|Residence||Brinkworth, Wiltshire, England|
|Education||MA (philosophy, 1962–1965),[a] PhD (aesthetics, 1967–1972), Jesus College, Cambridge|
|Known for||Traditionalist conservatism|
|The Meaning of Conservatism (1980); Sexual Desire (1986); The Aesthetics of Music (1997); How to Be a Conservative (2014)|
|Television||Why Beauty Matters (BBC Two, 2009)|
|Aesthetics, political philosophy, ethics|
Sir Roger Vernon Scruton //; born 27 February 1944) is an English philosopher and writer who specialises in aesthetics and political philosophy, particularly in the furtherance of traditionalist conservative views.(
Editor from 1982 to 2001 of The Salisbury Review, a conservative political journal, Scruton has written over 50 books on philosophy, art, music, politics, literature, culture, sexuality, and religion; he has also written novels and two operas. His most notable publications include The Meaning of Conservatism (1980), Sexual Desire (1986), The Aesthetics of Music (1997), and How to Be a Conservative (2014). He has been a regular contributor to the popular media, including The Times, The Spectator, and the New Statesman.
Scruton embraced conservatism after witnessing the May 1968 student protests in France. From 1971 to 1992 he was a lecturer and professor of aesthetics at Birkbeck College, London, after which he held several part-time academic positions, including in the United States. In the 1980s he helped to establish underground academic networks in Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe, for which he was awarded the Czech Republic's Medal of Merit (First Class) by President Václav Havel in 1998. Scruton was knighted in the 2016 Birthday Honours for "services to philosophy, teaching and public education".
Scruton was born in Buslingthorpe, Lincolnshire, to John "Jack" Scruton, a teacher from Manchester, and his wife, Beryl Claris Scruton (née Haynes), and was raised with his two sisters in Marlow and High Wycombe. The Scruton surname had been acquired relatively recently. Jack's father's birth certificate showed him as Matthew Lowe, after Matthew's mother, Margaret Lowe (Scruton's great grandmother); the document made no mention of a father. However, Margaret Lowe had decided, for reasons unknown, to raise her son as Matthew Scruton instead. Scruton wondered whether she had been employed at the former Scruton Hall in Scruton, Yorkshire, and whether that was where her child had been conceived.
Jack was raised in a back-to-back on Upper Cyrus Street, Ancoats, an inner-city area of Manchester, and won a scholarship to Manchester High School, a grammar school. Scruton told The Guardian that Jack hated the upper classes and loved the countryside, while Beryl was fond of romantic fiction and entertaining "blue-rinsed friends". He described his mother as "cherishing an ideal of gentlemanly conduct and social distinction that ... [his] father set out with considerable relish to destroy".
Scruton lived with his parents, two sisters, and Sam the dog, in a pebbledashed semi-detached house in Hammersley Lane, High Wycombe. Although his parents had been brought up as Christians, they regarded themselves as humanists, so home was a "religion-free zone". Scruton's, indeed the whole family's, relationship with his father was difficult. He wrote in Gentle Regrets: "Friends come and go, hobbies and holidays dabble the soulscape like fleeting sunlight in a summer wind, and the hunger for affection is cut off at every point by the fear of judgement."
After passing his 11-plus, he attended the Royal Grammar School High Wycombe from 1954 to 1962, leaving with three A-levels, in pure and applied mathematics, physics, and chemistry. The results won him an open scholarship in natural sciences to Jesus College, Cambridge. Scruton writes that he was expelled from the school shortly afterwards, when the headmaster found the school stage on fire during one of Scruton's plays, and a half-naked girl putting out the flames. When he told his family he had won a place at Cambridge, his father stopped speaking to him.
Having intended to study natural sciences at Cambridge—where he felt "although socially estranged (like virtually every grammar-school boy), spiritually at home"—Scruton switched on the first day to moral sciences (philosophy). He graduated with a double first in 1965, then spent time overseas, some of it teaching at the University of Pau and Pays de l'Adour in Pau, France, where he met his first wife, Danielle Laffitte.
