The Salisbury Review, still brilliant

The Salisbury Review may be the most intelligent quarterly review there is. The founding editor was Sir Roger Scruton no less, and he served unpaid for 18 years.  Though he retired from the editorship in 2006, the Review has continued, with its insightful look at society and the world.  It is a courageous look too, as most magazines would fear to publish what the Salisbury Review will.

All those of influence should subscribe to the Salisbury Review, even if they do not agree with even half the articles contained.

The magazine is named after the Third Marquess of Salisbury, one of the greatest of Conservative Prime Ministers, whose picture used to grace the cover of every edition. It helps too that the Sixth Marquess was one of the founders. (I sometimes wonder if the title misleads those who might otherwise stock it into thinking it is a local mag for Wiltshire.)

If you read a magazine only to have your existing knowledge and thoughts confirmed, you are missing the point. An intellectual magazine should challenge you, and show you new fields, new ideas and new ways of approaching topics. I frequently get up in arms about some of the articles, but that is rather the point. This is not the bland sap in the large publications. Larger magazines are unable to define their own ‘Overton window’ and are too easily swayed by an apparent tide of opinion, to suppress ideas which may cause a fuss and just churn out the usual, with perhaps a new artist or author featured or a new country to wander in, but new ways of thinking might cause a fuss and shed a reader or two. The Salisbury Review on the other hand had its greatest boost in publication when it caused a major scandal that reached the national news.

The scandal was the Ray Honeyford article, describing his experience as a teacher encountering cultural attitudes from some Asian parents at his school. The magazine republished the article on later occasions, and I recall the first time I thought it true but inflammatory, the second time mild, and the third time I could not see what the fuss was about. Sir Roger himself wrote an article about the article and what the resultant storm tells us about the race-industry:

The magazine has had many stellar contributors: Roger Scruton of course, but also Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Margaret Thatcher, Václav Havel, Hugh Trevor-Roper and many more. In such company, we cannot fail to be enriched.

The magazine features each quarter an eclectic selection of articles which may range from the personal to international politics. Academics and journalists at the conservative end regularly appear, some under a pseudonym for reasons we well understand, or individual one-off contributors, but being high-brow is not enough: one of their recent regular contributors is a tattooist, who gives a moving insight into a part of society with which many readers may be unfamiliar but would be better to understand. Theodore Dalrymple regularly contributes, telling of the those who pass through a doctor’s surgery or a prison infirmary. With the fall of the Red Wall we must look beyond the cosy circle of our own dinner party guests.

Perhaps as enlightening are the regular book and television reviews, both positive and negative – there are many eye-opening books with which I would have been unfamiliar otherwise, and other I now know to avoid. It reintroduced also many ‘conservative classics’. (As a result, Dostoyevsky is now back on my reading list.)

It is a shame that public libraries are not stocking the Salisbury Review. Libraries do carry magazines with political themes, but never this one, for some reason. Maybe the title confuses them. If readers can break that wall, do.

The magazine has never tried to be fashionable: its contributors were elucidating the reason and necessity of Brexit long before it became popular, and exploding fashionable nostrums for the nonsense they is I every issue, and not just by rants but by cold logic and data.

It is uplifting to find a magazine which actually writes what I am thinking and speaks those truths which those of us with jobs to keep quiet about. If it were just a confirmation of existing prejudices though it would be of little use, and instead the Salisbury Review every time takes me outside my comfortable circle to new, unfamiliar areas or new ways to see those I thought I knew, and for that I cannot but praise it and urge others to subscribe.

See also

Our Planet Matters to Auntie

The BBC’s year-long project, ‘Our Planet Matters’ could be a great thing if it is a wide approach, and of the essence of the BBC’s educational mission.  It may just become a narrow propaganda piece.

The announced project is “a year-long series of special programming and coverage on climate change” with “a raft of news services and shows”. There is a false note there: real environmental issues worldwide cover a wide range of challenges, and of these climate change is the most minor. It is real, but nowhere near as important as pollution or the loss of habitats, for example.

The BBC has the resources to drag in all the wisdom of the world and create an unequalled examination of the many, complex issues within the field, but it mostly chooses a narrow, simplistic approach, for it is still at heart a part of the entertainment industry.

We respect the BBC because it can do wonders, and has David Attenborough; they can draw upon brilliant men and women; but it is part of the entertainment industry and the decisions and editing are made by those who are at a level with the Victorian music-hall.

I want Auntie to do its environment series and do it well.  This blog has carried articles on environment issues before and will do so again. Technology has reached a stage when the world can and should step into new ways of doing things that tread more lightly on the earth. In a timely way, Prince William no less has created the ‘Earthshot Prize’ to encourage solutions to the world’s pressing problems, and declared the coming years a decade of action to repair the Earth.  Excellent; and so we should.

