Those of us who read for a living read a lot, and we rarely come across a work that is, simply stated, dazzling and delightful. Even rarer is one dazzling, delightful, deep and wise, but Roger Scruton’s Conservatism, is just such a book. Here, in an astonishingly short compass (less than one hundred and fifty pages of text), is a comprehensive history of western conservative thought, from the beginnings in Aristotle and Aquinas, through the French and Industrial Revolutions, right up to the present, and conservative thought not just in America and Britain, but in Continental Europe as well. The book is part of Profile Books’s series “Ideas in Profile,” subtitled “Small Introductions to Big Topics,” an apt rubric for what we have here.
From his position as the dean of English conservatism, Roger Scruton explains the ideas, habits, and traditions that made the West a civilization not only of immense learning and wealth, but also one of love and mercy. A philosopher, musician, environmentalist, novelist, aesthete, and former literary smuggler in Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, Scruton’s depth of learning enables him to speak with unique authority on how the West’s achievements opened it to democracy, the rule of law, and profound loyalty to the nation-state. It is this last topic, the nation-state, that has attracted Scruton’s attention in recent years precisely because of its precarious standing on the world stage. Scruton’s defense of the nation-state engages its many critics on their own ground. To their insistence that the nation-state is the wellspring of insularity and rapacious nationalism, Scruton underscores that the nation-state is the pivotal seat of tolerance, prosperity, and democratic accountability.
Suppose you woke up one day to discover that you were headline news. A leading newspaper has spread across its front page a story that you were seen entering a notorious brothel in London in company with a gang of criminals.
There is no evidence that you have committed a crime, and the only ground for the story is that it has been relayed to the press by a police officer, appointed to investigate the gang in whose company you were allegedly seen.
This police officer, you suspect, has a grudge against you: maybe he doesn’t like your politics; maybe he is jealous of the attention you have received as a recently elected city councillor.
Whatever the cause of the matter, your life has been irreversibly damaged. There is no criminal charge, no chance to defend yourself and nothing to refute save malicious gossip.
Now running for a second year, the Scrutopia summer school offers a ten-day immersion experience in the philosophy and outlook of Sir Roger Scruton, the British writer and philosopher who has inspired many searching people to believe in Western civilisation and its legacy. Sir Roger will lead the course of study, which will take place in and around his house near historic Malmesbury in the Cotswolds, from 26th August to 3rd September 2018. Residents would be housed in the Royal Agricultural University in nearby Cirencester, a charming Victorian Gothic college that provides comfortable accommodation and excellent food. Daily classes and discussions on the life of the mind will be interspersed with visits to nearby historical sites, including Oxford and Bath, which will provide an experience of the historical depth of this unique part of England.
The aim is to assemble a group of around 20 committed people, with a shared interest in culture and in all that is involved in passing it on. Each day will begin with a talk from Sir Roger followed by a discussion. Reading and discussion in the afternoon will lead to a formal presentation, either by Sir Roger or a visiting speaker, and the evenings will involve concerts, readings, or further discussion over wine. Aspiring writers, composers and artists will be invited to submit samples of their work for criticism, and discussions will be organised around a curriculum of readings chosen to illustrate some of the major intellectual issues of our day.
Provisional topics include the nature of philosophy, why beauty matters, the art of writing, figurative painting, the Western inheritance, the meaning of conservatism, musical order, real environmentalism, understanding wine and the life of friendship. We will aim also to provide a piano trio for an evening of Schubert and Brahms.
Opportunities to walk, ride and ponder in the beautiful local countryside will be many, and events will take place at the Scruton residence as well as at Cirencester.
The fee for the course will be £2,500 to cover board and lodging and all other costs, apart from travel to and from the event, which will be the responsibility of each participant. We will close the list of participants when we have twenty firm commitments, who have paid the deposit of £200 necessary to secure a place on the course.
Populists recruit their following by direct appeal, are largely indifferent to their opponents, and have no intention, if elected, of allowing a voice to those who did not vote for them. If “populism” threatens the political stability of democracies, it is because it is part of a wider failure to appreciate the virtue
and the necessity of representation.
Read the full article online.
Brexit will give us back the countryside, as well as our country
Escaping the Common Agricultural Policy will preserve rural landscapes and lifestyles
The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy was designed to support the small farmer, and it is fair to say it has failed to achieve that purpose. Because subsidies have been calculated by acreage, they both push up the price of land and benefit those who own the largest chunks of it — which means absentee agribusinesses. The CAP is indeed one major cause in the decline of the real rural economy — the economy of the small farmers who live and work in the fields. Leaving the EU is our opportunity to devise a new system of subsidies, one that will achieve what the public really wants from farming, which is not only food, but the two precious attributes that large-scale agribusiness threatens: beauty and bio-diversity.
