Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Friday, March 08, 2002
Book Review: Michael Oakeshott's The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Skepticism. A disappointment. Oakeshott divides modern politics into two styles: faith and skepticism. The politics of faith is utopian, future-oriented, aggressive, believes that there is a direction that society should go and government should get it there. The politics of skepticism is pessimistic, past-oriented, defensive, believes that it's society's business where to go and government's job to maintain order through ajudication of conflicts among holders of traditional rights. He has some interesting things to say about Locke, who developed an ideology for a liberal political system; most of us would identify that system as largely "skeptical" in Oakeshott's scheme, but the concept of natural rights that undergirds this ideology is utopian in its extent, which makes Locke a "faithful" thinker in the same scheme. It strikes me that this analysis, and a related discussion of America (founded on faith in "self-evident" truths and yet ordered by a Constitution which is profoundly "skeptical" in its design), would be, if expanded, more interesting than the rest of the book, which is largely a rehash of Burke. It also feels quite dated; the book is from the 1950s, and his understanding of modern politics is very much colored by the Cold War, and what he saw it doing to the democracies even as he understood its necessity in opposing a most evil version of a "faithful" political system in Soviet Communism. It is interesting to think about our current war in light of his dichotomy: we are engaged against an enemy whose politics, such as they are, bear resemblance to the "faithful" politics of the Roundheads. But on closer inspection, their utopian notions are a mask for nihilism; they are the agents of anarchy at least as much as they are of a twisted utopian order; they long for death not only because you can't make omlettes without breaking eggs but for its own sake. I wonder if this kind of enemy is the natural nemesis of a polity that, while still bearing the mark of a huge state, has lost its own faith and grown skeptical with age.