Roger Scruton

Sir Roger Scruton was an internationally-recognized British philosopher, author, and professor. Knighted in 2016, Scruton published over fifty nonfiction and fiction books. His extensive nonfiction work involves almost every topic imaginable from history to wine, but centers on Western analytical philosophy, political philosophy, and aesthetics (art, music, architecture). In fiction, he wrote several creative works, including novels, short stories, poems, and three libretti, two he set to music. We interviewed Scruton because of his commanding knowledge of Western philosophy, his highly developed philosophical and theological anthropology, and his extensive service to Western civilization, Britain, freedom, and education.

What’s been most important to you?

Roger Scruton:

When I look back at my life, I think the most important things, apart from marriage and children and so on, the most important things were my education at the Grammar School, and all that that gave to me, and the discovery of music and literature in my teenage years. To discover them then so as to have a vocation, that was wonderful. That’s just kept me going through everything. The other most important thing, I suppose, was the discovery, or the experience, of communism in traveling in Eastern Europe and joining in the undergrad resistance to it. That changed my worldview completely.

How did it feel to be knighted?

Roger Scruton:

Well, I was knighted by the Prince of Wales, who lives near here actually. And that was a perfectly agreeable ceremony, of course. And everything went nicely. But the surprise was not the fact that I had that sword put on my shoulders, but the fact that someone in government had said yes to it. Because I’m a troublemaker and you’d normally expect someone like me to be excluded, as I have been for most of my life, from any of those sort of things. So somebody high up must have been reading one of my books and agreeing with it, or whatever. But there we are, it was a surprise. Naturally, it’s very pleasing because it makes you invulnerable in some ways.

Doug Monroe:

Do you get a letter that you drop your jaw on, or do you get a phone call, or?

Roger Scruton:

No, I got a little letter from the cabinet office. Nothing… it’s totally unfussy, all these things.

Which of your many books to recommend?

Roger Scruton:

If a young person asked me, which of my books would help him towards what I think to be the truth from the confusion and mendacity of a modern university, I would say start with “Gentle Regrets,” which is my little autobiography, in which I show how difficult it is to be someone like me. And they would sympathize with the difficulty because then they would realize that what they’re looking for is something that’s not going to be very easy to find. Then I’d say, read the “West and the Rest,” perhaps as a little statement of where I think Western civilization is, and ought to be.

What is philosophy?

Roger Scruton:

What is philosophy? Obviously the word means the love of wisdom, but then you’ll ask, what is wisdom? Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. It’s not the same as expertise. It’s not the same as virtue or skill. It’s something entirely “sui generis.” It means the ability to comprehend a situation in its totality, see how the parts relate, and how I, myself, and you too, relates to those parts. That means unraveling something as it is in itself and showing its meaning. And that’s what philosophers have always tried to do.

What’s your approach with fellow philosophers?

Roger Scruton:

Yeah. In discussing things with fellow philosophers, I have the great advantage of being educated in the analytic tradition, which is all about argument and not about conclusions or premises, although those are important. So we assume the posture of the inquiring mind, and the fact that we disagree about the premises might only be revealed at the end of the argument. But meanwhile, the argument is interesting in itself and by cultivating an argument, you learn how to discover the truth.

Do philosophy and worldview need foundations?

Roger Scruton:

Yes. I think this is a division in the whole realm of philosophy, between those who think that you need foundations if you are to arrive at any conclusion at all, and those who think, “No, we construct our conclusions and we don’t necessarily have to have any foundations. We can do, carry out this work of construction in the void, so to speak.” I think both of them have elements of truth in some areas like aesthetics, for instance, the philosophy of art. What matters is a reasoned consensus and that you construct, through dialogue, and criticism, and experience over a long period, and through trying out things. The idea that there might be foundations is a little bit misleading. In the case of science, however, there are foundations. The scientific method rests on those foundations, the method of induction, and so on. That’s where you begin.

Are you elitist or anti-elitist?

Roger Scruton:

Right. I believe that there are elites in the sense of people who know things that other people don’t know, and the knowledge is useful. And there are, a good elite might be necessary in areas of expertise, which we can’t all acquire. We all believe that there are, for instance, well informed and impartial lawyers, and we hope that our judges belong to that class. And we would hope that they form an elite, which the rest of the legal profession strives to emulate. But there are also other things called elites, which are formed by what you might call negative selection.

The Nazi Party and the Communist Party were elites in that sense. They were formed by picking out those who were brutal enough, narrow minded enough and subservient enough to serve the cause. And that often people refer to the old Soviet system as an elite system because it was entirely, sorry, it entirely comprised those sort of people. And in that sense, I’m anti-elitist of course, because I don’t want to be governed by people whom I despised and whom I fear. In our society today, we do have a liberal elite, which is closer to that Soviet model than it is to my model of the impartial judiciary, I think, but still it’s not a huge threat to us. So one can be anti-elitist about the vociferous New York Review of Books, reading class, while being elitist about your local church.

Who began modern philosophy, Descartes or Kant?

Roger Scruton:

The history of modern philosophy is, of course, an incredibly complicated thing. It is normal from the teaching point of view to start with Descartes, because he belonged for a start to the Scientific Revolution, and was very aware of the impact that science had made on theological thinking and on other forms of speculation. He also was unique in that he was in search of certainty, and found that certainty he thought in the famous cogito, ergo sum, that the knowledge that I have of my own condition, of own state of mind. So yeah, we could say that modern philosophy began with Descartes, but his search for certainty was also very flawed and nobody has ever been convinced by his arguments.

And there was another revolution came with Kant, who recognized that there’s something wrong with that search, that you’re never going to find that first premise from which everything else flows, that in the end, you have to make various assumptions about your position regarding the world, in particular that your faculties are sufficient to comprehend the world. And therefore, the world must be shaped in order to be comprehended. That’s a completely different method, because you’re starting, as Kant put it, from a Copernican perspective, you’re no longer seeing the self as the center of things. But in other words, the earth as the center of things, but you’re seeing it as revolving around something else.

Are names like Enlightenment and Postmodernism conceits?

Roger Scruton:

There’s a tendency in all thought to divide thinking and culture into periods. There’s the ancient, there’s the modern, there’s perhaps the postmodern, there’s the Enlightenment, and the Renaissance and the Reformation. All these divisions make sense up to a point, but they can’t possibly be absolute things. These are poorest boundaries, things flow through them and people could spend their whole life trying to define these words and it wouldn’t be of any benefit to anyone.

But what I would say is that there is such a thing as the modern world, we sort of do all agree about that. Namely, the world created by the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century and all that’s flown from that. There is such a thing as the Enlightenment, partly because can’t define it.

The time when people, when man becomes conscious that he is the one who has to take full charge of his destiny, that one can no longer pass the burden of existence and freedom to an independent entity. Not even to God, we’re in it, not alone, but we’re in it as a community but as man. Then, as for postmodern, that’s really an invention of people who have not yet proved their ability to think coherently. So I don’t really think one need worry about it.

What is truth and reality?

Roger Scruton:

I am a realist, so I believe that there is such a thing as truth. I also think that truth is in its nature objective. It’s not for me to determine what the truth is. The truth is what it is, regardless of what I think. I may not be able to know it, but to speak of truth at all is to assume this independent validity of statements, propositions, thoughts, and so on. And what makes something true, what makes a thought true is the reality. Objective truth and reality are the same idea. And I don’t think there’s anything more that needs to be said. The only question is to what extent are we human beings capable of knowing that truth?

Can we judge different worldviews?

Roger Scruton:

There are differing worldviews. We know that. Just as there are differing religions, differing faiths, and on the whole a successful religion also has a worldview attached to it. And there is the Christian worldview, the Muslim worldview, the Hindu worldview and so on. And there is a difficulty in answering the question whether these can be brought into relation with each other, whether they can share common ground and so on, because each of them defines the common ground in terms of its own concepts and principles. And we want, or to hope for, a point of view outside all the systems above the systems, from which to judge which system is the right one. And that aspiration towards the God’s eye perspective is actually part of what distinguishes our civilization, the enlightenment in particular, from all others that have ever existed.

Is truth seeking part of worldview?

Roger Scruton:

Going back to Aristotle, we have the idea that truth is to be pursued for its own sake, that all men desire to know, as he put it. And that this is a root principle of rational life. And that was part of the Greek worldview as well, generally, and crept into Christianity through the gospel of St. John. In the beginning was the word, the Logos. And he, of course, goes on to elaborate that and tell us that the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. But Christ himself said that too, “I am the way the truth and the life.” He said that in the Christian worldview, there is a sense that there is an impartial truth at the heart of things, and that it’s our duty to obtain it, if we can.

How important is monogamous marriage?

