Category Archive 'Roger Scruton'

14 Jan 2020

Anamnesis

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View over the Prague downtown Wenceslav Square with the hero’s statue in foreground. A huge crowd was assembling again, Thursday evening, November 23, 1989, for another demonstration for more democracy in Czechoslovakia.

Michael Brendan Dougherty quotes Roger Scruton’s memory of meeting the Czech dissidents with whom he would go on to create an underground university in the 1980s. There he gave lectures on philosophy, history, and literature — meditations on the whole inheritance of Western civilization — that were forbidden by Communist authorities. Scruton would finally be detained by secret police and his name placed on the Index of Undesirable Persons.

From How to Be a Conservative (2014):

In that room was a battered remnant of Prague’s intelligentsia — old professors in their shabby waistcoats; long-haired poets; fresh-faced students who had been denied admission to university for their parents’ political ‘crimes’; priests and religious in plain clothes; novelists and theologians; a would-be rabbi; and even a psychoanalyst. And in all of them I saw the same marks of suffering, tempered by hope; and the same eager desire for the sign that someone cared enough to help them. They all belonged, I discovered, to the same profession: that of stoker. Some stoked boilers in hospitals; others in apartment blocks; one stoked at a railway station, another in a school. Some stoked where there were no boilers to stoke, and these imaginary boilers came to be, for me, a fitting symbol of the communist economy.

This was my first encounter with “dissidents”: the people who, to my later astonishment, would be the first democratically elected leaders of post-communist Czechoslovakia. And I felt towards these people an immediate affinity. Nothing was of such importance for them as the survival of their national culture. Deprived of material and professional advancement, their days were filled with a forced meditation on their country and its past, and on the great Question of Czech History that has preoccupied the Czechs since the movement for national revival in the nineteenth century. They were forbidden to publish; the authorities had concealed their existence from the world, and had resolved to remove their traces from the book of history. Hence the dissidents were acutely conscious of the value of memory. Their lives were an exercise in what Plato called anamnesis: the bringing to consciousness of forgotten things. Something in me responded immediately to this poignant ambition, and I was at once eager to join with them and make their situation known to the world. And I recognized that anamnesis described the meaning of my life too.

13 Jan 2020

Sir Roger Scruton, born February 27 1944, died January 12 2020

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I thought the Telegraph did not really do him justice.

Sir Roger Scruton, who has died aged 75, was a philosopher and academic variously identified as “one of the nearest things Britain has to a public intellectual”, Britain’s favourite “token reactionary” (his own description), and even “the thinking man’s skinhead”.

As one of the most contentious figures in British public life, Scruton operated as an academic, journalist and prolific writer, and a lightning rod for abuse and criticism from the political Left. He was regularly shouted down in universities and prevented from speaking, yet he enjoyed a reputation as a first-class professional philosopher among academics of all political persuasions.

Scruton was a man of parts, some of which seemed irreconcilable: barrister, aesthetician, teacher at Birkbeck College (part of London University with a tradition of a working-class intake), editor of the ultra-Conservative Salisbury Review, and enthusiastic fox hunter. He used to ride to hounds wearing Enoch Powell’s old hunting clothes, although the jacket split the first time he used it.

RTWT

Roger Scruton was a nearly unique personality: academic philosopher, public intellectual, adversarial lightning-rod to establishment culture, aesthetician, and Sportsman!

He wrote gracefully and was horrifyingly prolific. His books discuss, among other subjects, Philosophy, Conservatism, Religion, Architecture, Art, Wine, the Decline of the West, and Fox Hunting. I like Scruton very well, and even I’m not sure how many books he wrote.

He stopped hunting last February at the age of 75. In July:

    Returning to London, I finally get to see the rheumatologist with whom I have booked an appointment. He talks of my lecture on Parsifal, at which he asked that forgotten question. And he delicately suggests, as a matter of some urgency, a CT scan. Alarmed by what he finds, he puts me in the hands of an oncologist who, concluding that otherwise I may be dead from cancer within a week, sets to work on me at once.

The current regime of chemo and so on obviously failed. Molliter ossa cubent! [“May the earth lay lightly on his bones.” — Ovid.]

06 May 2018

Roger Scruton On the Architecture of Reading

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10 Dec 2009

Conservative Versus Liberal Compassion

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Roger Scruton, in the American Spectator, discusses who really owns the moral high ground in the contemporary struggle between left and right.

What all conservatives know, however, is that it is they who are motivated by compassion, and that their cold-heartedness is only apparent. They are the ones who have taken up the cause of society, and who are prepared to pay the cost of upholding the principles on which we all — liberals included — depend. To be known as a social conservative is to lose all hope of an academic career; it is to be denied any chance of those prestigious prizes, from the MacArthur to the Nobel Peace Prize, which liberals confer only on each other. For an intellectual it is to throw away the prospect of a favorable review — or any review at all — in the New York Times or the New York Review of Books. Only someone with a conscience could possibly wish to expose himself to the inevitable vilification that attends such an “enemy of the people.” And this proves that the conservative conscience is governed not by self-interest but by a concern for the public good. Why else would anyone express it?

By contrast, as conservatives also know, the compassion displayed by the liberal is precisely that — compassion displayed, though not necessarily felt. The liberal knows in his heart that his “compassionating zeal,” as Rousseau described it, is a privilege for which he must thank the social order that sustains him. He knows that his emotion toward the victim class is (these days at least) more or less cost-free, that the few sacrifices he might have to make by way of proving his sincerity are nothing compared to the warm glow of approval by which he will be surrounded by declaring his sympathies. His compassion is a profoundly motivated state of mind, not the painful result of a conscience that will not be silenced, but the costless ticket to popular acclaim.

Why am I repeating those elementary truths, you ask? The answer is simple. The USA has descended from its special position as the principled guardian of Western civilization and joined the club of sentimentalists who have until now depended on American power. In the administration of President Obama we see the very same totalitarian sentimentality that has been at work in Europe, and which has replaced civil society with the state, the family with the adoption agency, work with welfare, and patriotic duty with universal “rights.” The lesson of postwar Europe is that it is easy to flaunt compassion, but harder to bear the cost of it. Far preferable to the hard life in which disciplined teaching, costly charity, and responsible attachment are the ruling principles is the life of sentimental display, in which others are encouraged to admire you for virtues you do not possess. This life of phony compassion is a life of transferred costs. Liberals who wax lyrical on the sufferings of the poor do not, on the whole, give their time and money to helping those less fortunate than themselves. On the contrary, they campaign for the state to assume the burden. The inevitable result of their sentimental approach to suffering is the expansion of the state and the increase in its power both to tax us and to control our lives.

As the state takes charge of our needs, and relieves people of the burdens that should rightly be theirs — the burdens that come from charity and neighborliness — serious feeling retreats. In place of it comes an aggressive sentimentality that seeks to dominate the public square. I call this sentimentality “totalitarian” since — like totalitarian government — it seeks out opposition and carefully extinguishes it, in all the places where opposition might form. Its goal is to “solve” our social problems, by imposing burdens on responsible citizens, and lifting burdens from the “victims,” who have a “right” to state support. The result is to replace old social problems, which might have been relieved by private charity, with the new and intransigent problems fostered by the state: for example, mass illegitimacy, the decline of the indigenous birthrate, and the emergence of the gang culture among the fatherless youth.


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