Scruton, who received a knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours list, is one of the country’s greatest philosophers, and certainly its most distinguished conservative one. Scruton’s habit in his study of aesthetics, is to explain things in a way that make you take a moment to smell the roses and then exhale contentedly, albeit while the radical left throw things at you.
Throughout his long career Scruton has steadfastly resisted a literal onslaught from the left wing intelligentsia, something that damaged his career but which, he maintains cheerily, at least led to a more interesting life.
It’s this (and perhaps my also having red hair) that has made him something of a hero of mine – that refusal to water down principle and conviction, on the basis of making what you believe in somehow more palatable to those whose views are contrary to your own.
I dare say this sounds familiar to other conservatives. There’s a natural assumption among some folk on the left that everyone else subscribes to their worldview. When encountering such people you find you spend many conversations nodding along to things that in private you considered to be popular nonsense.
When they do cotton on to your little secret, that you’re not a subscriber to relativism for example, and that you believe in reality over ideology, they make excuses for you: you’re just misguided, you cannot be a proper conservative, and that if only you could drop your sense of humour you’d be a socialist! Because as we all know, conservatives are “scum”, nasty people, or in the words of Nye Bevan “vermin,” just as the t-shirt, on sale in the Guardian shop, explains.
That doesn’t apply to everyone of course. Most people don’t quote Mao without irony, or talk politics at all. And that’s is a common theme of Scruton; the sense of what Britain is being inherent in people, rather than being something we have learn or be persuaded of. That in turn equates to a quiet conservatism that requires neither pulpit nor placard.
Scruton fundamentally shaped what it means to be a conservative: the love of home (oikos), of community, and settlement, and a respect for those institutionsthat form the very fabric of Britain. Such things enrich that shared sense of community (which apply to any country), enhancing countless aspects of life – and, to be topical for a second, is behind the disquiet so many feel towards the European Union, a faceless body that contravenes those elements of common law that have survived in Britain for centuries.
So the news that he is to become Sir Roger Scruton is something I’ll joyfully celebrate, delighted that the honours people finally located him, somewhere around England’s soul. Which I believe is near Wiltshire.
It was reading Scruton, starting with his wonderful book Gentle Regrets that explained what had led me to call myself a conservative. It had been like feeling an urge to travel somewhere, only to discover on arrival that home was your destination. He is to me the moral and political compass of conservatism – not just as a man who stands up for his principles, but an example to others that it could be done, and what’s more that it should be done.
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