In the 200 years since the Romantic movement, the British people have identified the landscape as an icon of their inheritance. Urban residents feel this as strongly as countryside dwellers. We believe that the landscape is ours, regardless of where we reside or how we earn our livelihood. Proposals to build on the green belt, to drive motorways through unspoiled valleys or high-speed trains across precious corners of our country are greeted, rightly, with the most vigorous of protests.
This shared sense of ownership has affected the way the countryside looks. Our landscape is criss-crossed by footpaths, green lanes and bridleways; copses crown the hills and hedgerows divide the fields; wherever you wander you will find a passage through, with gates, stiles and hunt jumps opening each boundary to the legitimate visitor. The natural edges and corners of small-scale residential farming are also precious habitats, helping native fauna to survive despite increasing pressure from the human population. In short, compared with continental agribusiness, our traditional ways of farming have been an aesthetic and environmental success.
And that is the real reason why those ways of farming should be subsidised. Our small farmers are sitting on a highly valuable asset; their land. It may also be their only capital. But we do not allow them to realise the market value of that land. They cannot build on it; they cannot turn it into leisure centres or caravan parks. They are condemned by our environmental and planning laws to maintain its traditional appearance, even when it is no longer profit-able to farm it. This is the rationale for farm subsidies: to compensate farmers for the losses that taxpayers impose on them. Subsidies should help farmers to maintain what we love in our countryside, not add to the profits of those absentees who have done so much to destroy it.
We should begin from an inventory of the things that we love: beauty, bio-diversity, boundaries and habitats; wildflowers, birds and river life; footpaths, bridleways and the hospitality offered to those who ramble and ride; local food and the markets that deal in it. And we should then assign points to farmers according to the contribution made by their land to the greater cause, which is not the land but the landscape —the land conceived as a national, rather than an individual, asset. Subsidies should not be automatic, but weighted to compensate those who earn the least from farming, provided that their farming conforms to the standards set out in the inventory.
Perhaps the most important item in this inventory is the local food economy. Farmers whose produce is sold in a local market create a benefit that cannot be measured in pecuniary terms. They are maintaining a national food economy that is maximally resilient in the face of global changes and external threats; they are producing food that does not travel hundreds of miles to its destination; they are helping to loosen the grip of the supermarkets on our food economy and so protecting our town centres from decay at the hands of the predators perched on their perimeter; and they are amplifying the experience of neighbourhood, which is a vital part of what we cherish in the day-to-day rhythms of the countryside.
As by-products of all this, they are enhancing the beauty and bio-diversity of a countryside which, despite all our post-war upheavals, has retained its immovable place in the hearts of the British people. Whatever you think about Brexit, it is surely right to be pleased that at last we can devise a system of farm subsidies that gives us the countryside we want, with the support of those who live and work in it.
Published in Spectator Life.
Religions offer membership. They fill the void in the human heart with the mystical presence of the group, and if they do not provide this benefit they will wither and die, like the religions of the ancient world during the Hellenistic period. It is therefore in the nature of a religion to protect itself from rival groups and the heresies that promote them.
When David Cameron asked the British people to vote on whether to leave the European Union, he did his utmost to persuade us that the question was a purely economic one: would we be better off in the union or out of it? And he assembled teams of experts to warn about the economic cost if we decided to leave.
For many ordinary citizens, however, the question was not about economics at all. It was about identity and sovereignty. For such people matters were at stake that the politicians had systematically marginalised, and which were more important to them than all the economic and geopolitical arguments.
Their question was not: what will make us better off, but rather: who are we, where are we, what…
The full article is available in PDF format HERE.
A crisp, autumnal morning in the Vale of Malmesbury, 80 miles west of London. Watery skies, clay soil, and gentle hills quilted with the ancient pattern of cows and sheep, hedges and coppices, stone farmhouses and industrial barns. At Sunday Hill Farm in Brinkworth, the range was fired up early, and the kitchen is busy. Half a dozen apple pies are cooling on the table, a partially carved leg of cold lamb waits on the sideboard, and a dog dances under everyone’s feet. The annual Apple Festival begins in just over an hour’s time.
- 'The English Fix' BBC Radio 4 - 14 Sept 17
- 'Coming Home in Scrutopia : A happy week with Roger Scruton' - The Imaginative Conservative, Tina McCormick
- 'As the left surges back, Marxism’s bloody legacy is covered up' Spectator Life - 20 Sept 17
- Philosophy Bites with Nigel Warburton 29 Aug 17
- 'The Religion of Rights' BBC Radio 4 - 1 Sept 17
- 'Pottering towards the new socialist state' BBC Radio 4 - 27 Aug 17
- 'The Meaning of Conservative' BBC Radio 4 - 20 Aug 17
- A Beautiful Mind: Thinking Things Through with Scruton Q&A Aug 17
- The attack of the Blob - Spectator Life Jun 17
- Delingpole with James Delingpole - The Podcast