“. . . love of home. This too is anathema to leftists. All attempts to build the love of home into some kind of political order offend against the cosmopolitan uprootedness of the left intellectual. Thanks to the love of home people defend their country from its internal enemies (McCarthyism); they campaign against illegal immigration (xenophobia); they resist multiculturalism (racism) and insist on bringing up their children in their own ancestral faith (Christian fundamentalism). All the lamentable habits of Middle America can be seen as expressions of this single instinct, and all are under attack for this very reason.” (pages 156 – 157)
“. . . the capacity for sacrifice is the precondition of enduring communities . . .” (page 53)
Who Wins in 2023? You Do!
Last year at Christmas time we awarded prizes to those who gave us the best worldview-oriented book ideas during the year. In a photo-finish tie, the winners were Buddy Childress (Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice, 2020) and Allen Corey (The 5,000 Year Leap, 1981, 2013). This year they are Marion Smith and Fisher Derderian for the same book, Sir Roger Scruton’s Confessions of a Heretic (2016, 2021, 185 pages).
Americans are not known internationally for their contributions to canonical philosophy, art, music, and literature. The stated reason is that we lean toward practical reason gained through experience in the world—in other words, academics is not our thing. Perhaps we never advanced during westward expansion from the cowboy stage, after having morphed from the colonial and pioneering stages. Fair enough, but more often than not, it’s probably just the Europeans doing the judging.
Both being extremely intelligent gentleman, Marion and Fisher recognized their American intellectual handicaps as young men and sought graduate education in Europe. That’s where they met and studied Roger Scruton.
Marion Smith is the CEO of the Common Sense Society, and Fisher Derderian is the President of the Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation. The CSS and RSLF cooperate with Sophie Scruton (Sir Roger’s wife), who is the director of Scrutopia in England, to sponsor the Sir Roger Scruton Legacy Prize for excellence in humanities. In its inaugural year, 2022, the CSS prize was awarded to Jordan Peterson. The two appear together here in an interview “on the Transcendent.”
Rather than award prizes directly to Marion and Fisher, however, as we did last year to Buddy and Allen, we will give a free copy of Confessions of a Heretic to the first 50 Praxis Circle members who request one. Make sure you have joined as a member and check your inbox for this offer early next year, once we get set up logistically to handle the orders. Trust us, if you believe in truth, Sir Roger’s book is not in the slightest heresy from a heretic, but wisdom in stilts. The hope is that Marion and Fisher will be pleased with this gesture, a “we made a gift in your honor prize” (Haha! 🙂 ).
Of course, Roger Scruton is a Praxis Circle Contributor, and I recommend, especially to challenged Americans like me, a periodic review of his interview playlist linked at top. You can also listen to his podcast. Such review will offset any confusion inevitably developed over time from the postmodern, woke insanity that’s dominated the America and Europe for most of the century so far. This, too, shall pass (and it is passing).
(If short on time and you want to review just three or four video clips in ten minutes, I would recommend starting above around SRS-6: Do philosophy and worldview need foundations? You can scroll to get there.)
Little Johnny the Heretic
But before proceeding to abbreviated comments about Roger’s masterpiece of short essays, Confessions, I must mention a joke about my own fictional heretic—whom I also strongly identity with—Little Johnny. (We are told by Europeans that Americans love to begin remarks with a joke.)
There are countless jokes in the Anglosphere about Little Johnny. He’s an innocent and by-in-large harmless character; well-intended, though unintentionally troublesome to the prim and proper—and always funny.
Little Johnny is in 4th grade. He is the first one in his class to know all about the birds and the bees. At recess he delights in explaining the facts of life in detail to his classmates. He is also the first to know all the bad words in the book, otherwise known as curse or “cuss” words. Most important, he is completely unafraid of the principal and every teacher in the school. He loves to mess with everyone.
Indeed, I knew Little Johnny—his real name is Buster—and he drove a motor cycle to school at age 13 (4th grade now), but that’s a different story taking us away from this book review and story.
