The Virtue of Irrelevance - Future Symphony Institute, Feb 19

How many writers, educators, and opinion formers, urgently wishing to convey the thoughts and feelings that inspire them, have found themselves confronted with the cry “that’s not relevant?” In the world of mass communication today, when people are marshaled into flocks by social media, intrusions of the unusual, the unsanctioned, and the merely meaningful are increasingly resented if they come from outside the group. And this group mentality has invaded the world of education in ways that threaten the young.

Gratitude for Philosophy- The Telegraph, Dec 18

I began my career as an academic philosopher, and am often asked what philosophers do. ‘Philosophy’ means ‘the love of wisdom’, but what is wisdom? Does the person with wisdom turn things to advantage when the one with mere knowledge is stumped? In my own case philosophy has involved accepting little or nothing at face value, and wanting to pursue each question to the end. But what use has that been, either to myself or to anyone else? Is it not one cause of the storms of hostility that I encounter and one reason why, earlier this year, I was judged by some not to be an acceptable choice for a public appointment? Should I not practise the art that the Druze and the ‘Alawites call taqiyya, and hide behind a veil of ludicrous orthodoxies, while inwardly scorning the people who repeat them?

            A lady contemptuously said to Carlyle over dinner, ‘what is the use of this philosophy of yours?’ He replied that the same question was asked of Rousseau’s Social Contract, and the second edition was bound in the skins of those who had dismissed the first. The French Revolution was a drastic case of bad philosophy. But if bad philosophy can lead to mass murder and political collapse we stand greatly in need of the good philosophy that will point us in another direction. The problem is that bad philosophy is attractive and optimistic – why else would you be taken in by it? – whereas good philosophy is sceptical, with nothing to recommend it besides its truth, which is also its most depressing feature.

            However, Christmas is a festival of gratitude, and the right time to express my heartfelt thanks to this vocation that has both guided me through life and brought consolation in my times of darkness. To have answers, I acknowledge, is a wonderful thing. But more wonderful by far is to have questions, and to recognize that these questions lie buried in the simplest things, waiting to be watered into life by our curiosity. This last year I have been tending such a question, encouraging it to fill my mind with its fertile offshoots, to become something that I can take to bed at night and wake up with in the morning. The question is this: Why do we distinguish the pure from the polluted, and why do we think that it matters?

            Our prevailing bad philosophy is the philosophy of liberation, which tells us that all forms of self-expression are legitimate, and that happiness means letting it all hang out. The old notions of pollution and taboo, our philosophy says, have no bearing on how we should live now. Such is the orthodoxy: straightforward, attractive and optimistic as bad philosophy always is.

            In fact, however, although we may banish the concept of pollution from our thoughts, it cannot be banished from our feelings. It did not need the MeToo movement to tell us that sexual encounters can be felt in retrospect as contaminations. The entire literature of humanity points in that direction. In the weird hysterical society now emerging it is barely permissible to discuss this topic, certainly if you have my disadvantages: white, male, heterosexual, conservative and cultured. But I can’t refrain, since philosophy is my calling.

            Ritual purification is a feature of both Judaism and Islam, and cleanliness is regarded in both religions as the avenue to an inner purity. This inner purity is at stake in sex and love. But it also has a profoundly religious connotation, being a readiness towards God, a self-presentation to the Lord of creation, from whose grace we might otherwise irrecoverably fall. This thought struck me vividly when writing a novel (The Disappeared), indirectly inspired by the dire events in Rotherham and by my reading of the Koran.

            I saw the concept of purity as crucial to what had happened. The abusers in the Rotherham case regarded their victims as being in a state of pollution or najāsa. Losing their purity the girls had nothing more to lose. Abuse, in such circumstances, ceases to be considered as abuse and becomes instead a kind of ritual re-enactment of the victim’s loss of status. The story I told was about purity – the story of one girl’s bid to retain it, another’s to regain it, and of their abusers’ sister, in her bid to defend it to the death.

            Most people in our society have moved on from the simplistic vision of purity as chastity. But what, in that case, does purity mean? There is one great work of art that wrestles with the question, and which has therefore been pre-occupying me throughout this year – namely Wagner’s Parsifal. This tells the story of the ‘pure fool, knowing through compassion’, who is called to rescue a derelict religious community from the dire effects of its king’s transgression. Wagner’s Parsifal is a simple person who can neither exploit nor manipulate others, but who constantly surrenders his interests, endeavouring to restore right relations wherever he can. Purity, for Parsifal, means the recognition of the other as the true centre of attention, so that compassion takes over from every other form of power.

