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Roger Scruton’s quiet heroism

Coming from humble beginnings, Sir Roger Scruton was the embodiment of his conservatism.

January 13, 2020 - 11:52am

It was striking that the greatest philosopher of our era passed away on the birthday of his 18th century equivalent — Edmund Burke. Such men rarely come about. Sir Roger Scruton will now join the ranks of great thinkers, alongside Burke, Kant and Hegel.

Scruton was a man of extraordinary intellectual breadth; he wrote books on philosophy and politics, environmentalism and architecture, hunting and art, music and wine. Myth has it that Kant’s neighbours used to set their clocks by the regularity of his daily walks, and I am sure it will pass into legend that Scruton used to go jogging to the sound of Wagner.

I first met Roger in my early 20s, at the beginning of my career. Whenever I had the honour of meeting him, over the following years, I was always astounded that in an age of ego, the only thing that dwarfed his titanic intellect was his gentlemanly kindness and humility.

The outpouring of online sorrow at the news of his death is testament to this. While often under-appreciated and maligned at home, he became a beacon of hope not only for marginalised conservatives but for thinkers of all stripes around the world. His ideas have helped generations of conservatives to mature, especially in the former soviet bloc where he is a decorated hero for his work developing an underground intellectual resistance to communist conformism.

Coming from humble beginnings, his life was the embodiment of his own conservatism. Burke famously said, and Scruton often repeated, that “society is a partnership of the dead, the living and the unborn”. Scruton passes on an intellectual treasure trove to future generations.

His untimely death resonates deeply in the current political atmosphere. The Conservative government — which last year hastily dismissed him from his post as a housing advisor thanks to a hatchet job by the New Statesman — would do well to look to him for guidance in this pivotal period of realignment.

Scruton once said that “the real reason people are conservatives is that they are attached to the things they love” — family, friends, religion, home. Those in the formerly Labour-voting areas in the North of England may have once seen the “Tories” as a threat to those things, but now in a gesture of hope they are the people who lent Boris their vote.

Not big-C Conservatives, but conservatives by affection. It is the triumph of the somewheres over the anywheres; of a love of home over an abstract unachievable utopia (literally, “no place”). As Scruton once wrote: “we are needy creatures, and our greatest need is for home”.

Emma Webb is Director of the Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism at the Civitas think tank.


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