The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Skepticism

Michael Oakeshott, The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Skepticism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

“In this polished and hitherto unknown work, Oakeshott argues that modern politics was constituted out of a debate, persistent through centuries of European political experience down to our own day, over the question “What should governments do?” According to Oakeshott, two different answers have dominated our thought since the fifteenth century. One, exemplified by such thinkers as Rousseau and Marx, expresses a belief in the capacity of human beings to control, design, and monitor all aspects of social and political life, a belief fostered by the intoxicating increase in power available to governments in modern times. On the other hand, sceptics such as Montaigne, Pascal, and Hobbes argued that governments cannot, in principle, produce perfection and that we should prevent concentrations of power that may result in tyrannies that oppress the dignity of the human spirit. Oakeshott exposes the pitfalls of both positions and shows the value of a middle ground that incorporates scepticism with enough faith to avoid total quietism. Readers of Oakeshott will find here the thinking that lies behind his famous definition of politics as ‘the pursuit of intimations’.” From Yale University Press.