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Recasting Conservatism

Recasting Conservatism: Oakeshott, Strauss, and the Response to Postmodernism

Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 284
  • Book Info
    Recasting Conservatism
    Book Description:

    A new conservative theory in Britain and America has altered the terms of political debate, not only among conservatives, but also among liberals, social democrats, and socialists. In this book, Robert Devigne explores how this conservative thought-in particular the work of the British political philosopher Michael Oakeshott, the American Leo Strauss, and their followers-is responding to the challenge of postmodernism, to the pervasive loss of civil traditions, morality, and authority in contemporary societies.Devigne argues persuasively that new British and American conservative theories are not merely variants of economic liberalism, but also embody a search for new authoritative political and civil relations, each attempting to modify society's future course with outlooks significantly different from those of their conservative predecessors. He shows that while both theories are responding to similar political problematics, their origins in different political philosophies have contributed to distinct constitutional doctrines and political objectives. Devigne explains how these separate outlooks and goals are rooted in different views on morality, authority, democracy, liberty, justice, community, and religion, and in distinct preferences toward economic, social, and foreign policy. Throughout the book, Devigne situates both theories' positions among the central debates of political philosophy and compares each theory to dominant British and American political outlooks of the past.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16079-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    This book offers a new explanation of contemporary British and American conservative political theory. It identifies how conservative theory is responding to postmodernism: to societies in which common civil practices are not assumed to be norms corresponding to an existing independent reality; individual identities are fractured and lack stability; conventions that instill political and social discipline are not present; groups gain political influence through assertions of power; and political theories have lost all faith, not only in God, but in the human power of transcendence as well. These conditions pose both grave challenges and significant opportunities for the articulation of...

  5. ONE The Redefinition of British Conservatism
    (pp. 1-35)

    Conservative political thought, as most fully expressed by Burke’s response to the French Revolution, developed throughout the West in opposition to Enlightenment beliefs that societies could be guided along a secular, egalitarian, and self-governing path. It was characterized by a pessimistic view of human nature, a preference for community or the state when this was in conflict with individualism, and a rejection of political institutions based on rational models of behavior. These core principles did not constitute a set of substantive ideas concerning the best form of government or the best order of society. They defined only a “framework into...

  6. TWO The Redefinition of American Conservatism
    (pp. 36-77)

    There is no American Oakeshott. None of America’s contemporary conservative theorists developed a comprehensive critique of American politics over five or six decades.¹ New conservative thinking in America has grown out of heterogeneous academic disciplines—political philosophy, law, and the social sciences. Straussians, neoconservative social scientists and publicists, rational choice theorists, and originalist constitutionalists have been among the most important contributors to new conservative political thought.

    I want to identify the premises and aims of new American conservative political theory mainly through an analysis of its development among writers in two groups: the political philosophers Thomas Pangle, Harvey Mansfield, Jr.,...

  7. THREE Establishing and Reestablishing Morality and Authority
    (pp. 78-118)

    The intellectuals who have redefined conservative political thought in Britain and America believe that their polities no longer generate traditions sufficient to sustain themselves. Conservative theory must adopt to postmodernist societies, in which norms and conventions that instill political and social discipline are lacking, by articulating an outlook and a program that establish and reestablish traditions. Yet British and American conservative theory each view tradition differently. The British view tradition primarily as assumptions underlying practices in diverse activities—language, production, education, science—and providing the resources and boundaries, the liberty and order necessary for individuals and institutions to interact and...

  8. FOUR Restructuring Liberty and Economics
    (pp. 119-152)

    Conservative theory in Britain and America denounces state-led economic development, which leads many analysts to assume that both are guided by the principles of laissez-faire liberalism or libertarianism. From this perspective, both conservative theories center on negative liberty—the idea that an individual is “said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interfere with his activity.”¹ This analysis is not appropriate for defining British or American conservative theory. Neither is concerned solely to enlarge the individual’s private domain. Redefining liberty, each conservative theory attempts to address the problematics it identifies with the absence...

  9. FIVE The Institutional Aims of New Conservative Theory
    (pp. 153-189)

    During the past decade many social scientists have analyzed institution building. Most of these studies emphasize how historical paths of institutional development either facilitate or constrain human agents who are seeking to introduce new substantive public and foreign policies.¹ Here I want to focus on a different aspect of the relation between human agency and structure: how British and American conservative theories have created substantive proposals in social and foreign policy domains in order to modify their respective nation’s institutional paths of development.

    Each conservative theory envisions different institutional configurations. British conservative theory advocates restricting, reconstituting, or eliminating many intermediary...

  10. SIX Undivided and Dual Sovereignty
    (pp. 190-204)

    Political theories labeled conservative, liberal, and socialist periodically develop new features and goals. Conservative theory at the close of the twentieth century is embarking on a task similar to those of Anglo-American liberal theory at its start. T. H. Green, L. T. Hobhouse, Herbert Croly, and others posited that civil society did not generate conditions that enabled all to exercise individual freedom. Redefining liberalism, they redirected its attention from laws and policies that restricted the state’s authority to those that provided persons with social and economic power requisite for liberty.¹ Contemporary conservative theory believes that civil society is unable to...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 205-256)
  12. Index
    (pp. 257-268)