… is from pages 429-430 of Michael Oakeshott’s 1956 essay “On Being Conservative” as this essay is reprinted the 1991 Liberty Fund collection of some of Oakeshott’s work, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays:
To govern, then, as the conservative understands it, is to provide a vinculum juris for those manners of conduct which, in the circumstances, are least likely to result in a frustrating collision of interests; to provide redress and means of compensation for those who suffer from others behaving in a contrary manner; sometimes to provide punishment for those who pursue their own interests regardless of the rules; and, of course, to provide a sufficient force to maintain the authority of an arbiter of this kind. Thus, governing is recognized as a specific and limited activity; not the management of an enterprise, but the rule of those engaged in a great diversity of self-chosen enterprises. It is not concerned with concrete persons, but with activities; and with activities only in respect of their propensity to collide with one another. It is not concerned with moral right and wrong, it is not designed to make men good or even better; it is not indispensable on account of the “natural depravity of mankind” but merely because of their current disposition to be extravagant; its business is to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness. And if there is any general idea entailed in this view, it is, perhaps, that a government which does not sustain the loyalty of its subjects is worthless; and that while one which (in the old puritan phrase) “commands for truth” is incapable of doing so (because some of its subjects will believe its “truth” to be error), one which is indifferent to “truth” and “error” alike, and merely pursues peace, presents no obstacle to the necessary loyalty.