Michael Oakeshott was born on 11 December 1901, the second of three sons of Joseph, a Civil Servant, and Frances, a former nurse. In Robert Grant’s memorable phrase, the family belonged to England’s “unaffluent but educated and public spirited middle class” (see our extracts from Grant’s book Oakeshott). Joseph was a member of the Fabian Society but his interests were more literary than political, while Frances, a trained nurse, took a “lifelong interest in charitable works”.
School Years (1913-18)
Oakeshott attended St. George’s School, Harpenden, a progressive co-educational school run by Rev. Cecil Grant, a classicist and theologian apparently more given to sermons on Kant and Hegel than traditional Church of England doctrines.
Cambridge (Student 1919-23, teacher 1925-40 and 1945-49)
As a student, Oakeshott read History at Gonville and Caius College, but he also attended the Introduction to Philosophy lectures given by the Idealist J. McT. E. McTaggart. After graduation he spent some time pursuing theology at Marburg and Tubingen, and he also did a short stint as a Grammar School English Master before taking up a Fellowship at Gonville and Caius. His first book, Experience and its Modes, was published in 1933.
World War II Service (1940-45)
During the war, Oakeshott served in France and Belgium with the “Phantom” reconnaissance unit.
London School of Economics (1951-68)
After a short period at Nuffield College, Oxford (1949-51), Oakeshott became Professor of Government at the London School of Economics in 1951. His second major book, Rationalism in Politics, a collection of essays written from 1947-61, was published in 1962.
Retirement in Dorset (1968-90)
In retirement, Oakeshott lived in the village of Acton, near Langton Matravers, with third wife Christel. He published two new books, On Human Conduct (1975) and On History (1983) as well as Hobbes on Civil Association (1975), a collection of previously published essays. He declined an honor offered by the Thatcher government. He died on 18 December 1990.
A number of sample primary sources can be downloaded in PDF format from other pages in this site as well as several other places on the web (see our round-up of Oakeshott samples).
Obituaries, memoirs and tributes to Oakeshott can be found under the category “Secondary Source Articles > Biographical”