Roger Scruton:

Fundamental to our civilization to date, at least, has been monogamous marriage. This comes to us from way before Christianity. It doesn’t come from the Hebrews. It doesn’t come from the Jewish faith because the Old Testament at least allows quite a lot of wives for any particular husband. But we see it there in Greek literature from the beginning, Homer, the Odyssey, Odysseus has one wife, Penelope, who is true to him. And that story is about the truth of his wife to him and the glory of this and its integral part of his heroism and all that was available to him. Okay, he played around with other women too, but I think that idea of the monogamous marriage for life is a sublime idea. We can’t say that we only have to read the Odyssey to see how sublime it is. And we have tried to live up to it.

Who determines marriage? The State’s role?

Roger Scruton:

We now, of course, find that all kinds of alternatives are being proposed. And what makes it easy to propose them is that the state has taken charge of marriage. Marriage was never before a matter for the state, it was at certain periods a matter for the Church. It always involved the gods being invoked to bless this rite of passage from one condition into another and so on.

But at the French Revolution, the state, which then stepped forward with a kind of explosion of arrogance, took over all the institutions and assumed the right to create marriages.

Many religious people would say that you can’t gain that right just by assuming it, that the state never really had the right to make marriages. All it ever did have was the right to give privileges to people who were married. And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t give those privileges to people who have three wives or married to someone of the same sex or whatever, but that doesn’t make those relations into marriages.

Faithfulness in sexual relationships?

Roger Scruton:

Sexual desire is in itself exclusive. You want that person and you don’t want others to want her. And you don’t want her to want others. I think that’s, that lies in the nature of it. Doesn’t follow there aren’t all kinds of arrangements whereby people swap and so on, but that lies in the nature of sexual desire. And is there, regardless of whether the desire leads to love or marriage or anything like that. And one of the difficulties of our age is, of course, that people express their sexual desires without getting the protection of marriage or any kind of permanent relation so that jealousy comes very quickly in the wake of those desires. And a lot of the disruption, especially in the welfare culture, stems from this.

Please explain cognitive dualism

Roger Scruton:

Yes. Most of our ways of understanding the world and each other in particular are based on the way things appear and the way people appear to behave. I judge you by your face, your facial expressions, by your hands, your words, things which come into my consciousness immediately.

A scientific theory of things is not so interested in appearances. Of course, they are the evidence for the theory, but the theory is always trying to get behind appearances to the explanation. But the explanation in the case of ordinary human life is of no use to us. If I had a complete anatomy of your face and a complete map of the activity and the synapses of your brain, it would not help me to interpret your smile. On the contrary, it would distract me from it.

So, I think growing out of this observation is my thought that we really do systematically understand the world in two incommensurable ways. As the human world, the world as it appears to us, which we know how to relate to and in which we form relations of I to you, et cetera, and the scientific world, the world which as it’s presented to scientific theory, which is of no use to us in our day-to-day lives.

Please explain: cultures of repudiation and affirmation

Roger Scruton:

There are lots of issues that occur in social debates and political questions throughout the West, which are initiated by vociferous minorities who want an answer to a question. The question is always, why should we keep this institution? Why should we keep monogamous marriage? Why should we keep customs which seem to distinguish men from women? Isn’t there in our inherited order kinds of discrimination that we wouldn’t accept, et cetera? These questions, they gather momentum in the culture and become absolutely fundamental to how people define themselves. They start defining themselves as against this or that aspect of our inherited culture. And this is very appealing, especially to young people for whom being against what they’ve inherited is felt as a kind of liberation. So there has grown what I call a culture of repudiation around this practice. The habit of repudiating all customs and institutions, forms of life and distinctions, especially on which our civilization has been built.

And it’s a very negative thing, because nothing much is put in the place of what is being repudiated. But the repudiation takes on a kind of charm of its own because you can make very clear what you’re against without having the need to define what you are for. In the place of that, I would like to put a culture of affirmation. I would like to say, “Look, this is all too hasty. You haven’t looked into what it is that we have and the benefits that have flown from it. Before repudiating something, shouldn’t you put some time into understanding it?” That’s what my role as an educator is, is to put that across and make people obey it.

See lives lived to judge philosophy?

Roger Scruton:

Philosophers are not really one breed. There are very public philosophers who do lead quite repulsive lives like Michel Foucault and his circle. But in history, I don’t think philosophers have behaved that badly. If you look back to the first great public educator among philosophers, namely Socrates, he was also kind of modeled to his fellow citizens. And Martyr for the virtues that he preached. So I think it’s much more part of the academic world that people behave badly rather than the philosophical world. And when philosophers have free run of an academy they’re like a fox in a chicken run, nothing is safe.

How important the law of non-contradiction?

Roger Scruton:

It’s such a huge question. The law of non-contradiction is a necessary truth. I mean, the truth that not both P and not P. There is no way of denying that, without the argument for denying it collapsing, because the argument for denying it would have to lean on it. And so it’s a necessary truth. No problem there.

And logic, after all, is the science of such necessary truths and how they’re connected and how to deduce from them what follows. I’ve always believed that logic is one of the most important foundations of philosophy, of philosophical thinking, and one of the great achievements actually of modern philosophy to have got it right. To have discovered that first of all, that logic is something different from mathematics. That secondly, that you cannot derive mathematics from logic, although you can get very close to it. And thirdly, that the idea of alternative logics will always lead to a realm of illusion.

Doug Monroe:

Okay.

Roger Scruton:

This is something, by the way, this way of looking at things comes to me from the tradition of Frege, Russell, Tarski, and Godel and so on. It’s not the kind of thing that continental philosophers tend to respect, but that’s why their writings are so interesting. Bertrand Russell said this of Hegel’s logic, that Hegel’s logic is extremely interesting because from a contradiction, everything follows.

What did “worldview” mean to Kant?

Roger Scruton:

Kant had the view, that his philosophy, what you call, critical philosophy. Was involved in the task of setting limits to our reasoning. Showing that beyond that limit you cannot go. But also, showing the legitimate use of reason in various areas.

The idea that the world is accessible, independently of our reasoning is something that he repudiated. He said, that we can’t get to a picture of the world as it is in itself, independently of human thinking, it’s human. But we can get a picture of the world as it is presented to our thought.

And that’s part of what he meant by “weltanschauung.” Unlike many people who followed, he didn’t think there was a choice between the various worldviews. Now, there is the basic worldview, which comes from our reasoning powers in themselves. And that is something that we will eventually share, because our reasoning powers take us towards it.

Does that make sense?

Doug Monroe:

I get exactly what you mean. He had his own need for the word and that’s developed into a different meaning.

Roger Scruton:

Exactly, it developed into more subjective understanding.

Your own worldview?

Roger Scruton:

To describe my own worldview in a few simple sentences is of course difficult. And I wouldn’t have written all these books if it was an easy task. I should add, I’ve never been paid for producing a worldview. And I’m unusual among my colleagues in the Anglophone world, Britain and America and similar countries, in having a worldview. Most of my professional colleagues in universities would be completely nonplussed if you ask them what their worldview is. They might say, “Well, I vote labor. I like fish and chips,” et cetera. So I would say that my worldview is very, definitely a late Christian worldview, a vision of the world as fallen but capable of salvation. And the human condition is one in which the relation with the other is the most important fact.

The stages of your move rightward?

Roger Scruton:

I was brought up in a lower class family by a socialist father, labor voter, trade unionist, and taught to see the surrounding world in terms of a kind of epic of class conflict. A class conflict was everywhere and we were on the side of the victims against the oppressors. On the other hand, my father was also a lover of beauty who introduced me to the countryside and all the beautiful things that England contained, and which fellow countrymen had forced to defend. And beauty always points to the superior things rather than these inferior and oppressed things. So I was always torn anyway, between this leftist vision of the oppressed proletariat to whom I was supposed to belong, and another vision of a beautiful and ordered place to which I could aspire. And so through getting to love music and poetry and the like, I moved automatically and unconsciously perhaps, but automatically towards that higher thing.

And at a certain stage, I became quite detached from political thinking when I was at university, although still I suppose on the left, because everybody was. Then I went to Paris to France. And in 1968, I was in Paris at the time of the barricades and the ’68 revolutionary moment. And I observed all this shenanigans in the street. And I asked myself a question: Who am I on the side of? These spoiled middle class children throwing bricks through the shop windows of hard working class people or the hard working, working class people? It was obvious what the answer was going to be. So I asked my student friends: What on earth do you hope to achieve by this? And they gave me various books to read. Marx, Foucault, [French 00:02:27], I read this stuff.

And I said, “This is complete charlatanism” There’s nothing said here about a future that’s better than the lovely bourgeois France that you’ve inherited in which I love. So why should I join you rather than those policemen over there?” So I set out to work out my own philosophy in response to this. And then I went back to Cambridge to do research and immediately found that I met people there I could talk to who were on the right. And I saw immediately that I agreed with them.

Your later move toward Christianity?