In 1967 he began studying for his PhD at Jesus, then became a research fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge (1969–1971), where he lived with Laffitte when she was not in France. It was while visiting her during the May 1968 student protests in France that Scruton first embraced conservatism. He was in the Latin Quarter in Paris, watching students overturn cars, smash windows and tear up cobblestones, and for the first time in his life "felt a surge of political anger":
I suddenly realised I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted by it, and thought there must be a way back to the defence of western civilization against these things. That's when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.
Scruton was awarded his PhD in January 1973 for a thesis entitled "Art and imagination, a study in the philosophy of mind", supervised by Michael Tanner and Elizabeth Anscombe, in which he offered an empiricist theory of aesthetics. The thesis was the basis of his first book, Art and Imagination (1974), which was followed by The Aesthetics of Architecture (1979). From 1971 he taught philosophy at Birkbeck College, London, which specializes in adult education and holds its classes in the evening. Working at Birkbeck left Scruton's days free, so he used the time to study law at the Inns of Court School of Law (1974–1976) and was called to the Bar in 1978; he never practised because he was unable to take a year off work to complete a pupillage. Meanwhile Laffitte taught French at Putney High School, and the couple lived together in a Harley Street apartment previously occupied by Delia Smith. They married in 1972 and divorced in 1979.
Scruton has said he was the only conservative at Birkbeck, except for the woman who served meals in the Senior Common Room. In 1974, along with Hugh Fraser, Jonathan Aitken and John Casey, he became a founding member of the Conservative Philosophy Group dining club, which aimed to develop an intellectual basis for conservatism. The historian Hugh Thomas and the philosopher Anthony Quinton attended meetings, as did Margaret Thatcher before she became prime minister. She reportedly said during one meeting in 1975: "The other side have got an ideology they can test their policies against. We must have one as well."
Scruton's academic career at Birkbeck was blighted by his conservatism, particularly by his third book, The Meaning of Conservatism (1980), and later by his editorship of the conservative Salisbury Review. He told The Guardian that his colleagues at Birkbeck vilified him over the book. The Marxist philosopher G. A. Cohen of University College London reportedly refused to teach a seminar with Scruton, although they later became friends. He continued teaching at Birkbeck until 1992, first as a lecturer, by 1980 as reader, then as professor of aesthetics.
In 1982 Scruton became founding editor of The Salisbury Review, a journal championing traditional conservatism in opposition to Thatcherism, which he edited until 2001. The Review was set up by a group of Tories known as the Salisbury Group—founded in 1978 by Diana Spearman and Robert Gascoyne-Cecil—with the involvement of the Peterhouse Right. The latter were conservatives associated with the Cambridge college, including Maurice Cowling, David Watkin and the mathematician Adrian Mathias.
Scruton wrote that editing The Salisbury Review effectively ended his academic career in the United Kingdom. The magazine sought to provide an intellectual basis for conservatism, and was highly critical of key issues of the period, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, egalitarianism, feminism, foreign aid, multiculturalism and modernism. To begin with, Scruton had to write most of the articles himself, using pseudonyms: "I had to make it look as though there was something there in order that there should be something there!" He believes that the Review "helped a new generation of conservative intellectuals to emerge. At last it was possible to be a conservative and also to the left of something, to say 'Of course, the Salisbury Review is beyond the pale; but ...'"
