Roger Scruton

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Roger Scruton.
Thinking hard
or hardly thinking?

Philosophy
Icon philosophy.svg
Major trains of thought
The good, the bad
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Roger Scruton (1944–2020) was a socially conservative English writer and philosopher of some renown in the Anglosphere of cultural and social thought. He was a colourful character who (while never too radical or extreme) could not stop himself from saying outrageous things. While his views on atheism, socialism and multiculturalism were rather laughable, his philosophy of culture is still notable for occasional profound insights (amongst the yelling at clouds[1]). While eloquent and always using a sophisticated style (for instance his defense of freedom of speech),[2] he often came across as a cranky old grandpa who could not understand that art, literature, culture and social views change and that this is not always a bad thing. It is difficult to pin down both his writings and his thought in general as his interests were diverse, his methods changed depending on the topic, and even his ideas changed over time. Isn't it ironic?

Philosophy[edit]

He is mostly known in philosophy as the champion of a unique kind of conservatism. At best, it can be described as a sort of nostalgic memory of an older brand of conservatism (which never really existed no matter what he says) where the tired clichés of family values and Britishness were the bedrock of society. He was not the typical conservative in some ways, for example his views on ecological protection and generosity (of some sort) towards the poor. He was weary of Thatcherism, critical of full-out capitalism and insisted that any conservative society must include a reasonable measure of egalitarianism and fight mistreatment of the lower classes. However, he critiqued the socialist elements of western society by citing exaggerated tired tropes of socialist abuse. He criticised socialism for its manufacturing of single teenage mothers living professionally on welfare (and did so citing dubious sources). He attacked the modern condition of devolving music, kitschy art and the end of eating rabbit pies in old pubs (as though this never happens anymore in the British countryside).

Scruton believed that we all "hunger for the sacred" and attacked atheism for all of the worst reasons. He claimed that the sacred is the essence of that which we value the most. His idea of that which is to be valued the most predictably mirrors that which is religiously sacred (though preferably not Islamic) and then strawmans atheists as those who claim nothing can be absolutely universally valued.

Other work[edit]

He is notable for his theory on aesthetics and commentary of the work of Kant. While vaguely tied into his philosophy on conservatism, his work on these topics receives far more attention and much greater praise. His survey of philosophical history is a notable introduction to the subject and includes autobiographical content. He has written an epic book on opera by Richard Wagner and has written libretti as well as other forms of literature, some of which is of note.

Scruton's father in fact came from Manchester — the spiritual centre of the Other England from that which Scruton cherished — and was of the Left. Scruton notably championed Scottish independence in the (very) thinly-veiled hope that it would make England narrower and more fearful (although of course he did not himself use those terms). He felt that the only reason for the English to want to keep Scotland was the number of British naval and air bases in Scotland, but otherwise Scotland and England needed to be separate to allow them to be friendly to each other.[3]

Scruton-Eagleton debates[edit]

Scruton has debated with Terry Eagleton several times in the last 30 years. Their talks tended to resemble a cabaret of black-and-white debate between a cartoonish conservative and a false-liberal using recycled tropes and often discredited arguments. It is difficult to take their debates too seriously as neither of them really appeared to be the conservative or liberal that they purport to be. (It might be worth pointing out that, as English people, it isn't wholly surprising that they don't fit into American political pigeon holes; that in fact Scruton is a Victorian reactionary, not an American conservative, and Terry Eagleton is a Marxist, not an American liberal.)

Their debates on culture also tended to bring out the worst in excessive cultural ideology, on the one hand Eagleton insisting on culture as critique (from multiple near post-modernesque perspectives) while Scruton defended culture as a form of traditional human education exploring what it means to live (with traditional fox hunts and angsty Danish princes thrown in for good measure). Both seem to lament from a nostalgic past where literature will never be the same even though both read a very different singular flat view of what culture once was (and is alas gone forever).

Controversy[edit]

Scruton, being a social conservative, was a proponent of homophobia and sexism though he somewhat recanted his more vile descriptions of homosexuality and the correct form of femininity.[4][5] Later in life he somewhat matured on most topics relating to race, class and gender.

His intellectual virtue has also been called into question as he was caught red-handed accepting money from members of the tobacco industry in return for publishing critiques on the WHO campaign against smoking. What got him fired from writing columns for major newspapers was a letter asking for more money to write extra articles critical of the WHO.[6] Shockingly, his intellectual integrity has only mildly suffered (despite his repeated messages of conservative values of honesty, virtue and integrity).

In 2019 he was sacked by the UK government from an unpaid role as chair of housing organisation Building Better, Building Beautiful, for allegedly racist and antisemitic comments although it emerged he had been quoted out of context when he criticised George Soros's vast empire (although spreading antisemitic tropes about a Jew and then saying "not that it's anything to do with him being Jewish" is of questionable virtue), and when he said Chinese people were like robots this was a critique of the Chinese Communist Party, not Chinese people as an ethnic group (probably fair enough). Naughty New Statesman![7][8] Nonetheless, he remained a close ally of antisemitic, authoritarian Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, who awarded him the Hungarian Order of Merit.[9]

In 1999 pop duo the Pet Shop Boys won a libel case against him after he claimed that their records were largely the work of sound engineers and Tennant and Lowe played little or no creative role in them; unfortunate for Scruton that he tried to take on a much more beloved and quintessentially British institution than himself.[10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. "Roger Scruton deplores the tyranny of banal and ubiquitous pop music. He feels that young people, above all, need help to instead appreciate the great music of our civilisation." Roger Scruton: The Tyranny of Pop, BBC Radio 4, 15 Nov 2015
  2. A Point of View: Why people shouldn't feel the need to censor themselves, Roger Scruton, BBC, 8 November 2015
  3. Should the English have a say on Scottish Independence?, Roger-Scruton.com, Feb 2016
  4. "The two minds of Roger Scruton", J. Martin Stafford, Studies in Philosophy and Education volume 11, pages187–193(1991)
  5. Sin Bin, Roger-Scruton.com, undated (accessed 13 Jan 2020)
  6. Scruton in media plot to push the sale of cigarettes, The Guardian, 24 Jan 2002
  7. Government sacks Roger Scruton after remarks about Soros and Islamophobia, The Guardian, 10 Apr 2019
  8. Roger Scruton gets government job back after 'regrettable' sacking, The Guardian, 23 July 2019
  9. Roger Scruton: Conservative thinker dies at 75, BBC, 13 Jan 2020
  10. Libel damages for Pet Shop Boys, BBC News, 21 Dec 1999