Roger Scruton, An Appreciation
Roger Scruton, An Appreciation
Sir Roger Scruton was a great man. An elegant defender of the past, an opponent of modern desecrate barbarianism, and a lover of civilization.
Earlier this year, the British philosopher and writer Roger Scruton was fired (sacked, in the English terminology) from an unpaid architectural position in the British government. "What's a philospher doing in an architectural position?" you might ask. Well, Scruton has made a name not only as a philosopher and a writer, but also as a conservative and an aesthetician. Scruton famously worried over the loss of beauty in modern society, both in art and architecture, and served in the role in an attempt to restore beauty to British building.
Scruton's sin, the reason for his firing, was giving an interview to a leftist journalist who, as leftist journalists are wont to do, intentionally misrepresented Scruton's words in order to taint him with all the familiar epithets that modern society cannot abide. Never mind that anyone familiar with Scruton knew the journalist's claims were inconsitent with the philospher's character, nor that Scruton himself formerly worked for the same magazine the journalist now writes for. The accusation was made, and in our modern world the accusation carries with it its own conviction and sentence.
Scruton wrote a few weeks later that the ordeal had caused him to question whether he had accomplished anything during his long career, but that seeing his legion of friends, from across the political spectrum and a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, rise to his defense had reinforced to him the importance of "love, renewal and redemption." In a situation in which anger and resentment were justifiable, Scruton spoke of redemption.
Beauty, love, renewal. These formed the essence of Scruton's thought. For Scruton, "[c]onservatism is the philosophy of attachment. We are attached to the things we love, and wish to protect them against decay. But we know that they cannot last forever. Meanwhile we must study the ways in which we can retain them through all the changes that they must necessarily undergo, so that our lives are still lived in a spirit of goodwill and gratitude." This is a deeply humane view, and one which informed Scruton's view of society as inherently based on both compromise and commonly-held values, as an expression of stewardship writ large.
I personally only came to awareness of Scruton's work within the last couple of years, after I had begun to rediscover conservative principles but before I was fully prepared to give up my former libertarianism. In this journey, from libertarianism to conservatism, Scruton has been indispensable. His exposition of the implications of the eternal contract, his critique of social contract theories (and their close analogs in libertarianism), his simultaneous defense of the market and criticism of capitalism's excesses, and most of all his appeal to the habits, cutoms, and manners that preserve civility and civilization have all been invaluable in shaking the cobwebs of base rationalism (but not reason) out of my mind, and awakening it to the both the beauty that Scruton sought, and the all the ideolgies and ideologues that today threaten it.
Scruton passed away today, after (what seems like) a short battle with cancer, first diagnosed in August. In Scruton, conservatism has lost one of its most important thinkers, and the world has lost one of its most humane voices. But even as his life drew to a close, Scruton offered hope to those watching his life and listening to his words. Reflecting on his 2019 - a year in which he was unfairly slandered and diagnosed with a terminal disease - Scruton wrote that "much was taken from me...[but] much more was given back."
In closing his essay, in concluding his conclusion, Scruton left us with these words: "Coming close to death you begin to know what life means, and what it means is gratitude."
Those who Scruton has influenced know this gratitude. We feel it towards him, his work, his example, and his legacy.
About the author
Ben is a contributing editor for Bastion Magazine. In addition to Bastion, his articles have appeared at a variety of online outlets, including the Tenth Amendment Center and The Patriot Post. He and his family live in the last refuge for traditional manners, the American Midwest.