Top critical review
25 people found this helpful
Lacks Serious Substance.
on March 2, 2003
Before this book, I'd only heard of Michael Oakeshott through name-dropping from conservative friends. No one but that small conservative circle ever mentioned him and after reading this, I can and can not see why.
As noted below, this is an expanded collection of essays ranging from Oakeshott's views of political rationalism's follies to exegesis of Hobbes. The common thread of all of these essays is Oakeshotts distaste for the rationalistic tendency of, not faith in reason, but overconfidence in it. Reason, Oakeshott reasons (ha-ha)is an instrument. Life is a collection of emotions, faiths, conquests, mistakes, and a vast array of experiences that may or may not have to do with reason at all. Thus, the mistake made in political thought is its overreliance on utopian, "I know better than you" reason. Oakeshott, with this as a springboard, makes his case for a conservative libertarianism.
Oakeshott hints that this rationalism is all the most relevant on the 'left'. I'm not sure this is quite accurate, after all, how could we explain John Dewey, Herbert Marcuse and Richard Rorty, but as I said, Oakeshott only hints. Scott Ryan brilliantly points out that someone like Ayn Rand and I'd suggest, Plato, give the 'right' a tainted legacy of rationalism as well. The problem with Oakeshotts essays in the section on rationalism in politics is that after he expounds his view that with rationalisms inadequacies, political philosophy becomes muddy, he spends 300 more pages on political philosophy. It's like a bad joke!!
What this book is good for is section 3 (on Hobbes) and section 4 (on conservatism and politics). As Oakeshott is more conservative that liberarian, this book is a great exposition of why conservatives (or those true to the label) are how they are preferring big government where social tradition is concerned but small government in economics. Why does conservatism put such high value on tradition? Why does it see welfare centralization with skepticism? Why the religious tendencies? All of these are, advertently or not, elucidated in section 3 and 4.
Beware, Oakeshott has a tendency to be wordy - not in the sense of content, but in the, "If I can say it effectively in 100 words, I'll tack on an extra 300 for kicks," kind of way. About the physical book; as noted below, "The Liberty Fund" makes a habit out of publishing inexpensive, impressively beautiful books. The print and binding quality are phenomenal and if this is available in "Liberty Fund" hardcover, spend the extra money - it's worth it!