Well, our theme for this week notwithstanding, this is certainly anything but “shameless filler”: Bill Vallicella, over at his website Maverick Philosopher, has presented some pithy excerpts from Michael Oakeshott’s essay On Being Conservative, in support of his thesis that conservatism is first a matter of temperament and inveterate disposition, and only thereafter a matter of philosophy.
Among the extracts Bill has selected is the following:
. . . what makes a conservative disposition in politics intelligible is nothing to do with natural law or a providential order, nothing to do with morals or religion; it is the observation of our current manner of living combined with the belief (which from our point of view need be regarded as no more than an hypothesis) that governing is a specific and limited activity, namely the provision and custody of general rules of conduct, which are understood, not as plans for imposing substantive activities, but as instruments enabling people to pursue the activities of their own choice with the minimum frustration, and therefore something which it is appropriate to be conservative about.
[. . .]
And the office of government is not to impose other beliefs and activities upon its subjects, not to tutor or to educate them, not to make them better or happier in another way, not to direct them, to galvanize them into action, to lead them or to coordinate their activities so that no occasion of conflict shall occur; the office of government is merely to rule. This is a specific and limited activity, easily corrupted when it is combined with any other, and, in the circumstances, indispensible. The image of the ruler is the umpire whose business is to administer the rules of the game, or the chairman who governs the debate according to known rules but does not himself participate in it.
Wise words. I had not read this essay in its entirety before; Bill’s post inspired me to do so. It is well worth your time. It appears, however, that the link to the original posted by Bill has gone bad; readers may instead find a PDF of Oakeshott’s essay here.