Gratitude for Sir Roger Scruton: in memoriam of the great philosopher
Remembering Sir Roger Scruton, the profound English philosopher, writer and artist who, unlike his contemporary colleagues, was a thinker as much as a doer; and to me, a Professor and mentor whom I never had the chance to meet in real life, but only through his writings and virtual lectures. The news of his passing away last year touched and saddened me, among many other people, who valued him, his cause, and thinking. Therefore, today I'm writing a short reflection, as a sign of gratitude and to honour his memory.
I began reading Sir Roger Scruton, for the first time in 2016; it was for my political ideology class at University. Back then, I have to say, my views were much different than now. More or less, liberal-left-leaning, like most Humanities' students. I was warned to be careful, and I had prejudices not only towards him, but the conservative philosophy in general. But as someone who likes challenges and seeks various perspectives, I found him interesting and began reading his works. I have to say, it slowly challenged my views and that was the beginning of my path towards conservatism.
Conservativism according to Scruton
As it’s often thought and said by the critics, that it’s easy to be a conservative and that conservative thinkers are ‘intellectually modest’ people who lack imagination, and would rather keep the status quo than dare seek and promote innovations or progress. But is that the case? It might be on some occasions but for sure that's not the case, and there's a good explanation for that. It has to do with the attitude, values, and philosophy of conservatism. In short, it is, of course, prudence rather than recklessness; order rather than chaos; reason rather than emotionalism; the wisdom of the past (tradition) rather than uncertain hope (utopia). And of course, as the name itself is, conserving what one considers good and priceless, as culture, community, environment, institutions, civilization, etc. It's a desire of bequeathing the wisdom and culture which was once bequeathed to us. And this doesn't mean looking backwards, but rather moving forward with prudence. That being said, conservatives do want progress, but not as an ideology, simply for the sake of it. Rather, by it, we understand going forward, and if the wrong path is taken, then, we're going in the very opposite direction. Therefore, the value of a conservative thinker has much to do with the values he promotes, defends, and wants to be preserved.
The humble giant
Let us begin with the accusation of being 'intellectually modest'. The conservative philosopher, as Sir Roger Scruton was, is modest in everything but intellect. As an individual, he didn't overestimate his knowledge but remained quite humble. And there’s greatness in this. He valued tradition, which he often called 'wisdom collected throughout history,' but didn't worship it nor treated it as infallible – as some critics claim. He had a vision, of course even critiques of being a reformer but never the ones of being revolutionary, and the reason behind it is not hard to be understood. He often said: "Good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.” His teacher was the human past-history, which is rightfully called the Mother of Wisdom. On the other hand, his ‘guidance’, which might not have been much emphasized in his writings, was Christianity. Even though an Anglican, never hid his skepticism, nonetheless regarded religion and theology as important and accepted their role and wisdom. [This by including other religious traditions, as well.] Many times he expressed remorse for Europe's loss of faith and stressed that its replacement by ideologies didn't save us from being dogmatic. And as a result, it ended up causing many harms.
Knowing the horrific consequences of the radical philosophy and ideology through human history, be it left or right, he remained as conservatives do: prudent. He saw the hell of communism with his own eyes and bravely risked his life teaching philosophy at underground schools in Eastern European countries. Precisely, he lived and worked with the oppressed Poles & Czecho-Slovaks. Fought against dictatorship intellectually, meanwhile, his Western colleagues of the Left were often dreaming and preaching quite the opposite. As a conservative who subscribed to the Christian morality, he could never do this. It would have been unthinkable. Human life, for him, was sacred. The mere idea of social-engineering and experimentation of creating the New Man, to him was stupid, dangerous, and I would say even blasphemous. He considered it stupid and dangerous, because he had acknowledged the reality of Human Nature; and blasphemous because of its false prophecy; such tendencies show the radical revolutionaries of both extremes, unfortunately, even some Progressists, are tempted to ‘imitate’ God, and aim to shape humanity and the World according to their images and ideas. History has proved them to be disastrous, yet many still insist on such ideas as changing human nature - which Sir Scruton calls “a dangerous and false hope”.
A friend of people and defender of the civilisation
Considering the aforementioned issues, and having in mind the challenges of present times, we're witnessing new forms of totalitarianism. Namely, many of those are well-intended ideas of the cultural revolution of the '68, of which, Sir Scruton was an eloquent critique from its beginning. In the age which can be rightfully defined as the 'cult of ugliness', Sir Roger Scruton defended and promoted beauty - as a symbol of God and even redemption. In the age of dictatorship of relativism & profanity, he spoke up and defended the Truth and the need for the Sacred – without which he argued, the World becomes an unbearable place, and life loses its meaning. He defended Civilization and love for one's home, in the age of cultural relativism, globalism, which promotes rootless society, that seems to be fueled by the Western-guilt or self-hatred, which Scruton defined as oikophobia, as a new sort of barbarism.
Above all, among the noblest things, he defended the environment, community life, and the common good. Stressed that there are sacred things which cannot be put on the market, nor that we can afford to put them at stake. Thus, didn't spare his criticism for capitalism and reckless industrialization. He was apologetic for the common man and woman; for the beauty of the simple and rural life — which, ironically, is often belittled, ridiculed, and even despised by some who call themselves progressists. He saw beauty and refuge in the country side, surrounded by the common men who are free from the mechanical lifestyle of the hyper-industrialized and smoged cities.
Sir Roger Scruton was, as St. Pope Pius X would have said a true friend of the people', 'for the true friends of the people are neither revolutionaries nor innovators but traditionalists.' Clearly, he was a man of value and strong convictions, for which he paid a high price but never regretted it. He was an intellectual with integrity, one that in contemporary times is rare to find, for he preached and did what he believed. For such a gentleman, one can only have respect and gratitude.
Requiem aeternam et requiescat in pace Domini!
Albert Bikaj is a final year MA student at the University of Zagreb.
He holds a BSc in International relatation and diplomacy, from the University of Donja Gorica (Montenegro).