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Peter Pulzer, 20 February 1986

The Redefinition of Conservatism: Politics and Doctrine 
by Charles Covell.
Macmillan, 267 pp., £27.50, January 1986, 0 333 38463 6
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Thinkers of the New Left 
by Roger Scruton.
Longman, 227 pp., £9.95, January 1986, 0 582 90273 8
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The Idea of Liberalism: Studies for a New Map of Politics 
by George Watson.
Macmillan, 172 pp., £22.50, November 1985, 0 333 38754 6
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Socialism and Freedom 
by Bryan Gould.
Macmillan, 109 pp., £25, November 1985, 0 333 40580 3
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... Covell’s scholarly, discriminating and curiously detached study of the Cambridge fogeys – Michael Oakeshott, John Casey, Maurice Cowling and Roger Scruton – with side-glances at Shirley Robin Letwin and the conservative potential in Wittgenstein, Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot. Other than that, some of the conservatives are closer to ...

Our Fault

Frank Kermode, 11 October 1990

Our Age: Portrait of a Generation 
by Noël Annan.
Weidenfeld, 479 pp., £20, October 1990, 0 297 81129 0
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... treatment of persons. Among its heroes are Isaiah Berlin and, with a good deal of qualification, Michael Oakeshott; on the Left there is the author’s contemporary Eric Hobsbawm. Others’ heroes – Raymond Williams, for instance – are sometimes harshly dismissed (‘a nonconformist spellbinder, rhetorical, evasive and vacuous’). These judgments ...

Lend me a fiver

Terry Eagleton: The grand narrative of experience, 23 June 2005

Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme 
by Martin Jay.
California, 431 pp., £22, January 2005, 0 520 24272 6
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... illuminating cameos of (among a host of others) Montaigne, Burke, Schleiermacher, William James, Michael Oakeshott, Dilthey, Dewey, Rorty, Benjamin (perhaps the book’s hero) and Bataille. There are, inevitably, one or two slip-ups en route. Bacon is made to sound too much like Descartes; the philosopher John Toland was not British; and Raymond ...

The Central Questions

Thomas Nagel: H.L.A. Hart, 3 February 2005

A Life of H.L.A. Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream 
by Nicola Lacey.
Oxford, 422 pp., £25, September 2004, 0 19 927497 5
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... invaluable. In the course of their marriage she had serious love affairs with other men, including Michael Oakeshott and Isaiah Berlin. She was attracted by brains, and that is what drew her to Hart. His attraction to her seems very natural: her outrageousness and lack of inhibition must have made him feel alive. She despised ...


Jonathan Raban: I’m for Obama, 20 March 2008

... such empiricism has been associated with the political right, and such rationalism with the left. Michael Oakeshott liked to blame Rationalists (always spelled with a capital R) and their ‘politics of the book’ for every benighted socialist scheme from the Beveridge Report and the 1944 Education Act to the revival of Gaelic as the official language ...

Bendy Rulers

Glen Newey: Amartya Sen, 28 January 2010

The Idea of Justice 
by Amartya Sen.
Allen Lane, 468 pp., £25, July 2009, 978 1 84614 147 8
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... itself, it makes extant practices the launch pad for future action, as conservative thinkers like Michael Oakeshott argue. That will mean, indeed require, asking how far those practices need shaking up. But doing so leaves open all the options that are open. If it says otherwise, conservatism isn’t just pretending to be bone-headed. The Idea of Justice ...

No Theatricks

Ferdinand Mount: Burke, 21 August 2014

The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: from the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence 
by David Bromwich.
Harvard, 500 pp., £25, May 2014, 978 0 674 72970 4
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Moral Imagination: Essays 
by David Bromwich.
Princeton, 350 pp., £19.95, March 2014, 978 0 691 16141 9
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... which they are introduced. This whole cast of mind has enjoyed an extended reprise in the work of Michael Oakeshott, which repeatedly advises us to consult practical experience and, when we come to explore those ‘intimations’, as he calls them, which invite us to embark on reform, to be well aware how fragile are the ‘platforms of ...