In 1984 the Review published a controversial article by Ray Honeyford, a headmaster in Bradford, questioning the benefits of multicultural education. Honeyford was forced to retire because of the article and had to live for a time under police protection. The British Association for the Advancement of Science accused the Review of scientific racism, and the University of Glasgow philosophy department boycotted a talk Scruton had been invited to deliver to its philosophy society. Scruton believed that the incidents made his position as a university professor untenable, although he also maintained that "it was worth sacrificing your chances of becoming a fellow of the British Academy, a vice-chancellor or an emeritus professor for the sheer relief of uttering the truth." (Scruton was in fact elected a fellow of the British Academy in 2008). In 2002 he described the effect of the editorship on his life:
It cost me many thousand hours of unpaid labour, a hideous character assassination in Private Eye, three lawsuits, two interrogations, one expulsion, the loss of a university career in Britain, unendingly contemptuous reviews, Tory suspicion, and the hatred of decent liberals everywhere. And it was worth it.
The 1980s established Scruton as a prolific writer. Thirteen of his non-fiction works appeared between 1980 and 1989, as did first novel, Fortnight's Anger (1981). The most contentious publication was Thinkers of the New Left (1985), a collection of his essays from The Salisbury Review, which criticized 14 prominent intellectuals, including E. P. Thompson, Michel Foucault and Jean-Paul Sartre.[b] According to The Guardian, the book was remaindered after being greeted with "derision and outrage". Scruton said he became very depressed by the criticism. In 1987 he founded his own publisher, The Claridge Press, which he sold to the Continuum International Publishing Group in 2002.
From 1983 to 1986 he wrote a weekly column for The Times. Topics included music, wine and motorbike repair, but others were contentious. The features editor, Peter Stothard, said that there was no one he had ever commissioned "whose articles had provoked more rage". Scruton made fun of anti-racism and the peace movement, and his support for Margaret Thatcher while she was prime minister was regarded, he wrote, as an "act of betrayal for a university teacher". His first column, "The Virtue of Irrelevance", argued that universities were destroying education "by making it relevant": "Replace pure by applied mathematics, logic by computer programming, architecture by engineering, history by sociology: the result will be a new generation of well-informed philistines, whose charmlessness will undo every advantage which their learning might otherwise have conferred." Scruton also seemed to call for a resumption of covert CIA funding, deploring in 1985 that "the CIA is now utterly intimidated, refusing to engage even in its most honorable occupation—the support of those publications which tell the truth about the modern world."
From 1979 to 1989, Scruton was an active supporter of dissidents in Czechoslovakia under Communist Party rule, forging links between the country's dissident academics and their counterparts in Western universities. As part of the Jan Hus Educational Foundation, he and other academics visited Prague and Brno, now in the Czech Republic, in support of an underground education network started by the Czech dissident Julius Tomin, smuggling in books, organizing lectures, and eventually arranging for students to study for a Cambridge external degree in theology (the only faculty that responded to the request for help). There were structured courses and samizdat translations, books were printed, and people sat exams in a cellar with papers smuggled out through the diplomatic bag.
Scruton was detained in 1985 in Brno before being expelled from the country. The Czech dissident Bronislava Müllerová watched him walk across the border with Austria: "There was this broad empty space between the two border posts, absolutely empty, not a single human being in sight except for one soldier, and across that broad empty space trudged an English philosopher, Roger Scruton, with his little bag into Austria." On 17 June that year, he was placed on the Index of Undesirable Persons. He writes that he was also followed during visits to Poland and Hungary.
For his work in supporting dissidents, Scruton was awarded the First of June Prize in 1993 by the Czech city of Plzeň, and in 1998 he was awarded the Czech Republic's Medal of Merit (First Class) by President Václav Havel. In 2019 the Polish government awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. Scruton has been strongly critical of figures in the West—in particular Eric Hobsbawm—who "chose to exonerate" the crimes and atrocities of former communist regimes. His experience of dissident intellectual life in 1980s Communist Prague is recorded in fictional form in his novel Notes from Underground (2014).
Scruton took a year's sabbatical from Birkbeck in 1990 and spent it working in Brno in the Czech Republic. That year he registered Central European Consulting, established to offer business advice in post-communist Central Europe. He had been living in an apartment in Notting Hill Gate, which he sold, and when he returned to England rented a cottage in Stanton Fitzwarren, Swindon, from the Moonies, and an apartment in the Albany building on Piccadilly, London, from Alan Clark (it had been Clark's servants' quarters).
