A Critical Assessment of the Political Doctrines of Michael Oakeshott
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The thesis consists of an Introduction, four Chapters and a Conclusion. In the Introduction some of the interpretations that have been offered of Oakeshott’s political writings are discussed. The key issue of interpretation is whether Oakeshott is best considered as a disinterested philosopher, as he claimed, or as promoting an ideology or doctrine, albeit elliptically. It is argued that when his works are considered in their entirety they can best be thought of as advancing two doctrines, based on his accounts of the historical conceptions of the state in modern European history and the nature of political activity. The first doctrine is that the state conceived as a civil association is best suited to promote individual liberty. The second doctrine is a conservative, antirationalist, anti-ideological, thesis that political activity cannot and ought not be conceived as anything other than the pursuit of intimations within a political tradition. The purpose of the thesis is to assess these doctrines. The method used is to draw out and assess the assumptions that underlie Oakeshott’s claims. In Chapter One it is argued that the best point of entry to understand Oakeshott’s preference for the state conceived as a civil association is to make explicit the postulates that underpin his account of human conduct and his personal values, or dispositions. In Chapter 2 the political implications of his formal theory of morality are highlighted. In Chapter 3 Oakeshott’s answer to the question of “what should government’s do?”, and the implications of his response to his understanding of law and justice are evaluated. In Chapter 4 the sufficiency of Oakeshott’s account of politics and the political is considered. The conclusion is that the arguments in support of both doctrines are problematic.
- Theses