Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
FT political leader writer, Sebastian Payne recently referred to the Conservative Party’s pre-eminent post-war philosopher — Michael Oakeshott.
— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) September 22, 2017
So why do Tories love him?
1. Oakeshott was a philosopher — not a neo-liberal economist.
2. Unlike Friedrich Von Hayek, Milton Friedman, or even Arthur Seldon, Oakeshott was a bona fide English Gentleman.
3. He wasn’t actually that interested in politics.
Oakeshott was appointed Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics in 1968 – at a time when Daniel Cohn Bendit (Nous sommes tous les Juifs Allemands / We are all German Jews) was over from Paris attempting to foment revolution at the London University.
By simply not being a leftist, unlike his predecessor Harold Laski, Oakeshott did more to foster the LSE neo-liberal counter insurgency than many realise.
Oakeshott was very good friends with Oliver Letwin’s mother Shirley Letwin who wrote the Anatomy of Thatcherism shortly before passing away in 1993.
Thatcher once said “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”
Given that Oliver Letwin has since discovered Behavioural Economics, as outlined in a previous post, it is telling that he chose to name his new book on the Conservative Party — Hearts and Minds.
Nudging people into loving deregulation hasn’t gone quite according to plan. In a way Letwin was hoist by his own petard. He wrote a paper called Drift to Union in 1988 in which he pointed out the risk of a Ever Closer Union and a European Superstate. But nevertheless he believed it would have been better to remain in the customs union whilst arguing for reforms.
He talks about the morning of Brexit as reminiscent of passages by Nadezhda Krupskaya on the morning of the Russian Revolution. A coup d’état had taken place with the ‘arch-Machiavelli’ David Davis being one of the major players.
Was all this madness just to suit the ambition of a bunch of Tory psychopaths?
A Guide to the Classics
Oakeshott wrote a book in the 30’s about how to pick the winner at the Epsom Derby.
Applying conservative principles to the world of horse-racing Oakeshott translated his way of thinking to something everyone could relate to — dealing with uncertainty.
In some fields this could be termed rationality, empiricism or even heuristics.
Oakeshott’s principles included checking a horse’s breeding and form and not just betting on a horse because of its name.
Despite Oakeshott’s advice I couldn’t help but notice — at the top left of an early edition — a horse going by the name of ‘Airborne’.
Airborne, for a couple of years, was also my nickname for Daily Mail Columnist Peter Oborne.
And it just so happens that Oborne wrote the foreword to the June 2017 reissue of Oakeshott’s Guide to the Classics — the only reason I picked it up in the first place.
Merely co-incidence? Of course — but fun all the same.
It turns out that Airborne was a surprise winner. Nobody had heard of it but lots of people bet on it because of the airborne division in the war.
Oakeshott never claimed to make you rich, merely to help you think about how to think.
The Routes of Co-Incidence
Several years ago I met a cousin of the great Indian teacher and Spiritual Guide Krishnamurthi. He (the cousin) was friends with my mother. I understand both were devotees of the late Sathya Sai Baba.
Krishnamurthi (for that was also the cousin’s name) told me all about Sri Aurobindo and the Upanishads.
For a mix of Oakeshottian and non-Oakeshottian reasons I decided to follow these leads, albeit at a leisurely pace.
The Krishnamurthi who I had spent time with was an eloquent inspiring man.
I soon discovered that I had (briefly) attended the same school as Aurobindo in London — St Paul’s.
I call my reasoning partly Oakeshottian because of the breeding component.
Not racial necessarily — but I did also find out that Aurobindo was Bengali.
Turns out most Bangladeshis may be Dravidian — not unlike yours truly — a Tamil from Sri Lanka (via Paddington).
Aurobindo would have been a Hindu – like the Bengalis I came across at St Paul’s
They were all very high caste. Or so it appeared.
From Death to Death will go the man
who discriminates between,
What is seen in the unseen world
and unseen in the seen
This is my re-edit of a line in the Upanishads that I found highly useful.
As a Hindu, once I die, I don’t want to come back.