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JacobSegal2014

ISSN:18325203
FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172,October2014

ARTICLE

MichelFoucaultandMichaelOakeshott:TheVirtuosityofIndividuality
JacobSegal,KingsboroughCommunityCollegeoftheCityUniversityofNewYork

ABSTRACT:Inthispaper,IreinterpretMichaelOakeshottsideaofaliberalselfthroughthe
conceptual framework of Foucaults theory of the aesthetics of the self. Oakeshott believes
thatagentscancreatethemselvesasastyleoradistinctiveshape.Thisstyleisavirtuos
ity,anartisticachievementthatisalsoanexcellenceinitself.Oakeshottsliberalversionof
theaestheticsoftheselfisanewwaytothinkaboutwhatFoucaultsargumentmightmean.
Oakeshottstheoryisaninternalchallengetoliberalisminsofarasliberalismispurportedlya
theoryofindividualityandtheunalienableworthofeachperson;butforOakeshott,thisindi
vidualitypertainstotheagentgainingadistinctivestyle,sustainingdistinctness,notachiev
ing distinction. Oakeshott draws our attention to how distinctness is undermined by the
forcesofconformityandnormalityinexistingliberalsociety.Ialsoarguethatthepurport
edly radical social policy of the basic income, which, while in tension with parts of
Oakeshottstheory,providesallcitizenstheopportunitytoenjoyhisparticularideaoftheself.

Keywords:Oakeshott,Foucault,Individuality,BasicIncome,liberalism

In this paper, I reinterpret Michael Oakeshotts idea of a liberal self through the conceptual
framework of Foucaults theory of the aesthetics of the self.1 Oakeshott believes that agents
cancreatethemselvesasastyleoradistinctiveshape.Thisstyleisavirtuosity,anartistic
achievementthatisalsoanexcellenceinitself.Idemonstratehowthisselfenjoysitsfree
dom as an end in itself, a firstorder good and that this freedom is an ethical practice, both
abouttheselfandaboutthewayinwhichtheselftreatsothers.
Myprojecthastwointerrelatedaims.First,Oakeshottsliberalversionoftheaesthetics
oftheselfisanewwaytothinkaboutwhatFoucaultsargumentmightmean.Heprovides
detailstoaconceptoftenleftvagueinpoststructuralism.Oakeshottdescribesthematerialthe
selfhastoenactitselfasastyleinaliberalpoliticalorder.Oakeshottdescribeshowtheself
enacts itself, as a style, through the moral moment of activity and how this self emerged in
AnumberofcommentatorshaveconnectedOakeshottwiththeliberaltradition.Forexample,seeWendell
JohnJr.,MichaelOakeshottasLiberalTheorist,CanadianJournalofPoliticalScience,Vol.18,No.4(Decem
ber1985),773787,andPaulFranco,MichaelOakeshottAsLiberalTheorist,PoliticalTheory,Vol.18,No.3
(August1990),411436.
1

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FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172.

modern European history. Second, Oakeshotts theory is an internal challenge to liberalism


insofarasliberalismispurportedlyatheoryofindividualityandtheunalienableworthofeach
person;butforOakeshott,thisindividualitypertainstotheagentgainingadistinctivestyle,
sustainingdistinctness, not achieving distinction.Oakeshott draws ourattentiontohow
distinctnessisunderminedbytheforcesofconformityandnormalityinexistingliberalso
ciety. I argue that Oakeshotts liberal critique of liberalism reveals the ambiguous place of
certain institutions and market relations in liberal theory. I also argue that the purportedly
radicalsocialpolicyofthebasicincome,which,whileintensionwithpartsofOakeshotts
theory,providesallcitizenstheopportunitytoenjoyhisparticularideaoftheself
Like Foucault, Oakeshott identifies a normalized self in the modern order. This
shows that power is productive, not merely repressive, and that this power has many
sourcesbeyondthestate.Thisnormalizationcompromisesdistinctness,aconcernthatwesee
inthepoststructuralistwriterBonnieHoniginapassageonHannahArendt.

Theatonalpassionfordistinction,whichsomovedArendtstheoreticalaccount,mayalso
bereadasastruggleforindividuation,foremergence,asadistinctself:inArendtstermsa
whoratherthanawhat,aselfpossessednotoffame,persee,butofindividuality,aself
thatisneverexhaustedbythesociological,psychological,andjuridicalcategoriesthatseek
tofixit.2

Foucaultspeaksofresistancebytheselftotheforcesthatcreateit.WhileOakeshottdoesnot
use this language specifically, he does describe a historical and protean self that sustains
itselfdespiteconstantchanges.Wefindinhisworkanagonicself,inwhichdifferentdispo
sitionsaboutexperiencestruggle.Thisstruggleisbothpublicandprivatebecauseheargues
thateveryactionaimingatanendisconditionedbymoralconsiderationsthatarepub
lic.Oakeshottchallengesthetraditionalpublic/privatedistinctionofliberalism.Thiselement
oftheselfisalwayspotentiallysubjecttodebate.
ThemoralmomentoftheselfisalsoessentialtoOakeshottsunderstandingofitselfas
avirtuosity.Themoralmomentofactionispresentoriented,notconcernedwiththefuture.
Moral considerations are an element in Oakeshotts long engagement with finding self
sufficientexperienceandactivities,whicharevaluedforthemselves.Ishowhowtheseself
sufficientexperiencesarethe materialthrough whichagents constitutethemselves as a style
andavirtuosity.Tobesure,Oakeshottunderstandsthatbothselfsufficientandinstrumental
activities (and the frustrations of those endsoriented acts) have their place in a human life.
My argument is that Oakeshott identifies selfsufficiencydeveloped as a styleas a more
meaningfulandmoreindividuatingexperience.
Idevelopthisargumentthroughthefollowingsections.Ifirstbrieflyexplorethede
bate about the correct ideological label for Oakeshott and the place of my argument in this
debate.IthendiscussOakeshottsconcernwithnormalizationanditsparallelswithFoucaul
tianthought.WeseehereOakeshottsearlycriticismofwhatcanbecalledmainstreambour
geoisethics.Third,IdevelopOakeshottsconceptofmoralityandactionasamoralpractice.
BonnieHonig,PoliticalTheoryandtheDisplacementofPolitics(Cornell:CornellUniversityPress,1993),159.

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Segal:MichelFoucaultandMichaelOakeshott

WealsoseeherehowOakeshottcallsintoquestiontheliberaldistinctionbetweenpublicand
private.Fourth,IshowhowOakeshottunderstandsactionasavirtuosityandastyle.Finally,
I argue that the basic income vindicates Oakeshotts concept of individuality, even if it goes
beyondthestrictlimitsofOakeshottstheory.

