Sometimes it’s valuable to reiterate truths, even if one has argued for them before (indeed several times). One such truth is that skepticism about power cannot successfully underwrite liberalism, in the sense of skepticism about the authority of the state, the “liberalism of fear.” The problem is that skepticism about power, as an argument, is in a sense too powerful, too sweeping. It applies to all forms of power, whether “public” or “private,” whether expressed through state “action” or state “inaction,” whether expressed through statutes and administrative regulation or through the common law. Because power is ubiquitous, skepticism about power cuts in no particular direction. It applies everywhere, and thus applies nowhere.
John Dewey famously said Skepticism is in its best the mark, and in its worst the pose, of a self-claimed educated mind. Which of the two fits in an instance of self-presentation could only be adjudicated based on the evidence it uses to self-justify.
In this endeavor of adjudication, words alone do not suffice. I propose in real life - the one we all live when we do laundry, fetch groceries, mate and reproduce - it is more productive to look at result or consequence of spoken words, including the words spoken by skeptics.
In this frame, a quote from Bertrand Russell comes to mind: “Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance”.
What we see in the realm of “results and consequence” in liberalism as demonstrated by both the Far L and Far R in 2022 America is a sort of perennial skepticism that directs itself to believe in nothing and commits to nothing. Except itself.
As to skepticism about a specific thing called Power. I don’t personally know any earthly person who does not covet it. The naked truth is we all need power; in a survival sense, it is sine qua non. Power over whom and what, and via what means, is the Q. This is a separate Q outside the scope of this astute Vermeule essay which points out the intellectual dishonesty inherent in the selective invocation of "skepticism".
Finally, bureaucracy, like “democracy”, is not a dirty word. The quality of a bureaucracy is no better and no worse than the quality of the people who run it.
'Skepticism about power—in particular, the exploitative power of the few over the many—is itself one of the major justifications for the administrative state."
Is Oakeshott so critical of power, per se, or simply the exercise of the Rational mind, which leads to expunging and excluding from the exercise of power common sense & folk wisdom handed down through the generations?