From 1992 to 1995 he lived in Boston, Massachusetts, teaching an elementary philosophy course and a graduate course on the philosophy of music for one semester a year, as professor of philosophy at Boston University. Two of his books grew out of these courses: Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey (1994) and The Aesthetics of Music (1997). In 1993 he bought Sunday Hill Farm in Brinkworth, Wiltshire—35 acres, later increased to 100, and a 250-year-old farmhouse—where he lived after returning from the United States.
While in Boston, Scruton had flown back to England every weekend to indulge his passion for fox hunting, and it was during a meet of the Beaufort Hunt that he met Sophie Jeffreys, an architectural historian. They married in 1996 and set up home on Sunday Hill Farm. Their two children were born in 1998 and 2000. Scruton set up Horsells Farm Enterprises Ltd in 1999, a PR firm that included Japan Tobacco International and Somerfield Stores as clients. He and his publisher were successfully sued for libel that year by the Pet Shop Boys for suggesting that their songs were in large part the work of sound engineers; the group settled for undisclosed damages.
Scruton was criticized in 2002 for having written articles about smoking without disclosing that he was receiving a regular fee from Japan Tobacco International (JTI, formerly R. J. Reynolds). In 1999 he and his wife—as part of their consultancy work for Horshells Farm Enterprises—began producing a quarterly briefing paper, The Risk of Freedom Briefing (1999–2007), about the state's control of risk. Distributed to journalists, the paper included discussions about drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and was sponsored by JTI. Scruton wrote several articles in defence of smoking around this time, including one in 1998 for The Times, three for the Wall Street Journal (two in 1998 and one in 2000), one for City Journal in 2001, and a 65-page pamphlet for the Institute of Economic Affairs, WHO, What, and Why: Trans-national Government, Legitimacy and the World Health Organisation (2000). The latter criticized the World Health Organization's campaign against smoking, arguing that transnational bodies should not seek to influence domestic legislation because they are not answerable to the electorate.
The Guardian reported in 2002 that Scruton had been writing about these issues while failing to disclose that he was receiving £54,000 a year from JTI. The payments came to light when a September 2001 email from the Scrutons to JTI was leaked to The Guardian. Signed by Scruton's wife, the email asked the company to increase their £4,500 monthly fee to £5,500, in exchange for which Scruton would "aim to place an article every two months" in the Wall Street Journal, Times, Telegraph, Spectator, Financial Times, Economist, Independent, or New Statesman. Scruton, who said the email had been stolen, replied that he had never concealed his connection with JTI. In response to The Guardian article, the Financial Times ended his contract as a columnist, The Wall Street Journal suspended his contributions, and the Institute for Economic Affairs said it would introduce an author-declaration policy. Chatto & Windus withdrew from negotiations for a book, and Birkbeck removed his visiting-professor privileges.
The tobacco controversy damaged Scruton's consultancy business in England. In part because of that, and because the Hunting Act 2004 had banned fox hunting in England and Wales, the Scrutons considered moving to the United States permanently, and in 2004 they purchased Montpelier, an 18th-century plantation house near Sperryville, Virginia. Scruton set up a company, Montpelier Strategy LLC, to promote the house as a venue for weddings and similar. The couple lived there while retaining Sunday Hill Farm, but decided in 2009 against a permanent move to the United States and sold the house. Scruton held two part-time academic positions during this period. From 2005 to 2009 he was research professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Virginia, a graduate school of Divine Mercy University; and in 2009 he worked at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., where he wrote his book Green Philosophy (2011).
From 2001 to 2009 Scruton wrote a wine column for the New Statesman, and contributed to The World of Fine Wine and Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine (2007), with his essay "The Philosophy of Wine". His book I Drink Therefore I am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (2009) in part comprises material from his New Statesman column. Scruton has also written three libretti, two set to music. The first is a one-act chamber, The Minister (1994), and the second a two-act opera, Violet (2005). The latter, based on the life of the British harpsichordist Violet Gordon-Woodhouse, was performed twice at the Guildhall School of Music in London in 2005.