OakeshottsLiberalism
Labeling Oakeshott a liberal is controversial. Nonetheless, the current scholarly consensus
does identify him with that tradition, albeit with some dissent. In this paper, I follow the
scholarlyconsensusplacingOakeshottwithintheliberaltradition.Oakeshotthimselfavoided
ideologicallabelsandwasexplicitlycriticalofaspectsofliberalism.Earlierinhiscareer,with
the publication of his collected essays, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essay, in 1955,
Oakeshott was seen as a conservative traditionalist and a critic of liberal rationalism. Ra
tionalism in Politics does suggest liberal themes in his defense of markets as systems for dis
persingpower.3
Oakeshotts major theoretical statement, On Human Conduct, is the best expression of
hisliberalism.CentraltothisworkisOakeshottsdistinctionbetweentwoformsofthestate:
an illiberal enterprise state that has a purpose such as engendering goodness or economic
growth,andaliberalcivilassociation,anoninstrumentalassociationwhereinthelawregu
latesthemannerofactingbutneverdescribesspecificgoalstoindividuals.Oakeshottrepli
catesthebasicliberalframeworkofstateindifferencetothegoalsofindividuals,onlycreating
theconditionsunderwhichindividualsareabletopursetheirgoals.Oakeshottspeaksfavor
ablyoftheumpireconceptofthestate,famouslyarticulatedbyLockeintheSecondTreatise
ofGovernment.4
Oakeshottstheorycanbeseenasclosetotheclassicalmarketbasedliberalismofa
F.A.Hayek.5OakeshottsideaofthelawissimilartotheHayekscentralnotionoftheruleof
lawasnoninstrumentallaw.Oakeshotthasbeenlinkedtotheconservativecritiqueofsocial
democratic uses of the state for collective ends. He is a ceaseless critic of what he calls the
stateasamanagerialassociation,thatis,thestatethatdirectsindividualstospecificgoals,
suchastheexploitationofnaturetosatisfyhumanneeds,ortheforcibleimpositionofafair
distributionofresources,orprovisionofacommunalwarmththatsheltersindividualsfrom
lifesdifficulties.
PartofthedifficultyofidentifyingOakeshottideologicallyistheambiguityofthela
belsthemselves.AnthonyGamblearguesthatOakeshottisaconservativewhenconservatism
isdefinedasanideologythatsupportsnineteenthcenturyEnglishtraditions,resistschange,
and seeks that which has intrinsic worth.6 Gamble recognizes the liberal, indeed libertarian
aspects of On Human Conduct and argues that Oakeshott defends the basic liberal idea of
SeeMichaelOakeshott,ThePoliticalEconomyofFreedom,inRationalisminPoliticsandOtherEssays(In
dianapolis,Indiana:LibertyFund,1991),284406,
4MichaelOakeshott,ThePoliticsofFaithandthePoliticsofSkepticism(Yale:YaleUniversityPress,1995),5556.
5F.AHayek,TheConstitutionofLiberty(Chicago:UniversityofChicagoPress,1978).
6AndrewGamble,OakeshottsIdeologicalPolitics:ConservativeorliberalinEfraimPodoksik(ed.),The
CambridgeCompaniontoOakeshott(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,2012),153176.
3

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FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172.

freedomtochoosebetweenavarietyofbeliefs,valuesandactivitiestoinventandreinvent
oneself within the context of laws that forbid the direction of individuals toward specific
goals.7Gambleargues,however,thattheseliberalideasareembeddedinalargerconservative
framework.ForOakeshott,politicsisaconservativeenterprisethatprotectsthebasicEnglish
traditionsinwhichindividualspursuedtheirownendswhilesubscribingtoproperlyformu
latedlaw.ForGamble,Oakeshottrejectsanumberofaspectsofdoctrinalliberalism,such
asthefocusonhumanrights,laissezfaireeconomicsandmassdemocracy.8
In his important essay in 1985, Jeremy Rayner rejects the association made between
OakeshottandU.Sconservatism.9Thisconservatismisunderstoodintermsofthefounding
of political society in natural right and an equation of liberal politics and free enterprise.
Raynernotesthat,forOakeshott,lawisnotauthoritativebecauseofanextrahumanvaluelike
naturalright,butbecausehumanscometoacceptthelawasauthoritative.Rayneralsoargues
that civil association is noninstrumental association, and so not organized to limit govern
mentortoreproduceacapitalistorder.HewritesthatOakeshott

deniedthatapreferenceforcivilassociationhasanythingtodowithapreferenceforalim
itedornoninterventioniststyleofgovernment.Suchconsiderationsaresimplyirrelevantto
any distinction between civil and purposive association. He denied that civil association
hasanynecessaryconnectionwithcapitalismwhich,ifitreferstoanything,denotesanar
rangementforthesatisfactionofneeds.10

ItiseasytofalselyconflateOakeshottwithwriterslikeHayekandMiltonFriedmaninsofaras
Oakeshottsworkappearstobedirectedagainstgovernmentintervention.Raynerinsiststhat
Oakeshottsconceptionofthestateiswithoutends,noninstrumentalandsocannotaimatthe
promotionofaneconomicsystem.Hearguesthatfreedomandprosperitymightresultas
abyproductofthesystemofnoninstrumentallawbutisnotitsgoalandcannotbejustified
intheseterms.11
Myinterpretationbuildsontheseinsights.GambleshowshowOakeshottsthoughtis
connectedtoatraditionalistattachmentoftheintrinsicworthofexistingsocialrelationsmar
riedtoamoreliberalviewoftheselfcreationoftheindividual.Ishowthatselfcreationisa
formofintrinsicworth.RaynercorrectlynotesthatOakeshottshistoricismentailsarejection
ofthetranscendentalfoundationofpolitics.Thishistoricismneedstobeextendedintheanal
ysis of the self itself. He notes how Oakeshott separates the justification of civil association
fromcapitalism.IshowthatOakeshottcriticizesmarketrelationsinsofarastheyengenderthe
valueofinstrumentality.

Ibid.,170.
Ibid.,172173.
9 Jeremy Rayner, The Legend of Oakeshotts Conservatism: Skeptical Philosophy and Limited Politics,
CanadianJournalofPoliticalScience,vol.18,no.2(June1985),313338.
10Ibid.,315.
11Ibid.,335.
7
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OakeshottandNormalization
ThesedebatesaboutOakeshottspoliticshavenotpaidsufficientattentiontoOakeshottscriti
cismsofthenormsandinstitutionsofreallyexistingliberalism.ForOakeshott,thevalues
ofmarketsociety,thepowerofthestate,andsocialwelfareinstitutionsallgenerateformsof
beingthatcompromisedistinctness.
Foucaulthas famouslychallengedhow liberals limit thediscussionof the problemof
powertotheexcessesofthestate.Foucaultfindspowerinhowagencyinmodernsocietyis
produced through a training in normal or correct behavior through a variety of state and
nonstatedisciplinessuchashospitals,schoolsandprisons.12Thistrainingaimsattheinter
nalizationofthenormssothatindividualsguidetheirownconductbybeinghealthyorhard
working or good consumers. In later work, Foucault shifted his focus to biopower, under
stoodnotasthetrainingofindividualacts,butafocusonthemanipulationoflifeprocesses
andcapacitiesofthepopulation:propagation,birthsandmortality,thelevelsofhealth,life
expectancyandlongevity.13
Some have noted the theme of normalization in Oakeshotts work. Suvi Soininen
writesthatOakeshottshareswithFoucaultanotionofindividualsasbeingcreatedbypow
er.14ShewritesthatthereisaFoucaultianflavortoOakeshottsthinkingthatthemorea
given activity occupies human life, the more people internalize its rules, which then be
comesapartofconductassuch.15
ForOakeshott,theproblemofnormalizationislinkedtothetemporalorientationofac
tivity.16 The value of instrumental activity is more liable to be defined by confining social
meanings.Weseekachievementsthatgettheapprovalofothers.Oakeshottbelievesthatthe
presentorselfsufficientmomentofactivitybelongstotheselfandismoredistinctorindi
viduated.
Inayouthfulessay,ReligionandtheWorld,Oakeshottdescribesthispotentialcon
formityintermsofanorientationtoexperiencehecallsworldliness,inwhichactionisvalua
bleinsofarasitcontributestotheexternalsocialworld.Theworldlyselffindsworthprimari
lyinworkandtheresultsofgettingthingsdone.Theworldlyselfwantstomakeacon
tribution to the stability of the present order. This contribution requires a concern for the
future,anorientationtowhatisachieved.Thisbeliefimplieswhatmaybedescribedasan
externalstandardofvaluewhatisprizedissuccess,meaningtheachievementofsomeex

