Oakeshott on the State: Between History and Philosophy
Oakeshott sets out philosophical and historical views of the state. They are distinct, and their distinctiveness harmonizes with his notion of the exclusivity of philosophical and historical perspectives. The modal distinctness of philosophy, history, and practice is established in Experience and Its Modes and is then rehearsed in subsequent publications, notably in essays in Rationalism and Politics. History is a way of seeing the past that is at odds with practical thought and philosophy. It is the sign of ideology, and its misperceptions of the relations between philosophy and practice that ideologists such as Lenin and Thatcher invoke abstractions of communism and the market to frame practical political decision-making. However, in considering art in the essay “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind,” Oakeshott imagines art to be independent of other activities and yet to maintain a conversational relationship between the modes of experience. What is meant by a conversation? For Oakeshott, a conversation does not preclude the independence of modes of experience from one another. The closeness between philosophy, practice, and history is also assumed and yet underplayed by the argument of On Human Conduct, which imagines theory to be separate from history and practice. In this paper, it is argued that the connections between practical, historical, and philosophical modes of understanding the state in Oakeshott’s work are closer than is suggested by the metaphor of conversation and at odds with the separation that is maintained in Experience and its Modes.