I was recently gifted a copy of the revised edition of Sir Roger Scruton’s Confessions of a Heretic. I must admit that Scruton is one of those authors of whom I have currently read too little, and that shall change in time, but I am well aware of the value and salience of his oeuvre. He was one of the last men of letters given to us by the twentieth century and we are fortunate that he produced so much of a legacy made tangible by the written word. The logical question now is what to do with it all. This matter of maintaining Scruton’s legacy has been addressed by Henry George in The Salisbury Review, but with a conclusion that only finds his use in arresting the leftwards gallop on the continent. I do not intend this article to be a direct response, rather a development which can reach a conclusion about Scruton’s fate amongst the novel elements of the right in this country and the broader Anglosphere by applying some basic truths of the present situation.
First, it is worth remembering that Scruton was an outsider for virtually his entire career. He was not writing from a liberal or neoliberal persuasion, so he was shunned by the party that farcically shares a name with his philosophy. He was concerned with the ill-effects of modernity whereas most wanted to further them. His evident wisdom existed in incidental opposition to the recentring of Conservative Party ideologies and historical memory around Margaret Thatcher. His isolated position from the political establishment is observable just in the titles of the two posthumous volumes of his work, the aforementioned Confessions of a Heretic and Against the Tide. Although he set out his ideas in a considered and respectable way, too many were simply unwilling to engage with them in a likewise manner. Many still respond to Scruton with acrimony, whilst the Conservatives have only performed a cursory lip service to particular aesthetical ideas since his death out of some feeling of guilt for unjustly defenestrating him.
If describing Scruton as a heretic is apt, as Douglas Murray argues in his introduction to the revised edition of Confessions, then what is stopping us from deeming him a radical? Dispel the mental images of students with red banners and flags, for their ever-shifting political positions are the restless present’s fashion. Instead, compare Scruton’s traditional and conservative worldview with the society of today. To bring about Scruton’s desired “oikophilia,” that being to restore the family and a sense of place as vital pillars of binding individuals together in a genuine national community, would require the total upending of the existing political order and its most cherished pieces of legislation. Just removing the cosmopolitan precepts and infiltrations would necessitate the abrupt end of the Blairite paradigm and either the liquidation or assimilation of our European Union regulatory inheritance, which recent governments have only attempted piecemeal.
Scruton may not have written his works like an aggressive demagogue, yet neither did many of the other thinkers younger and more innovative minds are now referencing as they attempt to synthesise solutions to the present’s manifold problems. These minds’ ostensible radicalism would not embroil the Anglosphere in a quasi-Trotskyite permanent revolution since comparisons to a ruling progressivism, whereby a commonly regarded normal reality is suspended as a roadblock to progress, render the majority drastically desynchronised. With most of the canon of this civilisation having been dismantled by the same forces, it is almost expectable that the novel elements in the right today germinate from disparate ideas and thinkers. Moreover, their realisation of political conflict is partly a reflection that any intellectual developments made nominally on the right will be met, as Scruton was during his career, with ferocious hostility by those of an opposite political disposition. In fact, the reaction to Scruton’s 1985 book Thinkers of the New Left is a clear example of this, in that his identification of the destructive tendencies of New Left and postmodernist thinking saw it hounded out of print and Scruton barred from any further academic career.
Yet what is to become of these British “Young Scrutonians,” with whom the recently relaunched Salisbury Review identifies itself? It is laudable that Scruton’s ideas have found their way into several continental governments and possess substantial European academic interest, but it seems they will not materialise here so easily. I doubt the Conservative Party will ever embrace him, regardless of the outcome of future elections; the machine selects for loyalty whereas Scruton was no sycophant. If we accept Scruton was comparatively a radical during his career and treated as such, then the home of “Young Scrutonians” is within the broad and vibrant spectrum of ideas which rest firmly within the bounds of sanity yet have been rejected by the narrowly modern liberal political parties as heresy.
I do not describe a “marketplace of ideas,” which some classical liberals delude themselves about, rather a dazzling crucible of the fruits of over two thousand years’ worth of human minds. Scruton is certainly within the intellectual traditions making up this space and has the potential for his works to have quite the voice in determining what emerges from the crucible in the coming months and years. One side of this is obviously the sheer volume of Scruton’s work and within that the diverse range of topics he discussed at length. The other side is those who are willing to defend his work, apply it, further it and so on to maintain his legacy. It seems a good number are interested in those tasks, whether through the Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation or as a result of personal discovery. There is perhaps an exclusive potential for the next generation of men of letters and anti-academic intellectuals to arise from the novel elements of the right, Scruton being a great springboard and role-model for those in the future who might arbitrate the paradigm shift this country so desperately needs. In that case, the only question is whether aspiring individuals can maintain a similar level of willpower to him to fulfil such duties.
In other words, the barrier to a deserved flourishing of Scruton’s thoughts amongst the British right is insignificant. Those in the party machine will remain unperceptive, but beyond lies an audience with more commonalities to these “Young Scrutonians” than they might first realise. Their intellectual journey towards becoming radical Scrutonians is only a nominal one, for a simple analysis of the situation shows their worldview is already radically against the ruling paradigm. This cannot be shied away from, since embracing Scruton’s place within such a wealth of other fascinating seams of ideas should only prove beneficial for all who are positively engaged with them. Scruton provided an undeniable depth and purpose to his conservatism, thus it is on his proponents to make the fullest use of them in the philosophy he contributed to and ultimately in changing society for the better.