Anarchic and Antinomian? Oakeshott and the Cambridge School on History, Philosophy, and Authority

  • Jordan RudinskyEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Classical Liberalism book series (PASTCL)


This essay seeks to characterize Michael Oakeshott’s relationship to that approach to the study of political thought that has been referred to as the “Cambridge School.” It does so by considering Oakeshott’s relationship to J. G. A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner. Although Pocock could not accept Oakeshott’s antiquarian conception of historical inquiry, Oakeshott’s conceptualization of tradition attracted Pocock’s early attention and left a clear mark on his subsequent scholarship. And although Oakeshott’s On Human Conduct provides an intellectual history of the modern concept of the state like Skinner’s Foundations and even shares its emphases, Oakeshott’s theorization of the concept of the state can be seen as perhaps more historically sensitive. The author also focuses on Pocock’s claim that by denying the practical relation of past to present Oakeshott represented the “anarchic and antinomian strain in conservatism.” The author suggests that the third, historical section of On Human Conduct should be understood as bi-modal—both history and art—and that the aesthetic dimension of his discussion of the different “dispositions” informing theories of the state can be understood as the closest Oakeshott comes to bridging the gap between theory and practice, and thus the best answer to Pocock’s charge of “anarchism and antinomianism.”

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GovernmentHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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