The work of Michael Oakeshott is a real treasure for anyone interested in the history and the meaning of freedom.
Oakeshott draws a distinction between the politics of faith and the politics of scepticism which is roughly analogous to the perhaps cruder dichotomy of statism and (classical) liberalism.
The word faith in "politics of faith" does not refer to any particular religious faith but rather to the practice of looking at and trying to instrumentalise politics as if it were capable of keeping the redeeming promise of a religious faith. What the politics of scepticism is sceptical about is the hubris of the grand meddler, the totalitarian system builder, and hence it stands for
a rejection of the belief that governing is the imposition of a comprehensive pattern of activity upon a community and a consequent suspicion of government invested with overwhelming power, and a recognition of the contingency of every political arrangement and the unavoidable arbitrariness of most. (The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Scepticism, p. 80).
Most interestingly Oakeshott relates (the fundamental attitude inherent in) the politics of scepticism to the Augustinian interpretation of Christianity (whose theological vision places original sin at its centre), while speaking of the politics of faith as political Pelagianism.
Very roughly, Pelagius, in contradistinction to Augustine, believed that human beings are capable of redemption by virtue of leading a holy life, a life agreeable to God. Thus they were capable of redemption of their own accord, which notion was utterly anathema to Augustine.
Referring to the second coming of Christ not having taken place as soon as originally expected, Oakeshott says of Pelagianism that
there appeared a doctrine that the current course of historical happenings and the current strivings of human beings (so far from being merely filling in time before the redemption of mankind) should be understood as themselves the events and the strivings in which that redemption was being achieved. In its simplest form this was the doctrine of Pelagius; in a more complicated form, in which human history was understood as human beings gradually acquiring the ultimate truth about the universe, it was the belief of a set of Christian heretics known as the Gnostics. (Lectures in the History of Political Thought, p.325)
In his lectures, Oakeshott beautifully traces the medieval roots of liberalism, which in turn are strongly influenced by the image of man inherent in Augustinian Christianity. From this standpoint, men, including men of power, cannot possibly be conceived as being capable of achieving redemption of their own accord and building their own paradise. All this implies a strong scepeticism inherited by liberalism with respect to man as a self-creating being, a builder of his own fate.
With the rise of the incomparably powerful nation state, however, Pelagianism takes a political turn and begins to override the humility that is proper for man according to the Augustinian vision.
The earliest triumph of the politics of scepticism was the recognition of the distinction between politics and religion. This distinction was, of course, implicit in early Christianity, and it had been theorized with profound insight by St. Augustine. But circumstances made it necessary to reestablish it both in theory and practice in the modern world, where the politics of faith had removed the boundary. [...] The politics of faith is, from one point of view, the continuous reassertion of the unity of politics and religion; and from this point of view it is the comprehensive task of scepticism perpetually to be recalling political activity from the frontier of religion, and to be always drawing attention to the values of civil order and tranquillitas whenever the vision of a total pattern of activity, imposed because it is believed to represent 'truth' and 'justice', threatens to obliterate everything else. (The Politics of Faith ..., p.81)
Via the 5th century of Augustinian humility and the 16th century when the formation of the modern national state and its attendant politics of faith begin in earnest, we arrive at the heyday of liberalism along one consecutive train of political scepticism:
In England during some part of the eighteenth century the political style of scepticism my be said, for that moment, both to have won a great victory and to have revealed itself for the first time in modern dress [...]. It was the achievement of Whig politicians and of writers such as Halifax, Hume and Burke to have modernized its political devices and restated its principles in a manner appropriate to the times. What had hitherto remained an inheritance from the Middle Ages became a style and understanding of political activity practiced and expressed in a modern idiom. (The Politics of Faith ..., p.81/82)
Continued at Politics of Faith and Scpeticism (2/2), where we will see that modern libertarianism, in so far as it follows the anarcho-capitalist path, does not belong to the politics of scepticism, i.e. the liberal tradition, but to the politics of faith, the realm of grand total visions of society.