| Thinking hard|
or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
Roger Scruton (1944–) is a socially conservative English writer and philosopher of some renown in the Anglosphere of cultural and social thought. He is a colourful character who (while never too radical or extreme) cannot stop himself from saying outrageous things. While his views on atheism, socialism and multiculturalism are rather laughable, his philosophy of culture is still notable for occasional profound insights (amongst the yelling at clouds). While eloquent and always using a sophisticated style (for instance his defense of freedom of speech), he often comes across as a cranky old grandpa who cannot 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 are diverse, his methods change depending on the topic, and even his ideas change over time. Isn't it ironic?
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 is not the typical conservative in some ways, for example his views on ecological protection and generosity (of some sort) towards the poor. He is weary of Thatcherism, critical of full-out capitalism and insists that any conservative society must include a reasonable measure of egalitarianism and should fight mistreatment of the lower classes. However, he critiques the socialist elements of western society by citing exaggerated tired tropes of socialist abuse. He criticises socialism for its manufacturing of single teenage mothers living professionally on welfare (and does so citing dubious sources). He attacks 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 believes that we all "hunger for the sacred" and attacks atheism for all of the worst reasons. He claims 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.
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 cherishes — 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).
Scruton has debated with Terry Eagleton several times in the last 30 years. Their talks tend 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 appears 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 tend 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 defends 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).
Scruton, being a social conservative, has been a proponent of homophobia and sexism though he has somewhat recanted his more vile descriptions of homosexuality and the correct form of femininity. He has somewhat grown up 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 big tobacco 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. Shockingly, his intellectual integrity has only mildly suffered (despite his repeated messages of conservative values of honesty, virtue and integrity).
- Ethics and Public Policy Center, where Scruton is a senior fellow