Posted by: L | May 25, 2007

Oakeshott revisited..

In an earlier post, I attributed to Oakeshott some words that actually came from a commentator, Ivo Mosley in a paper on Oakeshott’s “A Dark Age Devoted to Barbaric Affluence”. Apologies. I have modified the old post and reposted here.
(Sigh) a nice quote too.

The sentiments were Oakeshott’s certainly but the text was the commentator’s. I mention it because several readers wrote in asking for the source.I would like to go back and verify from the original text what Oakeshott’s exact words actually were.

Mosley again, in the same piece:

“Words such as ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘rights’ have long histories and their meanings have shifted over time. Further, when unscrupulous operators use them to rally supporters in some great cause, such words become hazy promises of better things to come. The warm glow of anticipation may be as deceptive as the witches’ promises to Macbeth…”

My Comment:

Macbeth is good here. We really should begin to recognize the difference between words used with a proper humility toward life and experience and words used like Blackwater mercenaries sent out to do our bidding – beating up innocent reality, plundering whatever meaning we want out of it and then setting off on some other fool task.

Those thoughts are in my head today, again, because of some rather silly criticism that one or two readers sent in last week. I suppose when you have one critic calling you an apologist for Islamism and the other telling you you are a closet Zionist, you must be doing something right.

“If you would be an alternative guru ala Chomsky, you must believe in ‘the people’; if you would be a free-market guru, you must worship the golden calves of affluence and corporate power; if you would be a progressive liberal, you must genuflect to the moos of rationalism and science.”

Which is exactly what I was trying to say about my Falwell obit in a previous post. Because I don’t support a theocracy or a theocrat, I don’t necessarily scoff at every assumption of the religious, either.

And though I may defend the rights of the people against the corporatocracy, it does not follow that ‘the people’ (and we are all people) aren’t also damned fools at times and as greedy, wrong-headed and unethical as their rulers.

Which is why I can appreciate many socialist insights, but I’ll stop short of making a golden calf out of the masses or the mass mind, thanks.

And by the way, I don’t think the mass is something out there, as in a derisive term like “unwashed masses.” The poor are no more likely to be herd-like than the rich or the well- educated. Look at the lemming-like behavior of hedge funds in the capital markets, for instance. Or merger mania or the rise in private equity or the art market. The ‘herd’ is in us as well as outside.
There is a never ending supply of wisdom in Oakeshott..

A good description of him:

” [Oakeshott] is a traditionalist with few traditional beliefs, an ‘idealist’ who is more skeptical than many positivists, a lover of liberty who repudiates liberalism, an individualist who prefers Hegel to Locke, a philosopher who disapproves of philosophisme, a romantic perhaps (if Hume could possibly be called one), and a marvellous stylist.”

Hume I buy, but I don’t know about that Hegel reference.



  1. Hi,
    It’s just Jeff again.
    Who then was the commentator? Jeff

  2. Here’s the link:

    It’s a paper on “A Dark Age Devoted to Barbaric Affluence”

    Apparently, I misread what was quoted material and what was not. The dangers of instapunditry…

    Too bad there isn’t more Oakeshott on the web – there is the matter of copyright, but some selections would be nice to link.

    I know On Human Conduct and his writing on modes..(forget the title offhand)..but not this work. Well, now Mosley is some one I want to read…

  3. Oh, that Mr. Mosley.
    Good guy… Jeff

  4. PS That would be Experience and its Modes, which didn’t sell out it’s first printing for almost 1/2 a century. Jeff

  5. Yes – that’s it…

    Voegelin was also interesting to me theoretically although far from my thinking I would think – haven’t read enough to say for sure..but he is a statist anyway, I understand –

    Nobody read Voegelin where I studied – he was considered .way out of the tradition as defined by liberal academics..but Oakeshott was read quite a bit from a communitarian perspective – not that I keep up with political theory – no time

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