MichelFoucault,DisciplineandPunish(NewYork:RandomHouse,1975).
MichelFoucault,HistoryofSexuality:AnIntroduction(NewYork:VintageBooks,1990),139.
14SuviSoininen,FromaNecessaryEviltoanArtofContingency:MichaelOakeshottsConceptionofPoliticalActiv
ity(Exeter:AcademicImprint,2005),8687.
15Ibid.,94.
16 For a discussion of temporality in Oakeshotts work see Campbell Corey,Michael Oakeshott: On Religion,
Aesthetics, and Politics (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri, 2006); Michael Oakeshott: On Religion,
Aesthetics,andPolitics(Columbia,Missouri:UniversityofMissouriPress2006);AndrewSullivan,Intimations
Pursued: The Voice of Practice in the Conversation of Michael Oakeshott (Exeter: Academic Imprint, 2008); and
DavidMapel,CivilAssociationandtheIdeaofContingency,PoliticalTheory,vol.18,no3(August1990),
392410.
12
13

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FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172.

ternal result.17 Oakeshott employs a famous existential description of existence. He writes


thatworldlinesspromisesanillusiveimmortalitythatmakeshumanityaSisyphusandits
lifeapointlesstrundlingofauselessstone.For,aslikeasnot,ifwesetvalueuponexternal
achievement alone, death or disease will rob us of our harvest, and we shall have lived in
vain.18
Inhiscritiqueofafutureorientation,Oakeshottrejectsthecentraltemporalbourgeois
normoftheindefiniteprogressofsociety.Progressorthecontinuousimprovementofex
ternalcircumstancescannotbethesourceoflifesinceitisapracticeofdeath,thedeathof
whatismostvaluable,ourselvesinthehereandnow.
Oakeshott links this instrumental thinking with conformist bourgeois, future
orientated virtues. These virtues are normalizing since they require a selfmanipulation in
ordertoachievegeneralizedexpectations.Oakeshottcriticizesthemiddleclassvaluesofca
reerandreputationinwhichthevividnessofpresentexperienceissubordinatedtothefu
ture:[F]orthesakeofanhypotheticaloldman,whomaybearhisnamethirtyyearshence,
the young man hoards his energies and restrains his activities.19 A reputation is something
recognizedasvaluablebythecommunityandsoactivitiesarerestrainedinordertocreatean
impression on others. Individuals mold or discipline themselves in order to fit a collective
ideaofhowtolive.Oakeshottcondemnsthevirtueofprudencebecauseitrobsthepresent
ofmeaningandteachesthatweoughttoliveaheadofourselves.20Theprudentialperson
focuses on future considerations. This person is careful, likely to avoid the eccentric.
Oakeshott warns against an impulse toward averageness that creates a predicable self. He
arguesthatthatmodernlifeissaturatedwiththemiddleclasspassionforsafety,regulari
ty,andpossession.21Thesethreenotions,socentraltobourgeoisconcerns,allspeaktoanor
malizingforce.Safetyandregularityareaversetotheunusualandtheabnormal.Difference
mustbesuppressedasunsafe.
In Religion and the World Oakeshotts focus is on the conformity engendered by
bourgeoisnorms.InOnHumanConduct,hediscussesconformityasafunctionofstatepower
andsubpoliticalinstitutions.OakeshottsargumentsaresimilartoFoucaultsargumentscon
cerning individuals and how they are normalized, that is, by bringing lifeprocesses under
controlinordertomaximizedesirableoutcomes.
Oakeshott examines two forms of the enterprise state. In one case, the state is orga
nizedtomaximizetheefficientexploitationoftheestateofthestate.Humanbeingsare
organized by the state to contribute to this goal to the maximal degree. Oakeshott under
standscompulsoryschoolingintermsofthiscorporategoal:

MichaelOakeshott,ReligionandtheWorld,inReligion,PoliticsandtheMoralLife(NewHaven:YaleUni
versityPress,1993),31.
18Ibid.,32.
19Ibid.,31.
20Ibid.,33.
21Ibid.,3334.
17

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Segal:MichelFoucaultandMichaelOakeshott

TherightanddutyofthegovernmentofamodernEuropeanstateistoschoolthenation
insuchamannerthateachofitshumancomponentsmightrecognizehimselfasamember
ofthecorporateassociationandbemadefittocontributetothepursuitofthecorporateen
terpriseaccordingtohisabilitiesandinrelationtothecurrentmanagerialpolicy.22

Anotherversionoftheenterprisestateisoneinwhichtheinhabitantsareseenasdiseasedor
disordered and the therapeutic state is organized to cure them by enforcing a normality.
Oakeshott argues that social science and social welfare workers of all kindssociologists,
socialpsychologists,psychiatrists,grouptherapistsareinstrumentsoftheruleoftherapy.
Citizens become associates joined in being diseased and recognizing themselves as the
subjects of therapeutae (as well as for the therapists themselves), everything is what it is in
termsofcurativevirtue:work(except,ofcourse,socialwork)isoccupationaltherapy,edu
cation is curative, leisure is remedial treatment. The function of the state is to guarantee a
universalsanity;thatis,auniformsocallednormality.23

SelfSufficiencyandfreedomasanethicalpractice

In the following two sections, I describe Oakeshotts alternative to a normalized self, a self
withinthelimitsofaliberalpoliticalorderthatcreatesitselfasavirtuositythroughactivities
that are selfsufficient. In this section, I trace the idea of selfsufficiency in Oakeshotts
thought. In the next section, I reconstruct Oakeshotts idea of agency in terms of Foucaults
conceptsoftheaestheticsoftheself.
Irecall,forthepurposesofcontrast,thatFoucaultgroundshisideaofaestheticsofthe
selfinthenotionofEnlightenmentasanhistoricalinvestigationintotheeventsthathaveled
ustoconstituteourselvesandtorecognizeourselvesassubjectsofwhatwearedoing,think
ing,saying.24ForFoucault,theundefinedworkoffreedomisthepositiveresultofenlight
enment,whichallowsustoseparateoutfromthecontingencythathasmadeuswhatweare,
the possibility of no longer being, doing, or thinking what we are, do or think.25 Foucault
identifiesthisasapresentactivity.HeagreeswithBaudelairethatinmodernexperiencethe
individualfindssomethingeternalinthepresent.Itisaheroicconceptofthepresent,in
which there is an intensification of experience: natural things become more than natural,
beautifulthingsbecomemorethanbeautiful.26
InancientGreekandRomanethics,Foucaultfindsagentswhocreatedthemselvesina
styleofbeingandenactedpresentness.InhisstudyofGreekethicsheexaminedhowGreeks
actedintermsofastyleofbeinggood,beautiful,honorable,estimable,memorableandex
emplary.27Hewritesthatthismodeofselfconstitutionentailsastylizationbecausetherare
MichaelOakeshott,OnHumanConduct,307.
Ibid.,310.
24MichelFoucault,WhatisEnlightenment?inPaulRabinow(ed.),Ethics:SubjectivityandTruth(NewYork:
TheFreePress,1997),315.
25Ibid.,315316.
26Ibid.,311.
27MichelFoucault,TheEthicsoftheConcernforSelfasaPracticeofFreedominPaulRabinow(ed.),Eth
ics:SubjectivityandTruth,286.
22
23

