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October 12, 2002

Eisenman/Oakeshott redux

Friedrich --

Sweet of you to take a look at Oakeshott's great essay, "Rationalism in Politics" (readable here) -- and you're right on the money to choose Peter Eisenman as a primo example of the "rationalist" type. (The New Urbanist Andres Duany has a go at Eisenman here.)

I'm sorry I haven't been able to get more people to give Oakeshott a whirl. Reading him jolted my mind out of any number of binds I didn't know it was in, and lured me into an appreciation of many things I hadn't given enough recognition to -- evolved ways of being and doing, largely. My brain felt sharper, as it often does when wrestling with philosophy, but it also felt like it gave a series of great big yawns, and with each one settled into a deeper and more nuanced enjoyment of life.

It would be hard to read the best essays in "Rationalism in Politics" (buyable here) and not get a lot out of the experience. The essays in that volume that this Oakeshott fiend recommends most fervently: "Rationalism in Politics," "The Masses in Representative Democracy," "The Political Economy of Freedom," "On Being Conservative," and "The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind." Gems all, guaranteed to set the mind a-buzzing on many, many topics.

Why not enjoy pornography in private while entertaining the idea that perhaps it ought to be outlawed? Why not combine a taste for liberal economics, smaller government, a humanely conservative social gestalt, and bohemian pleasures? Why not prefer to avoid interacting too much with popular culture even while recognizing its vitality and (occasional) genius, and that it serves its functions for most people pretty efficiently?

Oakeshott fuses enlightening philosophy with a sophisticated and subtle "such is life" attitude. How to beat that? Though I do remember some critics dismissing him as a crank and a dandy -- they seem to think there's no place for the aesthetic point of view in political philosophy. Me, I find any political philosophy (or economic system) that doesn't take the aesthetic point of view into account beyond unappealing.

A telling Oakeshott personal detail I'm fond of: though he wasn't a believer, he enjoyed attending church services, finding them poetic and deeply moving.

Incidentally, I notice that many blog-surfers are puzzled (if not incensed) by some of Andrew Sullivan's stances; they seem bewildered by the way Sullivan's positions don't cohere in a familiar way. They might find his take on the world less puzzling if they were more familiar with Oakeshott, the subject of Sullivan's college thesis. Much of what Sullivan does in his thinking is exploring territory opened up by Oakeshott.



posted by Michael at October 12, 2002


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