Rationalism in Politics: Sixty Years On

Guest Editor, James Alexander


Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays was published in 1962. The book was taken to be a major statement of Michael Oakeshott’s thought. Some of the essays were more than a decade old, but when brought together revealed Oakeshott’s attitude to post-war thought. The book was published at a time when the post-war consensus was not only in place but flourishing: there was a rising tide of a political science committed to liberal democracy, there were political writings of a liberal or libertarian cast by Popper, Berlin and Hayek, and of course there was a novel attempt from within a broadly liberal position to explore questions of equality which until then had chiefly been the concern of socialists—as seen in the coming writings of Rawls, Sen, Williams, Nozick, Nagel and so on. Oakeshott, perhaps unfortunately, was associated with the reaction against this movement. Why? Likely because of what Rationalism in Politics was taken to stand for. Though Oakeshott has remained an important name since the 1960s, he has tended to be regarded as a figure of somewhat narrow or partisan interest. For my part, I am sure that the reception of Rationalism in Politics meant that it was impossible for Oakeshott to get his eventual monograph on civil order, On Human Conduct (1975) taken seriously—as the misunderstandings on both sides made evident when Pitkin and others reviewed him, and he reviewed them in turn, in the journal Political Theory in 1976. Oakeshott had been at work since the 1950s on the asymmetric counterconcepts of what he eventually called ‘civil association’ and ‘enterprise association’, but since he held back publication until 1975, this meant that his mature political philosophy was never taken seriously by his contemporaries, who by the 1970s had moved on to Rawls and All That, and has not been much taken seriously by his successors, who still seem constrained by a Rawlsian straitjacket or now, perhaps, the glass casing round a Rawlsian historical costume.

I welcome submissions from scholars on the subject of Rationalism in Politics after sixty years: asking you to reflect on what you thought of the book at the time of publication, if you were there to see it, or what you thought of the book at first encounter—what the book symbolised in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and onwards—how it struck you, even as a symbol, or sighting line, how your view of it may have changed as you reached your own intellectual maturity, and any reflections you have about whether Oakeshott’s work is now obsolete and should be abandoned, or contains anything which makes it relevant to the present time. Close reading, or narrowness and precision, is acceptable: it would be interesting, for instance, to consider how any of Oakeshott’s particular themes have aged or have been extended, deflected (as, for instance, Pocock extended and deflected Oakeshott’s ‘traditions’ and ‘languages’ via Kuhn’s ‘paradigms’, Skinner’s ‘foundations’ and his own ‘moments’ into a complicated justification of the practice of the history of political thought in the 1970s and 1980s). So I would like to see standard sonata form articles. But I also would like to see blunt, short, sharp essays or reflections too. (Is there anything to be said for the individual manqué? Is Oakeshott’s theory of conservatism a trick? Was Bacon so much at fault? Is there room for Oakeshott’s style in our time? Is ‘education’ now an academic rather than a vocational subject? Was Hobbes’s pin-up really a child of pride? Can historians swallow Oakeshott’s account of history? Is Oakeshott really a Nietzsche-Geuss sort of figure rather than a Hayek-Berlin sort of figure? Why did Oakeshott hardly ever write about a monster called ‘liberalism’?)

I am therefore open to any length of utterance: down to a mere paragraph if that is all there is, though I would welcome a few thousand words, and perhaps as many as ten, if necessary. I am aiming for human interest, and literary interest, and autobiographical reference: what you think. I would like this to be something I would like to read, since I have often found academic writing to be excessively buttoned up, braced and belted. I am open to extreme statements of hostility, or incomprehension, where they exist, as long as they are expressed articulately.

Timeline: finalised MSS to be sent by 31 January 2022. Please send proposals to me, as soon as possible, but at latest, by 1 June 2021 at jalexand@bilkent.edu.tr


Three Stories about Capitalism: The moral psychology of economic life

Jonathan Haidt’s forthcoming book Three Stories about Capitalism: The moral psychology of economic life has been a while in the making, having been delayed by Jon’s many other commitments. Jerry Gaus was slated to guest edit but sadly with his passing, the slot is now open. Pursuant to this, C+T is looking for someone to guest edit a symposium on the forthcoming book, a preview available here. One needs to be au fait not only with Haidt’s work but with moral psychology and economics in general. Interested parties should drop a line to Leslie.


Sovereignties, Social Orders, and Internationalism: Reviving the Libertarian Interstate Federalist Tradition

Guest Editor, Brandon Christensen

Classical liberal and libertarian scholars have long been concerned with the interaction of states. States are central to issues of war & peace, poverty & wealth, and art & brutality. For centuries, the primary concern for classical liberals was Balkanization rather than empire. Thus Adam Smith advocated for a federation between the British Isles and British North America. Thus the American federalists advocated for a federal union instead of 13 sovereign states. Thus Hayek and Mises called for the abrogation of national sovereignties under an international legal regime.

