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Rationalism in Politics, first published in 1962, has established the late Michael Oakeshott as the leading conservative political theorist in modern Britain. This expanded collection of essays astutely points out the limits of "reason" in rationalist politics. Oakeshott criticizes ideological schemes to reform society according to supposedly "scientific" or rationalist Rationalism in Politics, first published in 1962, has established the late Michael Oakeshott as the leading conservative political theorist in modern Britain. This expanded collection of essays astutely points out the limits of "reason" in rationalist politics. Oakeshott criticizes ideological schemes to reform society according to supposedly "scientific" or rationalistic principles that ignore the wealth and variety of human experience. "Rationalism in politics," says Oakeshott, "involves a misconception with regard to the nature of human knowledge." History has shown that it produces unexpected, often disastrous results. "Having cut himself off from the traditional knowledge of his society, and denied the value of any education more extensive than a training in a technique of analysis," the Rationalist succeeds only in undermining the institutions that hold civilized society together. In this regard, rationalism in politics is "a corruption of the mind." Timothy Fuller is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College at Colorado College.


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Rationalism in Politics, first published in 1962, has established the late Michael Oakeshott as the leading conservative political theorist in modern Britain. This expanded collection of essays astutely points out the limits of "reason" in rationalist politics. Oakeshott criticizes ideological schemes to reform society according to supposedly "scientific" or rationalist Rationalism in Politics, first published in 1962, has established the late Michael Oakeshott as the leading conservative political theorist in modern Britain. This expanded collection of essays astutely points out the limits of "reason" in rationalist politics. Oakeshott criticizes ideological schemes to reform society according to supposedly "scientific" or rationalistic principles that ignore the wealth and variety of human experience. "Rationalism in politics," says Oakeshott, "involves a misconception with regard to the nature of human knowledge." History has shown that it produces unexpected, often disastrous results. "Having cut himself off from the traditional knowledge of his society, and denied the value of any education more extensive than a training in a technique of analysis," the Rationalist succeeds only in undermining the institutions that hold civilized society together. In this regard, rationalism in politics is "a corruption of the mind." Timothy Fuller is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College at Colorado College.

30 review for Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris Cangiano

    Oakeshott's most famous work is a critique of the modern "rationalist" approach to political discourse, and while not an easy read can be worthwhile for a person of any political perspective. While nominally labelled a "conservative" Oakeshott's conservatism isn't really of the traditional American doctrinaire model but rather based on a plea that tradition has a key place in shaping a free society and that change to tradition should proceed at a slow and deliberate pace and that we should esche Oakeshott's most famous work is a critique of the modern "rationalist" approach to political discourse, and while not an easy read can be worthwhile for a person of any political perspective. While nominally labelled a "conservative" Oakeshott's conservatism isn't really of the traditional American doctrinaire model but rather based on a plea that tradition has a key place in shaping a free society and that change to tradition should proceed at a slow and deliberate pace and that we should eschew attempts to consciously model our society to achieve deliberate ends. Indeed, when Oakeshott defines "rationalism" he is referring to any philosophy which believes that it can solely through the agency of human intellect create a detailed plan based on a political theory for perfecting society. Under Oakeshott's view this approach which ignores the practical way people order their own lives in actuality in favor of a theoretical approach is what leads to loss of human freedom and misery. In many ways this is an appealing take for someone like me who is of a libertarian bent and believes in the concept of spontaneous order and the inability to impose "freedom" or perfection from the top down. Where I part company with Oakeshott is his Hobbesian core which sees the State as the source and protector of all of our rights. Still this was an important piece of 20th Century political philosophy and an insightful, if dense, read. The essays in Part 4 were for me alone worth the price of admission.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Oakeshott is as careful and painstaking a writer as you will find; and he makes considerable demands of the reader; but the effort will be rewarded. His examinations of what he calls Rationalism, "the conservative disposition" and "abridgments" of traditions, and other matters are innovative and thought-provoking. Some essays will require multiple readings, but I have yet to wrestle with one that did not yield considerable insights.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Crofut

    Any collection of essays is bound to have some good and some bad; some essays are brilliant, others are skimmers. In this book, the preponderance are worth the time, and a few rank up there among the best I have ever worked through, and it is for that reason I would recommend picking up Oakeshott's collection. His overall theme might best be described as Pragmatic; schemes of morality or ideology written in out authoritative books might have some value in explaining some actions, but will always Any collection of essays is bound to have some good and some bad; some essays are brilliant, others are skimmers. In this book, the preponderance are worth the time, and a few rank up there among the best I have ever worked through, and it is for that reason I would recommend picking up Oakeshott's collection. His overall theme might best be described as Pragmatic; schemes of morality or ideology written in out authoritative books might have some value in explaining some actions, but will always be insufficient to completely guide our lives. Rather, Oakeshott points to the value of tradition, of known actions gathered more through living than book learning, as the source of morality in our lives. The value of tradition has been one pregnant in my mind for a while, but one I couldn't bring to birth; fortunately, Oakeshott did it far more beautifully than I could've hoped. Progress is one thing, but the destruction of traditions left and right endangers our ability to interact in society in an understood manner. True revolutions may be justified at times, but revolution for its own sake is to be despised. On Being Conservative is, frankly, a must-read. It has nothing to do with the ideologies of any political party, but rather of the mindset of conserving values instead of attempting to undermine them. Even bad traditions, through the stability they bring, may be of more value than truly revolutionary change, which despite good intentions may leave the members of society without any sure footing to base their moral actions upon.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bookshark

