He pioneered blogging as a form where a writer can “think out loud”. He believes it suits an Oakeshottian temperament: like his favourite philosopher, it is radically provisional, always aware of its own limits in time and space, and always poised to have to correct itself in light of new evidence.
On his initial support of the Iraq War:
“I was terribly wrong. In the shock and trauma of 9/11, I forgot the principles of scepticism and doubt towards utopian schemes that I had learned.” He was jolted back to “sanity”, he says, by the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. He had always seen torture as the negation of American values—and was stunned that this man he had cheered on was authorising it.
At the core of Oakeshott’s thought is the belief that human beings are extremely limited in what we can know. As Sullivan puts it: “While not denying that the truth exists, the [Oakeshottian] conservative is content to say merely that his grasp on it is always provisional. He begins with the assumption that the human mind is fallible, that it can delude itself, make mistakes, or see only so far ahead.” In light of this extreme fallibility, human beings should err on the side of inaction. Claims to certainty—in religion, or political ideology—are invariably hubristic. We have to build our politics on “the radical acceptance of what we cannot know for sure”.
“Of course sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel and saying, ok, I’m not conservative any more, if Bush and Palin are what conservatism means. But I believe in [conservatism] enough to try to reclaim it from these people.” He sees Sarah Palin as the “reductio ad absurdum” of the American conservatism he opposes.
On why fundamentalism was formerly appealing to him:
“I remember feeling that without the structure of my faith, without my knowledge of its infallible truth, I might have been completely overwhelmed,” he says. Fundamentalism “was a way of sealing myself off from the world”. He sees American Christians turning to fundamentalism as a panicked response to change and doubt too. They have ended up pining for a theocracy that is contrary to his beloved US constitution and basic liberties for gay people.
He says his next battle is to “turn Christianity against the fundamentalists”. For him, “their certainty is the real blasphemy; their desire to control the lives of others the real heresy; their simple depiction of the Godhead proof positive they do not really understand him.”