The Scrutons returned from the United States to make their home again at Sunday Hill Farm in Wiltshire. Scruton took an unpaid research professorship at Buckingham University. In January 2010 he began an unpaid three-year visiting professorship at the University of Oxford to teach graduate classes on aesthetics, and was made a senior research fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. In 2010 he delivered the Scottish Gifford Lectures at the University of St Andrews on "The Face of God", and from 2011 until 2014 he held a quarter-time professorial fellowship at St Andrews in moral philosophy.
Two novels appeared during this period: Notes from Underground (2014) is based on his experiences in Czechoslovakia, and The Disappeared (2015) deals with child trafficking in a Yorkshire town. Scruton was knighted in the 2016 Birthday Honours for "services to philosophy, teaching and public education". He sits on the editorial board of the British Journal of Aesthetics, and on the board of visitors of Ralston College, a new college proposed in Savannah, Georgia. He is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.
In November 2018, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire appointed Scruton as unpaid chair of the British government's new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, established to promote better design of homes and living areas. Shortly after the appointment, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs called for Scruton's resignation over remarks he had made years earlier: he had described Islamophobia as a "propaganda word", homosexuality as "not normal", lesbianism as an attempt to find "committed love that [a woman] can't get from men any more", and date rape as not a crime. He had also made allegedly conspiratorial remarks about the Jewish Hungarian-American businessman George Soros. Brokenshire dismissed Scruton from the Commission on 10 April 2019, four hours after the New Statesman published an interview with Scruton by George Eaton, then New Statesman joint deputy editor, in which Scruton appeared to repeat some of the remarks. After The Spectator established that the article had published several comments out of context, both the New Statesman and Brokenshire apologized to Scruton.
To publicize his article, Eaton had tweeted four extracts from it; he also tweeted that Scruton had made "a series of outrageous remarks". According to the article, Scruton had told Eaton that Islamophobia was a word "invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue", and that "[a]nybody who doesn't think that there's a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts." The article omitted that Scruton had also said during the interview: "it's not necessarily an empire of Jews; that's such nonsense." Of the Chinese, Eaton tweeted that Scruton had said: "Each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing." Eaton's article stated that he had said: "They're creating robots out of their own people ... each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing." The transcript showed the full sentence: "In a sense they’re creating robots out of their own people by so constraining what can be done. Each Chinese person is a kind of replica ...", which suggested Scruton was discussing the Chinese Communist Party, not the Chinese people. Several Labour and Conservative MPs asked that Scruton be sacked. When Scruton's dismissal was announced, Eaton posted a photograph of himself on Instagram drinking from a bottle of champagne, captioned "The feeling when you get right-wing racist and homophobe Roger Scruton sacked as a Tory government adviser".
In a response in The Spectator the following day, "An apology for thinking", Scruton explained his remarks; his comment about China, for example, described efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to achieve conformity of behaviour. He added: "We in Britain are entering a dangerous social condition in which the direct expression of opinions that conflict – or merely seem to conflict – with a narrow set of orthodoxies is instantly punished by a band of self-appointed vigilantes." On 12 April Eaton apologised for having truncated Scruton's remarks in his tweets, and for having posted the celebratory photograph, but otherwise stood by the interview. The New Statesman published the full transcript on 26 April after Douglas Murray, a prominent defender of Scruton, obtained a recording and published details in The Spectator. BBC Radio 4's Today programme also broadcast part of the recording.