    The meandering prose makes the book longer than it needs to be and sacrifices some clarity. Rationalism in Politics is the best essay, presenting a solid conservative case against the rationalist turn in modern politics that oddly coincides with similar critiques on the far left. The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind, a tedious meditation on art in which Oakeshott's prose is at its most florid and overwrought, is the worst of the collection.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Cale

    This is based purely on the essays "Rationalism in Politics" and "On Being Conservative." I would really give him a 4 1/2 stars; I find his essay striking. Beautiful metaphors and analogies woven throughout. Even if you aren't conservative, I think he can convince you of the subtle instances where you are. It's an interesting question whether or not people really do like change as much as they say they do.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    I find this collection puzzling. It presents the beginnings of a remarkably solid case for epistemological and political conservatism (understood in the English sense, in which "conservatism" is a form of cranky Whiggism). Yet I think the essays in this book contradict each other in spirit if not in letter. The view of knowledge articulated in the title essay is at odds with the view developed in "The Activity of Being an Historian" and "The Study of 'Politics' in a University." Oakeshott argues I find this collection puzzling. It presents the beginnings of a remarkably solid case for epistemological and political conservatism (understood in the English sense, in which "conservatism" is a form of cranky Whiggism). Yet I think the essays in this book contradict each other in spirit if not in letter. The view of knowledge articulated in the title essay is at odds with the view developed in "The Activity of Being an Historian" and "The Study of 'Politics' in a University." Oakeshott argues that knowledge of how to do something, and understanding of the true ends of that activity, can only be acquired through practice; but he also argues that somehow it is possible to explain the activity through research rather than practice. His insistence on making the latter claim tends to weaken the former claim, when it looks to me as if he could just as well have jettisoned the latter claim.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Colm Gillis

    Oakeshott is a careful, erudite scholar who always maintains an academic aloofness about what he writes on. He has a placid, timid, style but as essayists goes he is a master of the craft. He converses ... that is what an essay should always aim to do. He uses sources sparingly but effectively. His insights are delivered a little slowly & he lacks a little bite, which suits his style to a degree but does make you wonder where his politics lie. He doesnt take a whole lot of chances but he does pr Oakeshott is a careful, erudite scholar who always maintains an academic aloofness about what he writes on. He has a placid, timid, style but as essayists goes he is a master of the craft. He converses ... that is what an essay should always aim to do. He uses sources sparingly but effectively. His insights are delivered a little slowly & he lacks a little bite, which suits his style to a degree but does make you wonder where his politics lie. He doesnt take a whole lot of chances but he does provoke thinking, which is the raison d'etre of any philosopher. Many of his classic essays in this collection concern rationalism. On Being Conservative is an excellent essay. Several essays are particularly challenging, especially the one on Thomas Hobbes. Overall a brilliant contribution to traditionalism and conservatism.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    I had read several of these essays, but for some reason never the first few, which include the title essay, 'Rationalism in Politics'. It is marvellous. I wish every so-called 'conservative' would read Oakeshott: they would realise that conservatism is not about free speech and other abstract freedoms, nor about market economics; there is no set of policies one must support, nor is there a set of policies one mustn't support; there is no ideology in conservatism, nor is there a book or guide or I had read several of these essays, but for some reason never the first few, which include the title essay, 'Rationalism in Politics'. It is marvellous. I wish every so-called 'conservative' would read Oakeshott: they would realise that conservatism is not about free speech and other abstract freedoms, nor about market economics; there is no set of policies one must support, nor is there a set of policies one mustn't support; there is no ideology in conservatism, nor is there a book or guide or technical treatise on how to adopt, God forbid, a conservative analysis of things; there is only a temperament, a predisposition, something in opposition to the post-Renaissance purist rationalism that dominates modern thought.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tony Gualtieri

    Oakeshott is an honest writer and presents his ideas in direct if somewhat turgid prose. He advocates for tradition and experience in making political decisions rather than what he sees as dangerously proscriptive rationalism. It's an attractive position, but I think Oakeshott underestimates the duplicitousness of most politicians. They are nothing like a collection of disinterested Oxford dons! Even so, I think Oakeshott's ideas are important and these essays give a unique and appealing philoso Oakeshott is an honest writer and presents his ideas in direct if somewhat turgid prose. He advocates for tradition and experience in making political decisions rather than what he sees as dangerously proscriptive rationalism. It's an attractive position, but I think Oakeshott underestimates the duplicitousness of most politicians. They are nothing like a collection of disinterested Oxford dons! Even so, I think Oakeshott's ideas are important and these essays give a unique and appealing philosophy of political conservatism.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anittah

    I read selections in college but I don't remember a thing (who was this person who made these underlines and margin commentary?!) so am re-reading.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Heba Abdel hamid elsaman

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  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    Both the title essay and "On being conservative" from part four are not to be missed.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Vlad Terteleac

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nabil

  15. 5 out of 5

    Petr Gongala

  16. 4 out of 5

    Justin

  17. 5 out of 5

    John Hagenbrok

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

  19. 5 out of 5

    Levan Ramishvili

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jake

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tom Burns

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rafa Coelho

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jakub M'betinský

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Dalakishvili

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Elizabeth

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eduardo

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gary Knight

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