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Scruton on belonging – the heart of conservatism


We continue our series dedicated to the memory and works of the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, in which we deliberately target the Conservative government with a series of lessons drawn from his writing. 

The fifth lesson is this Scrutonism: The heart of conservatism lies not in the pursuit of profit, or global free trade, or open borders, or diversity, but in our sense of belonging to a community

But first I have to comment on those who’ve unaccountably taken offence at the tributes paid to Sir Roger since his death. Notable is Andrew Gimson, Boris Johnson’s biographer who took to Conservative Home this week with a disparaging and dismissive attack on Scruton’s brand of conservatism. Scruton, he wrote contemptuously, had had no influence over the Prime Minister at all. ‘Johnson did not, as editor of The Spectator, publish more than a handful of pieces by Scruton, and is neither a foxhunter nor a pessimist’. 

He also took a crack at the ‘many eminent figures [who] have paid tribute to him since his death earlier this month’ too – those who’ve ‘suggested he leaves an irreplaceable gap with conservatives in this country deprived of their last philosopher’. This, he opines, is ridiculous, conjuring up a ‘kind of conservative journalist who revels in thinking of himself (most of them are male) as a victim, struggling to gain a hearing in a world dominated by authoritarian liberals who brook no dissent and impose their stifling orthodoxy through the universities, the BBC and the rest of the media’.

His disdainful analysis continues: ‘One may note in passing that many of these Tory pessimists somehow contrive to pour forth, despite their persecution by the liberals, a constant stream of articles and other forms of comment.’

The the main part of his article is a peon of praise to another conservative philosopher, Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) who he admits gave no answers, but thinks is the one we should be following. After all, he writes casually, what conservatives want answers?

Well some of us do.

Why singing one philosopher’s virtues has to involve belittling and misrepresenting another – who has recently passed away – I can only guess. It is certainly in poor taste. One can only surmise that Gimson is rattled by the social conservative renaissance taking place, that can’t so easily be dismissed as ‘populism’; that this marks a left-liberal ‘Conservative in Name Only’ fight back fearful their long hold over the Party might be threatened.

To cast those of us who admire Sir Roger as thinking of themselves as victims could not be further from the truth. They deplore the victim culture! And the idea they have ever had a hearing in Conservative Party circles, or any representation at the high tables of the liberal elite institutions, is laughable. (I wonder when Gimson last checked the masters of our Oxbridge colleges or the number of civil servants who voted for Brexit?)  For yes actually, the evidence is startlingly clear. These are dominated by Left-liberal authoritarian individuals. He could check out the Supreme Court line up for starters. I am sure Boris did.  And no actually, Scrutonians are not all men. Just as well for Gimson that we are not radical feminists at TCW or we might have taken offence at his patronising comment.

The portrayal of Sir Roger a pessimistic, fox-hunting traditionalist is also risible. Scruton’s pursuit of and search for ‘truth’ – the truth in the ideas that politicians and people are driven by from nationalism to socialism, capitalism and liberalism to multiculturalism and environmentalism, the current pieties in each of which he skewers – is of course disturbing for those who don’t like their left-liberal assumptions poked at. The point about Roger Scruton is that he gives explanations and enhances our understanding of the state of Britain and Europe now, to help us cope with the future. Importantly he lays bare hypocrisy of the modern liberal mindset and the powerful influence of Marxism on it.

What so appals Gimson perhaps, is the intellectual confidence Scruton has given to those of us who refuse to fall into line with modern open-border, diversity orthodoxies, and to people who are fed up being considered bigoted for wanting to preserve key aspects of their culture. And the growing popularity of his views over the last few years of his life.

This was evident at a ‘packed attendence’ discussion between Scruton and Douglas Murray organised by the Spectator last summer. In it we were reminded us of something that both neo-liberals and so-called ‘one nation’ Tories have chosen to ignore: that the conservative instinct is to conserve, that is, to preserve and affirm the things we most value in our way of life – our cherished institutions, our customs and traditions, the sources of our attachments and affections (familial, local and national), and our culture including the precious right to speak freely and utter heresies.

Free enterprise, Sir Roger argued, plays an important part, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all, particularly when it takes a globalised form which does not respond to local interests: ‘You cannot defend communities simply by letting the market loose on them.’ Newcomers are welcome, but we expect them to embrace our way of life, to adopt our ways of doing things. You could call it common sense or humane conservatism – a concern about ordinary people and their mutual needs.

Yet, he added, he was hard-pressed to think of a single such conservative policy or thought that distinguished the current Conservative government. We replay (again) the discussion for you here.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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