshott was a giant of 20th century british political philosophy, and this collection of essays is the best place for a reader interested in oakeshott to start. part of what's great about oakeshott is that he defies categorization yet makes his own kind of sense. he's conservative but not in any way that'll remind you of dumb american conservatism, he's libertarian in a way that won't remind you of wired magazine, he's liberal but mostly in the sense of being open-minded and cultured. some of the essays get pretty technical, and only specialists are likely to get through them. but a half-dozen you may find eye-opening. try the title essay, "rationalism in politics" -- it's a great study of the liberal/socialist character and mind. (ever wonder why so many political "liberals" turn out to be so darned unliberal as people? oakeshott has some insights.) and his "why i am a conservative" essay (that's not the exact title, but close enough)will have even liberals thinking, well, i guess in some respects i'm pretty conservative, and maybe that's ok. fans of hayek and sowell are likely to cotton to oakeshott. a bonus is that this liberty fund edition is very well made and well printed, and the price is great.
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42 of 53 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on May 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This handsomely-bound expanded Liberty Fund edition of Michael Oakeshott's essays features some material not included in the earlier edition (notably, but not only, Oakeshott's introduction to Hobbes's _Leviathan_). But the greatest treat is still the title essay.
In "Rationalism in Politics," Oakeshott sets out to dissect the sort of modern "rationalism" that reduces reason to explicit technical knowledge and has no place for the sort of "traditional" knowledge we soak up through imitation. (Readers of F.A. Hayek will find a parallel here, though not an exact one, with Hayek's own view of implicit knowledge and its role in market processes.) His deft characterizations of such "rationalism" will no doubt remind many readers of many leading lights of the political left, but they also remind me -- perhaps surprisingly -- of someone else.
I have a friend who insists, with much justice, that Ayn Rand was essentially a "leftist" despite her defense of views that have generally belonged to the political right. In support of his claim, he cites a number of well-known features of Rand's thought, including (of relevance here) her utter rejection of tradition and religion, her deep distrust of "implicit" reasoning, and her almost messianic plans to "remake" the world in accordance with her own explicit conceptual scheme while riding roughshod over basic human realities that might interfere. (For more on this general topic, see Paul Johnson's _Intellectuals_. Though unfortunately he does not take Rand as one of his targets, his remarks on what happens when such "intellectuals" put their ideas into practice could practically have been written about the "Objectivist" movement.
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