Sir Roger Scruton was a prolific and leading author, whose body of work encompassed aesthetics, art and culture, sexuality, and of course, politics. His passing away on the 12th of January is a tragedy and has been felt around the world. Everyone can agree that we have lost an incredibly talented mind. I cannot help but feel we have lost much more than that.
I decided to read some conservative literature last year. For a long time before this moment, I had doubted the claims made by my left-wing friends. I had seen something at times, in their arguments and exclamations, that seemed simply vindictive. I was shocked to find, upon reading Sir Scruton, that he had come to conservatism in the same way, as a reaction to the destructive and vindictive riots of 1968 in Paris. Sir Roger had seen, in the left-wing then, what I was responding to in elements of the left-wing today: a “culture of repudiation,” which prioritises tearing down the old at any cost, and for any infraction against an absolutist moral code.
Reading on, I found that Roger Scruton championed conservatism as a rational philosophy that stems from values which we all subscribe to. Time and time again, he was a voice for the love of home that so many people feel, but which goes unheard in academia. It is in this way that Sir Roger demonstrated that Conservatism is the stance of the ordinary person, who is settled in their way of life, and happy to identify with something beyond them. What matters is not what they identify with; some people will identify with their country, others with their church, and some with their local football team. But perhaps most poignantly, he doggedly showed these identities to be valid and worthwhile.
Sir Roger Scruton was an aesthete, a lover of art and high culture. In art too, he championed the traditional and the beautiful over shock-art and desecration. He defended old masterpieces as masterpieces and old masters as masters, be it in literature, visual art, opera, or music. As is so often the case in his work, Scruton began with some prejudice or opinion believed by many and mocked by those in academia, and systematically defended it in the academic’s own language. It is worth noting that he did not merely defend the art tradition in words. He also travelled to communist Czechoslovakia, setting up an underground university in 1979 until his expulsion in the mid 80s. Here too, I found his writing giving expression to what I had for a long time believed, and his action serving as a model of how the forces of repudiation can be resisted in society.
Sir Roger’s characteristic approach was one that began with deep respect for those that came before us; and a consequent understanding that they did not act without reason. He had a keen awareness of the fact that things are usually much more complex than we immediately think, and a deep sense of humility. This meant he could dismantle a cruder argument by tracing and articulating what goes on under the surface in much the same fashion as Burke did hundreds of years before. Much of what makes Sir Roger Scruton remarkable to me, besides his eloquence, was his willingness to consider things sacred in a culture that has succumbed so universally to the abandonment of sanctity. Be it religion, sex, marriage, community, tradition; he uplifts and defends. Agree or disagree with his work; Roger Scruton puts forward an eloquent, refined, convincing expression of the desire to conserve and this has given a voice to a generation of conservatives.