This is the full transcript of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme interview with Sir Roger Scruton, 26 April 2019, which started at 7.46am
JUSTIN WEBB: It is a battle between two news magazines, but a battle that says much about life and times. A tale of Twitter mobs and frightened politicians and no sense, it seems, of calm or moderation. Of allegations, as well, of entrapment and bullying. It began with an interview given by the Conservative philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton to the Left-wing news magazine The New Statesman. It was promoted by the interviewer, George Eaton, as a series of outrageous remarks. He tweeted some of them and Sir Roger, who had an unpaid government job advising on aesthetics in buildings, was sacked. In Parliament he was likened to a white supremacist. But Sir Roger’s friends have hit back, publishing in The Spectator an account of the interview that was very different and coming up with a recording of it. And we don’t know whether that recording was stolen or not; the New Statesman had refused to release it, but we’ve heard it and you can hear some of it as well in just a moment. I’ve been talking to Sir Roger and I started by putting to him what George Eaton, the interviewer says is a fact: ‘It was not my words that caused his sacking but his own intemperate comments.’ True or false?
SIR ROGER SCRUTON: I would say false. I don’t think I spoke intemperately, and I . . . well, you know, I speak as I speak, and I discuss things as they are presented to me, according to my vision of them. But, you know, obviously, the way in which it was presented in the New Statesman was such as to cause some kind of scandal.
WEBB: At one stage George Eaton, well, he tweeted these words that he ascribed to you. ‘Each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.’ Let’s listen to the context of that:
(First extract chosen by BBC from New Statesman Interview played)
SCRUTON: There are difficulties around the corner that we are ignoring, like the rise of China. And there’s something quite frightening about the Chinese, sort of, mass politics . . .
GEORGE EATON: Hmm.
SCRUTON: . . . and the regimentation of the . . . of the ordinary being. I think that erm . . . and . . . we invent robots, and they are (fragment of word, or word unclear) in a sense, they are creating robots out of their own people, by so constraining what, what can be done that erm . . . that each China, China, Chinese person is a . . . a kind of replica of the, the next one.
SCRUTON: That’s a very frightening thing.
SCRUTON: Erm . . . maybe you . . . maybe I don’t know enough about it to be confident in making that judgment, but the politics is like that and the foreign policy is like that.
(End of extract)
WEBB: And, obviously, we hear the voice of George Eaton as well in that clip. Now, how do you believe that was misrepresented in the interview as it was presented in the New Statesman?
SCRUTON: Well, it was presented as a kind of racist slur on the Chinese people as such, when I was trying to talk about what the Communist authorities are trying to do with them. I went on to talk about the concentration camps in which they’re trying to eliminate, from the Chinese Muslims, the God idea and replace it with the Party idea. All this is what we all . . . all of us know about China, but for some reason reluctant to say.
WEBB: But were there words, then, left out of the interview that would have made plain that context?
SCRUTON: Of course, what was left out was the reference to the Communist Party and what the Communist Party is trying to do with the Chinese people. So it made it look as though I was talking about the Chinese people as they are in themselves. You know it’s very obvious actually.
WEBB: Let’s go on to something else that you said. Talking now about the Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán:
(Second extract chosen by BBC played)
SCRUTON: I think power has gone to his head. Erm . . . and he has this huge charisma.
SCRUTON: And he’s made some decisions which are very popular with the Hungarian people because they were . . . the Hungarians were extremely alarmed by this sudden invasion . . .
SCRUTON: . . . of er . . . of, erm, huge tribes of, of Muslims from the Middle East. You have to remember that their history, of their relation with Islam is not a happy one.
(End of extract)
WEBB: Again what from that do you think has been misrepresented?
SCRUTON: Well, I would say nothing. I mean I’m . . . I’m telling the truth about what Or— Orbán is, the situation he’s had to deal with, and the way the Hungarian people, as it were, take this . . . the question of immigration. For them, this is a totally new thing, but there is the historic memory, obviously, of the Ottoman invasions and the occupation of their country from which they have just about beco— recovered now.
WEBB: Do you regret the use of the phrase ‘huge tribes of Muslims’?
SCRUTON: Erm, taken out of context it’s not a very good phrase, and there’s all— there’s an awful lot of my phrases that I regret. Erm . . . I’ll probably regret most the things I’m saying to you now. I’m hoping you will regret some of them, because that’s what life is about. It’s about trying to get across a point and reaching for the words, not necessarily finding the right ones, but it’s only in the whole context that you can actually know what somebody means.
WEBB: But I suppose it’s also about, isn’t it, avoiding phrases that you think might dehumanise people . . .
SCRUTON: (speaking over) Yes, yes.
WEBB: And if you use those phrases, the, the sense will be, among those who hear them and maybe don’t know much about you and your background, well, that is something that is effectively racist and damaging to oppressed people.
