Roger Scruton who died on January 12 was a remarkable person. He grew up in Ancoats, a part of Manchester captured in L.S Lowry’s distinctive paintings. The son of a socialist school teacher Scruton became perhaps the most eloquent of modern thinkers to reject socialism and all its works. Unlike many of the déclassé left who are working out their “issues” Scruton’s own background meant that he saw through all of the nonsense that would justify tyranny on the basis of what class you are born into. As many of us from a similar grounding eventually do.
His epiphany occurred when he was in Paris during the 1968 student revolt. It was a pretty meaningless orgy of destruction that is still mythologised by the new left. His comment on it all was:
“I suddenly realised I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledy gook. I was disgusted by it, and thought there must be a way back to the defence of western civilization against these things. That’s when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.”
He was much vilified of course. The left above all cannot abide clever people from among their putative oppressed, be they working class, gay, women, minorities, pointing out that it is all a fraud. The once respected and respectable New Statesman even stooped to an under-graduate stunt in an attempt to blacken Scruton’s reputation and portray him as a racist and anti-Semite.
The central point of Scruton’s rejection of totalitarianism, be it left or right, is Kant’s assertion that individual human beings are not a means to an end. The Nazis justified the murder of millions on the basis that this would improve the human race. The Communists justified their murder of millions on the ground that this would lead to some future utopia.
Scruton and others said that there is no imagined future in which human beings become better than we are. We are flawed creatures who are born with freedom of will. That is the only thing that determines whether we as individuals or collectively do good or evil. Once that responsibility is intellectually removed, humans can and will do terrible things. Even on a mundane level it is an excuse to do as one pleases without any consideration of the consequences.
Apart from his intellectual work, Scruton played a brave role in supporting the anti-communist underground in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s. That eventually led to his being banned from the country in 1985.
Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam. Not the usual tribute to an English Tory!