The Fate of Rationalism in Oakeshott’s Thought

Oakeshott’s critique of rationalism is taken up in greater depth in Kenneth Minogue’s essay “The Fate of Rationalism in Oakeshott’s Thought.” Minogue, Oakeshott’s longtime colleague at the LSE, focuses his analysis on the posthumously published manuscript The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Scepticism, believed to have been written somewhere around 1952. This manuscript is of particular interest because in it Oakeshott attempts to go beyond the simple condemnation of rationalism found in his earlier essays and to understand the phenomenon in a more philosophical and dispassionate manner. This leads him to interpret European politics as a salutary balance between the rationalistic politics of faith and the politics of skepticism. Minogue questions, however, whether Oakeshott succeeds in salvaging a place for faith and rationalism in our politics. In the first place, the politics of faith and the politics of skepticism are no longer in balance; the former has carried the day, and the latter is all but lost. Second, in seeking to domesticate the politics of faith as the balancer of the politics of skepticism, Oakeshott attributes to the latter some problems it does not necessarily possess. Minogue concludes that it is not altogether surprising that Oakeshott chose not to publish this work.

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