The Legendary Past –
Michael Oakeshott on Imagination and Political Identity
By Natalie Riendeau
Imprint-Academic – £30.00
In the modern world, as Oakeshott’s theory of modality implicitly recognizes, an irreducible plurality of viewpoints is the norm, but this plurality precludes the shared background he believed the Roman and Christian social myths had provided in ancient and medieval times. Hence, the possibility of maintaining the practical analogue of civil association, that is, government through the rule of law, is also adversely affected insofar as this depends on the existence of such a shared background.
(Legends of Political Life: Ancient Rome and Modern England)
Michael Oskeshott once declared that humans ”know who they are, where they are in the world and how they come to be there.” This might well be the case when it comes to normal people, normal, replete with a modicum of intellect.
Yet so far as Westminster is concerned, I’ve just read that a second Brexit Referendum may well soon be upon us; which, either by proxy or immense stupidity (or both), would wholeheartedly suggest that the so-called humans in charge of running Great Britain, have not an iota of a clue.
A sure-fire premise of a political persuasion, which looks set to continue ruining the lives of many millions -for many years to come. A fiasco of sorts, this book – which contends that political legends are imaginative constructs, poetic creations, which evoke an event from the practical past and allow societies to translate their political experience into the idiom of general ideas – does much to inadvertently shed some sort of abstract light on.
But where The Legendary Past – Michael Oakeshott on Imagination and Political Identity really comes to life, is amid its many provocative and social assertions, of which there are numerous.
For instance, the declaration that humans ”inhabit a mysterious and menacing universe for instance,” upon which authoress, Natalie Riendeau continues to write: ”while this might sound like a dramatic declaration […] a hyperbole the meaning of which may be easily dismissed or deemed to be only of relatively minor importance to his thought, such a conclusion would, in fact, be mistaken. The idea that humans are able to find their way in a menacing ad mysterious universe, more than this, that they are successful in making themselves at home in such a world, an achievement that paves the way for our ‘human living-together,’ to use Hannah Arendt’s expression, and consequently the political, is key to Oakeshott’s political thought.”
Hmm, human living-together, now there’s a concept (as well as an”expression”); especially given some of the raging conflicts currently taking place throughout the world – of which there really are far too many mention in a book review.
That said, when one places the above two strands of relative complex thinking side by side (Oakeshott’s and Arendt’s), one invariably knows one is going to be in for a topsy-turvy read of the most intense design; which in truth, is just one way of describing this altogether confrontational and rather robust read.