The end of World War II and the advent of the Cold War changed the concern about Balkanization. Empire became the paramount worry for libertarians and classical liberals. As a result, their focus shifted from an interaction between states to the actions of the United States. Other variants of IR liberalism have flourished since the end of World War II, but classical liberal and libertarian thought on IR has been hampered by a lingering concern over imperialism. Thus the European Union governs by fiat and democratic excess. Thus regional cooperation is not driven by concerns for individual liberty. Thus internationalist organizations are unconcerned with authoritarian overreach.

This is a call to revive the libertarian interstate federalist tradition, but it’s also an invitation to push boundaries on the well-established topics of sovereignties, social orders, and internationalism. Papers to be considered must be set in the context of international relations between polities (but not necessarily states) and they must provide rebuttals, further thoughts, or criticisms about the following notions:

● Do the concepts of polycentric democracy (​Andersson​) and polycentric sovereignty (​Salter & Young​) answer the age-old problem of predation better than republican security theory (​Deudney​)?
● Why did pre-1945 classical liberals believe that Balkanization was the main threat to peace, wealth, and liberty?
● Is ethnogenesis (​Geloso & Rouanet​) an overlooked answer to the problem of state sovereignty?
● Should libertarians and classical liberals continue to work around state sovereignty (​MacDonald​; ​Tucker & de Bellis​), or revive efforts to confront it directly (​Christensen​)?
● How imperial is the current liberal world order (​Ikenberry​)? How liberal are the national
(​Hazony​) or civilizational (​Maçães​, ​Pabst​) challenges to the status quo?
● Does the Westphalian status quo deserve its much-maligned reputation in libertarian and
classical liberal circles (​Van de Haar​)?
● What, if anything, can the libertarian interstate federalist tradition do for state capacity libertarianism (​Cowen​)?

Please send your proposal (an abstract or draft of the paper) to Brandon Christensen: brandon.l.christensen@gmail.com​ (subject line: C + T symposium) no later than June 1, 2021. Notification of acceptance will be sent by June 25, 2021.

Timeline: Accepted papers (max 8,500 words) will be subject to peer-review. The issue will be published in late 2021 or early to mid-2022.


Symposium on Robert Vinten’s Wittgenstein and the Social Sciences: Action, Ideology and Justice

Guest Editor, Richard Eldridge

Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Charles and Harriett Cox McDowell Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Swarthmore College

Richard T. Eldridge is leading a symposium on the aforementioned book. If anyone is interested in participating, please drop Richard a line here.


Decentralised Governance: Hayek Amongst the Machines

Guest Editors

Jason Potts Blockchain Innovation Hub, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia


Bill Tulloh, Agoric, San Francisco, US

Chris Berg Blockchain Innovation Hub, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia


Blockchain first emerged as the technology behind bitcoin, a cryptocurrency (Nakamoto 2008) or decentralised (peer-to-peer) private money (Hayek 1976). Yet while blockchain began as a financial technology, it has rapidly evolved into a much broader institutional technology (Davidson et al 2018) for decentralised economic governance, with adaptations including self-sovereign identity, smart contracts, oracles and wallets, decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs), decentralised exchanges, and multichain interoperability. Blockchain is a new institutional technology that uses decentralised protocols to coordinate economic activity by lowering the cost of trust associated with shared data, exchange, and contracting (Berg et al 2017a, Arruñada and Garicano 2018, Catalini and Gans 2018). The study of blockchains as a governance technology to substitute and complement other coordinating economic institutions such as firms, markets and governments is called institutional cryptoeconomics (Berg et al 2017b, 2019).

However, as scholars have come to better understand distributed ledger technology [1] as an institutional technology, a surprising insight has emerged: DLT systems can coordinate and govern decentralised human economies (as governments, firms and markets also do), but blockchains and smart contracts can also coordinate and govern distributed machine economies (or human-and-machine economies). This extends the domain of catallaxy (i.e. the emergence of private orderings from distributed agents, Hayek 1978: 108-9) from market-coordination of human action to blockchain-coordination of human-to-machine and machine-machine economies.

The purpose of this special issue is to explore this new blockchain-enabled domain of decentralised governance that extends from market economies of people, organisations and knowledge through to machine economies of software agents and subroutines. Miller and Tulloh (2016) have proposed calling a unified science of the governance of the economic coordination of agents, whether humans or machines – ‘decision alignment’. Alternatively, if microeconomics studies market coordination of human economic agents, then nanoeconomics is the study of the market coordination of software agents. Nanoeconomics represents the next generation of secure computer architectures within a broader human-machine choice coordination context of ‘decision alignment’. Nanoeconomics is the study of an economy of software agents, using market institutions and property rights to order computation and bid for computational resources. It is the study of choices and market exchange that occur between computational objects in object-oriented software architectures, and which are economically coordinated through blockchain infrastructure.

