James Delingpole and I are from different political tribes but we have a relationship on Social Media (Twitter) which is far from entirely hostile. So when he invited me to listen to his Podcast with his fellow “Man of the Right” Sir Roger Scruton I did so. I’m glad that I did.  The Podcast was recorded the day after the recent British General Election so both James and Scruton were a bit in their cups. “Disastrous” Delingpole said and Scruton agreed. Theresa May was pilloried by both of them. “Can you call it a campaign?” and “May’s charisma bypass” were among the epithets. We moved rapidly on to political philosophy (after the vulgarity of elections) and here James placed the liberal establishment in a historical context by comparing Gary Lineker with William Wordsworth – possibly the first time this comparison has been made. The point was that Wordsworth’s “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven” about the French Revolution was the then liberal establishment’s equivalence of Mr Lineker’s extolling of anti-conservatism today. Scruton pointed out that Wordsworth and Coleridge, the romantic liberals of their times, did move to the right later in life. True – “Never glad confident morning again” as Browning put it.  Though you suspect that Scruton thinks that by the time of Wordsworth’s shift to the Right the damage was already done. Shelley, says Scruton, was the true villain – though perhaps Scruton had forgotten Shelley’s “Government is an evil; it is only the thoughtlessness and vices of men that make it a necessary evil. When all men are good and wise, government will of itself decay” – a sentiment with which one might have thought he might agree. No matter there was some good and learned reflection of the origins of the evil of liberalism and socialism and worse in the early nineteenth century to enjoy.

James asked Sir Roger about the origins of his politics and he cited the events in Paris of 1968 as being crucial. Scruton is a little under three years older than me so we are really the same political generation – and 1968 was a pivotal year for me as well. When Scruton was in Paris I was in Berlin where similar events were underway. That was the year in Germany and France of Rudi Dutschke and Daniel Cohn-Bendit – contemporaries of Scruton’s and of mine. Rebellion was in the air and to be young was very heaven. I took the conventional route and allied myself with the call for change and with the frustration. I became a Leftie. Scruton was repelled by what he saw and went to the Right. He “believed the opposite” to the then norm whereas I adopted that norm hook, line and sinker. In retrospect I believe I was right. Change was necessary in South Africa, in America’s imperialism in Vietnam in the oppressive social conservatism which abhorred same sex relationships, and so on.

Scruton describes the path that I and countless other then students took as having “our brains captured” a phenomenon in myself I haven’t really noticed – even with the hindsight of 50 years! But I can see how if you reject the conventional liberal norms as Scruton did, and does, you would see that they “put the framework of freedom under threat” as he puts it. He surprisingly claims that he is “not a political thinker” but here there is a bit of false modesty about. His articulation of the foundation of the politics of the Right showed that he thinks very deeply indeed about politics and, for what it’s worth, I found him as articulate as he was thought-provoking. I don’t agree with him – much – but he made me think which is surely what those who share their thoughts with us so extensively (more than 50 books and counting) want to do?

Scruton’s language is not as strident as Delingpole’s but they seemed to agree a lot! I forget which used the expression “intellectually polished idiocies” in respect of the politics of the Left but they both agreed with the description. Scruton called it “Quasi-Religious” which I thought was very good – though the check list for the Right (Freedom, Libertarianism, Anti collectivism – especially European unity , Anti-Environmental and other regulation… and so on) surely also has the character of religious dogma?

Scruton says that back in 1968 he wanted to “Rebel against rebellion” and here we get to the heart of his conservatism. He says that he thinks that there is a “Conservative instinct in all of us” – surely true. Pushed to summarise this in a few words he said that it was about the wish to “love something actual and wish to retain it”. James Delingpole was excited by this and agreed – and I find it useful as well. He said that “the repudiation of inheritance and home” – what he calls “Oikophobia” – is what he wants to challenge along with the tendency to “isolate children from the surrounding culture”. This inevitably leads to an anti-migration stance because “mass immigration” (as he called it) leads to challenge of the prevailing culture by others. I found myself nodding as he developed this theme not because I agree with it but because it explains the insularity of the Right – something that had always puzzled me. If you believe your indigenous and inherited culture is superior and should not be put at risk by being challenged by others many of the conservative ideological testaments will follow. Why be a member of an international body like the EU if your own core values and prejudices will be challenged and changed by doing so? (James Delingpole has on his Twitter biography that he is “Still right about everything” which I guess flows from the same philosophical positon).

Something that Scruton and I certainly agree on is his opposition to Islamism and its extension Islamist Extremism. In Scruton’s clear logic this is emphatically not opposition to Islam, per se, but to its malignant offshoots – those Islamists who have “declared war on us”. Scruton is not opposed to the fact that Britain has many Muslims – proving they assimilate. I didn’t sense that this was a sentimental “Melting Pot” argument with us all converging into some light brown clan which is a mixture of us all. More a feeling, which I share, that by not assimilating you risk alienation which in turn can, on the fringes, lead to Islamism. We need to “negotiate a way of life with Muslims” he says. Pretty true that. Scruton was provocative about Muslim migrants seeking societies where they can mix more freely with a variety of women and drink alcohol – though again there is a slice of truth in that as well. He wants Muslim children not to be isolated from the surrounding (traditional British) culture and again this is sound common sense. Secular schools for all would be my recommendation here – away with the Madrassas, but away with the Catholic High Schools as well.

The new orthodoxy – the liberal orthodoxy – Scruton rejects. It limits freedom of thought (especially in the Universities where he sees narrow curriculums leading to “catastrophic decline”), it is dogmatic and if you question it you will be shamed. You will be called “Islamaphobic, racist or xenophobic” – all words which Scruton thinks have no meaning.  And in the Social media too often participants indulge in “virtue signalling” – that sententious infection when we say not what we (necessarily) believe but that which will demonstrate our “moral correctness”.

Roger Scruton’s conservatism is, I think, absolute relating to the wish to preserve at all costs things that are “actual”. Traditions are worth preserving because they have endured and are because of this alone worth defending – and because those who oppose them are moral relativists. Fox Hunting may have once been normal but in our new world it cannot be allowed. The definition of what is morally acceptable have shifted.
I do not wish here to challenge Scruton soft liberal though I am. I believe that many changes that have happened over the seventy years of my lifetime to have been highly desirable. I am proud as a student in 1968 to have opposed the Vietnam War, Apartheid and restrictive social conservatism (among other things). But progress is always two steps forward and one step back and Sir Roger Scruton at the very least makes us liberals think about what we really believe. Has he made me change my mind about some things as a result of listening to this podcast. Maybe he has!

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