I HAVE never worked out how to listen to the radio. Are you meant to stare out of the window, with your hands folded on your lap? The only time it ever worked for me was when my children were young, and I could sit and knit. But what would I knit now? Perhaps socks for Conservatives to put in their mouths whenever they are thinking of ‘reaching for words, sometimes not finding the right ones’, to quote Sir Roger Scruton in his Today programme interview with Justin Webb.
But I did listen to the recording of the now infamous conversation that took place between Sir Roger Scruton and George Eaton of the New Statesman. I am so pleased I did. What a gentle voice Sir Roger has, and a thoughtful manner, and far-reaching knowledge.
One of Scruton’s life missions has been to explore the nature of conservativism – and to attempt to explain it to others (one of the many examples of which The Conservative Woman reproduced yesterday.)
Eaton says to him: ‘Margaret Thatcher is said to have remarked to the Conservative Philosophy Group, “The other side has an ideology they can test their policies against. We must have one as well”.’ He asks Scruton: ‘Do you agree with that?’
Scruton replies: ‘No – not really . . . Conservativism is not about ideology. It is about love. We have something, this country, and its institutions, and our way of being, and that’s what we’re holding on to.’ Earlier Scruton had said: ‘What conservatism means is not putting the clock back but conserving things. There are things that are threatened and you love them, so you want to keep them.’
I have never heard it put that way before – and I agree with Scruton.
Eaton asks him who his main influencers were in his early years. Scruton mentions Wittgenstein and Kant, Hegel and Burke, and T S Eliot.
On Hegel: ‘His vision of civil society as something independent of the state. And individuals as realised by, and made real by, institutions and belonging to things. This is really important. The anti-individualist side of Hegel. We are free but we become free by social membership. That is a crucial issue for me.’
That is the difference between conservatives and classical liberals. I’m only really finally clear that I am the former. We come to know ourselves by belonging. We learn from reading and listening to those who were truly great. We see further because we are blessed to stand on the shoulders of giants. We have rights – but our duties should interest us more.
Scruton came across Eliot’s Four Quartets when he was 16 and ‘it made sense of everything’.
In an extraordinary part of the interview, Scruton says to Eaton: ‘People take little sentences out of context. Buzzfeed . . . put together a patchwork of offences . . . without bothering to examine arguments or anything like that.’ He says: ‘my own view is, don’t go there because these are people who don’t understand ideas. They themselves aren’t in it for the ideas. They are in it to take revenge upon the world . . .’ Prescient or what?
Meanwhile, I can’t claim that Scruton has sent me off to explore Hegel. Where to begin? (Any ideas?) But the Four Quartets I will explore. Does anyone have a favourite part? Here is the closing section of Little Gidding. Forget putting a sock in it – look at the first line.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.