The work of the most important conservative philosopher of his generation is overwhelming The last lesson of Sir Roger Scruton (1944-2020)

13/01/2020

Vicente de la Quintana Díez es colaborador de FAES


On January 12, the website of British philosopher Roger Scruton contained a brief statement: "It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Sir Roger Scruton, FBA, FRSL. Beloved husband of Sophie, adored father to Sam and Lucy and treasured brother of Elisabeth and Andrea, he died peacefully on Sunday 12 January. He was born on 27th February 1944 and had been fighting cancer for the last six months. His family is hugely proud of him and of all his achievements”.

Certainly, the pride of his family is more than justified for anyone reviewing the 75 years of an intense and exemplary biography.

Considered the most important conservative philosopher of his generation, his written work is overwhelming in quality and quantity: more than fifty books on the most varied disciplines: politics, aesthetics, art, music, religion, philosophy, without forgetting fox hunting or the theoretical and practical appreciation of good wine.

He also had time to write fiction, novels and short stories, and even to compose an opera and chamber pieces based, incidentally, on poems by García Lorca. Everyone who has ventured into his work knows of the elegance, depth and gentle humour that adorn his vast production, that "Thebes of a Hundred Gates".

Scruton grew up in a modest family environment. His father, a teacher in a small school and a fervent Labourer, nurtured a variant of social resentment: he conceived of class struggle as a conspiracy of gentry hatched in the Grammar schools with the aim of plundering the English working people of all their community possessions, including the landscape. The rebellion against his father meant that Scruton graduated from Cambridge with a thesis on aesthetic philosophy, left home and discovered in Paris in May 1968 a vocation as a conservative intellectual 'a rebours' sustained with tenacity until the last moment.

For the rest of his life he tried to find answers to the questions he asked, in vain, that Parisian spring to those returning from the protests: With what do you intend to replace that bourgeoisie you despise and to whom do you owe the freedom and prosperity that allows you to play with your toy barricades? Are you prepared to die for your convictions or simply to put others at risk to show yourselves off? Foucault's answer in Les mots et les choses never convinced him. He never managed to see in culture and knowledge mere screens of domination, simple "discourses of power".

His 'answer' has since been to seek the preservation of what makes the world habitable as a home. In defending with sophistication and beauty what the Romans called pietas: the perception of those who feel indebted (to a family, a nation, a civilization) for everything they receive at birth and which is prior to them. And in fighting, consequently, with tenacity and courage, against the impiety of those who make thought a 'demolition company' to build from scratch any anti-human utopia.

To a large extent, Scruton's life has been a long lesson in that which we are so lacking: civic courage, the form of intellectual honesty which Benjamin Constant contrasted with physical courage: "That courage which makes one defy death in battle is easier than the public profession of an independent opinion, in the midst of threats from tyrants or factionalists".

Before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Scruton amply demonstrated that, in his case, physical courage and moral courage went hand in hand. The founder of The Salisbury Review, the independence of his editorial line, which was based on rigorous conservatism, exposed him to the wrath of the British academic establishment, which was then dominated by a homogenous left-wing steamroller. In 1985, the publication of his book, Thinkers of the New Left, was received as an intellectual crime of progressivism and led to his definitive expulsion from the academic community.

Scruton then turned to teaching in other types of classrooms. In the 1980s he created a network of underground seminaries in Czechoslovakia, a virtual 'underground' university, with Julius Tomin and other communist dissidents. Scruton made periodic trips to the other side of the curtain to teach philosophy, history and literature, which were banned by the authorities. He later recalled: "Those dissidents were acutely aware of the value of memory. Their lives were an exercise in what Plato called anamnesis: bringing forgotten things to consciousness. Something in me immediately responded to that ambition and I was able to once join them and make their situation known to the rest of the world. And I discovered that the anamnesis also described the meaning of my life”.

Scruton's controversies are countless throughout his life. Topics of progressive conformism were his favourite target. And this has been another of his virtues: fighting the politically correct without ever falling into the politically abject.

He defended the cause of traditional architecture and high culture, and the Anglican Church without crossing the threshold of faith, maintaining the peculiar religious vision described in The face of God.

In his political work, a conservative vision is taking shape that tries to recover for a world affected by Weberian "disenchantment" (Entzauberung) the idea of a ‘home’ from which the authentic social contract can be subscribed; the one that links the generations of the dead, the living and the unborn. Scruton endeavoured to justify philosophically the conservative substrate in which liberal society can take root and flourish.

Finally, it can be said that Scruton was a philosopher in the classical manner, not a mere "professor of philosophy". He has been, in the wake of the ancient sages, of the lineage of those who understand philosophy as a way of life. Until the last minute.

In April last year, a few months before he was diagnosed with the cancer he has died of, the last of his pugilats took place. Appointed in 2016 by the British government as a member of the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission to advise the administration on urban planning, his signing raised the suspicions of the press and certain sectors of the British left.

His political positions were censured before his aesthetic criteria. It was in this atmosphere that Scruton gave an interview to George Eaton in April for the left-wing New Statesman. Shortly after the interview, Eaton tweeted that the statements he had obtained from Scruton were "outrageous". He later posted on Instagram a photo of himself toasting with champagne to celebrate "the expulsion as a government advisor of a right-wing racist and homophobic like Roger Scruton”. Because six hours after the interview was published, Scruton's removal from office had been announced.

Three months later, the newspaper had to apologize for publishing a manipulated interview that abused the dishonest technique of selective and decontextualized quoting. Its purpose had not been to report on Scruton's views, but, as the interviewer boasted on Twitter, "the pleasure of feeling that you have thrown out the right-wing, racist and homophobic Roger Scruton as an advisor to a Tory government.

Eaton's malicious manoeuvre was discovered by Spectator commentator Douglas Murray who managed to get hold of a complete recording of the interview. Its publication highlighted the omissions and decontextualization to which Scruton's words had been subjected. The inconsistency of the allegations against him became obvious. And also the cowardice of some politicians. Apologies from the New Statesman. Apologies from the government and, later, quite late, readmission of Scruton to the commission. The whole episode, as you can see, is a brilliant illustration of Murray's latest book on the hysteria, coercion and self-censorship induced by political correctness: The madness of crowds: gender, race and identity".

On December 21, Scruton published his latest article in Spectator, a review of the last year of his life since the last lap of the road: "My 2019". The entry for the last month, December, reads: "During this year much has been taken away from me: my reputation, my prestige in the intellectual world, my position in the conservative movement, my peace of mind, my health. But much more has been given back to me: thanks to the generous defence of Douglas Murray, thanks to the friends who have stood by me, thanks to the rheumatologist who saved my life and the doctor to whose care I now entrust myself. Destroyed in my country, I have been elevated outside and, looking back over the sequence of events, I can only be glad that I have been able to live long enough to see how it all happened. When you come to the brink of death you begin to understand the meaning of life, and what it means is: gratitude.

Scruton, who in a magnificent essay entitled "Dying in Time" had written that "the value of life does not consist in its duration but in its depth" put an end to his written work, alluding to the free gift of existence, by choosing this beautiful word: gratitude. Today, those of us who are convinced of the validity of his work feel profound gratitude and ask for the rest of his soul, the consolation of his family and friends, and the recognition that his figure deserves.

Rest in peace, Sir Roger Scruton, for whom it seems written and deserves to be sculpted the recommendation of the moral Epistle: "LIFE EQUALS THOUGHT".

Translated by Blanca Domínguez

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