Roger Scruton:

When I was young, I was confirmed in the Anglican church, though my parents didn’t know that because they weren’t Anglicans or anything. I drifted away from it. I was living in France for a bit. I was very attracted to the Catholic church, the rural Catholic Church described by Mauriac and Belczak. Then I lived in Italy for a little bit. I became more impressed by the Catholic church. I’ve always hankered after the kind of ceremonial presence that the Catholic church provides in one’s life. Theology is incredibly difficult to accept for a skeptical intellect like mine. Over the years, I drifted away completely. I could never bring myself to be quite an atheist because I recognize that human beings have a need for the sacred. They have a need for holiness, to aspire beyond the trivialities of this world.

That need is very deep in me. I found my way back to the Anglican church, providing that image of holiness in the heart of ordinary life. I’ve learned to live with my skepticism, recognizing that what we do have is a monotheistic conception of God, a wonderful gift we share with the Jews and the Muslims, of course, and the Hindus in their way. On top of that, the story of Christ’s passion is a revelation of what humanity is capable of. That’s as far as my Christian religion goes. I don’t show it, except go to church and play the organ every Sunday.

What is lifeworld v. worldview?

Doug Monroe:

The concept of the lifeworld was introduced by Husserl, a phenomenologist in the early twenties. He introduced it in the mid 20th century I think. His idea was that the lifeworld, the laymen’s world, is the world as represented in our day to day concepts. And in our responses to each other, our ways of bringing together all the things that we need to amalgamate in order to understand them. So it’s distinct from the material world, the world of objects conceived as science would conceive them. So it is a bit like what I would say about my cognitive journalism, there are two ways of seeing the world.

In the lifeworld, there are persons who act freely, who take responsibility for things, who are accountable to each other, and who see the world as organized by that those concepts. None of those concepts have any place in science. Science doesn’t have room for the concept of a person. It has a room for the concept of a human being, but a person is something that acts freely and accountability has a first person perspective and all the rest. And there’s no need for such a concept in science nor is there a possibility for it. But we use that concept in organizing our world and the world so organized is the lifeworld.

What is a conservative?

Roger Scruton:

To be a conservative is to be honest about your attachments, to what you’ve inherited. That’s to say, to show that they’re yours, to defend them from abuse. And if, assuming you love them, to build some of your life on them. And my view is that it’s a necessary truth that all people are attached to what they love. And it’s also highly probable that all people love some aspects of what they have, what’s brought them into being their family, their community, their customs, their laws. And conservatism is simply a generalization of that feeling. It’s a very positive feeling, but it’s not ideological. It’s not about some imaginary future towards which we’re advancing with clenched fists. It’s a gentle thing and a disposition to defend what needs you for its defense. And that’s why conservatives always have the disadvantage in any argument, because they’re merely defending what is in all its imperfections. They’re not presenting some idealized utopia that could never be in any case.

What is oikophilia?

Roger Scruton:

Yeah. I coined the word “oikophilia,” the love of the home, as a very basic human instinct, which I think we all have, which feeds into the politics of ordinary people, which underlies feelings of national identity, underlies feelings of community, and is the thing on which politicians draw when they’re not just offering meaningless promises.

Do conservatives rationalize keeping money?

Roger Scruton:

There’s a much better way of getting those marbles and that is to sweep everything away and then gather them to yourself, which is essentially what socialism is about. Of course, you promise to be distributing them to everybody, but the fact is once you’ve got them in your hands, you don’t, and that’s the history of the 20th century.

Is being conservative about being correct?

Roger Scruton:

Yeah. The distinction between left and right is of course in a certain sense arbitrary. The people, the third at the estate’s general, the French Revolution, the third estate sat on the king’s left and the nobility and Ecclesiastics on his right, so that gave rise to this distinction. It could have been the other way around and it was the other way around for everyone except the king when you think about it. And over this ensuing 200 years, completely different meanings have been attached to this. And I suspect that today, what is fundamentally understood by left is the support for the underdog, the desire for a distributed state, which will confiscate property from the wealthy and powers also from the wealthy, and transfer them those who don’t yet have those advantages. And what is understood by the right is obviously the opposite of that, plus something else. Something more important to me, which is the conservative element, the sense of heritage and the need to conserve it.

I think a conservative would say, “Yeah, in that sense, he was on the right”. Conservatives don’t like the growth of the redistributive state. Not because they don’t want people at the bottom of society to be helped, or they don’t … And maybe they also want to redistribute some of the wealth. I think most people now would like to do that. Because it’s completely got out of control. But I think they would distrust the state as a means for doing and believe much more in the growth of private charity and the feeling of community, as the primary way of redistributing things.

The most harmful philosopher alive?

Roger Scruton:

I think a great deal of harm has been done by Peter Singer with his utilitarianism, in influencing ordinary people into thinking that you can solve moral questions by simple mathematical calculation and that individual responsibilities are not part of it. I think that he is someone who’s done a lot of harm. But on the whole, philosophers don’t influence things very much. So I think it’d be hard pressed to say there is certainly no philosopher today whose harmful influence compares remotely with that of Marx.

Describe your transcendentals: person, freedom, the sacred

Roger Scruton:

In order to understand our condition now, and generally, but especially now, we need to revisit the concept of the person, see what it is that is distinctive about persons, as opposed to other animals, and why living as a person brings with it obligations, attachments, and all the rest. So that’s a fundamental concept. And along with that is the concept of freedom, what it is to act freely, and freedom has been radically mis-described by all the liberationist of the 1960s and beyond, who’ve seen it simply as throwing off shackles and being at last liberated to be yourself. The fact is that true freedom means accountability, not being liberated to be yourself, but concentrating on your duties to others.

And that is something which I think needs to be constantly rehearsed and understood, and it can only be understood if we have give proper place to the concept of the sacred, the things that cannot be done, the things that must be revered, the distinctions between the moments when you’re, as it were, on the verge of the transcendental, and those when you’re just engaged in everyday life, and you only learn about these moments, you can learn about them from religion, but if you haven’t got religion you only learn about them through serious art, and through serious exercise in the countryside, and through serious human relations, and all those things lie apart from the diet of many people today.

Are humans the highest beings in creation?

Roger Scruton:

The humanists think that the human being is the ultimate source of value and object of value, because humanists explicitly deny that there is anything beyond the human. I would say that I don’t want to explicitly deny anything so metaphysical as that. I would acknowledge that the person is the foundation of the moral life as Kant points out. But I don’t think that persons are simply human beings. They’re human beings as they appear in the layman’s world, in the World of Life, which is a different thing. And there, they do appear as the Imago Dei. That’s undoubtedly the case. And this is brought out radically by the distinction between the look that a person gives you and the look that a dog gives you, for instance.

Why is the West so interested in liberty?

Roger Scruton:

I think we are really talking about the legacy of Christianity, rather than just the West. The sanctity of the individual is embedded in the Christian way of life, in the parable of the good Samaritan, in the whole ethos of humility and respect for the other. I think it just follows from all that.

Is there a General Will?

Roger Scruton:

There are collectivities as well as individuals. And one of the big questions is, are collectivities just the sum of the individuals, or are they something over and above the individuals that compose them? And that’s a real question. I think it rather depends, but when people get together to form a school or a university or something like that. At first, there’s just that group of people. But over the years, after perhaps 300 years there is something else.

Which has an identity big, greater than the sum of its parts. Partly cause it unites people who’ve gone and who people who’ve yet to come. It’s a kind of relationship between the dead, the unborn, the living, and it creates obligations of its own. It starts to have a personality of its own.

In that respect our societies are absolutely full of these corporate beings, which are not identical with their members. They’ve risen above their members. So to speak, to take on a life of their own, there’s nothing mysterious about that. I think it happens all the time and the more it happens, the better in a way. A partnership among thieves to achieve a certain goal. And then distribute the profits and run. That does not create a corporation of this kind. But a peaceful, respectful community of people with a goal that they share and that, which they pass on from generation to generation that does create such a community.

Is there a spiritual world?

Roger Scruton:

My own feeling is that there’s no need to assume the existence of this spiritual world in order to understand the spiritual nature of actual human beings, and there is a danger in spiritualism as well in thinking that these ghostly entities are more important than the people you really owe your obligations to. And you start filling the world with fears, the ghosts that are that by no means sympathetic and all the rest. So I think it’s better to avoid all that.

Doug Monroe:

The only problem is they seem to pop up all the time, you know?

Roger Scruton:

People…

Doug Monroe:

People’s regular lives. So that’s just an aside.

Roger Scruton:

Americans are very… You have a ghost-haunted culture, and that’s why you celebrate Halloween. Nobody else does.

Doug Monroe:

No, I’m talking about seeing actual two people seeing the same thing.

Roger Scruton:

Yeah, yeah.

Doug Monroe:

That kind of stuff.

