When Michael Oakeshott died in 1990, Professor Jeffrey Hart of Dartmouth eulogized him as “the most important political thinker in the Anglo-Saxon tradition since Burke (and I [Hart] have not overlooked J. S. Mill).” William F. Buckley also reflected on Oakeshott’s contributions while recalling Friedrich Hayek’s thinking on the meaning of freedom. Oakeshott warned, Buckley noted, that modern man might be ill prepared to shoulder the responsibilities that went with freedom, preferring short-term security instead. During a scholarly career that spanned more than half a century, Oakeshott combined a philosophical mastery of the great books in the Western tradition, a historian’s sensitivity to particulars and contingency, and the literary power of a gifted novelist. He wrote deeply, skeptically, and gracefully about the human condition, Man’s search for knowledge, and the tensions between his dispositions and his aspirations.
The Michael Oakeshott Association formed in 1999 as an international forum to engage Oakeshott’s work on “epistemology and metaphysics, philosophy of history, philosophical jurisprudence, education, aesthetics and religion.” Dr. Leslie Marsh, charter fellow of the Association, visited the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) in April, spoke to Hamilton College undergraduates about Oakeshott, and then led a Leadership Luncheon at the AHI on one of Oakeshott’s most famous essays: “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind.” Friendship emerged from conversation; collaboration grew out of friendship. Thanks to Dr. Marsh, the AHI has been gifted with a multivolume collection of Oakeshott’s works. “Marx (Groucho) said, ‘Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.’ Michael Oakeshott, Dr. Marsh observed, “probably wouldn’t have disagreed. The academy is no less immune from such confusions. Indeed, creeping politicization has corroded one of Western civilization’s greatest achievements— liberal arts education. The AHI offers a forum where this inheritance and achievement can be discussed without fear of censure.”
The AHI thanks Dr. Marsh for his kind remarks and generous gift. The Oakeshott volumes will be located in the AHI in the James Piereson Room.