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FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172.

factionofsexualactivitypresenteditselfasasortofopenendedrequirement.28Thisstyliza
tionconstituteswasFoucaultcallsfortheindividualanattitudeandaquestionthatindivid
ualizedhisaction.29
InrelationtotheStoicethichewritesofacareofaselfthatbelongedtoitself.Selves
looktowhattheycancontrol,thatistosaytheirinnersensibility,notexternalcircumstanc
es.ForFoucault,thisconstitutestheselfasapleasureforitselfasitforgoesinterestinex
ternality. This pleasure arises out of ourselves and within ourselves. He notes that it
knowsneitherdegreenorchange.30WewillseeverysimilarreflectionsbyOakeshottonthe
natureofselfsufficientexperience.
Foucault argues that since the self is not given to us it has no endpoint, such as a
destiny,salvationorauthenticcompletion,butmustbeachangingoutcomeofacreativepro
cess.HeassentstoaninterviewersformulationthathisprogramfitsNietzschesideathatthe
individualcreateshimselforherselfinastylethroughlongpracticeanddailywork.31
Foucaultarguesthattheaestheticoftheselfisinitselfethical.Henotesthatthein
wardconcernoftheselfinsexualrelationshipsisinherentlywiththepleasureoftheother.He
argues therefore that freedom is the ontological condition of and ethics butethics is the
consciouspracticeoffreedom.Ontheonehand,anindividualcannotbeethicalwithoutact
ingfreely.Ontheotherhand,ouractionisalwaysethical,reflectingaconcernwithothers.32
Theideaofpresentness,theexperienceofwhichiscentraltotheselfasstyle,hasbeena
consistentfeatureofOakeshottswork.InReligionandtheWorld,Oakeshottdescribesin
detailwhathecallsareligioussensibilitythatfocusesonpresentexperience.Hedevelops
thisfromtheexperienceofearlyChristiancommunitiesthatimaginedtheendofdayswould
occuranymomentandthereforefeltsalvationineverymoment.Thereligiouslifecarriedin
eachofitsmomentsitswholemeaningandvalue.33
The religious life is informed by a noninstrumental attitude toward things and indi
viduals. Life to [the religious person] is not a game of skill, people and events are not
counters valued for something to be gained, or achieved, beyond them.34 Oakeshott argues
that experience gains meaning with present insight.35 In present insight, experience is val
ued for what is nearest, namely, ourselves. The religious self achieves freedom from all
embarrassmentalikeofregretforthepastandcalculationonthefuture.36Forthisreason,the
religious person lacks nothing and so far as is possible he lives as an immortal.37 Glenn

MichelFoucault,TheUsesofPleasure:Volume2oftheHistoryofSexuality(NewYork:VintageBooks,1988),
92.
29Ibid.,62.
30MichelFoucault,TheCareoftheSelf:Volume3oftheHistoryofSexuality(NewYork:VintageBooks,1988),64.
31MichelFoucaultTheEthicsoftheConcernforSelfasaPracticeofFreedom,284.
32Ibid.
33Oakeshott,ReligionandtheWorld,32.
34Ibid.,37.
35Ibid.,33.
36Ibid.,37.
37Ibid.,3738.
28

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Segal:MichelFoucaultandMichaelOakeshott

Worthingtonwritesthatreligiosityconcernstheselfisitsownend.Salvationinareligious
systemofvalueisunderstoodintermsofaselfrealizingwhatitis.38
In Rationalism in Politics, Oakeshott develops this concept in a discussion of aesthetic
experience.Aestheticexperienceinvolvesthecontemplationofimagesthatareperma
nentandunique.39Thepermanenceoftheimagesofcontemplationresidesintheirintrinsic
value.Theseimageshaveworthnotasmeanstoanend,butasthingsvaluedforthemselves.
Suchimagesareentirelyliberatedfromtheconstraintsofpragmaticrequirement.Aesthetic
experience is characterized by selfsufficiency enjoyed by each engagement in the activity
andbytheabsenceofanypremeditatedend.40ForOakeshott,thedelightofartiscomplete
withinitself:

Theimageswhichpartnercontemplation,ontheotherhand,havetheappearanceofbeing
bothpermanentandunique.Contemplationdoesnotuse,oruseuporwearoutitsimages,
orinducechangeinthem:itrestsinthem,lookingneitherbackwardsnorforwards.But
this appearance of being permanent is not to seem durable instead of transitory; like any
otherimage,theimagewhichpartnerscontemplationmaybedestroyedbyinattention,may
belost,ormaydecompose.Itispermanentmerelybecausechangeanddestructionarenot
potentialinit;anditisuniquebecausenootherimagecanfillitsplace.41

Thecrucialpointofthisabstractpassageisthatthedelightofaestheticexperiencelooksnei
therbackwardsnorforwards,thatis,neithertothepastnorfuture,butrestsinthepre
sent,filling,asitwere,theentirespaceofexperiencewithitsmeaning.Agencyisintensified,
adelightindoing,becauseitisnotdissipatedintotheothertemporalelements.
ThecomprehensivenessofOakeshottsideaofintrinsicworthappearsinhisaccountof
education.ForOakeshott,educationiswhollywithoutextrinsicpurposeincludingthepro
ductionofsociallyfunctionalindividuals.Schoolsanduniversitiesareplacesofrefugefrom
theinstrumentalityofdailylife.Theplaceoflearningisliberatedfromtheurgenciesofthe
here and now and it provides a noninstrumental place to listen to the conservation in
whichhumanbeingsforeverseektounderstandthemselves.42
In On Human Conduct, Oakeshott shows how this presentness exists in all human ac
tion.Oakeshottarguesthatactionhasfourelementsorpostulates:anactioninrelationtoan
end,apractice,selfdisclosure,andselfenactment.Ahumanactionaimsattherealization
ofanexternalendandisgovernedbyapracticethatregulatesthemannerinwhichthatendis
pursued.Thesepracticesareadverbial,generalizedconditionsofaction.Onetypeofpractice
isinstrumental,thatisorientedtothepursuitofanend.Therulesthatgovernfirefighters
GlenWorthington,ReligiousandPoeticExperienceintheThoughtofMichaelOakeshott(Exeter:AcademicIm
print,200),61.
39 Michael Oakeshott, The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind in Rationalism in Politics and
OtherEssays,510.
40Ibid.,514.
41Ibid.,510.
42 Michael Oakeshott, A Place of Learning in The Voice of Liberal Learning: Michael Oakeshott on Education
(NewHaven,YaleUniversityPress,1989),41.
38

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FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172.