Roger Scruton:

There is lot, but it’s still, yeah. But also you have one of, I suppose, the only great writer who is written ghost stories, which is Henry James, but all your literature is full of ghosts. And I think it has a lot to do with the fact that America, it’s a recently settled country, and in the heart of hearts, Americans are aware of the fact that they’ve chased people out of this country, and that country is still haunted by those people and their own predecessors as well in that.

Doug Monroe:

I’m personally interested. I’m not a spiritualist for anything like that. I’m close to what you are, but say, for example, the Harvard neurologist who was dead for a week, and he looks at this data and he says, “I was actually dead.” And yet he comes back to life and he tells these stories and he learns things he could never have known unless he got it from someone else. There are just a lot of examples.

Roger Scruton:

There are all kinds of experiences like that. How to explain them? We can’t necessarily explain them.

Doug Monroe:

No, no.

Your interests in aesthetics?

Roger Scruton:

I’m more like a French philosopher than an English one in one respect, namely that I see philosophy as continuous with artistic enterprises: literature, music, painting, etc. And I see that one of the tests of philosophy is to make sense of all that, because here is these incredible activities that fill our world with meaning. Shouldn’t the philosopher be able to say something about them?

So I’ve spent my… My specialism in philosophy has always been worrying about art and literature and music, but I’ve also spent a lot of my time writing in that vein. Writing fiction and similar things and even writing music. So, to me, these are intimately connected, philosophy with the world of the imagination. And this has a serious impact on my style. This is one reason when I write philosophy, it isn’t a cold, abstract idiom that I use. There’s always quite a lot of emotion of a kind that a literary writer would use.

Why pessimistic about conservatism “winning”?

Roger Scruton:

I’m pessimistic that conservatism can win in the world of ideas because the world of ideas is dominated by the left and by forms of thinking that the left have inherited and made their own. But the massive ordinary people, thank heavens, are incapable of thinking so that they’re not influenced by the world of ideas anyway. And there, I think conservatism has a better chance than liberalism on the whole. But there is the question of the intellectual world where I live, I mean which I move. There, I’m constantly aware that I’m alone.

Is philosophy gender-based?

Roger Scruton:

I see what you’re getting at. I mean, philosophers are human beings, just like poets and musicians and carpenters. And as such, they’re motivated by sexual feeling. The real question is, to what extent does that sexual feeling enter their philosophy, as it clearly enters the poetry of a poet or the music of a musician? And I think this is an interesting question. Sexual feeling is inherently lyrical, and so it lends itself to artistic expression, but it’s not inherently philosophical, so there is something odd about thinking that it enters into the philosophical way of thinking at all.

Of course, in the past, there were not many women philosophers, but in my replies to Plato, which we called Xanthippic Dialogues, I invent those women philosophers, because I was conscious of the fact that the feminine, as such, is absent from most of the Platonic dialogues, and it ought to be put back. Of course, Plato was homosexual and there was no evidence that he really wanted those women back, would’ve wanted those women in his dialogues anyway.

But anyway, that’s a thought. Maybe one should be thinking more about how to put the feminine back into philosophy. Many of our leading philosophers today in the academic world are women. In America, you’ve got people like Martha Nussbaum who’ve made quite a reputation for themselves, Christine Korsgaard and so on, very much in the academic mold, but still, no more academic than the men. So perhaps we’re now moving into a more gender-free kind of philosophy anyway.

Are good men necessary to control evil men?

Roger Scruton:

It’s somewhat extreme, isn’t it? It sounds like he’s had a lot of nightmares lately. I think only men can control men in the battlefield. That’s true. But it’s not only men who can organize meetings, or control men in the political arena. We’ve never been better led than by Mrs. Thatcher. How can one generalize about this anyway? I think men are dangerous. There has been, not exactly a conspiracy, but an organized attempt to emasculate them, and they suffer from it. I mentioned this in my book, “The Disappeared.” One of the characters of which is somebody who feels he’s been emasculated, and identifies himself as an incomplete man, but has found release in heavy metal, and that way of projecting himself to become a man again.

Trans-human and cloning issues?

Roger Scruton:

Yes. I think all these ways in which people are now beginning to interfere with human destiny are obviously potentially very dangerous because they threaten to bring about a new kind of human being, who’s nature we don’t understand. And for whom we would feel no sympathy nor it for us. So we might end up filling the world with our enemies and they would be implacable enemies, much better equipped than us because they’ve been made to be. So one has to be afraid of this and the warnings given to us by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell ought to be listened to. But so far they haven’t been.

Comments on populism in America and Europe?

Roger Scruton:

Obviously, the election of President Trump and the Brexit vote in Britain, and the turmoil in Europe, over immigration and all the rest has led to a new kind of politics. And has been a surprise, and also a kind of offense to the people on the left. They feel that people have turned against them. People have become another kind of thing. And in order to describe this, they’ve coined the word populism to denote people who disagree with them. Let’s say people who actually are prepared not just to vote against their candidates, but to hope for a way of life, which liberals can no longer control. And this is the sort of thing that certainly has been happening in America. And then of course that the leaders that they vote for are often, well in America, of course, they’re a very special kind of leader.

Trump is not a member of the political class. He’s a man with manifest defects of a kind that nobody needs to puzzle over. But also nevertheless captures the heart of many Americans because he seems to identify with their condition. And their condition is of people who’ve been essentially betrayed by the liberal establishment, the people whom they thought they had the responsibility of protecting their interests. But have not protected their interests, particularly in matters like immigration, have surrendered the country to those who don’t belong to it. That’s the basic accusation that everybody makes against the liberal establishment. And that’s true in Britain and in Europe, and that’s what people feel and their right to feel this because that’s what liberals do do. They do it out of the best of motives, but only by way of showing that the best of motives are also the worst.

How important is the American-British alliance?

Roger Scruton:

The role of alliances is to protect each other’s interests. And the best alliances are those in which the interests are shared. The Anglo-American Alliance has for the last 100 years has been such an alliance. That Americans have recognized that it is in their interest that Britain exists. It is in their interest that there is trans-Atlantic trade and communication, that they need to be in touch with the Old World. And that things happening in the Old World don’t threaten America directly, but indirectly do threaten America.

So, this is a very powerful alliance because clearly we depend upon the American input. We wouldn’t survive without that alliance. And it’s absolutely clear now that if that alliance ceased to exist, Putin would take control of Europe. And the Germans, of course, because they’re living in a cloud cuckoo land, they’re living in a world of totally impenetrable illusion due to their own sense of unmanageable guilt, they will surrender to Russia.

So, it’s almost necessary now for us to put the Transatlantic Alliance at the top of the political agenda. Difficult, of course, given your President, who has a protectionist sympathies, isolationist sympathies, and is fed up with the way in which European powers depend upon the American taxpayer for their defense, quite rightly.

What will happen with Brexit?

Roger Scruton:

We think, the British people, that we have voted for Brexit, but the elite, or the old elite does not accept that vote. That is undeniably true. Many of them are trying to undo it, which would … If we voted again, I’m sure it would be the same result. But, nevertheless, it has left us in a state of stagnation because the people are pushing one way, the political class, the other way. And people are bewildered. They’ve always thought that it’s the duty of the government to take charge of their vote. Now they have a political apparatus, which doesn’t want to respond to that duty. Meanwhile, the European Union is supposed to be negotiating our exit, and we are supposed to be negotiating with them.

And all the evidence of the last 60 years is that the European Union is incapable of negotiating anything, because it was all built in from the first, the basic principles. We’re asking them to revise one of those principles. They can’t. Even if they wanted to, they’d have to get 29 signatures, or 27 signatures, rather, to the result, which is impossible. So the whole thing is a complete fiction, that we’re negotiating our exit. There won’t be a deal. We will have to leave and then depend upon the World Trade Organization to maintain our relations with our trading partners, just as America does. And that will be fine, as long as your president doesn’t then set out to destroy the WTO, which he might very well do.

The welfare states in Europe v. America?

Roger Scruton:

As for Europe, the European model of the welfare estate is one that we’ve all adopted in Europe one way or another. And America has actually joined in. And under Barack Obama it was complete really. And in fact there’s more of a welfare state in America in many ways than there is in Europe. And taxation is higher for people of my class than it is in Europe. So I don’t think there is much difference anymore.

Optimistic or pessimistic about America?

Roger Scruton:

I think, if one were pessimistic about America, one would have to be pessimistic about everywhere, because America is the place above all others where enterprise and initiative are rewarded. If they’re not going to be rewarded there, they’re certainly not going to appear elsewhere, so nothing new and good will happen. There’ll just be the old power structures, getting more and more static and arthritic, as in China. And the world will be a vastly less interesting place than it is.

Doug Monroe:

Fantastic. Thank you, Roger, for this opportunity for us.

Roger Scruton:

Thank you.

Doug Monroe:

We’re all done.

