A few months alter the fall of Margaret Thatcher, the most original thinker of post-war Conservatism died. Perhaps partly because of the commotion caused by the change of national leadership, the passing of Michael Oakeshott did not attract much public notice. Even the Spectator, which might have been expected to mark the event with a full salute, ignored it for half a year, before carrying a curiously distracted piece by its editor, reporting strange losses in the philosopher's papers, without so much as mentioning his political ideas. Perhaps another element in the muted reaction was the remoteness of Oakeshott's intellectual origins from the contemporary landscape. Anglo-Scottish Idealism of the early years of this century, its other lights long since extinguished, has become one of the least recollected episodes of the native past. Oakeshott was always held difficult to place. Although he was an exemplary patriot of British institutions, a superficial glance might lead one to think he was latterly more regarded in the United States. His last book, The Voice of Liberal Learning, was edited from Colorado. The first posthumous collection, an enlarged version of Rationalism in Politics, now appears from Indianopolis. The only extended survey of his work is a monograph from Chicago. But his profile, on either side of the Atlantic, continues to be elusive.
LRB 24 September 1992 | PDF Download