arepurposeful;theyareaimedatputtingoutfires.MoreimportanttoOakeshottaremoral
practices,modesofrelationshipsthathavenothingtodowithends.Hewrites,amoralityis
the ars artium of conduct; the practice of all practices; the practice of agency without further
specifications.43 A moral practiceis like a language thatsupplies the grammarand vocabu
lary of speaking, but does not demand particular speechacts. A moral practice of being
neighborlydoesnotspecifyhowwetreataneighbor.Amoralpracticehasnoextrinsicpur
pose.44
Inadditiontoamoralpracticeandasubstantiveend,anactorengagesinanactinrela
tionselfdisclosureandselfenactment.Theformerisactionamongothers,theactinthe
externalworld;thelatteristheselfunderstandingoftheactor.
Every human practical action can be placed in a matrix that relates to these four ele
ments.Aselfdisclosesitselfinrelationtoasubstantiveendandbysubscriptiontoapractice.
Aselfalsoenactsitselfinrelationtoanendandapractice.Forexample,whensellingacar,
thesellerisdisclosedintheattempttomakethebestdeal.Thesellerisalsodisclosedthrough
subscriptiontothepracticesofsellinghonestly,althoughsuchconsiderationsdonothelpcon
cludeasuccessfuldeal.Further,thesellerisenactedinpursuitofthisend,inthiscase,ofthe
goalofgettingaprofit.Finally,thesellerisenactedthroughthereasonforsubscriptiontothe
practice of selling honestly, the fear, for instance, of punishment, or the desire for an inner
sense of being honest. Here Oakeshott argues that the agent may recognize himself in re
specttovirtuousness45
Oakeshott relates each moment of acting to temporality. Seeking an external end in
selfdisclosureistheleastmeaningfulmomentofactivity;itisimmersedincontingencyit
is interminable, liable to frustration, disappointment, and defeat.46 Morality understood in
terms of selfdisclosure, acting with others but limiting what one does according to moral
rules,abatescontingencybecauseitstipulatesgeneralconditionsforchoosinglessincidental
than the choices themselves and establishes relationships more durable than those which
emergeandmeltawayintransactionstosatisfyasuccessionofcontingentwants.47Inselling
acar,apersonactsinaccordwiththemoralcodeofhonesty.Shedisclosestheproblemswith
thecarandrespondswithprecisiontoquestions.Thesedisclosurestakeplacewithoutcon
siderationoftheoutcome.Thecustomermaypurchasethecarbelievingthesellerhonest,and
knows thecars true condition. Or the customermayreject the car becauseof whatwas re
vealedaboutitstruecondition.However,thehonestpracticeofsellinghasvalueindependent
oftheoutcome.
Selfenactmentsabatecontingency.Intermsofexternalends,thereasonforseekinga
goal is less transitory and precarious than the achievement of the goal. However, the most
stable or presentoriented moment of acting is virtue (moral selfenactment), wherein the
selfisasunconcernedasmaybewiththebrittlepursuitandenjoymentofsatisfactionsand
Oakeshott,OnHumanConduct,60.
Ibid.,62.
45Ibid.,75.
46Ibid.,73.
47Ibid.,74.
43
44

163

Segal:MichelFoucaultandMichaelOakeshott

therefore as indifferent as may be to its frustration.48 The value of my honesty to myself is


freedomfromthedissolventeffectoftime.ForOakeshott,thenoninstrumentalityofvirtueis
notaltruisticbutselfaffirming,whollyindifferenttoconsequencesofanysort.Anditis
this [] which constitutes its release from the bondage of contingent circumstances.49
Oakeshott takes pains to note that virtue is not selfdenial but the affirmation of personal
characterwithoutregardtowhathappensintheworld.Virtuemayimprovetheworld,but
theinnervalueofvirtuousconductdoesnotdependonanysuchimprovement.
Oakeshottrevisesthecommonideaofthepublic/privatedistinctioncommoninliberal
thought.Hedeniesthatpublicandprivateareseparatespheresbetweenwhichtheindividual
moves. While he does not politicize areas of family, as poststructuralists would want, he
doesopenupthepersonalityforagreaterpoliticalquestioningastowhatitmeanstobeaper
son.Oakeshottarguesthatthecontentofamoralpractice,suchashonor,isnotprivate,be
cause it is a shared notion, developed over time. In other words, virtue is publicly defined
through moral practices. Individuals enact moral rules in contingent circumstances on the
occasionofpurposefulaction.Whatcountsasintegrityisatthedisposaloftheagent,butthe
agentsreflectiononthisproblemisbasedongenerallysharedconsiderations.Everyactionis
privateinseekingagoal,e.g.sellingacar,butthisprivateconsiderationisqualifiedbythe
public consideration of selling honestly. Every purposeful action is both public and pri
vate.50
Oakeshottsliberalismliespreciselyinhowlaworwhathecallslexiscodifiedmoral
itythatplacesconditionsonactionratherthanmandatingspecificpurposes.ForOakeshott,
lexdoesnotinfringeonfreedombecauselawfulrequirementsareadverbial,noninstrumental
considerations.Hewritesthatthelawforbidsnotthesubstantiveactofmurderbutthead
verbialconsiderationofatypeofkilling,donemurderously.Theliberalstatecannotbead
ministrativebecauseithasnotoolstomanagetheindividualortheeconomy.Theliberalstate
is constituted by noninstrumental law. This noninstrumentality means that there is a fun
damentallimitonwhatthestatecando.Muchcontroversyhasbeenraisedaboutthesefor
mulations.51 My aim, however, is to show the suggestive power of Oakeshotts theory. For
Oakeshott,theliberal,noninstrumentalstateprovidestheopportunityforanoninstrumental
individuality.ThiscontrastswithathinkerlikeHayek,forwhomagencyispurposefulwhile
theruleoflawisnoninstrumental.

IndividualityasStyleandVirtuosity
Inthissection,IbringtogetherthestrandsofOakeshottsthoughtthatproducehistheoryof
an aesthetics of the self. It flows from Oakeshotts historical and protean notion of the self.
OakeshottassentstoLeBonsassertionthathumanshaveahistorybutnonatureandsoa

Ibid.,75.
Ibid.,7576.
50Ibid.,146.
51Seeforexample,BhikhuParekh,OakeshottsTheoryofCivilAssociation,Ethics,vol.106,no.1(October
1995),158186.
48
49

164

FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172.

humanbeingiswhatinconducthebecomes.52Oakeshottapprovesofthefollowingsymbol:
[N]otAdam,notPrometheus,butProteusacharacterdistinguishedonaccountoflimitless
powersofselftransformationwithoutselfdestruction.53
TimothyOLeary,inhisworkonFoucaultsethics,arguesthattheaestheticoftheself
emergesfromthishistoricalself.Hewrites:myselfandmylifehasnoshape,nopurpose,no
justification outside of the form which I give to them. It is, therefore, imperative (non
categoricallyimperative)thatIthinkaboutthatform,developthetechniquesthatwillhelpme
totransformit,andthatIreflectupontheends,theteloi,towhichIwilldirect.54
Oakeshottalsoseestheselfassomethingitcreatesfromitshistoricalmaterialandthat
the greatest achievement of this individuality is creating itself as a distinctive style. He
writesthatan interpretation ofmodernity is thatthe self can findvirtuein being a distinct
personandthisselfisapttorecognizeandrespondtodistinctness(ratherthandistinction)
inothers.55
Thisdistinctnessisachievedpartlythroughthehighlyindividualisticengagementwith
alanguagethatoffersavarietyofpatternsofsubscription.Oakeshottwritesthatmoralactivi
tyisanartthatislearnedandthatoffersanalmostendlessopportunityforindividual
styleinwhichvirtuosityandmasteryaredistinguishable.56Wedonotmastermoralprac
tices since our activities are constituted by these practices. They escape our control, but we
enactourselvesthroughthemandpartlybecomeavirtuosity(oranexcellence)throughthem.
Oakeshottbroadensthecategoriesofthewaysinwhichtheidentityoftheactorisen
actedthroughavarietyofdispositionalcapacities,theoutcomeoflearningandeducation.
Moralityhereisapartofalargerconceptofapersonality.Heidentifiesidealcharactersof
dominantdemeanourssuchasTheMiser,theStoictheMagnanimous,theTreacherous,
the Secretive, the Ambitious.57 All of these labels reflect styles by which individuals adapt
themselvestovariouspractices.PaigeDegeserandRichardFlathmanspecificallyarguethat
theseformulationsbyOakeshottreflecthisbeliefthatindividualityisavirtuosity.58
Oakeshott describes the emergence of this individuality in European history. These
agentsappreciateexperienceforitsownsake.Itemergedoutofthemoral,substantivecom
munitiesofmedievalisminwhichpersonalityhasbeensubmerged.Thisindividualityhasthe