Overview

Roger Scruton

Sir Roger Scruton was an internationally-recognized British philosopher, author, and professor. Knighted in 2016, Scruton published over fifty nonfiction and fiction books. His extensive nonfiction work involves almost every topic imaginable from history to wine, but centers on Western analytical philosophy, political philosophy, and aesthetics (art, music, architecture). In fiction, he wrote several creative works, including novels, short stories, poems, and three libretti, two he set to music. We interviewed Scruton because of his commanding knowledge of Western philosophy, his highly developed philosophical and theological anthropology, and his extensive service to Western civilization, Britain, freedom, and education.
Transcript

What’s been most important to you?

Roger Scruton:

When I look back at my life, I think the most important things, apart from marriage and children and so on, the most important things were my education at the Grammar School, and all that that gave to me, and the discovery of music and literature in my teenage years. To discover them then so as to have a vocation, that was wonderful. That’s just kept me going through everything. The other most important thing, I suppose, was the discovery, or the experience, of communism in traveling in Eastern Europe and joining in the undergrad resistance to it. That changed my worldview completely.

How did it feel to be knighted?

Roger Scruton:

Well, I was knighted by the Prince of Wales, who lives near here actually. And that was a perfectly agreeable ceremony, of course. And everything went nicely. But the surprise was not the fact that I had that sword put on my shoulders, but the fact that someone in government had said yes to it. Because I’m a troublemaker and you’d normally expect someone like me to be excluded, as I have been for most of my life, from any of those sort of things. So somebody high up must have been reading one of my books and agreeing with it, or whatever. But there we are, it was a surprise. Naturally, it’s very pleasing because it makes you invulnerable in some ways.

Doug Monroe:

Do you get a letter that you drop your jaw on, or do you get a phone call, or?

Roger Scruton:

No, I got a little letter from the cabinet office. Nothing… it’s totally unfussy, all these things.

Which of your many books to recommend?

Roger Scruton:

If a young person asked me, which of my books would help him towards what I think to be the truth from the confusion and mendacity of a modern university, I would say start with “Gentle Regrets,” which is my little autobiography, in which I show how difficult it is to be someone like me. And they would sympathize with the difficulty because then they would realize that what they’re looking for is something that’s not going to be very easy to find. Then I’d say, read the “West and the Rest,” perhaps as a little statement of where I think Western civilization is, and ought to be.

What is philosophy?

Roger Scruton:

What is philosophy? Obviously the word means the love of wisdom, but then you’ll ask, what is wisdom? Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. It’s not the same as expertise. It’s not the same as virtue or skill. It’s something entirely “sui generis.” It means the ability to comprehend a situation in its totality, see how the parts relate, and how I, myself, and you too, relates to those parts. That means unraveling something as it is in itself and showing its meaning. And that’s what philosophers have always tried to do.

What’s your approach with fellow philosophers?

Roger Scruton:

Yeah. In discussing things with fellow philosophers, I have the great advantage of being educated in the analytic tradition, which is all about argument and not about conclusions or premises, although those are important. So we assume the posture of the inquiring mind, and the fact that we disagree about the premises might only be revealed at the end of the argument. But meanwhile, the argument is interesting in itself and by cultivating an argument, you learn how to discover the truth.

Do philosophy and worldview need foundations?

Roger Scruton:

Yes. I think this is a division in the whole realm of philosophy, between those who think that you need foundations if you are to arrive at any conclusion at all, and those who think, “No, we construct our conclusions and we don’t necessarily have to have any foundations. We can do, carry out this work of construction in the void, so to speak.” I think both of them have elements of truth in some areas like aesthetics, for instance, the philosophy of art. What matters is a reasoned consensus and that you construct, through dialogue, and criticism, and experience over a long period, and through trying out things. The idea that there might be foundations is a little bit misleading. In the case of science, however, there are foundations. The scientific method rests on those foundations, the method of induction, and so on. That’s where you begin.

Are you elitist or anti-elitist?

Roger Scruton:

Right. I believe that there are elites in the sense of people who know things that other people don’t know, and the knowledge is useful. And there are, a good elite might be necessary in areas of expertise, which we can’t all acquire. We all believe that there are, for instance, well informed and impartial lawyers, and we hope that our judges belong to that class. And we would hope that they form an elite, which the rest of the legal profession strives to emulate. But there are also other things called elites, which are formed by what you might call negative selection.

The Nazi Party and the Communist Party were elites in that sense. They were formed by picking out those who were brutal enough, narrow minded enough and subservient enough to serve the cause. And that often people refer to the old Soviet system as an elite system because it was entirely, sorry, it entirely comprised those sort of people. And in that sense, I’m anti-elitist of course, because I don’t want to be governed by people whom I despised and whom I fear. In our society today, we do have a liberal elite, which is closer to that Soviet model than it is to my model of the impartial judiciary, I think, but still it’s not a huge threat to us. So one can be anti-elitist about the vociferous New York Review of Books, reading class, while being elitist about your local church.

Who began modern philosophy, Descartes or Kant?

Roger Scruton:

The history of modern philosophy is, of course, an incredibly complicated thing. It is normal from the teaching point of view to start with Descartes, because he belonged for a start to the Scientific Revolution, and was very aware of the impact that science had made on theological thinking and on other forms of speculation. He also was unique in that he was in search of certainty, and found that certainty he thought in the famous cogito, ergo sum, that the knowledge that I have of my own condition, of own state of mind. So yeah, we could say that modern philosophy began with Descartes, but his search for certainty was also very flawed and nobody has ever been convinced by his arguments.

And there was another revolution came with Kant, who recognized that there’s something wrong with that search, that you’re never going to find that first premise from which everything else flows, that in the end, you have to make various assumptions about your position regarding the world, in particular that your faculties are sufficient to comprehend the world. And therefore, the world must be shaped in order to be comprehended. That’s a completely different method, because you’re starting, as Kant put it, from a Copernican perspective, you’re no longer seeing the self as the center of things. But in other words, the earth as the center of things, but you’re seeing it as revolving around something else.

Are names like Enlightenment and Postmodernism conceits?

Roger Scruton:

There’s a tendency in all thought to divide thinking and culture into periods. There’s the ancient, there’s the modern, there’s perhaps the postmodern, there’s the Enlightenment, and the Renaissance and the Reformation. All these divisions make sense up to a point, but they can’t possibly be absolute things. These are poorest boundaries, things flow through them and people could spend their whole life trying to define these words and it wouldn’t be of any benefit to anyone.

But what I would say is that there is such a thing as the modern world, we sort of do all agree about that. Namely, the world created by the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century and all that’s flown from that. There is such a thing as the Enlightenment, partly because can’t define it.

The time when people, when man becomes conscious that he is the one who has to take full charge of his destiny, that one can no longer pass the burden of existence and freedom to an independent entity. Not even to God, we’re in it, not alone, but we’re in it as a community but as man. Then, as for postmodern, that’s really an invention of people who have not yet proved their ability to think coherently. So I don’t really think one need worry about it.

What is truth and reality?

Roger Scruton:

I am a realist, so I believe that there is such a thing as truth. I also think that truth is in its nature objective. It’s not for me to determine what the truth is. The truth is what it is, regardless of what I think. I may not be able to know it, but to speak of truth at all is to assume this independent validity of statements, propositions, thoughts, and so on. And what makes something true, what makes a thought true is the reality. Objective truth and reality are the same idea. And I don’t think there’s anything more that needs to be said. The only question is to what extent are we human beings capable of knowing that truth?

Can we judge different worldviews?

Roger Scruton:

There are differing worldviews. We know that. Just as there are differing religions, differing faiths, and on the whole a successful religion also has a worldview attached to it. And there is the Christian worldview, the Muslim worldview, the Hindu worldview and so on. And there is a difficulty in answering the question whether these can be brought into relation with each other, whether they can share common ground and so on, because each of them defines the common ground in terms of its own concepts and principles. And we want, or to hope for, a point of view outside all the systems above the systems, from which to judge which system is the right one. And that aspiration towards the God’s eye perspective is actually part of what distinguishes our civilization, the enlightenment in particular, from all others that have ever existed.

Is truth seeking part of worldview?

Roger Scruton:

Going back to Aristotle, we have the idea that truth is to be pursued for its own sake, that all men desire to know, as he put it. And that this is a root principle of rational life. And that was part of the Greek worldview as well, generally, and crept into Christianity through the gospel of St. John. In the beginning was the word, the Logos. And he, of course, goes on to elaborate that and tell us that the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. But Christ himself said that too, “I am the way the truth and the life.” He said that in the Christian worldview, there is a sense that there is an impartial truth at the heart of things, and that it’s our duty to obtain it, if we can.

How important is monogamous marriage?

