Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Some worries about Roger Scruton

The more adulatory material I see on the Catholic internet about the late Roger Scruton, the more I think some corrective is necessary. I wish I'd been more critical now, in what I wrote for LifeSite (below).
In Scruton's subtle and often brilliant work, we are gently led away from the idea that it is of any importance whether there is any objective truth, whether God actually exists, or whether there are any moral truths. It doesn't matter because we have our terribly interesting reactions to things and our terribly complex relations with each other and with the past. I want to agree with many of his positive assertions but say to him and his followers: look chaps, this isn't enough. It's not going to work on its own--it'll collapse like a souflé without some, you know, reality behind it. Look, all the people you describe living these elegant, sceptical lives in the 18th century or whatever were living off the capital of a millennium of Christianity, during which time people actually believed in something. It is when this belief starts disappearing from the mass of the population in the 20th century that society starts unravelling. You can't bind it all back up again by saying that the new barbarians should be more like Enlightenment gentlemen. The barbarians are just following the Enlightenment logic through.
Heigh ho. Here's my LifeSite article.
The English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton has died at the age of 75. He was the most prominent proponent of conservatism in political theory of his generation, and his theory of aesthetics was also significant. He came into conflict with the intellectual establishment throughout his life, and his independence of mind was impressive. So intensely hostile to him, indeed, were his fellow philosophers that I witnessed apparently rational mainstream academics actually apologising, in advance, for saying something complimentary about him. And yet he was rather a gentle soul, not given to hasty polemic or feuds, who did not give way to bitterness. His works will long survive those of many of his detractors. 
In many ways, his work has been helpful to Catholic thinkers, particularly his articulation of the importance of community, an idea whose time in some ways seems to have come. But he was not a Catholic, and there are important ways in which his thinking went in a quite different direction from that of the Catholic tradition. As a tribute to a great man, I want to say something about this: the best way to show one’s appreciation of a serious thinker is always to engage critically with his ideas.
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  1. Per James Matthews Wilson's recent post at The Catholic Thing, 'There Is No Secular Culture' (, in which he reviews Simon During's essay at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

    "Culture in the modern age became a new god-term to give coherence to civilization and society – a kind of immanent substitute for the transcendence of Christian faith. As Matthew Arnold contended, culture would save us from anarchy."

  2. Thanks for saving the the trouble of reading anything by Scruton, whose work struck me as pretty boring (another point left out of the laudatory obituaries). What actual important ideas did he have? Compare e.g. Michael Dummett. He was far from an easy read, but he did have important ideas.

  3. Thanks, good post.

    I have very mixed feelings about Scruton. Indirectly, his work helped me escape classical liberalism and bring me to the Faith, and many of his ideas are very enlightening. But he's ultimately a Kantian -- hence his thinking that it doesn't matter much whether there's any God, or moral truth. And (as Edward Feser says) Kant was a bigger disaster than Hume and Descartes put together, if only because he was Hume and Descartes put together.

    In fact, you could argue that the catastrophe of the past 60 years has (in part) been the result of attempting to combine Kant with Catholicism.

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  6. RJ, the link you provided does not substantiate the accusation you make against Scruton, so I have removed your post as defamatory.