dispositiontotransformthisunsoughtfreedomofconductfromapostulateintoanexperi
enceandtomakeityieldasatisfactionofitsown,independentofthechancyandintermit
tent satisfaction of chosen actions the disposition to recognize imagining, deliberating,

Oakeshott,OnHumanConduct,41.
Ibid.,241.
54TimothyOLeary,FoucaultandtheArtofEthics(London:BloomsburyAcademic,2006),188189.
55Ibid.,250.
56Ibid.,62.
57Ibid.,93.
58PaigeDegeserandRichardFlathman,OakeshottsOnHumanConductinTheCambridgeCompanionto
MichaelOakeshott,210.
52
53

165

Segal:MichelFoucaultandMichaelOakeshott

wanting,choosing,andactingnotascostsincurredinseekingenjoymentsbutasthemselves
enjoyments,theexerciseofagratifyingselfdeterminationorpersonalautonomy.59

Thelanguageofdeliberating,wanting,choosing,andactingclearlyflowsfromtheanalysis
of selfsufficiency in The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind. In this disposi
tion,selvesfindtheirmeaningintheexperienceoftheactivitiesandsubordinatetheresultof
actingtothedoingofacting.Theimpulsetoreshapeandmanipulatetheselflosesforce.
WendellJohnCoatshaselaboratedontheaestheticsofselfhoodinOakeshott.Accord
ingtoCoats,Oakeshottassertstheimportanceofforminexperiencebecauseofhisempha
sis on the poetic character of allhuman experience. Coats writesthat the poetic quality of
experiencelies,inpartakindofevanescentimmortality,apartialescapefromthedeadliness
ofdoing,indoingthingsfortheirownsakewhenpossibleandappropriatedoingthemfor
formal rather than substantive reasons. This Oakeshottian preference, then, to highlight the
poeticcharacterofhumanactivityexplainshispreferenceforactivitiesthatlendthemselves
to ritualistic or formalistic performance: fishing and friendship, for example. Coats notes
Oakeshotts aversion to activities, however necessary where selfsufficient engagement is
notappropriate,suchasthemarketactivityofshoppingfortherealdealorproduct.60
InOnHumanConduct,Oakeshottdescribesthevariouswaysinwhichthevirtuosityof
individuality has appeared in European history. In each case, the individuality finds value
apartfromexternalcircumstances,findingitsvalueinitsownstyleofbeingaself.Andthese
selvesmoderatetheirbehaviortowardothersbecausetheyunderstandthatthecontrolofoth
ersispartofthefoolishnessofthecontrolofcircumstances.
Oakeshottdescribesonepersonalitythattendstowardsamasterfulegoismthatover
lookstheconcernsandopinionsofothers.Thisegoismispartofamoregeneraldisdain
for consequences or recognition. This selfsufficient personality avoids tendencies toward
conformity.Butaconcernforactionforitselfshouldnotbeconfusedwithaninterestinself
gratification.61
Anothercharacterknowsitslimitsinanunaggressiveselfrelianceandfindsmean
ing in selfenactment. This agent has an aristocratic recognition of ones own unim
portance and a humility devoid of humiliation. Such modesty means that this character
knowshowtobelongtohimselfandisnotdismayedathisownimperfections.62
Athirdtypeidentifiesselfdirectioninconductasanimportantvirtue.Thismeans
thatagencytakesplaceinamoralpracticeandauthenticitybecomescentralastheexcel
lenceofthischaracterorjustifiableintheseterms.Oakeshottrelatesthispersonalityinits
idealformtoMartinLuthersfamousstatement:HereIstand,Icandonoother.Andwhile

Oakeshott,OnHumanConduct,236.
WendellJohnCoats,Jr.,OakeshottandHisContemporaries:Montaigne,St.Augustine,Hegel,EtAl(Cranbury,
NewJersey:AssociatedUniversityPresses,2000),105.
61Ibid.,238.
62Ibid.
59
60

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FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172.

thispersonalitycandegenerateintofanaticism,itremainsanimportantinterpretationofself

sufficiency.63
Theseindividualities,likeallindividualities,areagonicbecauseofthetensioninagen
cy between different dispositions. An element of the drama of being human is the contrast
between two dispositions that are powerful and contrary, where neither one is strong
enough to defeat or put to flight the other.64 One disposition is concerned with ends
attainment.Theotherdispositionpreferstobeselfemployed.Thisselfemphasizesorself
determinationisunderstoodastheenjoymentofwantsratherthanslipperysatisfactions,of
adventures rather than uncertain outcomes. Traveling is preferred to the destination and
ambulatoryconversationtodeliberationaboutmeansforachievingends.65

TheBasicIncomeandthePoliticsofVirtuosity
Inthissection,ItakeOakeshottstheoryinanegalitariandirectionbyexploringhowhiscon
cept of individuality might become widely available. I argue that the basic income, a large
monthly grant of money by the state independent of all conditions, including work or out
come, would help enlarge the scope of his individuality even if doing so might violate his
principleaboutnoninstrumentallaworlex.Ialsoexplorehowthisargumentrelatestoten
sionbetweenegalitarianismandelitisminOakeshottstheory,theproblemofpovertyinhis
work,andhowmydiscussionofOakeshottcontributestothelargerdebatearoundPhilippe
VanParijsinfluentialcaseforthehighestsustainablebasicincome.66
Oftenunderstoodasanelitist,Oakeshottsthinkingactuallycontainsbothegalitarian
ism and elitism. An egalitarian interpretation of Oakeshott can flow from his belief thathis
prizedindividualityisinherentinexperienceandthereforepossibleforanyperson,perhaps
eventhepooresthe.67Inthis,forexample,TimothyFuller,notesthatOakeshottsworkcor
respondstoaspiritualdemocracy:hedidnotthinkanyonecouldgainexemptionfromthe
limitsofmortalhumanexistence.68
Oakeshott,also,sometimesdescribesthisindividualityasaristocratic.Inanessayon
Hobbes he writes that Hobbes was primarily concerned with the rarely found individuals
whoweremotivatedbypridemorethanfear.ForthisHobbesianpersonality,prideap
pearsasselfknowledgeandselfrespect.thedelusionofpoweroverothersisreplacedby
the reality of selfcontrol, and the glory ofthe invulnerability from which courage generates
magnanimity and magnanimity, peace.69 This aristocratic figure, concerned with self

