If you’re a conservative, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard about Roger Scruton or come across his works. Scruton is a philosopher who specialises in conservatism and has written many books about it. Conservatism is merely known for its intuitions in the public arena, often perceived as reactionary and primally tribalistic. For Scruton though, he sees it as more than just an ideology or a lifestyle. He sees conservatism as a greater means to an end, which involves a robust defence of the institutions and traditions that civilisation has built, that anyone of any age carries a certain amount of responsibility in upholding. Whether you’re a paleoconservative, a neoconservative or someone with centre-right leaning positions, there’s no denying that Scruton has made a special contribution in pushing the wisdom into the conservative cause. Whenever he talks about personal responsibility or cultural romanticism, it is probably best to listen. He’s more transcendent than any modern right-wingers, so succumbed to the decaying nature of free market economics, would ever dream off.
So it’s supposed to come with a surprise that the philosopher has recently been appointed by Theresa May to chair the new “Building Better, Building Beautiful” commission. The purpose of the body is to promote a design and style for future homes that the community would demand. This seems fitting for someone like Scruton, who is a huge critic of modern architecture. Known to favour ardently traditional approaches to architecture, a field that has been damaged by the excesses of modernity. He has talked about the deep beauty of owning a house, particularly ones that are centuries old which has more cultural cache. Overall on that front, it’s not surprising that May would take him in for that role and bring his policy directives in their blueprint.
(Symbolically, Scruton’s appointment could speak to the current housing crisis in Britain [as well as Australia] among millennials, as they are unable to afford a home and cope with higher prices, compared to older generations. The comfort of living in your own home is a core tenet within conservatism, and the idea of older owners passing off their homes to younger generations is merely Burkean thinking. It’s key to why the Tories have been unable to capture the younger vote and losing to the socialist Labour.
Scruton’s appointment, however, brought a backlash from Labour MPs and Liberal Democrats are calling for his sacking over his supposedly bigoted comments. Inevitably this gained much media traction from the likes of Buzzfeed and The Guardian, whose sources stemmed all the way from a tiny socialist blog called the Red Roar.
Let’s look at these comments, one by one shall we?
The biggest allegation is that Scruton is at heart, an anti-Semite. He spoke at a lecture in Hungary, where he was joined by ultraconservative Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, he talks about how ‘many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish, and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire.” (Orban is also known for making jabs at George Soros as well). Labor MP Luciana Berger says that “an individual who peddles antisemitic conspiracy theories has no place advising government about anything,” which is ironic considering the Party’s turmoil for pipelining anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn, alienating many of its members in the process. But most of all, it would be hard pressed to read between the lines of what the philosopher says and not find the bigger picture there.
If one has to entertain this loaded allegation – i.e. all Soros criticism is anti-Jewish bigotry – it needs to underly that premise with big evidence. In its full context, Scruton wasn’t actually targeting the Jews, as he has noted that antisemitism is a regularly pernicious epidemic that happens in Europe. The mention of Soros meant that he was describing people who politically donate to entities he disagrees with. It’s a trope that’s common among political junkies, from him, the Koch bros and the Mercers. To call this prejudiced is to trivialise all Soros critiques.
The quote in full reveals that he was challenging Orban by saying antisemitism is prevalent in Hungary and it remains an existential threat to Europe:
Many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish, and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire. People in these networks include many who are rightly suspicious of nationalism, regard nationalism as the major cause of the tragedy of Central Europe in the 20th century, and do not distinguish nationalism from the kind of national loyalty that I have defended in this talk. Moreover, as the world knows, indigenous anti-Semitism still plays a part in Hungarian society and politics, and presents an obstacle to the emergence of a shared national loyalty among ethnic Hungarians and Jews.
Another slander put upon Scruton is that he’s homophobic, based on a column he wrote for The Telegraph in 2007, about why he’s against same-sex adoptions. It would be incredibly reaching, assuming that the people who saw this only looked at the surface of his statements, as the point he is trying to make is that gay couples don’t really have the best relationships based on their understanding of a union, compared to straight couples. Some studies have backed up this claim, saying that same-sex couples have shorter relationships than their heterosexual counterparts. But a topic like this is still under scrutiny to this very day, as those studies are deconstructed for possible bias; to exclude Scruton out of that, who has legitimate criticisms, would be cowardice.
Perhaps the dumbest claim of all was that Scruton is Islamophobic. The Guardian writes of his supposed worthlessness, “The same is true of many other countries in which Islam is the dominant faith. Even if such countries do function as states, like Pakistan, they are often failures as nations.” At the time Scruton uttered those words, Pakistan was and still remains a tyrannical state with links to different Islamist terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda. His underlying argument though is that Islam has threatened its Judeo-Christian identity. It’s evident by the mass Muslim migration that has already pervaded parts of Europe and is an issue that Hungary is attempting to address carefully.
The same Buzzfeed report said:
In his 2017 book Conservatism: Ideas in Profile, Scruton wrote that “Islamophobia” is a “propaganda-word”. He said: “[T]here has been in official circles a deliberate silencing of discussion, a refusal to describe things by their proper names, and the adoption of the propaganda-word ‘Islamophobia’ to create a wholly imaginary enemy”.
This isn’t just an odd slander, but it’s a slander based on supposed slander, thus proving Scruton’s point in the excerpt. This isn’t a unique weakness with Scruton, as even moderate liberals like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and many others have reiterated that this is nothing more than a cheap substitute for an argument.
The controversy isn’t a matter of challenging Scruton as a preferable appointment, so much as it’s a mixture of three things. First is to put guilt of association, the fact that the philosopher has ties with a European leader that the establishment deeply despises. Second is the matter of not allowing people to change their views. Third and finally, a matter of not challenging and publicly debate him. It is one thing to come across his appointment and make criticisms of how it was held. It’s another to distort words in the past and smear him as a ‘far-right traveller’.
Many will be familiar with the rotating door of hiring and firing towards different conservatives in elite institutions, based entirely on irrelevant tweets they made in the past. In January, Toby Young, the Spectator columnist who happens to be a proponent of free schools in England, was fired from his appointed job as the non-executive director of their Education Department over crude comments he wrote in his columns and on Twitter. In April, Kevin Williamson, an anti-Trump writer for National Review, was fired from his brief stint as The Atlantic’s columnist for merely talking about abortion, in the darkest way possible, on a podcast. The Atlantic, prior to his hiring, opened a new section dedicated to discussing “ideas”; with the firing of Williamson, it gave pause to what exactly are acceptable opinions within its narrow confines that is also right-of-centre. None of these should be fireable offences, despite the caustic nature among these individuals. Yet when the most mild-mannered and beloved man who holds conservatism to heart isn’t immune from the crosshairs, there is a systemic pattern happening.
If the Conservatives fire him out of public pressure, it’s not a betrayal of what the party is supposed to do, it’s a betrayal to their role in the discourse. The Tories have evolved into a homogenous blob featuring weak leadership and Scruton serves as more than the soul that represents the philosophy they sought to push, inherited by the likes of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk. We must not let that sort of legacy slide away and beget it to tyranny.
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