Synopses & Reviews
This is the first full-length study of the thought of Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990), arguably the most important British political philosopher of the twentieth century. Paul Franco places Oakeshott's political philosophy in the context of his ideas as a whole, drawing on all of his published writings. Franco begins with a detailed analysis of an early work, 'Experience and its Modes'. He argues that Oakeshott's vindication in this book of the possibility of philosophy and his establishment of its autonomy in relation to the limited standpoints of science, history and practice form the essential starting point of his political philosophy. Franco also examines the 'concrete' logic of human experience that underlies Oakeshott's analyses of the various forms of knowledge in 'Experience and its Modes'. According to Franco, this concrete logic not only establishes the basis of Oakeshott's influential theory of history, but it also provides the foundation for the view of practical activity found in the essays of 'Rationalism in Politics'. By reading these essays in the light of his early work, says Franco, we have a better understanding of Oakeshott's critique of rationalism as well as of his development of a richer, more contextual conception of rationality in opposition to it. We also see a revision of the conventional portrait of Oakeshott as a 'Burkean conservative', for Franco shows that Oakeshott's traditionalism rests on completely different grounds from that of Burke. Franco locates Oakeshott's substantive political philosophy within the liberal tradition as it had been elaborated from Hobbes through Hegel and Bosanquet. He concludes by demonstrating that in his theory of civil association in 'On Human Conduct', Oakeshott provides us with perhaps the most sophisticated and satisfying contemporary statement of liberalism to date. Paul Franco is William Rainey Harper Instructor at the University of Chicago.