Ibid.
Oakeshott,OnHumanConduct,323.
65Ibid.,324.
66PhilippeVanParijs,RealFreedomforAll:What(IfAnything)CanJustifyCapitalism?(Oxford:OxfordUniver
sityPress,1995).
67Oakeshott,OnHumanConduct,241.
68TimothyFuller,ThePoeticsoftheCivilLifeinJesseNorman(ed.),TheAchievementofMichaelOakeshott
(London:GeraldDuckworth&Co.,1993),274.
69MichaelOakeshott,TheMoralLifeintheWritingsofThomasHobbes,inRationalisminPoliticsandOther
Essay,341.
63
64

167

Segal:MichelFoucaultandMichaelOakeshott

sufficiency, abandons the delusion of powerover circumstances, and so, is acreaturemore


properlyconcernedwithhonourthanwithsurvivalandprosperity.70WilliamGalstonargues
thatOakeshottisanaristocraticliberalasOakeshottbelievesthatwearenotallcapableof
agency.71
This egalitarian versus elitist conflict finds its counterpart in debates about Foucault
andpoststructuralism.Thetheoryofanaestheticsoftheselfsuggestsadandyquality,aself
bent on endless selfcreation, caring nothing for others. Critics have linked Foucault and
Oakeshottwiththispersonality.72WilliamConnollyfindstheproblemcentraltopoststructur
alistthoughtitself,notingadivisionbetweentheelitismofNietzscheandtheegalitarianismof
Foucault.Nietzsche,accordingtoConnolly,identifiesanovermanwhocultivatingcertain
dispositionsisabletoriseabovetheresentmentthatConnollyseesasthesourceofnor
malizationinmodernsociety.73ConnollyarguesthatNietzschesaristocraticovermanisethi
callyunacceptableasinthelatemodernperiodeveryoneisentangledwitheveryoneelse.
Connolly finds a path towards amore democratic ethos in Foucault who eschews the term
overman and instead focuses on everyday misfits.74 Connolly suggests a move from a
distinction between types as found in Nietzsche to a struggle within selves. Thinking
aboutadivisionwithinselvescanleadtoanegalitarianethosbecauseitallowsforthepossi
bilitythatanysinglepersoncouldattainaparticularindividuality.
Thisdualityofaconflictbetweentypesorwithinasplitisthesameproblemfoundin
Oakeshott.BydevelopingtheegalitarianpossibilitiesofOakeshott,Imovebeyondthemere
possibilitythatexperiencecanbeappreciatedforitself,tomakingthatexperiencemorelikely.
This egalitarian spirit I seek in Oakeshott is liberal in taking part in the liberal idea of the
moral equality of each person. It also deepens that liberal egalitarianism because for
Oakeshott idea of selfsufficiency means that each person appreciates his/her experience as
intrinsicallyvaluable.Thispersonisacceptingofthevalueofeachpersonbecauseshecares
lessforcontroloverthingsandtheactionsofothers.
Using the basic income to develop Oakeshotts theory inthis direction is problematic
due to his rejection of distributive justice, or a category of economic justice beyond market
economics.Distributivejusticeisanoutcomethatviolatesthestrictnoninstrumentalityof
the law.75 Oakeshotts main concern with the poor is that they threaten the liberal order.
Oakeshottwrites:Thepoorwererecognizedtobeathreattocivilassociationbecausetheir
erroneousbeliefthattheyhadnothingtolosebuttheirpovertymadethemthewillinginstru

Ibid.,344.
WilliamGalston,OakeshottsPoliticalTheory:RecapitulationandCriticisms,inTheCambridgeCompan
iontoOakeshott,236.
72OnOakeshottanddandyismseeStevenWulf,OakeshottsPoliticsforGentlemen,ReviewofPolitics,vol.
69,no.2(Spring2007),244272.ForFoucaultseePierreHadot,ReflectionsontheNotionofCultivationof
theSelf,inTimothyJ.Armstrong(ed.),MichelFoucaultPhilosopher(NewYork:Harvester/Wheatsheaf,1992).
73WilliamConnolly,Identity/Difference:DemocraticNegotiationsofPoliticalParadox(Ithaca:CornellUniversity
Press,1991),187.
74Ibid.
75Ibid.,153.
70
71

168

FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172.

mentsofanambitiousmanbentuponsubversion.76Aredistributionofwealthmighthavea
negativeeffectontheindividualinsofarasapersonscapacityforagencymaybeemascu
latedbyeleemosynarybenefits.77
Still,Oakeshottwasentirelyhostiletothenotionthatmaterialgoodscansupportthe
enjoymentoffreedom.Headdressestheissueconcretely,inafootnoteinOnHumanConduct,
inadiscussionaboutHegelsexplorationoftherelationshipbetweenmodernsocietyandthe
poor.Oakeshottseemstorecognizethatgreatdisparitiesofwealthcouldbeanimpedi
ment (though not a bar) to the enjoyment of civil association. And so Hegel, and perhaps
Oakeshott would allow for the exercise of a judicious lordship for the relief of the desti
tute.78 Lordship for Oakeshottis the useofthe statetoredistribute wealth, an instrumental
relationship.Hesuggeststhatinstrumentalitycanbeusedtoallowfortheenjoymentofcivil
association.
ForOakeshott,theenjoymentofcivilassociationincludesthatwhichisgainedfromthe
achievementofsubstantiveaccomplishments.However,myargumenthasbeenthatthecen
tral promise of this association is the individuality of virtuosity. The basic income would
make possible the value of the freedom central to civilassociation, namely when the person
judgesimagining,deliberating,wanting,choosingandactingtobeenjoymentsinthem
selves,notascostincurredwhilepursingenjoymentsexternaltothedoing.
Asufficientlyhighbasicincomewouldprovideresourcestoguaranteethenecessities
oflife.Theattainmentofnecessitiesisaninstrumentalgoal,whichrequiresthattheindividu
alunderstandheractivitiesasmeanstothatoverridingconcern.Thebasicincomeconstitutes
liberationfromthesebasicneeds,andsoeliminatesthispulltowardsinstrumentaljudgment
ofactivities.
A high enough basic income would reduce the necessity of the instrumental require
ment of earning a living, or reduce the needed work hours. It does not reduce the value of
workorcreativelabor,understoodasanendinitself,butonlypaidlabor.Althoughindivid
ualswouldstillworkinordertohavehigherincomeorforthepleasureinvolvedinwork,it
reduceswhattheconsciousnessofagentsofbeingacommodity,orameremeanstoanend.

The basic income would provide the opportunity for what Oakeshott identifies
asselfsufficientactivities,suchasfriendshipandloveandaesthetics.Asnotedabove,Suvi
SoininenarguesthatforOakeshottagivenactivitybecomespartofconduct,assuchthe
moreitisundertaken;wemightconjecturethatanactivitydecreasesitsinfluenceonconduct
whenit decreases in importance. Oakeshott describes a noninstrumental orientation that is
enhancedbymorenoninstrumentalandfewerinstrumentalactivities.Herewetakeseriously
CoatsobservationthatOakeshottwaswaryofactivitiesthathadnothingtodowiththepo
eticpossibilityofexperience,suchastheselfunderstandingofapersonwhoknowsthather
laborisacommoditytobeboughtorsold.

