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Who now reads Michael Oakeshott? Until recently, very few people indeed. It took 30 years for his first book, Experience and Its Modes (1933), to sell out its initial print run of 1,000 copies. Nor was its author well known even towards the end of his life. The possibly apocryphal story goes that after her election in 1979 Mrs Thatcher was keen to celebrate the conservative intellectuals who, as she saw it, had helped make victory possible. “Let’s give that man Oakeshott a title!” she cried. A knighthood was duly produced . . . but for Walter Oakeshott, the (no less deser­ving) former vice-chancellor of Oxford and specialist in medieval literature.

It is unlikely that his distant cousin will have minded, for Michael was, by all accounts, the most unassuming of men. During the Second World War the young Peregrine Worsthorne, a future editor of the Sunday Telegraph, found himself sharing a tent for six months with another recruit to the Phantom special reconnaissance unit. Having recently won a scholarship to Peterhouse, Worsthorne lost no time in favouring his new companion with his wide-ranging views on politics, history, philosophy and other topics. One can hardly imagine his embarrassment, on arriving at Cambridge, to attend the university’s lectures on European political thought and discover the same tent-mate delivering them.

Yet at his death in 1990, aged 89, Michael Oakeshott did not lack public recognition. The Daily Telegraph described him as “the greatest political philosopher in the Anglo-Saxon tradition since Mill – or even Burke”. The Guardian called him “perhaps the most original academic political philosopher of this century”, and he was marked as a brilliant interpreter of Hobbes, a generous teacher and a highly effective chair of the department of government at the London School of Economics...

New Statesman | Michael Oakeshott, conservative thinker who went beyond politics

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