days conservative writers come in all stripes. And one of the
most profound -- if somewhat esoteric -- is English author Roger
those with a somewhat practical perspective, most of Roger Scruton's
writings are about as far away as you can get from the lively
fusillades of practical wit and outraged innuendo regularly
unleashed on the liberal-conservative battlefield by the likes
of Ann Coulter, David Horowitz and William Grim. However, a
recent essay by Scruton in the New Criterion, titled Why I became
a conservative, is still well worth reading.
the uninitiated, Roger Scruton is more philosopher than journalist.
And his perspective is more cultural than political -- with
an emphasis on "aesthetics" as much as on political
or economic values. In fact, much of his writing could be described
as ontological -- in the philosophical sense -- an attempt to
work out a conservative philosophy of being, determining why
we are here and what we should do with the brief time allotted
to us to in this all too material world (as Madonna might put
it, especially now that she's into studying Hassidic thought).
Roger Scruton is also an acquired taste. He's a man who uses
big words and expresses big thoughts. He'd just as well quote
T.S. Elliot as Charles Krauthammer, or sing the praises of Edmund
Burke rather than Bill O'Reilly. However, he has a lot to say
of importance, especially to the many casualties of our modern-day
universities who have been exposed to unsafe levels of post-colonial
"critical thought" (pollution of the soul).
Scruton effectively critiques the destructive nihilism of notorious
left-lib cultural icon and deceased French psychoanalyst, Michel
Foucault. As Scruton notes about 'Les mots et les chose,' Foucault's
clarion call to the young and foolish to join together in cultural
is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively
appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge
are nothing but the 'discourses' of power. The book is not a
work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is
subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argue -- by the
old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the
Father of Lies -- that 'truth' requires inverted commas, that
it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness,
the 'episteme,' imposed by the class which profits from its
propagation. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world
for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula.
Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will
find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where
there is oppression there is the right to destroy."
Scruton takes on
the politically-correct ideologues in our universities who are
the direct heirs to the politico-social philosophy of the anarcho-Marxists
who tore up the streets of Paris in 1968, in an unseemly "revolutionary"
orgy of hurled concrete, looting, mayhem and violence. He confronts
their nihilistic "post-colonial" utopianism and anti-Americanism
with a calming intellectual articulation of a more realistic
Probably most valuable
is Scruton's celebration of the Anglo-Saxon intellectual roots
of the Western liberal-democratic republican tradition (and
the still enduring philosophical principles that inspired the
revolutionary ethos of America's Founding Fathers) as a real-world
answer to the abstract, utopian radicalism of the likes of Foucault
or Derridaut. As Scruton puts it, in describing the benefits
of his education as an English lawyer:
fact I never practiced at the Bar and received from my studies
only an intellectual benefit -- though a benefit for which I
have always been profoundly grateful. Law is constrained at
every point by reality, and utopian visions have no place in
it. Moreover the common law of England is proof that there is
a real distinction between legitimate and illegitimate power,
that power can exist without oppression, and that authority
is a living force in human conduct. English law, I discovered,
is the answer to Foucault."
In fact, if one
takes Scruton's political philosophy to its logical conclusion,
the constitutional form of democratic government created by
the American Founding Fathers -- with its additional checks
and balances -- is probably, in its ideal incarnation, the ultimate
rejoinder to Foucault -- a democratic constitutional system
in which the consent and will of the people legitimizes power
and in which established power exists without oppression while
fostering maximum liberty and economic prosperity.
to note too that despite what many might consider his early
preoccupation with "high culture" and "aesthetics,"
Roger Scruton was also wise and pragmatic enough to recognize
the intrinsic threat to civilized existence posed by Communism
and the totalitarian Communist state. And his practical efforts
at coming to the aid of "dissidents" in the Soviet
Bloc during the Cold War only sharpened his ability to "deconstruct"
the Orwellian nature of the nightmare that existence becomes
in the cruel, soulless urban gulags produced when abstract Marxist
revolutionary theory finds its incarnation in the collectivist
the most fascinating and terrifying aspect of Communism was
its ability to banish truth from human affairs, and to force
whole populations to 'live within the lie,' as President Havel
put it. George Orwell wrote a prophetic and penetrating novel
about this; but few Western readers of that novel knew the extent
to which its prophecies had come true in Central Europe. To
me it was the greatest revelation, when first I travelled to
Czechoslovakia in 1979, to come face to face with a situation
in which people could, at any moment, be removed from the book
of history, in which truth could not be uttered, and in which
the Party could decide from day to day not only what would happen
tomorrow, but also what had happened today, what had happened
yesterday, and what had happened before its leaders had been
If nothing else,
if you have a short attention span or an allergy to high-fallutin'
intellectual musing, skip through the first half of Scruton's
Why I became a conservative essay, to his vivid recollections
of his first visit to Czechoslovakia during the Cold War years.
Here his novelistic talents launch into full gear and he paints
a chilling picture of just how lethal to everyday existence
were the routinized Communist dictatorships of the twentieth
century, with their chokehold on ideas, spontaneity and liberty:
arrived at the house, after walking through those silent and
deserted streets, in which the few who stood seemed occupied
by some dark official business, and in which Party slogans and
symbols disfigured every building. The staircase of the apartment
building was also deserted. Everywhere the same expectant silence
hung in the air, as when an air-raid has been announced, and
the town hides from its imminent destruction. Outside the apartment,
however, I encountered two policemen, who seized me as I rang
the bell and demanded my papers. Dr. Tomin came out, and an
altercation ensued, during which I was thrown down the stairs.
But the argument continued and I was able to push my way past
the guard and enter the apartment. I found a room full of people,
and the same expectant silence. I realized that there really
was going to be an air-raid, and that the air-raid was me."
if you're in the mood for some cultural enrichment, with a conservative
emphasis, then the latest autobiographical missive from Roger
Scruton is highly recommended.
Murray Soupcoff is the author of Canada
1984 and a former radio and television producer with the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is the Managing
Editor of The Iconoclast.
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