            Wagner’s drama took me into some of the deepest questions of philosophy, including that of the self. I am an object, a thing of flesh and blood. But I also know myself as a subject, who relates to others as ‘I’ to ‘you’. How are subject and object connected? By what right do I claim this body as mine and this ‘I’ as the very thing that looks from these eyes at you? It is exactly here, I came to see, that purity resides – in the I-to-you relation, which acknowledges complete equality between us.

            You too are a subject, addressing me freely with looks and words, and therefore not, for me, a thing to be exploited. If nevertheless I treat you as such a thing I have abolished the barrier between us. I have desecrated what is otherwise sacred, the untouchable centre of the will. I have reduced us both to objects and that, in the end, is what pollution amounts to. Explaining the thought is difficult, and Wagner presents it not with words but with music that wells up from the depths of his miraculous imaginative powers. But by reflecting on pollution in this way I began to understand why the girls in my story so intently and tragically flee from it.

            That kind of meditation shows, I hope, why philosophy has been, for me, both a therapy and a consolation. I agree with the great Socrates that ‘the unexamined life is not a life for a human being’. And I look with gratitude on philosophy, which was not a way of life that I chose, but a way of life by which I was chosen, and from which I have never turned back. And if I ask myself what good that has done for others, I can only reply that the joy I take in understanding things is also a joy that I seek to communicate. If others, reading the result, are consoled by it, then that is the best I can do; and if they dislike it, as so many of them do, Happy Christmas to them anyway.

 

Groupes d'Etudes Géopolitiques Interview - Dec 18

Read the interview between Sir Roger Scruton and Laetitia Strauch-Bonart for the Geopolitical Study Group HERE.

Close Encounters - Puritanical Progressivism, Dec 18

Sir Roger Scruton & Ben Weingarten discuss political unrest in the West & its historical context, the puritanical nature of progressivism & attempts by its adherents to stifle dissent, the imperative to defend free speech & more.

Watch the interview here.

Asnières speech - The right we want is conservative

"Conservatism can transmit the legacy of freedom, freedom that could be too much liberalism to be challenged by other ideologies." Roger Scruton 

Read the full transcript here.

BBC Radio 4 Point of View - The Witch Hunt Culture - 2 December 19

The witch-hunt culture.

Three years ago the distinguished biochemist Sir Tim Hunt, recipient of the Nobel Prize, Fellow of the Royal Society and one of the jewels in the crown of British science, made a casual remark, during a speech at a conference of science journalists, which seemed to imply that women and men might not be equally suited to a scientific career. The remark was tweeted, and the mob got to work on it. Very soon Sir Tim found himself forced out of his position as honorary Professor at University College London, reprimanded by the Royal Society, hounded in the press, and subjected to a hate campaign on social media. Eventually he and his wife (a scientist of the same rank as himself) left the country to work in Japan.

            This deplorable episode is one of many, in which a person’s character, career and livelihood have been attacked in punishment for a thought-crime. Social media make matters worse, of course. But it would be wrong to put the blame wholly on the ease with which malice and ignorance can now extend their reach across the Internet. We must also take account of political correctness, which both promotes hatred and also excuses it.

Sin Bin

 

Journalists who find it difficult to follow intellectual arguments or to understand the use of irony may nevertheless be anxious to add to the indictment against me. I have made a preliminary survey in search of sentences that can be used out of context as evidence of crimethink and come up with the following interim observations:

Homophobia. Following the discovery somewhere in my writings and speeches of the impious remark that homosexuality is ‘not normal’, I have naturally been on the look-out for further proof of this pernicious state of mind. I returned to Sexual Desire, published 1984 and, disgracefully, still in print. Unfortunately I was unable to find in the section on homosexuality anything that is really useful. Although the section occurs in the chapter on perversion, it is only by way of proving that homosexual desire, while significantly distinct from heterosexual desire, is not a perversion. I turned instead to my works of fiction since my first published novel, Fortnight’s Anger, which I don’t much like, seemed promising, containing an (abusive) homosexual relation. But I came across no useful out-of-context quotations, and was deterred from further research by the positive review in Gay News, which chose the book as novel of the year.

            Still, the charge of homophobia is an interesting and fertile one. The idea of such a state of mind stems from Freud and his (now largely discredited) view that infantile sexuality is ‘polymorphously perverse’ and becomes focused on the other sex (if it does) only by developing defences against the rival channels. Hence, according to Freud, there arises a conscious revulsion against that which is unconsciously desired. In a paper published a long time ago entitled ‘Sexual Morality and the Liberal Consensus’ I ventured another explanation of the revulsion against homosexuality (i.e. homophobia), couched more in evolutionary terms. But my version of evolutionary theory was too socialised, too much influenced by the social science model that has its roots in Weber and Boas, and the explanation doesn’t work. In my view, therefore, the question remains open, as to how this state of mind might be explained – open, but of course undiscussable.