The New Statesman readers' editor, Peter Wilby, concluded that Eaton had been "clearly at fault in his Instagram post", that his tweet about China had been misleading, and that the other tweets "took words somewhat out of context". Eaton's description of Scruton's remarks as "outrageous" suggested, Wilby wrote, that he had "approached the interview as a political activist, not as a journalist". The interview used Scruton's words selectively, he continued, but all journalism does that of necessity. The New Statesman published an apology to Scruton on 8 July, and on 13 July James Brokenshire apologized to Scruton and invited him to discuss a future role with the Commission. He was appointed later in July as Commission co-chair.
Scruton has specialised in aesthetics throughout his career. From 1971 to 1992 he taught aesthetics at Birkbeck College. His PhD thesis formed the basis of his first book, Art and Imagination (1974), in which he argued that "what demarcates aesthetic interest from other sorts is that it involves the appreciation of something for its own sake". Since then he has published The Aesthetics of Architecture (1979), The Aesthetic Understanding (1983 and 1997), The Aesthetics of Music (1997), and Beauty (2010). In 2008 a two-day conference was held at Durham University to assess his impact in the field, and in 2012 a collection of essays, Scruton's Aesthetics, was published by Palgrave Macmillan.
In an Intelligence Squared debate in March 2009, Scruton (seconding historian David Starkey) proposed the motion: "Britain has become indifferent to beauty", and held an image of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus next to one of the supermodel Kate Moss. Later that year he wrote and presented a BBC Two documentary, Why Beauty Matters, in which he argued that beauty should be restored to its traditional position in art, architecture and music. He wrote that he had received "more than 500 e-mails from viewers, all but one saying, 'Thank Heavens someone is saying what needs to be said.'" In 2018 he argued that a belief in God makes for more beautiful architecture: "Who can doubt, on visiting Venice, that this abundant flower of aesthetic endeavor was rooted in faith and watered by penitential tears? Surely, if we want to build settlements today we should heed the lesson of Venice. We should begin always with an act of consecration, since we thereby put down the real roots of a community."
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Scruton is best known for his writing in support of conservatism. His intellectual heroes, according to Mark Dooley, are Edmund Burke, Coleridge, Dostoevsky, Hegel, Ruskin, and T. S. Eliot. Scruton's second book, The Meaning of Conservatism (1980)—which he called "a somewhat Hegelian defence of Tory values in the face of their betrayal by the free marketeers"—was responsible, he said, for blighting his academic career. He supported Margaret Thatcher, while sceptical of her view of the market as a solution to everything, but after the Falklands War, he realized that she "recognised that the self-identity of the country was at stake, and that its revival was a political task".
Scruton wrote in Gentle Regrets (2005) that he found several of Burke's arguments in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) persuasive. Although Burke was writing about revolution, not socialism, Scruton was persuaded that, as he put it, the utopian promises of socialism are accompanied by an abstract vision of the mind that bears little relation to the way most people think. Burke also convinced him that there is no direction to history, no moral or spiritual progress; that people think collectively toward a common goal only during crises such as war, and that trying to organize society this way requires a real or imagined enemy; hence, Scruton wrote, the strident tone of socialist literature.
Scruton further argued, following Burke, that society is held together by authority and the rule of law, in the sense of the right to obedience, not by the imagined rights of citizens. Obedience, he wrote, is "the prime virtue of political beings, the disposition that makes it possible to govern them, and without which societies crumble into 'the dust and powder of individuality'". Real freedom, Scruton wrote, does not stand in conflict with obedience, but is its other side. He was also persuaded by Burke's arguments about the social contract, including that most parties to the contract are either dead or not yet born. To forget this, he wrote—to throw away customs and institutions—is to "place the present members of society in a dictatorial dominance over those who went before, and those who came after them".
