Continued from Politics of Faith and Scepticism (1/2):
Quick reminder to those who have not had an opportunity to read the first part of the post: in the present context, faith does not refer to religious faith but to a style of politics that looks at and tries to instrumentalise politics as if it were capable of keeping the redeeming promise of a religious faith. Faith basically stands for statism, and scepticism roughly stands for (classical) liberalism.
Michael Oakeshott explains in his work something that has become exceedingly dear to my liberal heart:
For I believe, liberty consists of contributions to an open system, a system that is permeated with elements other than those constituting liberty, including elements contrary to and destructive of liberty. The progress of liberty is not driven by an absolute decrease in unfreedom and a corresponding absolute increase in liberty, it is rather brought about by the ongoing tug-of-war between these two extreme opposites, both of which can never exist in pure form. Unfortunately (classically) liberal and libertarian attitudes and (classically) liberal and libertarian literature, including some of the venerable and classic works, are not devoid of assumptions contrary to this fundamental aspect of freedom. Part of this is the perennial ambition to come up with some sort of infallible mathematics of the good society by dint of which it is deemed possible to calculate with unequivocal precision the type of conclusions that alone are in conformity with freedom.
But rather than the occasional triumphs of scepticism, what reveals the character of this type of politics more fully is its failures; not its periodic displacement by the politics of faith, but the occasions when it has behaved out of character. The chief of these, in modern times, was its mésalliance with the politics of Natural Rights [...]
It was, perhaps, unavoidable that a style of governing in which the office of government is understood as the maintenance of appropriate order, the preservation of rights and duties and the redress of wrongs should be ambitious to establish itself on a firm foundation. The impulse to assure ourselves that our arrangements and authorized manners of behaviour represent not merely fact and habit, but 'justice' and 'truth', and that they have a 'certainty' which is out of reach of the vicissitudes of time and place, has always been strong.
But it is an impulse which belongs properly to faith. Historically, so far as scepticism is concerned, it must be regarded as an infection caught from faith, a temporary desertion of its own character induced by the plausible triumph of faith. And that such a foundation should be sought in the notion that the rights and duties to be protected are 'natural' and to be defended on account of their naturalness was an enterprise given in the climate of the seventeenth-century opinion.
The writer who led Europe in this respect was John Locke, the most ambiguous of all political writers of modern times; a political sceptic who inadvertently imposed the idiom of faith upon the sceptical understanding of government.
But how out of character this enterprise was soon became apparent. To turn 'rights' and 'duties' which were known as historic achievements, elicited by patient and judicial inquest from the manner in which men were accustomed to behave, into 'natural' rights and duties was to deny them just that contingency of character which was the heart of the sceptical interpretation, and was to attribute to them an absoluteness and a permanence which in the sceptical understanding of them they could not possess.
(M. Oakeshott, The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Scepticism, p. 82/83)
On Locke see Natural Ends and Prudential Judgement.