The Philosophy of Political History in Oakeshott and Collingwood

Every political philosopher has a philosophy of political history, if sometimes not a very good one. Oakeshott and Collingwood are two twentieth century political philosophers who were particularly concerned with the significance of history for political philosophy; and who both, in the 1940s, sketched what I call philosophies of political history: that is, systematic schemes which could make sense of the entire history of political philosophy. In this article I observe that Oakeshott depended for the political threefold sketched in his Introduction to Hobbes’s <i>Leviathan</i> on a threefold Collingwood had developed in relation to science in <i>The Idea of Nature</i>. This is, I think, a novel observation. I contrast this political threefold with Collingwood’s own political threefold in <i>The New Leviathan</i>. I then consider the neglect of these schemes, along with the rare attempts to defend such philosophies of history in the writings of Greenleaf and Boucher. My own claim is that these philosophies of political history are exemplary: and that the threefold is, for obvious Hegelian reasons, a still useful form for this sort of reflection. Political philosophy is likely to improve the more it takes the philosophy of political history seriously.