           

Islamophobia. Although Freud’s attempt at explaining homophobia might be held to justify the use of that term to describe at least some of the negative views that some people hold about homosexuality, this is no excuse for inventing ‘Islamophobia’ as an explanation of the negative views that many people hold about Islam. The invention of this term by activists of the Muslim Brotherhood is a rhetorical trick, though it seems that my habit of pointing this out is a further proof that I am guilty. Are we then to suppose that people are repelled by Islam because of the unconscious desire to embrace it, this repulsion being part of an elaborate defence mechanism? Or could it be that murder, genocide, rape and enslavement carried out in the name of Islam have made people somewhat suspicious of the faith? My own view, expounded in The West and the Rest and elsewhere, is that the only phobia involved here is the natural revulsion against those horrible crimes, and has nothing to do with Islam, which is abused by those who commit the crimes and not by those who are repelled by them. However, I am sure that there are out-of-context sentences to be extracted here that will be useful in pinning on to me an accusation that admits no presumption of innocence, there being, as with all nonsense accusations, no gap between accusation and guilt.

Sexism and other isms: There is a recent interview on this site, given to the Hoover Institution, in which there are many phrases that could be captured from the air and used in evidence against me.

There is also very useful stuff in the lecture delivered to the sens-commun congress in Asnières on 18th November 2018. I recommend that journalists study this shocking event with care, especially the passage devoted to the welfare state, which, as journalists will know, is l’état providence in French.

Again there is useful evidence in my works of fiction. The fact that I presume, in The Disappeared, to describe rape and sexual abuse from a woman’s point of view is surely an outrageous proof of gender appropriation. And the fact that the rapist in question is an immigrant of Muslim background, living in a Northern city not so many miles from Rotherham, is surely clear proof of Islamophobia.

Phobias and Isms generally: There was also a lecture delivered in 2016 to the University of Buckingham on ‘making the University a Safe Space for rational argument’ which has some choice morsels. It is available on this site. I also recommend ‘The Art of Taking Offence’ from Spectator Life, which is likewise available on this site.

When time permits I will continue my researches. At least when I present the evidence against myself it will not be in the tone of voice of a writer for the Evening Standard, who began her interrogation thus:

To Mr Scruton,

I am a reporter for the Evening Standard.

I have been made aware of pieces you wrote in the City Journal between 1999 to 2001.

They include comments about gay people and the disabled which people have found offensive.

Not ‘dear Mr Scruton’, or ‘Dear Professor Scruton’, certainly not ‘Dear Sir Roger’. I was reminded of the Nazi habit of never addressing Jews, when arresting them, by their titles but always by their surnames, and using the impertinent ‘du’ instead of the formal ‘Sie’. These are the manners now taught to the censorious young, and with which they sally forth into the world of adults in order to take offence at what they find.

Statement Concerning my role and aims in the Commission on Building More, Building Beautifully.

The architectural press has been predicting that I will use my position as chair of the above commission to impose a rigid stylistic conformity, and that my well-known love of the classical vernacular will become a kind of aesthetic dictatorship, compelling architects on pain of – of what exactly? – to build according to principles dictated by me.

            In fact, in conjunction with the government and the civil service, I am putting together a group of commissioners and advisors who will represent a wide range of approaches. The purpose of the commission is not to dictate aesthetic values but to show how they might be placed at the heart of new developments. There is widespread public discontent with recent practice and a need to explore the ways in which people’s real needs and preferences can be reflected in their built environment.

            Anybody with suggestions as to the nature of the problem and the best way to resolve it is welcome to contact me on this site. Meanwhile, when the commissioners and advisory board have been appointed, it will be plain that my own aesthetic stance will be only one input among many, to the exploration of design quality in all its aspects.

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Latest Articles

The Virtue of Irrelevance - Future Symphony Institute, Feb 19

How many writers, educators, and opinion formers, urgently wishing to convey the thoughts and feelings that inspire them, have found themselves confronted with the cry “that’s not relevant?” In the...

Gratitude for Philosophy- The Telegraph, Dec 18

I began my career as an academic philosopher, and am often asked what philosophers do. ‘Philosophy’ means ‘the love of wisdom’, but what is wisdom? Does the person with wisdom...

Groupes d'Etudes Géopolitiques Interview - Dec 18

Read the interview between Sir Roger Scruton and Laetitia Strauch-Bonart for the Geopolitical Study Group HERE.

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2019 Events

Fri 24th May - Thurs 6th June - America

Wed 31st Jul - Fri 9th Aug - 2019 Scrutopia Summer School

Thur 29th Aug - Sun 1st Sept - Scrutopia Alumni Meeting 

Thur 21st Feb - Wagner Society Talk, London

Fri 26 - Sat 27th April - CRASSH conference, Cambridge

Sat 15th June - Philosophy Day