Roger Scruton:

Fundamental to our civilization to date, at least, has been monogamous marriage. This comes to us from way before Christianity. It doesn’t come from the Hebrews. It doesn’t come from the Jewish faith because the Old Testament at least allows quite a lot of wives for any particular husband. But we see it there in Greek literature from the beginning, Homer, the Odyssey, Odysseus has one wife, Penelope, who is true to him. And that story is about the truth of his wife to him and the glory of this and its integral part of his heroism and all that was available to him. Okay, he played around with other women too, but I think that idea of the monogamous marriage for life is a sublime idea. We can’t say that we only have to read the Odyssey to see how sublime it is. And we have tried to live up to it.

Who determines marriage? The State’s role?

Roger Scruton:

We now, of course, find that all kinds of alternatives are being proposed. And what makes it easy to propose them is that the state has taken charge of marriage. Marriage was never before a matter for the state, it was at certain periods a matter for the Church. It always involved the gods being invoked to bless this rite of passage from one condition into another and so on.

But at the French Revolution, the state, which then stepped forward with a kind of explosion of arrogance, took over all the institutions and assumed the right to create marriages.

Many religious people would say that you can’t gain that right just by assuming it, that the state never really had the right to make marriages. All it ever did have was the right to give privileges to people who were married. And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t give those privileges to people who have three wives or married to someone of the same sex or whatever, but that doesn’t make those relations into marriages.

Faithfulness in sexual relationships?

Roger Scruton:

Sexual desire is in itself exclusive. You want that person and you don’t want others to want her. And you don’t want her to want others. I think that’s, that lies in the nature of it. Doesn’t follow there aren’t all kinds of arrangements whereby people swap and so on, but that lies in the nature of sexual desire. And is there, regardless of whether the desire leads to love or marriage or anything like that. And one of the difficulties of our age is, of course, that people express their sexual desires without getting the protection of marriage or any kind of permanent relation so that jealousy comes very quickly in the wake of those desires. And a lot of the disruption, especially in the welfare culture, stems from this.

Please explain cognitive dualism

Roger Scruton:

Yes. Most of our ways of understanding the world and each other in particular are based on the way things appear and the way people appear to behave. I judge you by your face, your facial expressions, by your hands, your words, things which come into my consciousness immediately.

A scientific theory of things is not so interested in appearances. Of course, they are the evidence for the theory, but the theory is always trying to get behind appearances to the explanation. But the explanation in the case of ordinary human life is of no use to us. If I had a complete anatomy of your face and a complete map of the activity and the synapses of your brain, it would not help me to interpret your smile. On the contrary, it would distract me from it.

So, I think growing out of this observation is my thought that we really do systematically understand the world in two incommensurable ways. As the human world, the world as it appears to us, which we know how to relate to and in which we form relations of I to you, et cetera, and the scientific world, the world which as it’s presented to scientific theory, which is of no use to us in our day-to-day lives.

Please explain: cultures of repudiation and affirmation

Roger Scruton:

There are lots of issues that occur in social debates and political questions throughout the West, which are initiated by vociferous minorities who want an answer to a question. The question is always, why should we keep this institution? Why should we keep monogamous marriage? Why should we keep customs which seem to distinguish men from women? Isn’t there in our inherited order kinds of discrimination that we wouldn’t accept, et cetera? These questions, they gather momentum in the culture and become absolutely fundamental to how people define themselves. They start defining themselves as against this or that aspect of our inherited culture. And this is very appealing, especially to young people for whom being against what they’ve inherited is felt as a kind of liberation. So there has grown what I call a culture of repudiation around this practice. The habit of repudiating all customs and institutions, forms of life and distinctions, especially on which our civilization has been built.

And it’s a very negative thing, because nothing much is put in the place of what is being repudiated. But the repudiation takes on a kind of charm of its own because you can make very clear what you’re against without having the need to define what you are for. In the place of that, I would like to put a culture of affirmation. I would like to say, “Look, this is all too hasty. You haven’t looked into what it is that we have and the benefits that have flown from it. Before repudiating something, shouldn’t you put some time into understanding it?” That’s what my role as an educator is, is to put that across and make people obey it.

See lives lived to judge philosophy?

Roger Scruton:

Philosophers are not really one breed. There are very public philosophers who do lead quite repulsive lives like Michel Foucault and his circle. But in history, I don’t think philosophers have behaved that badly. If you look back to the first great public educator among philosophers, namely Socrates, he was also kind of modeled to his fellow citizens. And Martyr for the virtues that he preached. So I think it’s much more part of the academic world that people behave badly rather than the philosophical world. And when philosophers have free run of an academy they’re like a fox in a chicken run, nothing is safe.

How important the law of non-contradiction?

Roger Scruton:

It’s such a huge question. The law of non-contradiction is a necessary truth. I mean, the truth that not both P and not P. There is no way of denying that, without the argument for denying it collapsing, because the argument for denying it would have to lean on it. And so it’s a necessary truth. No problem there.

And logic, after all, is the science of such necessary truths and how they’re connected and how to deduce from them what follows. I’ve always believed that logic is one of the most important foundations of philosophy, of philosophical thinking, and one of the great achievements actually of modern philosophy to have got it right. To have discovered that first of all, that logic is something different from mathematics. That secondly, that you cannot derive mathematics from logic, although you can get very close to it. And thirdly, that the idea of alternative logics will always lead to a realm of illusion.

Doug Monroe:

Okay.

Roger Scruton:

This is something, by the way, this way of looking at things comes to me from the tradition of Frege, Russell, Tarski, and Godel and so on. It’s not the kind of thing that continental philosophers tend to respect, but that’s why their writings are so interesting. Bertrand Russell said this of Hegel’s logic, that Hegel’s logic is extremely interesting because from a contradiction, everything follows.

What did “worldview” mean to Kant?

Roger Scruton:

Kant had the view, that his philosophy, what you call, critical philosophy. Was involved in the task of setting limits to our reasoning. Showing that beyond that limit you cannot go. But also, showing the legitimate use of reason in various areas.

The idea that the world is accessible, independently of our reasoning is something that he repudiated. He said, that we can’t get to a picture of the world as it is in itself, independently of human thinking, it’s human. But we can get a picture of the world as it is presented to our thought.

And that’s part of what he meant by “weltanschauung.” Unlike many people who followed, he didn’t think there was a choice between the various worldviews. Now, there is the basic worldview, which comes from our reasoning powers in themselves. And that is something that we will eventually share, because our reasoning powers take us towards it.

Does that make sense?

Doug Monroe:

I get exactly what you mean. He had his own need for the word and that’s developed into a different meaning.

Roger Scruton:

Exactly, it developed into more subjective understanding.

Your own worldview?

Roger Scruton:

To describe my own worldview in a few simple sentences is of course difficult. And I wouldn’t have written all these books if it was an easy task. I should add, I’ve never been paid for producing a worldview. And I’m unusual among my colleagues in the Anglophone world, Britain and America and similar countries, in having a worldview. Most of my professional colleagues in universities would be completely nonplussed if you ask them what their worldview is. They might say, “Well, I vote labor. I like fish and chips,” et cetera. So I would say that my worldview is very, definitely a late Christian worldview, a vision of the world as fallen but capable of salvation. And the human condition is one in which the relation with the other is the most important fact.

The stages of your move rightward?

Roger Scruton:

I was brought up in a lower class family by a socialist father, labor voter, trade unionist, and taught to see the surrounding world in terms of a kind of epic of class conflict. A class conflict was everywhere and we were on the side of the victims against the oppressors. On the other hand, my father was also a lover of beauty who introduced me to the countryside and all the beautiful things that England contained, and which fellow countrymen had forced to defend. And beauty always points to the superior things rather than these inferior and oppressed things. So I was always torn anyway, between this leftist vision of the oppressed proletariat to whom I was supposed to belong, and another vision of a beautiful and ordered place to which I could aspire. And so through getting to love music and poetry and the like, I moved automatically and unconsciously perhaps, but automatically towards that higher thing.

And at a certain stage, I became quite detached from political thinking when I was at university, although still I suppose on the left, because everybody was. Then I went to Paris to France. And in 1968, I was in Paris at the time of the barricades and the ’68 revolutionary moment. And I observed all this shenanigans in the street. And I asked myself a question: Who am I on the side of? These spoiled middle class children throwing bricks through the shop windows of hard working class people or the hard working, working class people? It was obvious what the answer was going to be. So I asked my student friends: What on earth do you hope to achieve by this? And they gave me various books to read. Marx, Foucault, [French 00:02:27], I read this stuff.

And I said, “This is complete charlatanism” There’s nothing said here about a future that’s better than the lovely bourgeois France that you’ve inherited in which I love. So why should I join you rather than those policemen over there?” So I set out to work out my own philosophy in response to this. And then I went back to Cambridge to do research and immediately found that I met people there I could talk to who were on the right. And I saw immediately that I agreed with them.

Your later move toward Christianity?

