THINKERS of the New Left is the 1985 book by the English philosopher Roger Scruton in which he originally analysed and criticised the New Left. Much of this material later appeared in reworked form in his 2015 book Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.
Scruton originally concentrated on 14 authors he considered to be representatives of the movement: E P Thompson, Ronald Dworkin, Michel Foucault, R D Laing, Raymond Williams, Rudolf Bahro, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, Immanuel Wallerstein, Jürgen Habermas, Perry Anderson, György Lukács, John Kenneth Galbraith and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Of course it proved controversial because it was not just a demolition job of the British Left but of the rampant intellectual socialism that has driven their destructive ideology and politics of resentment. According to Scruton himself, its reception damaged his career.
Borrowing from an extremely good American review of the later Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, the writer describes its origins thus:
‘It was in Paris, in 1968, that Roger Scruton, a British writer and philosopher, had his Damascene conversion to small-c conservatism that set him on a trajectory for, in his words, a “life beyond the pale” of institutionalized academia. The setting for his epiphany sounds improbably picturesque. He told the Guardian in 2000 that it was while watching, from the safety of his garret window of course, students in the Latin Quarter tear up cobblestones to use as ammunition against the police that he 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 . . . That’s when I became a conservative.”
‘Reading Scruton, one realises that it was that last part, the Marxist gobbledegook, that really exercised him. His prodigious output since then – 40 or so works of non-fiction, seven novels, two librettos, and a BBC documentary – have been volleys in his lonely intellectual war against what he sees as the academic and philosophical shortcomings of Left-wing thinking in the 20th century.’
That just about sums it up – a lonely and extraordinarily brave intellectual. And at 75, when most others prefer to put their feet up, give up and just take from life what they can in their waning years, Sir Roger keeps fighting courageously on with his extraordinary integrity, as we have seen over the past week.
We salute him.