The Right Stuff

“The Right Stuff,” Prospect, October 1996.


I remember the day very well, back in 1956, when I arrived at my office at Encounter-of which I was then co-editor-and found on my desk an unsolicited manuscript by Michael Oakeshott. This, I thought, is the way every editor’s day should begin, with an over-the-transom arrival of an essay by one of the finest living political thinkers and certainly the finest stylist. The manuscript was called “On Being Conservative” and I read it with pleasure and appreciation. It was beautifully written, subtle in its argument, delicate in its perceptions, and full of sentences and paragraphs that merit the attention of anthologists for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come. Fortunately, this essay is to be found in his book, Rationalism in Politics. I say “fortunately” because, after loving every line of this essay, I sat down and wrote to Michael, rejecting it.