Scruton argued that beliefs that appear to be examples of prejudice may be useful and important: "our most necessary beliefs may be both unjustified and unjustifiable, from our own perspective, and the attempt to justify them will merely lead to their loss." A prejudice in favour of modesty in women and chivalry in men, for example, may aid the stability of sexual relationships and the raising of children, although these are not offered as reasons in support of the prejudice. It may therefore be easy to show the prejudice as irrational, but there will be a loss nonetheless if it is discarded. Scruton has been critical of the contemporary feminist movement, while reserving praise for suffragists such as Mary Wollstonecraft. However, he praised Germaine Greer in 2016, saying that she has "cast an awful lot of light on our literary tradition" by showing the male as the dominant figure, and defended her against criticism for having used the word "sex" to describe the difference between men and women, rather than "gender", which Scruton called "politically correct".
In Arguments for Conservatism (2006), Scruton marked out the areas in which philosophical thinking is required if conservatism is to be intellectually persuasive. He argued that human beings are creatures of limited and local affections. Territorial loyalty is at the root of all forms of government where law and liberty reign supreme; every expansion of jurisdiction beyond the frontiers of the nation state leads to a decline in accountability.
He opposed elevating the "nation" above its people, which would threaten rather than facilitate citizenship and peace. "Conservatism and conservation" are two aspects of a single policy, that of husbanding resources, including the social capital embodied in laws, customs and institutions, and the material capital contained in the environment. He argued further that the law should not be used as a weapon to advance special interests. People impatient for reform—for example in the areas of euthanasia or abortion—are reluctant to accept what may be "glaringly obvious to others—that the law exists precisely to impede their ambitions".
The book defines post-modernism as the claim that there are no grounds for truth, objectivity, and meaning, and that conflicts between views are therefore nothing more than contests of power. Scruton argued that, while the West is required to judge other cultures in their own terms, Western culture is adversely judged as ethnocentric and racist. He wrote: "The very reasoning which sets out to destroy the ideas of objective truth and absolute value imposes political correctness as absolutely binding, and cultural relativism as objectively true."
Scruton is an Anglican. His book Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England (2013) defends the relevance of the Church of England. He contends, following Immanuel Kant, that human beings have a transcendental dimension, a sacred core exhibited in their capacity for self-reflection. He argues that we are in an era of secularization without precedent in the history of the world; writers and artists such as Rainer Maria Rilke, T. S. Eliot, Edward Hopper and Arnold Schoenberg "devoted much energy to recuperating the experience of the sacred—but as a private rather than a public form of consciousness." Because these thinkers directed their art at the few, he writes, it has never appealed to the many.
He considers that religion plays a basic function in "endarkening" human minds. "Endarkenment" is Scruton's way of describing the process of socialization through which certain behaviours and choices are closed off and forbidden to the subject, which he considers necessary to curb socially damaging impulses and behaviour. On the matter of evidence of God's existence, Scruton said: "Rational argument can get us just so far… It can help us to understand the real difference between a faith that commands us to forgive our enemies, and one that commands us to slaughter them. But the leap of faith itself — this placing of your life at God's service — is a leap over reason's edge. This does not make it irrational, any more than falling in love is irrational." However, despite claiming that belief alone is sufficiently rational, he has advocated a form of the argument from beauty: he has said that when we take the beauty in the natural world around us as a gift, we are able to openly understand God. The beauty speaks to us, he claims, and from it we can understand God's presence around us.
Scruton defines totalitarianism as the absence of any constraint on central authority, with every aspect of life the concern of government. Advocates of totalitarianism feed on resentment, Scruton argues, and having seized power they proceed to abolish institutions—such as the law, property, and religion—that create authorities: "To the resentful it is these institutions that are the cause of inequality, and therefore the cause of their humiliations and failures." He argues that revolutions are not conducted from below by the people, but from above, in the name of the people, by an aspiring elite. The importance of Newspeak in totalitarian societies, he writes, is that the power of language to describe reality is replaced by language whose purpose is to avoid encounters with realities. He agrees with Alain Besançon that the totalitarian society envisaged by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) can be only understood in theological terms, as a society founded on a transcendental negation. In accordance with T. S. Eliot, Scruton believes that true originality is only possible within a tradition, and that it is precisely in modern conditions—conditions of fragmentation, heresy, and unbelief—that the conservative project acquires its sense.
