The philosopher experimented with some contemptible views. But his work is serious and worth disagreeing withby Julian Baggini / January 14, 2020 / Leave a comment
Roger Scruton’s disdain for popular culture, love of hunting with hounds, high Anglican faith and traditional conservatism made him ripe for caricature by anyone left of Ken Clarke. Those who are only familiar with this cartoon conservative are unlikely to mourn his death on Sunday.
But those who looked behind the superficial public image found a serious thinker worth disagreeing with. No one made the case for conservatism more eloquently or persuasively because, not in spite, of the fact that he conceded nothing to intellectual fashion.
Although best known as the leading contemporary philosophical defender of conservatism, academically Scruton is most respected for his work on aesthetics. These two wings of his oeuvre are, however, deeply connected. “There is a unifying intellectual endeavour,” he told me when I interviewed him in 2009. That is “to bring philosophy and culture back together.” Philosophy was not for him “the handmaiden of the sciences” as it had generally become in Anglophone philosophy but “a meditation on the human condition which borders on literature, art, music and the rest.”
Curiously, this made his style of philosophy in some ways closer to that of continental Europe than of his native Britain, even though he had no time for the “worst kind of phenomenology and Heideggerian nonsense and all that.”
Another irony is that Scruton’s conservatism, which placed so much value on what previous generations bequeathed to us, was acquired rather than inherited. “I came from a background where culture wasn’t very significant,” he told me. “There weren’t many books around, we never went to the theatre or anything like that.” On top of that, his father, Jack, despised the upper classes and stopped speaking to his son when he told him he was going to Cambridge.
The grammar school educated Roger became a part of the rural, land-owning middle classes, even meeting his second wife Sophie on horseback at a hunt. However, in yet another paradox, becoming an establishment insider made him an outsider in liberal, left-leaning British philosophy. Marginalised in academia, he built his reputation on journalism and popular books, not journal articles and academic monographs.
In his work on conservatism he repeatedly stressed that it was…