Roger Scruton:

When I was young, I was confirmed in the Anglican church, though my parents didn’t know that because they weren’t Anglicans or anything. I drifted away from it. I was living in France for a bit. I was very attracted to the Catholic church, the rural Catholic Church described by Mauriac and Belczak. Then I lived in Italy for a little bit. I became more impressed by the Catholic church. I’ve always hankered after the kind of ceremonial presence that the Catholic church provides in one’s life. Theology is incredibly difficult to accept for a skeptical intellect like mine. Over the years, I drifted away completely. I could never bring myself to be quite an atheist because I recognize that human beings have a need for the sacred. They have a need for holiness, to aspire beyond the trivialities of this world.

That need is very deep in me. I found my way back to the Anglican church, providing that image of holiness in the heart of ordinary life. I’ve learned to live with my skepticism, recognizing that what we do have is a monotheistic conception of God, a wonderful gift we share with the Jews and the Muslims, of course, and the Hindus in their way. On top of that, the story of Christ’s passion is a revelation of what humanity is capable of. That’s as far as my Christian religion goes. I don’t show it, except go to church and play the organ every Sunday.

What is lifeworld v. worldview?

Doug Monroe:

The concept of the lifeworld was introduced by Husserl, a phenomenologist in the early twenties. He introduced it in the mid 20th century I think. His idea was that the lifeworld, the laymen’s world, is the world as represented in our day to day concepts. And in our responses to each other, our ways of bringing together all the things that we need to amalgamate in order to understand them. So it’s distinct from the material world, the world of objects conceived as science would conceive them. So it is a bit like what I would say about my cognitive journalism, there are two ways of seeing the world.

In the lifeworld, there are persons who act freely, who take responsibility for things, who are accountable to each other, and who see the world as organized by that those concepts. None of those concepts have any place in science. Science doesn’t have room for the concept of a person. It has a room for the concept of a human being, but a person is something that acts freely and accountability has a first person perspective and all the rest. And there’s no need for such a concept in science nor is there a possibility for it. But we use that concept in organizing our world and the world so organized is the lifeworld.

What is a conservative?

Roger Scruton:

To be a conservative is to be honest about your attachments, to what you’ve inherited. That’s to say, to show that they’re yours, to defend them from abuse. And if, assuming you love them, to build some of your life on them. And my view is that it’s a necessary truth that all people are attached to what they love. And it’s also highly probable that all people love some aspects of what they have, what’s brought them into being their family, their community, their customs, their laws. And conservatism is simply a generalization of that feeling. It’s a very positive feeling, but it’s not ideological. It’s not about some imaginary future towards which we’re advancing with clenched fists. It’s a gentle thing and a disposition to defend what needs you for its defense. And that’s why conservatives always have the disadvantage in any argument, because they’re merely defending what is in all its imperfections. They’re not presenting some idealized utopia that could never be in any case.

What is oikophilia?

Roger Scruton:

Yeah. I coined the word “oikophilia,” the love of the home, as a very basic human instinct, which I think we all have, which feeds into the politics of ordinary people, which underlies feelings of national identity, underlies feelings of community, and is the thing on which politicians draw when they’re not just offering meaningless promises.

Do conservatives rationalize keeping money?

Roger Scruton:

There’s a much better way of getting those marbles and that is to sweep everything away and then gather them to yourself, which is essentially what socialism is about. Of course, you promise to be distributing them to everybody, but the fact is once you’ve got them in your hands, you don’t, and that’s the history of the 20th century.

Is being conservative about being correct?

Roger Scruton:

Yeah. The distinction between left and right is of course in a certain sense arbitrary. The people, the third at the estate’s general, the French Revolution, the third estate sat on the king’s left and the nobility and Ecclesiastics on his right, so that gave rise to this distinction. It could have been the other way around and it was the other way around for everyone except the king when you think about it. And over this ensuing 200 years, completely different meanings have been attached to this. And I suspect that today, what is fundamentally understood by left is the support for the underdog, the desire for a distributed state, which will confiscate property from the wealthy and powers also from the wealthy, and transfer them those who don’t yet have those advantages. And what is understood by the right is obviously the opposite of that, plus something else. Something more important to me, which is the conservative element, the sense of heritage and the need to conserve it.

I think a conservative would say, “Yeah, in that sense, he was on the right”. Conservatives don’t like the growth of the redistributive state. Not because they don’t want people at the bottom of society to be helped, or they don’t … And maybe they also want to redistribute some of the wealth. I think most people now would like to do that. Because it’s completely got out of control. But I think they would distrust the state as a means for doing and believe much more in the growth of private charity and the feeling of community, as the primary way of redistributing things.

The most harmful philosopher alive?

Roger Scruton:

I think a great deal of harm has been done by Peter Singer with his utilitarianism, in influencing ordinary people into thinking that you can solve moral questions by simple mathematical calculation and that individual responsibilities are not part of it. I think that he is someone who’s done a lot of harm. But on the whole, philosophers don’t influence things very much. So I think it’d be hard pressed to say there is certainly no philosopher today whose harmful influence compares remotely with that of Marx.

Describe your transcendentals: person, freedom, the sacred

Roger Scruton:

In order to understand our condition now, and generally, but especially now, we need to revisit the concept of the person, see what it is that is distinctive about persons, as opposed to other animals, and why living as a person brings with it obligations, attachments, and all the rest. So that’s a fundamental concept. And along with that is the concept of freedom, what it is to act freely, and freedom has been radically mis-described by all the liberationist of the 1960s and beyond, who’ve seen it simply as throwing off shackles and being at last liberated to be yourself. The fact is that true freedom means accountability, not being liberated to be yourself, but concentrating on your duties to others.

And that is something which I think needs to be constantly rehearsed and understood, and it can only be understood if we have give proper place to the concept of the sacred, the things that cannot be done, the things that must be revered, the distinctions between the moments when you’re, as it were, on the verge of the transcendental, and those when you’re just engaged in everyday life, and you only learn about these moments, you can learn about them from religion, but if you haven’t got religion you only learn about them through serious art, and through serious exercise in the countryside, and through serious human relations, and all those things lie apart from the diet of many people today.

Are humans the highest beings in creation?

Roger Scruton:

The humanists think that the human being is the ultimate source of value and object of value, because humanists explicitly deny that there is anything beyond the human. I would say that I don’t want to explicitly deny anything so metaphysical as that. I would acknowledge that the person is the foundation of the moral life as Kant points out. But I don’t think that persons are simply human beings. They’re human beings as they appear in the layman’s world, in the World of Life, which is a different thing. And there, they do appear as the Imago Dei. That’s undoubtedly the case. And this is brought out radically by the distinction between the look that a person gives you and the look that a dog gives you, for instance.

Why is the West so interested in liberty?

Roger Scruton:

I think we are really talking about the legacy of Christianity, rather than just the West. The sanctity of the individual is embedded in the Christian way of life, in the parable of the good Samaritan, in the whole ethos of humility and respect for the other. I think it just follows from all that.

Is there a General Will?

Roger Scruton:

There are collectivities as well as individuals. And one of the big questions is, are collectivities just the sum of the individuals, or are they something over and above the individuals that compose them? And that’s a real question. I think it rather depends, but when people get together to form a school or a university or something like that. At first, there’s just that group of people. But over the years, after perhaps 300 years there is something else.

Which has an identity big, greater than the sum of its parts. Partly cause it unites people who’ve gone and who people who’ve yet to come. It’s a kind of relationship between the dead, the unborn, the living, and it creates obligations of its own. It starts to have a personality of its own.

In that respect our societies are absolutely full of these corporate beings, which are not identical with their members. They’ve risen above their members. So to speak, to take on a life of their own, there’s nothing mysterious about that. I think it happens all the time and the more it happens, the better in a way. A partnership among thieves to achieve a certain goal. And then distribute the profits and run. That does not create a corporation of this kind. But a peaceful, respectful community of people with a goal that they share and that, which they pass on from generation to generation that does create such a community.

Is there a spiritual world?

Roger Scruton:

My own feeling is that there’s no need to assume the existence of this spiritual world in order to understand the spiritual nature of actual human beings, and there is a danger in spiritualism as well in thinking that these ghostly entities are more important than the people you really owe your obligations to. And you start filling the world with fears, the ghosts that are that by no means sympathetic and all the rest. So I think it’s better to avoid all that.

Doug Monroe:

The only problem is they seem to pop up all the time, you know?

Roger Scruton:

People…

Doug Monroe:

People’s regular lives. So that’s just an aside.

Roger Scruton:

Americans are very… You have a ghost-haunted culture, and that’s why you celebrate Halloween. Nobody else does.

Doug Monroe:

No, I’m talking about seeing actual two people seeing the same thing.

Roger Scruton:

Yeah, yeah.

Doug Monroe:

That kind of stuff.