Oakeshott,OnHumanConduct,304fn.
Ibid.,305fn.
78Ibid.,305fn.
76
77

169

Segal:MichelFoucaultandMichaelOakeshott

IsthereapaththatmightmakethebasicincomeacceptabletoOakeshottsframework?
EfraimPodoksikdistinguishesbetweenhumanfreedomandcivilfreedom.Theformeris
intrinsic to the human engagement with contingency, and occurs whenever human beings
choosetodothisorthatbasedonreflectiveconsiderationoftheirsituation.Thelattertakes
placewithinthecontextoflex.Thisfreedomcanbecompromisedbytheenterpriseassocia
tionstatethatdirectsindividualstoendswithoutthefreedomtoexittheassociation.
ForPodoksikthefreedomofcivilassociationisenhancedbythefactthatitsmembers
believethatlexisconsistentwiththeirfreedomtopursuechosenends.Trafficlightscouldbe
seenasimpedimentstothefreedomofmotionorasageneralsetofnoninstrumentallawthat
neverdirectsindividualswheretogo.Podoksikarguesthatthesecondjudgmentismorelike
lywhenindividualsconsidertrafficlightsnotasbarrierstoactivitybutasnoninstrumental
conditionsfordrivingthatcreatethepossibilityoftheirachievingtheirendtodrivethisway
orthat.Therelationshipoflawtofreedomshiftsaccordingtotradition:Inotherwords,to
deprive alaw of its character as lex is to show that the law doesnot establish the contextin
whichpeoplepursuetheirgoals,butratherpromotessomesocialgoalandthereforerestrict
civilfreedom.79
PodoksikarguesthatOakeshottsaccountoffreedomisclosetoourcommonsense
understandingoffreedom,andasafundamentaldefenseofthemodernwesternliberalview
of freedom.80 Podoksiks argument would not seem friendly to an interpretation of a Fou
caultinfluencedOakeshott.However,ifPodoksikiscorrect,thenthebasicincomecouldbe
reinterpretedasaculturallyappropriateenhancementofthetypeoffreedomOakeshottprizes
asafirstordergood.Thebasicincomealthoughitappearsinstrumentallyorientedtopursue
agoallikedistributivejustice,isbetterseenasavehicletofurtheraconceptionoftheindivid
ual.
My interpretation of Oakeshott can transform the ethical debate about the basic in
come.Thequestioniswhetherthebasicincomeviolatesaprincipleofreciprocityorsolidari
ty.VanParijsarguesthatisbasedonareallibertarianism,arealfreedomforallwhich
meansoneisreallyfree,asopposedtojustformallyfree,totheextentthatonepossessesthe
means,notjusttheright,todowhateveronemightwanttodo.81Realfreedomistheoppor
tunity to live as one wishes, which includes alternative lifestyles, such as the rejection of
paidlabor.VanParijsscrupulouslyshowshownowayoflifeisencouragedordiscouraged
bythebasicincome.
Someopponentsofthebasicincomearguethatreallibertarianismdeniestheprinciple
of reciprocity wherein recipients of government funds must give back to society.82 Some
supporters of the basic income reject Van Parijs account because it assumes that agents are
EfraimPodoksik,OakeshottsTheoryofFreedomasRecognizedContingency,EuropeanJournalofPoliti
calTheory,vol2,no.1(January2003),70.
80Ibid.,7374.
81 Philippe Van Parijs, Real Freedom for All: What (If Anything) Can Justify Capitalism? (Oxford: Clarendon
Press,1995),3233.
82WilliamGalston,WhataboutReciprocity,inWhatsWrongwithaFreeLunch(Boston,BeaconPress,2000),
kindleversion,location301337.
79

170

FoucaultStudies,No.18,pp.154172.

selfinterested,concernedwiththeirownfreedomtoact,notafeelingofsharedvalue.These
critics argue that a better justification for thebasic income is that it is a sharingof collective
wealth,suchastheproductofsociallabor.83
Oakeshotts perspective cuts through this debate. When freedom is understood as a
valueinitself,andasanethicalpractice,thenthebasicincomeenhancesboththerealfree
domofthepersonandconcernforothers.Thisclaimoffreedomisneitherinherentlyatom
istic,norgroundedinasharedsubstantivevalue.
Thisnotionoffreedomimpliesaresponsetothecommonobjectiontothebasicincome
that it exploits workers who are compelled to support those who might choose leisure.
Oakeshottdescribesindividualswhofindvalueinthemselves,andtheirownselfenactments.
Lessconcernedwithexternalcircumstances,theywouldalsobelessconcernedwiththeaction
ofthoseotherswhogetthebasicincome.TheOakeshottianself,liketheFoucaultianself,is
focusedonitsownselfasanintrinsicvalueanddoesnotcompareitselftoothers.Thebasic
incomeisthepoliticaleconomyofaselffreetobeitsownend,notaselfworriedaboutthe
guiltlessomissionsofothers.

Conclusion
OakeshottwouldnotagreewithFoucaultsbeliefthatmodernEnlightenmentcanbesumma
rized as the permanent critique of ourselves.84 Oakeshott did not believe that identity as
suchshouldbeconstantlychallenged.Hiscritiqueofnormalityandbourgeoisnormsdoes
suggesthissuspicionofidentityasithasbeenformedundermodernconditions;hebelieves
thatthisidentityshouldbequestioned.Further,theselfisopentochallenge,beingprotean,
historicalandpartlyframedbythepublicpracticeofmorality.
We have seen how Oakeshotts political theory can be reconstructed to parallel and
supplementFoucault.Hechallengesliberalismtotakeseriouslytheworthoftheperson,both
intheinnerexperienceofintrinsicworthandthesocialconditionsthatengenderthatideaof
worth. He develops one avenue Foucaults aesthetics of the self might take. Nikolas Rose,
writinginthepoststructuralistperspective,capturestheethicalprinciplewhich,Ibelieve,re
vealstheinnercommonalitybetweenOakeshottandFoucault.Rosecallsforapoliticalpro
gramthatopposesallthatwhichstandsinthewayoflifebeingitsowntelos.85ForRose,
this entails opposition to anything that subordinates the value of life to something else: an
externalcode,truth,authorityorgoal.RosebringstogetherthetwoelementsofFoucaultian
thought:acriticismofhowthenormalizedselfissubordinatedtosomethingexternalandhow
aselfthatgivesitselfashapeorstyleresistsnormalizationandisitsowntelos.
Aselfthatisitsownend,however,isnotafinishedorcompleteself.Itisaselfthatis
engaged with itself, for Oakeshott, a self engaged with the knowledge of is own history,
strugglingwiththecompetingdispositionsaboutthemeaningoftheactivitiesthatcanbeex
ploredasenjoymentsthemselvesorasmeanstosomethingelse.
RobertM.Solow,ForwardinWhatsWrongwithAFreeLunch,kindleversionlocation4445.
Foucault,WhatisEnlightenment,313.
85 Nikolas Rose, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1999),282.
83
84

171

Segal:MichelFoucaultandMichaelOakeshott

Oakeshottsaccountofthisagencyisdetailedbuthistheoryisincomplete.Heidenti
fiesthoseforcesandinstitutionsthatpushagentstowardsinstrumentalityasfirstonthescale
ofvaluesbutdoesnotconsiderthecountervailingforces.Thebasicincome,althoughaviola
tionofthenoninstrumentalityofcivilassociation,liftsindividuals,iftheywish,fromthepull
ofinstrumentalityandgrantsthemopportunitytofindmeaninginwhattheydo,regardlessof
victoryordefeat.

JacobSegal
AssociateProfessor
DepartmentofHistory,PhilosophyandPoliticalScience
KingsboroughCommunityCollege
2001OrientalBoulevard
NewYork,NewYork11235
jsegal@kbcc.cuny.edu

172