Monday, July 18, 2011

Time Horizons Theory: Oakeshott Edition

FLG hasn't gotten gotten around to reading Michael Oakeshott yet, although it is on his list. But this quotation Jason Kuznicki pulled out flies in the face of FLG's Time Horizons theory and FLG doesn't like it one bit:
The general characteristics of this [conservative] disposition are not difficult to discern, although they have often been mistaken. They centre upon a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be. Reflection may bring to light an appropriate gratefulness for what is available, and consequently the acknowledgment of a gift or an inheritance from the past; but there is no mere idolizing of what is past and gone. What is esteemed is the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity (“On Being Conservative,” in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays).

No, no, no, no, no. FLG gets what Oakeshott is saying here. Conservatives esteem what exists rather than what could be. But FLG in no way agrees conservatives esteem the present. It's the liberals who esteem the short-run. And don't you forget it.

Looks like FLG'll have to get around to reading Oakeshott sooner rather than later.


william randolph brafford said...

I think you're confusing axes of analysis again... but even if you're not, shouldn't placing a heavier value on what you currently have make the prospect of present action less appealing? And won't a bias toward your current holdings make you more interested in acting for their long-term preservation?

On a different note, I've been thinking that most of your Time Horizons theory falls out of the tried and true Disposition Toward Government Theory: that liberals think government action is usually effective, and conservatives think it's inefficient and plagued by unforeseen consequences. You get a Time Horizens theory with respect to the question "How should the government spend its resources?", and you don't have to try to deal with all the values questions on a single axis.

FLG said...


I must confess, in real life, I think the time horizons theory is powerful, but I also realize the limits of pushing it too far.

The Maximum Leader said...

I have read that essay, and I happen to like Oakeshott quite a bit. (He is permenantly linked in the Pantheon links on my blog.)

I think you might be reading a bit too much into that passage. As you can see, Oakeshott is indicating that one ought to esteem the present because of all that has caused it to be. That is, one should take the long-view backwards to see what in the past has culminated in the present being pretty good. Then one shouldn't spend a lot of time questing for something new just for the sake of being progressive (or for the sake of "change.")

He was writing this in the context so many other political philosophers espousing radical social and political change towards the end of "equality" or "justice."

You probably ought to also read his essay on history. I'm trying to recall the wording exactly, but he has a lovely turn of phrase to the extent of "history is a coy mistress with whom you should not expect to talk sense." I love that.

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