Obituary: Roger Scruton (1944-2020)
He wrote over 50 books on philosophy, art, music, politics, literature, culture, sexuality, and religion, as well as finding time to write novels and two operas. He was widely recognised for his services to philosophy, teaching and public education, receiving a knighthood in 2016.
I first met Roger when he invited me to attend meetings and subsequently as a speaker to the Conservative Philosophy Group which he chaired. At these meetings, he encouraged us to think about defining “a philosophy of conservatism” and not “a philosophy for the Conservative Party.”
In defining his own thoughts, he positioned conservatism to relation to its historical rivals, liberalism and socialism. He wrote that liberalism was the product of the enlightenment, which viewed society as a contract and the state as a system for guaranteeing individual rights. While he saw socialism as the product of the industrial revolution, and an ideology which views society as an economic system and the state as a means of distributing social wealth.
He felt that conservatives leaned more towards liberalism then socialism, but argued that for conservatives, freedom should also entail responsibility, which in turn depends on public spirit and virtue. Many classical liberals would agree. In fact, in his 1994 book “Reinventing Civil Society”, IEA author David Green, now of Civitas, criticised Thatcherism for “its inadequate emphasis on the `civic virtues’, such as self-sacrifice, duty, solidarity and service of others.”
Professor Scruton agreed with classical liberals in believing that markets are not necessarily expressions of selfishness and greed, but scolded his fellow Conservatives for allowing themselves to be caricatured as leaving social problems to the market. Classical liberals could be criticised for the same neglect.
He was widely revered across Central and Eastern Europe for his role in founding and supporting networks of dissident academics during the years of Soviet-aligned socialism. During my years as a Member of the European Parliament, I was always struck by how many of my colleagues from Central Europe knew of his work and often invited him to give speeches in their countries or in Brussels. I last saw him speak in June last year in Brussels, on national sovereignty, which did not necessarily go down well with all in the audience.
Even after being diagnosed with cancer, he continued to work, travelling to Prague in November 2019 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and being recognised for his own contribution to the Czech’s quest for freedom. He continued as Course Director for an MA in Philosophy at the University of Buckingham and wrote almost to the end.
Perhaps his conservative philosophy was best summed up when he wrote “Liberals seek freedom, socialists equality and conservatives responsibility. And, without responsibility, neither freedom nor equality have any lasting value.”