Knowledge problems (Hayek 1945) affect both human and machine economies. However, they have only been widely diagnosed in human economies through microeconomic analysis of how market mechanisms process distributed knowledge and efficiently coordinate decentralised economic agents (Mises 1949). But the same problem exists in modern computer architectures based on stored-program architectures with computation scheduled through central processing units (Miller and Drexler 1988a, 1988b). These machines are fundamentally analogous to centrally-planned economies in how they hierarchically process information (Miller and Drexler 1988c). A key problem with ‘centrally-planned’ computation are the implications for computer security (Miller et al 2004). A decentralised software economy would instead seek to operationalise tradable property rights for access to subroutines through the principle of least authority (Miller et al 2013).

DLT provides economic infrastructure of property rights and peer-to-peer exchange that can facilitate decentralised interactions for both human and software agents. As more and more of the economy becomes machine-mediated, we need to worry about the security and efficiency implications of centrally-planned machine economies. But the underlying knowledge problems are general (Lachmann 1994, Lavoie 1995). Blockchains are constitutional protocols for catallactic ordering that can not only facilitate improved decentralised economic coordination for humans, but also for machines.

This special issue will consider papers on broad themes of:

  • New Institutional technologies of private orders, evolution of governance technologies, Decentralised governance
  • Hayekian scholarship of blockchain
  • Decentralised institutional and constitutional orders
  • Decision alignment, Nanoeconomics, and software economies
  • Institutional Cryptoeconomics
  • Blockchain as a catallaxy, Operating systems as catallaxy, Constitutional catallaxy
  • Bayesian decision-making (AI) combined with decentralised coordination (Blockchain)
  • Blockchain for collective action, public choice, and crypto-democracy


[1] “A DLT system is a system of electronic records that enables a network of independent participants to establish a consensus around the authoritative ordering of cryptographically validated (“signed”) transactions. These records are made persistent by replicating the data across multiple nodes, and tamper-evident by linking them by cryptographic hashes. The shared result of the reconciliation/consensus process – the ‘ledger’ – serves as the authoritative version for these records.” (Rauch et al 2018: p. 24)

Key Dates and Paper Submission Procedure

Please submit papers to jason.potts@rmit.edu.au or Christopher.berg@rmit.edu.au with subject header “C+T Hayek among the machines” by August 1, 2019.

Papers ideally should be less than 4,000 words, but consideration for longer papers also given. Papers selected will be peer-reviewed and published in Cosmos + Taxis in 2020.


Arruñada, B. Garicano, L. 2018. Blockchain: The birth of decentralised governance.  Working Paper 1608, https://econ-papers.upf.edu/papers/1608.pdf

Berg, C., Davidson, S., Potts J., 2017a. Blockchains industrialise trust. SSRN https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3074070

Berg, C., Davidson, S., Potts, J. 2017b. How to understand the blockchain economy: Introducing institutional cryptoeconomics. https://medium.com/cryptoeconomics-australia/the-blockchain-economy-a-beginners-guide-to-institutional-cryptoeconomics-64bf2f2beec4

Berg, C., Davidson, S., Potts, J. 2019. Institutional Cryptoeconomics. Edward Elgar: Cheltenham.

Berg, C., Davidson, S., Potts, J. 2018. Ledgers. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3157421

Catalini, C., Gans, J. 2018. Some simple economics of the blockchain. NBER Working Paper Series No. 22952, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.

Davidson, S., de Filippi, P., Potts, J. 2018. Blockchain and the institutions of capitalism. Journal of Institutional Economics.

Hayek, F. A. 1945. Use of knowledge in society. American Economic Review 36(4): 512-36.

___________.  1976. The Denationalisation of Money. Institute of Economic Affairs. London.

___________. 1978. Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. II.

Lachmann, L. 1994. Expectations and the Meaning of Institutions. Edited by Don Lavoie London: Routledge.

Lavoie, D. 1995. The market as a procedure for the discovery and conveyance of inarticulate knowledge. Advances in Austrian Economics 13: 115–137.

Miller, M., Drexler, K. E. 1988a. Markets and computation: agoric open systems. The Ecology of Computation, B. Huberman (ed.) Elsevier Science Publishers/North-Holland.

_____________.1988b. Incentive engineering for computational resource management. The Ecology of Computation, B. Huberman (ed.) Elsevier Science Publishers/North-Holland.

_____________. 1988c. Comparative ecology: A computational perspective. The Ecology of Computation, B. Huberman (ed.) Elsevier Science Publishers/North-Holland.

Miller, M., Tulloh, B., Shapiro, J. 2004. The structure of authority: Why security is not a separable concern. http://www.erights.org/talks/no-sep/secnotsep.pdf

Miller, M., Van Cutsem, T., Tulloh, B. 2013. Distributed electronic rights in JavaScript. ESOP’13 22nd European Symposium on Programming, Springer.

Miller, M., Tulloh B. 2016. The Elements of Decision Alignment’ Proceedings of ECOOP 2016, The European Conference on Object-Oriented Programming.

Mises, L. 1949. Human Action. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Nakamoto, S. 2008. Bitcoin: a peer-to-peer electronic cash system. https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

Rauch, M. et al 2018. Distributed Ledger Technology Systems: A conceptual framework. Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance: Judge Business School. https://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/research/centres/alternative-finance/downloads/2018-10-26-conceptualising-dlt-systems.pdf