Mao meets Oakeshott

John Lanchester: Britain’s new class divide, 21 October 2004

Mind the Gap: The New Class Divide in Britain 
by Ferdinand Mount.
Short Books, 320 pp., £14.99, September 2004, 1 904095 94 1
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... man has no ready buttress for his self-regard. That historian is fictional: he is the narrator of Michael Young’s 1958 satire The Rise of the Meritocracy. But the only thing significantly off the mark about his dystopian predictions is that his narrator is saying these things, as opposed to merely thinking them. Mount’s Uppers do, broadly speaking, think ...

Après Brexit

Ferdinand Mount, 20 February 2020

... our tried institutions with an openness to change when practical considerations prompted – what Michael Oakeshott later called ‘intimations’. The trouble is that Burke himself, like many other conservatives, tended in practice not to recognise such intimations. Nothing could have been more obvious than that rotten boroughs ought to be abolished and ...

‘No Bullshit’ Bullshit

Stefan Collini: Christopher Hitchens, Englishman, 23 January 2003

Orwell's Victory 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Allen Lane, 150 pp., £9.99, June 2002, 9780713995848
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... old foe Laski in the chair at the London School of Economics’, but he didn’t: Michael Oakeshott did. He quotes from C.P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ lecture, ascribing it to ‘the mid-1960s’, though it was delivered and published in 1959. Most bizarrely, he even mangles an extremely well-known line of Orwell’s, his tirade about ...


Stefan Collini: Herbert Butterfield, 21 July 2005

Herbert Butterfield: Historian as Dissenter 
by C.T. McIntire.
Yale, 499 pp., £30, August 2005, 0 300 09807 3
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... and animating relationship between the English and their past (his friendship in the 1930s with Michael Oakeshott may have played a part here): ‘Let us praise as a living thing the continuity of our history, and praise the whigs who taught us that we must nurse this blessing – reconciling continuity with change, discovering mediations between past ...

What’s not to like?

Stefan Collini: Ernest Gellner, 2 June 2011

Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography 
by John Hall.
Verso, 400 pp., £29.99, July 2010, 978 1 84467 602 6
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... for example, to the seductions of the form of conservatism promoted by his LSE colleague Michael Oakeshott, observing tartly that ‘tradition may be elegance, competence, courage, modesty and realism … it is also bullshit, servility, vested interest, arbitrariness, empty ritual.’ Gellner didn’t do ideological enthusiasm, but he was at the ...

Frameworks of Comparison

Benedict Anderson, 21 January 2016

... old Jewish community of Baghdad, moved to London as a young man, and came under the influence of Michael Oakeshott, then Britain’s best-known conservative political philosopher. On the moderate right was Anthony Smith, a British-born practising Orthodox Jew, who taught history in London throughout a long career. Convinced that the Jews were the most ...

How much meat is too much?

Bee Wilson, 20 March 2014

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat 
by Philip Lymbery, with Isabel Oakeshott.
Bloomsbury, 426 pp., £12.99, January 2014, 978 1 4088 4644 5
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Planet Carnivore 
by Alex Renton.
Guardian, 78 pp., £1.99, August 2013
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... to ‘the death of our countryside … and billions starving’. For two years Lymbery and Isabel Oakeshott, political editor of the Sunday Times, travelled the world to investigate ‘factory farming’. The horrors they witness will come as little surprise to anyone who has read Peter Singer, Michael Pollan, Felicity ...

Who Are They?

Jenny Turner: The Institute of Ideas, 8 July 2010

... that transcends ‘the left-right divide’. He seemed proud of quotes he’d found that made Michael Oakeshott echo Hannah Arendt – ‘whose work has really influenced my work’ – and Matthew Arnold agree with Lenin, though ‘you couldn’t be further apart than Lenin and Arnold on most things.’ It’s difficult to give a fair account of his ...

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