Romanticism in Politics
For sheer literary dexterity and the apt Latin catchphrase Professor Oakeshott’s Rationalism in Politics [*] Methuen, 35s. is the most civilised book I have read for a long time. But it is also a serious attempt to defend the deeper values of civilisation itself against reforming theorists and politicians with no real appreciation of what it is they are trying to reform. “Rationalism”, which the book is devoted to pillorying, covers virtually any philosophy which would set up independently premeditated goals and ideals for an individual or society and pursue these in opposition to a traditional and unreflective mode of behaviour. Oakeshott ranges in his argument from pure conservative ties and prejudices, including a general dislike of the illiterate and the half-baked and of most kinds of change and disturbance, to a priori discussions of the nature of history, poetry, education and political science; and although he denies that he is offering a conservative “philosophy”—itself perhaps “rationalism” by his generous definition—he brings all these things together into recognisably the same framework, and much of the interest and importance of his book must lie in the impression it gives of being a genuinely philosophical defence of traditional ways of life.
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