Posts Tagged ‘Roger Scruton’

Remembering Roger Scruton: “how malleable human nature is, and how unlikely it is that truth will prevail.”

Saturday, January 18th, 2020
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Timothy Garton Ash  (Photo:Christine Baker-Parrish)

Over at The Spectatora lifelong liberal mourns a cheerfully pessimistic conservative. (We’ve written about Stanford’s (and Oxford’s) Timothy Garton Ash here and here and here.)  His remarks are one of a dozen recollections of the late Roger Scruton, who died last week:

“There’s this very interesting Hungarian called, er, I think, Soros,” said Roger, sitting in the bohemian book- and music-strewn thicket of his Notting Hill flat. This was sometime in the mid-1980s, and our shared desire to support dissidents in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary had brought us together. Incredible though it may sound, no one had then heard of George Soros.

Cheerful pessimist

Our conspiratorial missions behind the Iron Curtain were, let’s be honest, also huge fun, but what needs to be remembered is the amount of hard, thankless charitable administration that Roger undertook, between writing his 50 or so books. Yet the boring agenda of those charitable trusts would be enlivened by Roger’s outrageous overstatements about the western intellectual and political establishment, slipping from his lips with a kind of silent chuckle.

The last time we sat down together at any length was when he invited me to talk about free speech at the Inner Temple, an ur-Burkean institution he visibly adored. Afterwards he wrote an email commenting on how one rather forceful, blind Iraqi refugee questioner “had mastered the snobbery of disadvantage so effectively and so much to his own advantage” — characteristically provocative, probably unfair, and yet what a thought-provoking phrase “the snobbery of disadvantage” is. He went on “we are beginning to learn, what of course we should have known from our experience with totalitarian communism, just how malleable human nature is, and how unlikely it is that truth will prevail. But after discussions such as yesterday’s one always feels a little more cheerful.” As a lifelong liberal I shall miss this cheerfully pessimistic conservative.

Read the rest of the recollections here.

Roger Scruton: “You are accused by the mob, examined by the mob, and condemned by the mob.”

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020
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“By joining the mob, you make yourself safe.” (Photo: Pete Helme)

Sir Roger Vernon Scruton died on Sunday. I knew nothing, really, about the British philosopher of politics and culture, but on his death, his name began appearing in my Facebook newsfeed.

The most intriguing reference was from my friend George Dunn, who posted Scruton’s review of Douglas Murray’s recent book  called The Madness of Crowds, “which addresses scapegoating and crowd derangement within our current political environment. As one might expect, Murray invokes René Girard along the way. Scruton summarizes the unseemly state of affairs to which Murray’s book is a response in language redolent of Girardian insights.”

He cites this passage from Scruton’s essay: “You are accused by the mob, examined by the mob and condemned by the mob, and if you have brought this on yourself, then you have only yourself to blame. For the mob is by nature innocent: it washes its own conscience in a flow of collective indignation, and by joining it you make yourself safe.”

George continues: “Murray’s proposed antidote to this madness is also quite Girardian—a rediscovery of the power of forgiveness. But Scruton wonders whether we are still capable of this gesture in an era when religious faith has receded into the cultural twilight: ‘Can we adopt the posture of forgiveness that Murray is so keen to advocate, without turning to the supreme example that was once given to us?'”

“We might be reminded of what Girard has said about political correctness as a faux super-Christianity, which mimics the Christian concern for victims, while turning it into an instrument for gaining political, social, or spiritual power. When the concern for victims becomes an ideology of ‘victimism’ divorced from such traditional virtues as charity, forgiveness, and humility, Girard believes it becomes something diabolical.”

René Girard on “victimism” divorced from charity

In the article, Scruton writes, “The archive of your crimes is stored in cyberspace, and however much you may have confessed to them and sworn to change, they will pursue you for the rest of your life, just as long as someone has an interest in drawing attention to them. And when the mob turns on you, it is with a pitiless intensity that bears no relation to the objective seriousness of your fault. A word out of place, a hasty judgment, a slip of the tongue — whatever the fault might be, it is sufficient, once picked upon, to put you beyond the pale of human sympathy.”

Another passage:

The crimes for which we are judged are existential crimes: through speaking in the wrong way you display one of the phobias or isms that show you to be beyond acceptable humanity. You are a homophobe, an Islamophobe, a white supremacist or a racist, and no argument can refute these accusations once they have been made.

Book under review

You might, in your private life, have worked for the integration and acceptance of your local Muslim community, or for a wider understanding of the roots of Islamic philosophy. This will be irrelevant when it comes to rebutting a charge of Islamophobia, just as your record in promoting minorities in the workplace will do nothing to clear you of the charge of racism, once the crucial words are out.

For your accusers are not interested in your deeds; they are interested in you, and in the crucial fact about you, which is whether or not you are “one of us”. Your faults cannot be overcome by voluntary action, since they adhere to the kind of thing that you are. And you reveal what you are in the words that define you.

Read the entire article here. Scruton concludes: “My own solution — which is to ignore social media and to address, in my writings, only the interest in the true and the false, rather than in the permitted and the offensive — confines me within a circle that is considerably narrower than the Twittersphere. But here and there in this circle, there are people who do not merely see the point of truthful discourse, but who are also eager to engage with it. And I cling to the view that that is enough, as it was for the Irish monks who kept the lamp of learning alight during the Dark Ages. They may have thought they were losing, but they won in the end.”