SCRUTON: I don’t think that’s true, that phrase, and I think, you know, you are now accusing me of something for . . . of which you have no right to accuse me. And maybe you will regret using those words at some stage. How can I tell? I have my vision of these things. You know, I . . . I’m very interested in the Islamic world and I’m very pro-Muslim for most— . . . for the most part. (fragment of word, unclear) But I have to report, when describing what Orbán goes through, exactly what the perception and the . . . of the ordinary Hungarian is of this event.
SCRUTON: It’s not my perception.
WEBB: Do you . . . what, what do you think of the way the government treated you?
SCRUTON: I, I didn’t . . . I’m not very impressed. I think . . . let me say what I think about the whole thing. I, I . . . I’m a conservative thinker, well-known as such, outspoken but, but reasonable in my view. Erm . . . and there’s been, throughout this country and throughout Europe, really, an attempt to silence the conservative voice. We get identified, caricatured and then, and then . . . demonised, and made to look as though we are some kind of sinister, fascist, racist kind of people. And as soon as the Conservative Party sees one of us being demonised in this way, they rush to dissociate themselves from us. This happens, you know, so I gather, on social media, all kinds of MPs saying, ‘Oh, he’s not one of us.’ And, erm . . . there I am, out in the cold, my only fault having been trying to defend them. And this, I think, you know, this kind of witch hunting of people on the Right is something which is getting worse in our societies. We’ve just seen it with Jordan Peterson in Cambridge, with [name unclear, phonetic ‘Richard Le Gutco’] in America, all kinds . . . you know, all the people who are absolutely first rate thinkers and should be in there, in the dialogues, that we have some of their wisdom, but we are being excluded.
WEBB: But isn’t that because the Conservative Party and this government have moved away from you? And if they want to move away from you and modernise themselves . . .
WEBB: I’m just looking at some of the things that you’ve said in the past, you’ve talked about date rape as being no such as date rape . . .
SCRUTON: (speaking over) No, hang on that’s . . .
WEBB: (speaking over) Well hold on a second . . .
SCRUTON: . . . this is a slander, (words unclear due to speaking over)
WEBB: (speaking over) Let me, let me put these things to you and . . . let me put these things to you and then, and then absolutely tell me they’re wrong.
WEBB: You’re quoted as saying that homosexuality has been normalised but not normal. And I suppose the point would be, these are things that you could absolutely hold views that you could hold as a private citizen, but for a government, wanting to be modern, you could understand why, if you hold those views they might be leery about defending you . . .
WEBB: . . . when you get into trouble.
SCRUTON: Okay. Now, you’ve taken those views, which are . . .
SCRUTON: . . . snips from BuzzFeed, taken from elaborate arguments that I’ve made. When I say that there’s no such crime as date rape, I’m saying what is true: there isn’t a specific legal category of date rape and I wanted to make that point in order to ensure that people don’t use this to obscure the difference between real . . . real sexual . . . real sexual violence and, you know, things that have gone wrong. And, you know, I feel that we . . . it’s partly because we are getting our language so . . . vague and slippery at the borders of everything, that, that there is a kind of growing, if you like, distrust between the sexes; there’s a growing distrust between people generally, because we don’t know what we can be accused of, we don’t know how to vindicate ourselves when we are accused. That’s why I made these remarks about getting the language straight and getting it right. It’s then misconstrued by the learned editors of BuzzFeed to . . . to erm, attribute to me a thought crime. And this business of, of constantly manufacturing thought crimes is part of the way that’s being used to silence people who are conservative. Okay, the Conservative Party wants to run away from those people, but in doing so it’s running away from its own voters. And this is, to me, a gesture of civil— of, of suicide.
WEBB: Sir Roger Scruton, thank you very much for talking to us. And I should say that we asked the New Statesman for an interview, they didn’t want to come on. Sir Roger also told me that he wasn’t accusing George Eaton, the interviewer, of malice and he didn’t want to see the ruination of his life. And Mr Eaton admits that he truncated some of Sir Roger’s remarks on Twitter and should have given more context there. But he stands by the interview itself. For instance, on China, he says, Sir Roger never directly mentioned the Chinese Communist Party. We’ll put the full 17-minute interview that I conducted with him out as a podcast later today so that people can hear the whole thing and make their own judgments. And I should also say we’ll be talking to the Guardian columnist, Zoe Williams after 8.30 this morning, to get a different perspective on it and I should add as well that we’ll be at the University of East Anglia next week, next Thursday in fact, where, for our live programme, it is entirely possible, indeed likely, that these issues of freedom, of Twitter storms, of various aspects of the public sphere and debate in the public sphere will come up. So do join us if you’re in Norwich and, indeed, in the University of East Anglia next Thursday, where we will be.