Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on August 3, 2020

in Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 253 of Joseph Epstein’s June 2015 essay “The Conversationalist” as this essay is reprinted (and retitled as “Michael Oakeshott”) in the 2018 collection of some of Epstein’s essays titled The Ideal of Culture:

Oakeshott had his own religious sentiments and complex morality, but he felt that neither religion nor morals had to do with politics, and politics had nothing whatsoever to do “with making men good or even better.” Dreams of perfect justice or perfect freedom ought to be excluded from politics, for “the conjunction of dreaming and ruling generates tyranny.”

The role of government should be much simpler: “to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness.”

DBx: Indeed so. Yet the trend has been, very ominously, to unite Caesar with souls.

Tom Palmer often says that the famous Biblical passage in which Jesus counsels us to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” is not so much about a responsibility for paying taxes as it is a call to keep the secular separate from the sacred. Whether or not you believe in a god, there is for each person a private sphere – which ought to be large – that is no business of the collective or of the state.

Yet oh so many people worship the state. As with all religious belief, the details of the many varieties of dogmas differ from each other. And these differences, being disagreements, spark great battles – intellectual and sometimes physical.

Far too many people are not content merely to watch over and save their own souls – a task sufficiently large to keep each person quite busy for a lifetime – but insist on trying to create here on earth their own versions of heaven for everyone (or at least for everyone in the nation). If only because different individuals have very different visions of heaven, all such attempts, if persisted in, to use the state to nudge, shove, or jet-propel reality closer to heavenly bliss are bound to result in hellish conflict, without ever resulting in any outcome that any sensible person would describe as heavenly.


Liberty Fund, in 1991, published a collection of some of Oakeshott’s best essays.


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