In any case, one day Little Johnny’s 4th grade teacher, Miss Dithers (attractive, young, unmarried), was teaching the “A, B, C’s” to her class (again, 4th grade now—in America) by taking them through the alphabet letter-by-letter. “Class,” she said, “give me an example of a word that begins with the letter A.”
From behind his desk in the back of the classroom, immediately, Little Johnny’s hand shot up. Miss Dithers considered what bad words Johnny might know starting with A. Being a prudent woman and an experienced educator, she called on Angela instead, who offered a most obvious example—”apple.”
Miss Dithers then went to B, then C, then D—and each time Little Johnny launched his right hand and waved with increasing intensity, and each time Miss Dithers considered the letter and its possibilities, then called on another student.
Well, by the time Miss Dithers got to R, Little Johnny was wearing her out, fit to be tied, waving both hands, and getting ready to climb from his seat to his desktop. Miss Dithers thought, “What could possibly offend that starts with an R?” Finally, certain she was on solid ground, Miss Dithers relented and called on Johnny to answer.
Little Johnny shouted, “Rats!!! . . .” and then so very much, much more.
Come to think of it, I can’t actually tell you the joke’s punch line. It’s not close to appropriate, even for Praxis Circle’s mature audience. No, after all, it’s Holiday Christmas time.
America, Little Johnny, and Sir Roger
But there’s something to Little Johnny’s enthusiasm, bravery, and undisclosed answer that fits the miracle of creation and Christendom’s magic this time of the year. The American Founders could be irreverent to authority, as is the God of the Bible incarnate Whom they worshipped. The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment is “first” for good reasons, and only through a free public square can we renew a good society (the Praxis Circle mission).
To the enemies of Western civilization, who now dwell among us and are legion, Sir Roger himself could present the dilemma of a truth-telling Little Johnny.
Indeed, at times Praxis Circle lacks “political correctness.” As you might know, our aim is to be as correct as good conscience, objectivity, and reason will allow in a search for truth concerning worldview analysis, rather than to be politically so.
An African-American friend or two has amicably referred to me as what comedians call a “smart-ass white boy.” Well, again, occasionally, guilty as charged.
Importantly, as Douglas Murray emphasizes in the introduction to the 2021 Confessions edition, like a good prophet, Sir Roger does not spare his own people—the center right—for their all-too-often mistakes. Douglas mentions the right’s anti-intellectualism, its failure to articulate a vision of belonging (as well as freedom), and its failure to unify in the face of adversaries who are quite practiced, disciplined, and good at it. Americans should take note as we head into 2024’s election.
After reading Confessions, I would add to Douglas’ list two other failures of the right Roger mentions: the failure to articulate a good vision of government and good environmental policy. As Roger emphasizes repeatedly, good government and environmental policy are always necessary to a healthy, flourishing society. Furthermore, well-conceived “authority” and “conservation” are far more natural pillars or concerns of the right than the left.
In sum, Roger Scruton’s book Confessions is a literary work of art with quotable sentences and phrases on almost every page. If you want a lesson in how to write effective, pointed, short, and meaningful essays, Confessions offers a first-rate start. The essays are perfectly arrayed to present his own “conservative” approach to philosophy, theology, and worldview. It summarizes key themes from much of his own more than 50 books, touching on nearly every subject of Arts & Sciences.
Confessions illuminates each of our worldview pillars in presenting the schema underlying Western civilization we call Classical Judeo-Christianity (CJC).
A Little Johnny’s Passing Criticism
I read an essay once that suggested good book reviews should offer at least some criticism. As a result, this American Little Johnny will do so, only because Sir Roger would have it no other way.
First, while improvements in today’s architecture is decades overdue, Roger’s criticism of America’s suburbs and its highway system seem a touch over-broad. There are plenty of terrific suburbs and subdivisions in every city in America, thoughtfully constructed, that make wonderful homes. In my opinion, they clearly fit Roger’s and Odysseus’ concept of home (I live in one).
Along the same lines, where would America be, anyway, after Gunsmoke, without first Route 66 and then Interstate 95? Most Americans are proud of our national highway system constructed after World War II. Concerning suburbs and highways, it would have been extremely difficult if not impossible to plan them a lot more than we did.
