Michael Oakeshott's On Being Conservative

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Michael Oakeshott was an Englishman born into the political turbulent era of 20th century, growing up exposed to a variety of political extremism in Europe, especially National Socialism and Marxism, along with two World Wars. As a result, he developed a dislike of radical political activism. This aversion is expressed in his work “On being Conservative,” where Oakeshott offers a unique political work that, instead of suggesting a prescriptive aid or explaining a political system, simply describes the conservative mindset. By doing so, he demystifies the conservative disposition during an era in which he believes is strongly anti-conservative in order to show its necessity in the world of politics. In the first section, Oakeshott explains…show more content…
Here, Oakeshott makes an important distinction between change and innovation. Change is a natural part of the world and cannot be avoided; as a result, change for a conservative is a burden that should be managed. However, innovation is purposeful human lead modification, making it to be treated with skepticism. The rejection of change based on human rational thought alone eludes to the view that conservatives have on humanity, i.e. one that humanity is weak minded and unable to achieve positive change based on ourselves. This draws one of the major distinctions between the conservative and liberal formations, as liberals believe in human rationality and its ability to solve problems. Oakeshott labels this view of human innovation as “rational prudence,” and states it is the necessary lens from which to gauge any change. From this lens, good change is shown to be slow, tested, growth-oriented, and not based on abstract ideal but specific societal defects.…show more content…
His ideas explain the human tendencies behind many of the ideological beliefs that Burke and other conservatives take. In fact, many of Burke’s ideas can only stem from the conservative disposition that Oakeshott outlines in this essay. For instance, through his expression that enjoyment includes the acceptance that the current moment was given to us by the past, and specifically by past society’s actions and institutions, Oakeshott makes a direct explanation of Burke’s social contact which puts the people of the present in a contract with the past and the future. The third section of Oakeshott, where he applies the conservative disposition to government, is in direct concordance with Burke’s and the general conservative’s idea of practically as the soil in which policy ideas flourish or die, i.e. historical traditions must serve as the anchor for political activity. This fact supports Oakeshott’s end argument that an awareness of the world, which happens as the result of a conservative disposition, is a necessary for someone to work in politics, as it anchors them as they make new policies. As Oakeshott also grew up during the era of welfarism and the growth of the welfare state, his essay supports the stark transition from the older styles of conservatism, especially De Maistre, which often supported aristocracy and established class

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