Roger Scruton’s life against the current

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Scruton’s life was filled with love – for people, for culture, for civilization.

Roger Scruton in 2019. (TAC/DannyDelgado)

Against the Tide: The Best of Roger Scruton’s Columns, Commentary, and Criticismby Roger Scruton, edited by Mark Dooley (Bloomsbury, 2022), 242 pages.

“Society depends on the saints and heroes who can find space again [music, poetry and art] before us and show us their worth.” Roger Scruton has done just that his entire life. And because he defended the truth and beauty of the arts, religion and social life from the onslaught of modernity, he was banished from the academy, which has turned its back on the good of existence and fomented hatred and resentment in its place. Still, his tenacity in defending the important things in life—those eternal things heaven holds—earned the grudging admiration and respect of his bourgeois enemies.

Against the Tide: The Best of Roger Scruton’s Columns, Commentary, and Criticism revealed Roger through the decades of his public intellectual life. We are treated to Scruton the man, Scruton the staunch defender of “conservatism”, Scruton the critic of the fashionable piety of the left, Scruton the defender of the sacred and transcendent, and more. Over 40 years of Scruton’s columns and commentaries, published and unpublished, and diary entries are bestowed upon us in this remarkably concise but substantial volume.

Most of the pieces included are short columns from Scruton’s time writing the Times and freelance with other British newspapers. Other short essays come from his time as editor of the Salisbury reviewwhose history we treat in the introductory essay published in the Viewers. Speaking of venerable hoards of intellectual culture and criticism, many of the long-form critical essays contained in this volume date from Scruton’s time when he was writing for that journal. We are therefore gifted with a mixture of brief opinion pieces from newspapers far and wide in America and England, longer critical essays in leading cultural journals, and personal diary entries that give us a glimpse into the heart, mind, and torment of this bardic soul.

Is there a theme that unites this seemingly disparate collection of writings? One might be tempted to say the intellect – after all, Scruton was a leading public intellectual for most of his life and certainly throughout his public career. While there is some truth to this, I would suggest a different topic: love. Love, as those who have studied Scruton extensively or had the opportunity to study with him personally, know, is the great subject that occupied his soul.

Scruton wrote of his work in the anti-communist underground in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, describing the dissident students and intellectuals who yearned to claim the hearts of their national cultures, oppressed by the Stalinist authorities in Moscow and their lackeys in the satellite capitals of the Warsaw Pact (which is now threatened by the soft-spoken Bolsheviks from Brussels). Young men and women, Scruton tells us, hungered for something that was theirs – something to attach their hearts to and be drawn to, and which cried out “Mine!” triumphantly and passionately. while at the same time sharing this culture, identity and tradition with their neighbours. Love of neighbor, love of fatherland and heritage, love of culture all served as channels of superior love, which the Leninist superstate of the Soviet Union and its puppets sought to annihilate. (Between the lines we are treated to a serious reflection on the state of our own countries and cultures.)

What the left-wing squares who tried to smear Scruton throughout his life never understood, or refused to understand, is that human beings are social creatures of intense affectivity. Of course, this kind of social creature with fierce allegiances to family, community and country is antagonistic to the phantasmagoria of Karl Marx, who declared all such allegiances “bourgeois,” the walls of bias and prejudice that prevent utopian benevolence. Love of family, shared culture, and free association—all things that the hardened hearts of left-wing abolitionists can never understand—motivate the common man.

against the current is an appropriate title. The defense of family, culture, identity and freedom opposes the current of militant socialism and communism rooted in the abolitionist imagination of this meticulous third-rate thinker from Germany who has so poisoned the so-called intellectual class that dominates the bastions of Western culture and education. When Scruton writes, “We live in troubled times” and “The West adrift without leadership,” the reader may be surprised to learn that these prophetic words are from 1994, not 2014.

While it is fairly easy to discern the love that pulsed through Scruton’s heart and mind as he defended unfashionable common sense, the magnanimity of his heart and mind is evident in the concluding section of this book. This section reflects on Scruton’s last year, caught up in an attempted character assassination by a hacktivist journalist and the usual cowardice of nominally “conservative” politicians in breaking ties with someone labeled (even slanderously) a “racist.” However, Scruton was confirmed. The embarrassed Tory government reinstated him in his unpaid consultant position on the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. Such an uproar would cause every lesser soul to seek just vengeance. Not Scruton.

“My 2019” is undoubtedly the highlight of this great work. Amid the turmoil of a cheating hit job, Scruton takes us through the meaning of Easter, Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and the importance of loving forgiveness in a world of cruelty and selfishness. Easter, so poignantly manifested that year in the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire (which I watched live on TV while studying with Roger in England), “reaffirms[s] of the creative principle and the love that brought about the death of Christ. The darkness that came upon the world that first Easter Saturday could only be dispelled by a renewal of that love, and that renewal comes through us.”

In a touching and poignant reflection on the tribulation that befell him after 50 years of public intellectual service that has moved people from around the world as much as his pseudo-friends in the cowardly Conservative Party who sang his awards hailed him, his friends, indeed – Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists – came to his defense. He was reborn in that outpouring of love in his dark moment, his own hell. Scruton embodied this love of renewal in many ways.

Roger Scruton was certainly an imperfect and flawed hero, prophet, and saint hopeful, but an imperfect and flawed hero, prophet, and saint hopeful moved by love. Whether it was an effort to renew culture for love, to renew our commitments as citizens to one another for love, or to defend the importance of education—true education—for love of others and love of learning, love was the biggest theme that moved his being and forced him to share this love with others. The love he shared lives beyond the grave and will illuminate and touch the lives of many for centuries to come.

Paul Krause is editor-in-chief of VoegelinView and author from The Odyssey of Love: A Christian Guide to the Great Books (Wipf and Stock, 2021).

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