The philosopher of religion Christopher Hamilton described Scruton's Sexual Desire (1986) as "the most interesting and insightful philosophical account of sexual desire" produced within analytic philosophy. The book influenced subsequent discussions of sexual ethics. Martha Nussbaum credited Scruton in 1997 with having provided "the most interesting philosophical attempt as yet to work through the moral issues involved in our treatment of persons as sex partners".
According to Jonathan Dollimore, Scruton bases a conservative sexual ethic on the Hegelian proposition that "the final end of every rational being is the building of the self", which involves recognizing the other as an end in itself. Scruton argues that the major feature of perversion is "sexual release that avoids or abolishes the other", which he sees as narcissistic and solipsistic. Nussbaum countered that Scruton did not apply his principle of otherness equally—for example, to sexual relationships between adults and children or between Protestants and Catholics. In an essay, "Sexual morality and the liberal consensus" (1990), Scruton wrote that homosexuality is a perversion because the body of the homosexual's lover belongs to the same category as his own. He further argued that gay people have no children and consequently no interest in creating a socially stable future. He therefore considered it justified to "instil in our children feelings of revulsion" towards homosexuality, and in 2007 he challenged the idea that gay people should have the right to adopt. Scruton told The Guardian in 2010 that he would no longer defend the view that revulsion against homosexuality can be justified.
In Animal Rights and Wrongs (2000), Scruton identifies three kinds of relationships of duty between humans and other animals: relationships with pets, who are given "honorary membership of the moral community"; with animals that are kept to be used in some way, "where we have a clear duty of care but we are not trying to establish quasi-personal relations"; and with wild animals. Scruton supports and grew to love hunting: "My life divides into three parts," he wrote in On Hunting (1998). "In the first I was wretched; in the second ill at ease; in the third hunting." For animals to have rights in the way humans have rights, he argues, they would also have to be "accorded not only the benefits of morality, but also the burdens, which are huge". Every legal privilege, he writes, imposes a burden on the one who does not possess that privilege: that is, "your right may be my duty." He accuses animal rights advocates of "pre-scientific" anthropomorphism, attributing traits to animals that are, he says, Beatrix Potter-like, where "only man is vile."
A deontologist, Scruton is critical of the consequentialist, utilitarian approach of the Australian philosopher and animal-rights advocate Peter Singer. Scruton wrote that Singer's works, including Animal Liberation (1975), "contain little or no philosophical argument. They derive their radical moral conclusions from a vacuous utilitarianism that counts the pain and pleasure of all living things as equally significant and that ignores just about everything that has been said in our philosophical tradition about the real distinction between persons and animals."
In 2014, Scruton stated that he supported English independence because he believed that it would uphold friendship between England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and because the English would have a say in all matters. In 2019, when asked if he believed in English independence, he told the New Statesman:
No, I don't think I've ever really favoured English independence. My view is that if the Scots want to be independent then we should aim for the same thing ... I don't think the Welsh want independence, the Northern Irish certainly don't. The Scottish desire for independence is, to some extent, a fabrication. They want to identify themselves as Scots but still ... enjoy the subsidy they get from being part of the kingdom. I can see there are Scottish nationalists who envision something more than that, but if that becomes a real political force then yeah, we should try for independence too. As it is, as you know, the Scots have two votes: they can vote for their own parliament and vote to put their people into our parliament, who come to our parliament with no interest in Scotland but an interest in bullying us.
"The 2016 Queen's Birthday Honours List" (PDF). www.gov.uk. 10 June 2016.
Halstead, Mark (1988). Education, Justice, and Cultural Diversity: An Examination of the Honeyford Affair, 1984–85. Barcombe: Falmer Press.
Scruton, Roger (7 January 2000). "The Risks of being Risk-free". The Wall Street Journal.
"Academic Scruton sacked from housing role". BBC News. 10 April 2019.
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