The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) congratulates Dean Ball, former co-leader of the AHI Undergraduate Fellows Program (class of 2014), on the publication in Collingwood and British Idealism Studies of “ ‘Ideas of Another Order’: Michael Oakeshott and Confucius in Conversation.”  Ball wrote the essay during his senior year in an independent research course supervised by Hamilton College Associate Professor of Art History Steve Goldberg, a long-time friend of AHI.

AHI Undergraduate Fellow Dean Ball

Ball, who is now Deputy Director of State and Local Policy at the Manhattan Institute in New York, a leading urban public policy think tank, describes the paper as an exploration of understandings of human conduct, “fundamental philosophical resonances,” between the twentieth-century British philosopher Michael Oakeshott and Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher.  “I argue implicitly,” said Ball, “that an Oakeshottian conversation, in which participants listen and react to one another’s thoughts without trying to win an argument or even come to a conclusion, without any goal other than mutual enjoyment, can be a useful heuristic in comparative philosophy. I do not create a literal conversation between the two thinkers, but rather attempt to flesh out each of their ideas side-by-side.”

In the foreword to the 1991 republication of Oakeshott’s Rationalism in Politics, Timothy Fuller noted that the rising reputation of conservatism led the way for renewed appreciation for Oakeshott’s thought and his combination of a “commitment to individual liberty with a profound grasp of the historic achievements of European civilization.”  Ball was exposed to Oakeshott during his freshman year through discussions at the AHI. His interest was piqued in his junior year by former AHI undergraduate leader Thomas Cheeseman who had spent four years organizing and participating in AHI programming, and was then in residence at AHI. In April 2013, at the Carl B. Menges Colloquium, Ball met some of the world’s leading Oakeshott scholars, including Kenneth Minogue, Leslie Marsh, Corey Abel, and Paul Franco. Minogue, Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Honorary Fellow at the London School of Economics, served briefly on the AHI’s Board of Academic Advisors, before his death on June 28, 2013.

In the essay, Ball expressed gratitude to Cheeseman and Leslie Marsh for leading him to “one of the twentieth century’s most under-appreciated minds” and to Goldberg for his guidance, noting, “Our discussions were a profound testament to the creative powers of conversation.”  Professor Goldberg, in turn, expressed his pleasure in receiving “the wonderful news that Dean Ball has just published his study on Oakeshott and Confucius, and in a most appropriate and prestigious journal, Collingwood and British Idealism Studies.” As a scholar studying Chinese art and philosophy, Goldberg found that the conversations with Ball deepened his own understanding. He noted, “As I reflect back on our conversations at that time, I am reminded about how deeply indebted I am to Dean for enlightening me about the writings and thought of Michael Oakeshott. It was Oakeshott’s emphasis on the familiar and its affinity with the central importance of tradition in Confucian thought that inspired this comparative study. One of the pleasures of teaching at Hamilton College has been to work with students of the caliber of Dean Ball.”

In his capacity as the Manhattan Institute’s Strategic Manager, Ball is directly-responsible for several special projects, including the Hayek Book Prize, which honors “the book that best reflects Friedrich Hayek’s vision of economic and individual liberty.” He also coordinates events, research, and other projects on issues including free trade, financial industry regulation, economic history, and political theory; assists with new program managers; does outreach to legislators and government officials; and works with scholars on the delivery of white papers.

“Dean Ball,” AHI Executive Director Robert Paquette observed, “has a fine mind and a voracious hunger to learn.  His nurturing at the AHI began his freshmen year.  He attended most every event we sponsored.  This gifted young man has the capacity to succeed at many things; I could not be prouder of him.”

By Mary Grabar, AHI Resident Fellow