In Oxford a week ago, the last of the first Roger Scruton memorial lectures took place. It was delivered by Jonathan Sumption, whose subject was, simply, ‘Democracy’. Its survival, he said, was by no means assured. After it, I interviewed him on stage. The memory of Sir Roger, the great conservative thinker, was suitably honoured by the venue, the Sheldonian. And the fact that his ideas are of the moment was confirmed by the numbers: 700 people, mostly undergraduates, got in and others had to be turned away. The Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation, which organised everything, is an impressive collection of highly motivated young intellectuals. The series had the official seal of approval by Chris Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford, who gave the vote of thanks. This was all very heartening, and I was glad that Lord Patten made a point of emphasising the importance of freedom of thought and speech at his university. But it was interesting that he felt the need to do so: such things did not even need saying at great British universities in the late 20th century. One of Roger’s best achievements was to help the ‘flying’ universities that met covertly in communist eastern Europe in the 1980s. I remember him describing the ardour with which students sucked in the air of intellectual freedom. I sense a comparable hunger in Oxford today, as the threat to freedom grows.
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