Roger Scruton:

There is lot, but it’s still, yeah. But also you have one of, I suppose, the only great writer who is written ghost stories, which is Henry James, but all your literature is full of ghosts. And I think it has a lot to do with the fact that America, it’s a recently settled country, and in the heart of hearts, Americans are aware of the fact that they’ve chased people out of this country, and that country is still haunted by those people and their own predecessors as well in that.

Doug Monroe:

I’m personally interested. I’m not a spiritualist for anything like that. I’m close to what you are, but say, for example, the Harvard neurologist who was dead for a week, and he looks at this data and he says, “I was actually dead.” And yet he comes back to life and he tells these stories and he learns things he could never have known unless he got it from someone else. There are just a lot of examples.

Roger Scruton:

There are all kinds of experiences like that. How to explain them? We can’t necessarily explain them.

Doug Monroe:

No, no.

Your interests in aesthetics?

Roger Scruton:

I’m more like a French philosopher than an English one in one respect, namely that I see philosophy as continuous with artistic enterprises: literature, music, painting, etc. And I see that one of the tests of philosophy is to make sense of all that, because here is these incredible activities that fill our world with meaning. Shouldn’t the philosopher be able to say something about them?

So I’ve spent my… My specialism in philosophy has always been worrying about art and literature and music, but I’ve also spent a lot of my time writing in that vein. Writing fiction and similar things and even writing music. So, to me, these are intimately connected, philosophy with the world of the imagination. And this has a serious impact on my style. This is one reason when I write philosophy, it isn’t a cold, abstract idiom that I use. There’s always quite a lot of emotion of a kind that a literary writer would use.

Why pessimistic about conservatism “winning”?

Roger Scruton:

I’m pessimistic that conservatism can win in the world of ideas because the world of ideas is dominated by the left and by forms of thinking that the left have inherited and made their own. But the massive ordinary people, thank heavens, are incapable of thinking so that they’re not influenced by the world of ideas anyway. And there, I think conservatism has a better chance than liberalism on the whole. But there is the question of the intellectual world where I live, I mean which I move. There, I’m constantly aware that I’m alone.

Is philosophy gender-based?

Roger Scruton:

I see what you’re getting at. I mean, philosophers are human beings, just like poets and musicians and carpenters. And as such, they’re motivated by sexual feeling. The real question is, to what extent does that sexual feeling enter their philosophy, as it clearly enters the poetry of a poet or the music of a musician? And I think this is an interesting question. Sexual feeling is inherently lyrical, and so it lends itself to artistic expression, but it’s not inherently philosophical, so there is something odd about thinking that it enters into the philosophical way of thinking at all.

Of course, in the past, there were not many women philosophers, but in my replies to Plato, which we called Xanthippic Dialogues, I invent those women philosophers, because I was conscious of the fact that the feminine, as such, is absent from most of the Platonic dialogues, and it ought to be put back. Of course, Plato was homosexual and there was no evidence that he really wanted those women back, would’ve wanted those women in his dialogues anyway.

But anyway, that’s a thought. Maybe one should be thinking more about how to put the feminine back into philosophy. Many of our leading philosophers today in the academic world are women. In America, you’ve got people like Martha Nussbaum who’ve made quite a reputation for themselves, Christine Korsgaard and so on, very much in the academic mold, but still, no more academic than the men. So perhaps we’re now moving into a more gender-free kind of philosophy anyway.

Are good men necessary to control evil men?

Roger Scruton:

It’s somewhat extreme, isn’t it? It sounds like he’s had a lot of nightmares lately. I think only men can control men in the battlefield. That’s true. But it’s not only men who can organize meetings, or control men in the political arena. We’ve never been better led than by Mrs. Thatcher. How can one generalize about this anyway? I think men are dangerous. There has been, not exactly a conspiracy, but an organized attempt to emasculate them, and they suffer from it. I mentioned this in my book, “The Disappeared.” One of the characters of which is somebody who feels he’s been emasculated, and identifies himself as an incomplete man, but has found release in heavy metal, and that way of projecting himself to become a man again.

Trans-human and cloning issues?

Roger Scruton:

Yes. I think all these ways in which people are now beginning to interfere with human destiny are obviously potentially very dangerous because they threaten to bring about a new kind of human being, who’s nature we don’t understand. And for whom we would feel no sympathy nor it for us. So we might end up filling the world with our enemies and they would be implacable enemies, much better equipped than us because they’ve been made to be. So one has to be afraid of this and the warnings given to us by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell ought to be listened to. But so far they haven’t been.

Comments on populism in America and Europe?

Roger Scruton:

Obviously, the election of President Trump and the Brexit vote in Britain, and the turmoil in Europe, over immigration and all the rest has led to a new kind of politics. And has been a surprise, and also a kind of offense to the people on the left. They feel that people have turned against them. People have become another kind of thing. And in order to describe this, they’ve coined the word populism to denote people who disagree with them. Let’s say people who actually are prepared not just to vote against their candidates, but to hope for a way of life, which liberals can no longer control. And this is the sort of thing that certainly has been happening in America. And then of course that the leaders that they vote for are often, well in America, of course, they’re a very special kind of leader.

Trump is not a member of the political class. He’s a man with manifest defects of a kind that nobody needs to puzzle over. But also nevertheless captures the heart of many Americans because he seems to identify with their condition. And their condition is of people who’ve been essentially betrayed by the liberal establishment, the people whom they thought they had the responsibility of protecting their interests. But have not protected their interests, particularly in matters like immigration, have surrendered the country to those who don’t belong to it. That’s the basic accusation that everybody makes against the liberal establishment. And that’s true in Britain and in Europe, and that’s what people feel and their right to feel this because that’s what liberals do do. They do it out of the best of motives, but only by way of showing that the best of motives are also the worst.

How important is the American-British alliance?

Roger Scruton:

The role of alliances is to protect each other’s interests. And the best alliances are those in which the interests are shared. The Anglo-American Alliance has for the last 100 years has been such an alliance. That Americans have recognized that it is in their interest that Britain exists. It is in their interest that there is trans-Atlantic trade and communication, that they need to be in touch with the Old World. And that things happening in the Old World don’t threaten America directly, but indirectly do threaten America.

So, this is a very powerful alliance because clearly we depend upon the American input. We wouldn’t survive without that alliance. And it’s absolutely clear now that if that alliance ceased to exist, Putin would take control of Europe. And the Germans, of course, because they’re living in a cloud cuckoo land, they’re living in a world of totally impenetrable illusion due to their own sense of unmanageable guilt, they will surrender to Russia.

So, it’s almost necessary now for us to put the Transatlantic Alliance at the top of the political agenda. Difficult, of course, given your President, who has a protectionist sympathies, isolationist sympathies, and is fed up with the way in which European powers depend upon the American taxpayer for their defense, quite rightly.

What will happen with Brexit?

Roger Scruton:

We think, the British people, that we have voted for Brexit, but the elite, or the old elite does not accept that vote. That is undeniably true. Many of them are trying to undo it, which would … If we voted again, I’m sure it would be the same result. But, nevertheless, it has left us in a state of stagnation because the people are pushing one way, the political class, the other way. And people are bewildered. They’ve always thought that it’s the duty of the government to take charge of their vote. Now they have a political apparatus, which doesn’t want to respond to that duty. Meanwhile, the European Union is supposed to be negotiating our exit, and we are supposed to be negotiating with them.

And all the evidence of the last 60 years is that the European Union is incapable of negotiating anything, because it was all built in from the first, the basic principles. We’re asking them to revise one of those principles. They can’t. Even if they wanted to, they’d have to get 29 signatures, or 27 signatures, rather, to the result, which is impossible. So the whole thing is a complete fiction, that we’re negotiating our exit. There won’t be a deal. We will have to leave and then depend upon the World Trade Organization to maintain our relations with our trading partners, just as America does. And that will be fine, as long as your president doesn’t then set out to destroy the WTO, which he might very well do.

The welfare states in Europe v. America?

Roger Scruton:

As for Europe, the European model of the welfare estate is one that we’ve all adopted in Europe one way or another. And America has actually joined in. And under Barack Obama it was complete really. And in fact there’s more of a welfare state in America in many ways than there is in Europe. And taxation is higher for people of my class than it is in Europe. So I don’t think there is much difference anymore.

Optimistic or pessimistic about America?

Roger Scruton:

I think, if one were pessimistic about America, one would have to be pessimistic about everywhere, because America is the place above all others where enterprise and initiative are rewarded. If they’re not going to be rewarded there, they’re certainly not going to appear elsewhere, so nothing new and good will happen. There’ll just be the old power structures, getting more and more static and arthritic, as in China. And the world will be a vastly less interesting place than it is.

Doug Monroe:

Fantastic. Thank you, Roger, for this opportunity for us.

Roger Scruton:

Thank you.

Doug Monroe:

We’re all done.

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