Roger Scruton taught me how to live with my disability
I understood the late philosopher's emphasis on limits more than most
It has been a year since the death of Britain’s last conservative philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton. His cultural impact was as broad as his individual impact on me was deep. My debt to him is immense.
Encountering Scruton’s work while at university was less a revelation, more a feeling of being given answers to questions I didn’t know I had. I’d thought I was conservative, but being a rather lost soul with no real idea of life I hadn’t any concrete sense of things. Scruton took these semi-coherent mental gestures and gave them shape.
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Reading Scruton’s books showed conservatism didn’t mean freedom above all, and that the constraints on one’s freedom that gave it direction were more important than the freedom itself. This emphasis on limits, such a contrast to Cameroon “Conservatism”, resonated with my reality of living with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a fragile skin condition.
In Where We Are, Scruton wrote of the importance of identity and the role of family and community in forming this. Many feel disconnected from themselves and each other, unable to answer the burning question of ‘who are we, where are we, and what holds us together in a shared political order?’ Living with EB can heighten this feeling of alienation and isolation, made worse by our culture’s emphasis on choice when real choices are increasingly made impossible in our social and economic disorder.
Scruton was keenly aware, along with Martin Heidegger, of this universal problem of alienation in modernity, of our feeling of being thrown into this world and the existential estrangement this instilled. Scruton, more than anything, was the philosopher of home, and the search for a sense of homecoming informed his work on the importance of the nation and finding a sense of place.
Crucial to this is inculcating a disposition of gratitude towards our time here with those closest to us. My condition, with its debilitating pain, is a brutal reminder that life is a vale of tears. Even so, Scruton’s philosophy of limits enabled me to see that life is worth living, that this “time is yours, and yours eternally.” This has encouraged an acceptance of what I have, who I am and gratitude for those closest to me.
I met Scruton at Blackwell’s in 2017, following a discussion of his book, On Human Nature. Afterwards he signed my copies of four of his books. In a guarded manner indicative of a shyness I see in myself, he was genuinely interested in what I’d been doing at university. The man in life matched the consoling warmth of the words on paper. Sir Roger Scruton, through his writing and speaking, has enabled me to feel at home in the world, in spite of everything, by giving a nobility to inheritance, purpose to the present and a sense of obligation to the future. His essence echoes on in his many books. I miss him, but my gratitude to him is boundless.
Henry George is a freelance writer and researcher. He has written for Merion West, as well as for Quillette and University Bookman.
A very nice piece, Mr. George. I’m also finding Roger Scruton’s work a great source of comfort in these disordered times. Scruton’s thoughts about home and belonging are also a crutch for dealing with certain issues in my own life so I can identify with the reasons why you would gravitate towards him. All the best.
Exceptionally well written. Roger Scruton’s work is even more important in these calamitous times, if anything, as thought insurance, as a challenge to use debate and free thinking to those that use violence and bullying to thrust their views upon society
Scruton is NOT Britain’s last conservative philosopher. Maybe Murray is. Maybe someone else. This sort of “the world is in decline” stuff has a lot of truth in it, but there comes a point where you must stand up and say “no more, we’re going to bring it back”.
As Enoch Powell once said: “Of course you can turn the clock back, just take it off the mantle piece and wind back the hands.”
I like that quote, that ” this time is yours, and yours eternally”. It reminds me of the significance of the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, namely, that it is only as a human you can achieve nirvana, and you’ll be a long time, an eternity even, waiting to be reincarnated as a human again if you waste the chance you’ve got now.
I grew up obsessed with nature, I never have been able to be near water and not stare into it, looking to see every bit of life, the relationships, the magic of it all. As a teen in London I was always out in the local woods at night, I learned to navigate in the dark, to be able in the dark, they were my comfortable place, some drink and the woods.. I hunted and fished a great deal but school was my hell.
After I finally left school, I had to hit the road to calm down so moved to USA and lived 5 years out of a backpack over the next 8, drifting alone, always broke, hitchhiked 55,000 miles, stopping to go to collage and work (to get the school education I never had) and then back onto the road, dirt poor, living on both the streets and in the wildest remote places in nature, spending most of my time in solitude. It was remarkably hard life, but I could not stop getting back on the road although it could be hell. On another continent from family, with no financial support at all.
Those years I always thought about life, what it was, why it was, and the point of it all, knowing nature and the world, I knew the remarkable cruelty the living things endure, and also the beauty. Having few books when drifting, no electronics, I spent years with my thoughts as my only outlet.
One of the most memorable books I found was Annie Dilllard’s ‘Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek’, a sort of philosophy on life and nature told by her time alone in a cabin remote. I always remember her telling of being at a remote country store drinking a cold coke on a bench outside talking to an old woman, and the woman’s words on existence, ‘Seems we just set down here, and don’t nobody know why’. And it just resonated with me, the bleakness of not knowing, and so came to love books on life and why and thinking and talking of existence.
One year I met my wife drifting and so we spent another 10 years drifting in various ways, often extremely remote, although she would mostly not live in the extreme remote spots when I lived in them. I Just could not settle, always ready to pack up and move on. Then one year a wile ago I just lost all desire to travel again so built my place here.
I would have loved this writer, I just watched the video you linked to… Now I work a lot, mostly alone at the trades, self employed, live mostly alone in the woods and am on the water almost every day and find solitude comfortable, nature and my dog and the woods and water, and read on-line a lot. I still am greatly bothered by the utterly coldness of nature, the fantastic cruelty of life, but also delighted by the beauty of my nature, and my family and friends – I finally brought my elderly family from London to live in my guest cottage, my wife now lives in our other cottage and the dog and I in the house, and 24 hours a day am within 20 foot of my dog who is my sidekick. It is a useless kind of life, just hanging out mostly alone, online or working alone, or on the water or in the woods alone….but I cannot seem to want more, so just do this, knowing I should be out looking at existence and the world, rather than just hanging out, but cannot seem to make myself to do more and go places. I just get up and basically have the same day over that I had yesterday, and know age is coming on fast and I should live more, but seem OK with just going to work, go on the water, go in the woods, read online, cook dinner, go to bed. I still have not figured out why we are just set down here and live our lives.
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