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Quotation of the Day…

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… is from pages 253-254 of Joseph Epstein’s June 2015 essay “The Conversationalist [2]” 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 [3] (brackets original to Epstein):

Oakeshott’s strong antipathy was for what he terms “rationalism” in politics. Rationalism is the reign of confident reason expended on a subject that cannot readily be reasoned upon. Politics, “always so deeply veined with both the traditional, the circumstantial and the transitory,” will not obey the kind of technical expertise under whose banner rationalism travels. For the rationalist, no problem evades solution, and perfection will arrive promptly when, one by one, all problems are solved.

“Political activity,” Oakeshott writes, “is recognized [by rationalist thinkers] as the imposition of a uniform condition of perfection upon human conduct.” His book On History (1983) concludes with a dazzling essay, “The Tower of Babel,” about the greatest utopian planning project of all time: that of erecting a building that would reach to heaven. The essay ends on a scrap of verse left by a poet of the day that reads:

Those who in fields Elysian would dwell Do but extend the boundaries of hell.

The villainous thinkers for Oakeshott are those who claim to have all the answers.

DBx: Our world today seethes with such villainous thinkers. They swarm in from the Left and Right and even the center.

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