The recent Oakeshott-related titles from Imprint Academic are aesthetically pleasing and also illustrate the continuing vitality of Oakeshott studies.
Keith Sutherland from Imprint Academic kicked off 2009 in handsome fashion, sending me a batch of his recent Oakeshott titles, starting with Kevin Williams‘ Education and the Voice of Michael Oakeshott and running through to Michael Minch’s hot-off-the-presses The Democratic Theory of Michael Oakeshott. I can tell that they are going to take some time to properly digest, but I have already seen enough to offer some impressions.
The first thing that struck me about the books was their looks and feel. The earliest books in the series had roughly A5-sized pages with 2cm+ outer margins sufficient for my pencilled notes, and they had pleasantly smooth glossy coated dust jackets. With the next few books, however, the margins shrank and the covers became less smooth. At least to me, they felt less comfortable to handle. Now the glossy covers are back and better still, the books are both higher and wider, allowing the margins to expand to a useful 2.5+ cm. In the relatively slim Kos and Sullivan volumes the font size has also been enlarged. So judging on aesthetics alone, I think these books are the best in the series so far.
The new titles are also surely testaments to the vitality– perhaps the surprising vitality — of Oakeshott studies. At first sight, one might wonder just how much there could be to say about Oakeshott. Compared with some academics he published relatively little during his lifetime, and despite what some of his obituarists called his “boundless curiosity”, most of what he wrote revolved around just a handful of matters, most obviously the history of European political thought (including political philosophy) and the conceptual presuppositions of historical enquiry. He was by no stretch of the imagination the sort of philosopher who tried to produce a “theory of everything”. Yet people keep finding new things to say about him.
Amongst the recent books, Andrew Sullivan’s Intimations Pursued seems likely to garner the most attention, by virtue of the author’s public profile. Yet Michael Minch appears to have pursued some of the intimations of Oakeshott’s thought in a far more surprising direction. What affinities does Oakeshott have with theorists of deliberative democracy like Jurgen Habermas? Perhaps more than many Oakeshottians might be comfortable to admit!
Kevin Williams’ study of Oakeshott’s educational ideas does not look surprising so much as like a long-overdue addition to the secondary literature, considering that Oakeshott’s educational ideas have been attracting the interest of professional educators ever since the 1960s. And while Eric Kos’s theme — what exactly it is we do, when we study great books in the history of political thought — is an obvious Oakeshottian topic, by delving at length into Oakeshott’s early notebooks on the ancient Greeks, Kos appears to have raised the evidential bar for future Oakeshott research.