Second, my only regret in having become a devoted follower—even a disciple—of Sir Roger, having read most of his books, is that I’ve become front-of-mind conscious of the word kitsch. Like Adam before the apple or the American Indian before having a word for nature (when the white man arrived), I’ve experienced a certain undesirable but necessary fall from grace.
To be clear, we do need to think a lot harder about what is truly beautiful and real art. But if I had to choose between my coming-of-age Brown-Eyed Girl and Beethoven (loving Classical music, too), there’s no contest whatsoever. As with our highways, suburbs, and Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitts, where would America be if it hadn’t produced a screaming audience of females, hormones-raging, for the early Beatles in Shea Stadium? Where would we be without the Tighten Up, Louie Louie, Build Me Up Buttercup Baby, What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am?, Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, Grazing in the Grass, Hey Baby, 96 Tears, or Love Is Blue? Beethoven would have liked ’em all and made something out of each.
“Bottom line” (Americans love that one, too): the U.S. without Dolly World and kitsch would be like England without cricket.
Appreciation of Lives in Real Time
In Confessions on page xiii, Sir Roger writes from Scrutopia. I attended Scrutopia Summer School in England in 2018, when he and Sophie held several sessions at their Sunday Hill Farm in the Cotswolds. We did his Praxis Circle interview there.
My connection to Scrutopia goes back years before “Summer School” to the 2000s, however, when one night a small group over a bottle of wine —to the best of my recollection and knowledge—drummed up the name for the fictional Shangri-La, called Scrutopia, at Roger and Sophie’s farm, Montpelier, in Rappahannock County, Virginia, USA.
When recalling Roger’s untimely death in 2020, like others, I often feel moments of sadness for humanity because death itself is too frequently needed to usher in full appreciation of exceptional lives. Why is it that so many great thinkers, personalities, and leaders do not become known for who they really are until after they’re gone? We see this everywhere, among family, friends, public figures. It’s evident throughout all of history.
For some reason, human nature and institutions often hold gifted human beings down. They fail to lift up and unify around exceptional human achievement, thus preventing the true, good, and beautiful from prospering in real time, when and where it’s needed most.
In 2024 we should all look around and consider who in our lives is not getting much deserved recognition, appreciation, and thanks.
Sir Roger Scruton had the utmost respect and admiration for America’s role in the world. His country and ours are forever joined. I will end with a short tribute to England and Sir Roger’s love of people, place, and history.
The pictures below take you to Roger and Sophie’s Anglican Church. In the third picture you can see red hair through the curtain. That’s Roger in 2018 playing the organ on a Sunday for his fellow parishioners and Scrutopians (summer schoolers). The sign under the cross reads, “Do This in Remembrance of Me.”
The pictures from there lead you to the rolling hills that Roger loved and that millions struggled to possess and develop over thousands of years, producing Great Britain and its culture, eventually taken to all parts of the known world.
Roger loved to fox hunt! In the bottom picture you will notice on the hill in the far distance fox hunters and their majestic horses. These animals are huge—astounding—even to a Virginian used to seeing thoroughbreds in the country. Such amazing, finely bred creatures gave Great Britain’s cavalry command of the lands, supplementing its incomparable command of the seas.
Roger Scruton knew that the sacred is the cornerstone of all lives here on earth. Our hope is that we Little Janes and Johnnies who remain will continue supporting, defending, and spreading the best aspects of our civilization we were blessed to inherit. We have a sacred duty to pass it on to future generations.
To accomplish this, we must reinvigorate and even repopulate the board rooms, intellectual commanding heights, and public squares locally, statewide, across the nation, and abroad.
Thanks to the legacy of soldiers like Roger Scruton, it’s already working. Please note Confessions final words to us:
“. . . Christians should follow the path laid down by Christ, and that means looking soberly and in a spirit of forgiveness on the hurts that we receive, and showing by our example, that these hurts achieve nothing save to discredit the one who inflicts them. This is the hard part of the task—hard to perform, hard to endorse, and hard to recommend to others.” (page 185)