Leviathan as myth: Michael Oakeshott and Carl Schmitt on Hobbes and the critique of rationalism

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Michael Oakeshott and Carl Schmitt are two of the most prominent critics of rationalism in politics. They also both draw heavily on the work of Thomas Hobbes. This paper connects these themes and indicates that Oakeshott's and Schmitt's concerns about rationalism are reflected in their writings on Hobbes, especially in their use of the idea of myth. Notwithstanding certain connections between their understanding of, and concerns about, modern rationalism, comparing Oakeshott and Schmitt through their readings of Hobbes helps to elucidate the more important differences between their political theories as a whole. Using Oakeshott's own terminology, this paper suggests that the differences between the two theorists can be understood as a difference between a 'politics of faith' (Schmitt) and a 'political of scepticism' (Oakeshott). Where Schmitt turned to Hobbes to find a political theology to combat the forces of liberal scepticism and ground the practice of modern authority, Oakeshott drew from Hobbes the idea ¾ often associated with liberalism ¾ that authority arises from a scepticism about the possibility of finding such a foundation. The paper concludes with the observation that the risks attending the politics of faith, as Schmitt's experience attests, are more severe than those of scepticism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-369
Number of pages21
JournalContemporary Political Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Oakeshott
  • Schmitt
  • Hobbes
  • rationalism
  • science
  • myth
  • authority


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