Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Brilliant Ramble


The two things that qualify a person for being a conservative, he held, were having a passionate interest outside politics and a strong sense of mortality. And, dare one indite this in a political magazine: “A general interest and preoccupation with politics is the surest sign of a general decay in a society.” Still, politics is necessary to life lived among “people whom chance or choice has brought together.”

The problem, Oakeshott felt, was not only that “politics is an uninteresting form of activity to anyone who has no desire to rule others” but that those it attracts are, too often, unimpressive human beings. At one point he calls them “scoundrels.” What isn’t required, but is too often evident, in politics is “manufacturing curable grievances.” What is needed is the assurance of “the little things: to go where we like & when; having paid my taxes to spend my money on what I wish.” His final word is this: “Politics is the art of living together & of being ‘just’ to one another—not of imposing a way of life, but of organizing a common life.”

So much of Oakeshott’s political thought is propelled by his unshakeable belief in the imperfectibility of human beings. Montaigne is his intellectual hero here, the Montaigne who understood that all human judgment and wisdom is fallible.