What Prince William recognises in the framing of his prize is that ‘environment’ is a broad heading within which there are many practical issues crucial to our time: pollution of the air, land and oceans; lack of fresh water; biodiversity; and climate change. That is all good. For all that though, when I saw that announcement of a year-long BBC series, I knew that they will get it completely wrong. The press release says just “climate change”. Maybe that is just the PR people writing and ‘Our Planet Matters’ will look at the wider field, but I am not hopeful, by past experience.

The environment has been an issue since 1989 when Margaret Thatcher addressed the United Nations:

Of all the challenges faced by the world community in those four years, one has grown clearer than any other in both urgency and importance—I refer to the threat to our global environment. I shall take the opportunity of addressing the general assembly to speak on that subject alone.

Mrs Thatcher began a global movement, and she was not alone. The greatest philosopher of our age, Sir Roger Scruton, whose passing we mourned this week, wrote at length on issues of protecting the environment, and he realised that it is a very conservative concern:

It needs to be pressed as a conservative issue. It comes across in the mouths of radicals and socialists though, whose ideas would destroy the very things they are claiming to support. The conservative voice for the Earth came first and must be heard loudly. I am not confident of its breaking through he walls of New Broadcasting House, but Conservatives should not make the mistake of dismissing the whole field: just the unscientific mistakes that will be propagated.

Back to the BBC’s year of programming, it has started badly by linking the Australian bush-fires to global warming. They are two completely separate issues, and the worst fires are in the coolest parts of the continent.  That was lazy. They need to do better if this project is to fulfil its educational brief.  The fires are an environment issue, in a broad field, but it is not connected with global warming.

However, global warning is the posterboy of the green movement and everything seem reductible to it, to the exclusion of all else; well, that and waste plastic, which is actually more important.

(I recall in the 1980s the two big environmental scares were depletion of the ozone layer above the poles, and heavy-metal pollution from vehicles, which are both real, and completely unrelated. You still got people protesting to remove lead from petrol ‘to protect the ozone layer’.)

Start by asking who will want to push themselves forward to talk about environment issues to all the living-rooms of the nation.  Frightening isn’t it?

Even if it is a year on climate change, the next concern is what conclusions they imply. As has been recited in many other places, the simplistic solutions suggested by the extreme-green movement would lead to mass starvation and worse environmental degradation, and even if the venting of carbon dioxide into the air ceased at once, it would take two hundred years to bring the levels down. Will the BBC accept some subtlety into their broadcasting? We will see, but I am not hopeful.

The BBC started broadcasting in colour in 1967, but it only broadcasts opinions that are black and white.

See also

Books

Scruton’s Anglosphere

One theme coming strongly out of Sir Roger Scruton’s work is the particular brilliance of the English-speaking world, characterised also in his work as the Anglosphere.

The closeness of the Anglosphere is something I have discussed before:

The point which Scruton has made, as I read it, derives from the particular cultural norms of these islands which was inherited by the nation’s colonies and from that the United States and the ‘Old Commonwealth’. It is a bottom-up conception of society, law and state; where foreign countries have a top-down structure of state, law, and society. We can look for lifetimes for whence comes the particular genius of the English-speaking peoples, but more important is its reality.

Some of this is explained in a summary form in an interview Sir Roger gave for the Hoover Institution, as part of its ‘Uncommon Knowledge’ series, discussing his book How To Be A Conservative:

This conception of a cultural chasm between the Anglosphere and the European states appears to be one reason for Sir Roger’s robust advocacy of leaving the European Union. It is a pity that he was not to live to see the consummation of that achievement. He did however in his time see the validation in the flesh of all the principles he stood for, not least in Central Europe.

The common law is a schooling in the genius of the British conception. Scruton did study the law, though he never took up the profession, and all those who study English law will be imbued with the spirit on which it is built. Law is, as Hobbes will insist, fundamentally an expression of sovereignty, but the way in which the actual rules of law have been derived is very particular to the Anglosphere. In Europe (for reasons of history) the basis of law is a codification carried out by Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul and so is issued from the centre and interpreted according to the will of the sovereign authority. This was in France a necessary corrective to the patchwork of local laws that had arisen from the feudal past. The laws were based on those of Rome, which itself was a top-down, codified system. England from the Dark Ages was not rooted in the Roman Empire and was not so feudal – it had, in theory a single set of law, or that was the ruling theory, and this law was a matter of custom and practicality. Codes issued by mediaeval kings recorded existing practice rather than making new rules. As a result, the doctrine of judges has been that they “discover” exiting laws and derive the rules by logic from them, based on the actual cases before them, not such hypothetical situations as a distant legislator may conceive. Many of the most important points of the civil law are not mediaeval but are points of commercial contract law laid down by Lord Mansfield in the reign of King George III, based on actual commercial practices of his time: again that is ground-up law-making, not top-down legislation.

Social organisation is of its nature built from the ground up if left to thrive on its own. A modern habit is for those with a project to beg for ratepayers’ money from the local council, which then ties them to the top-down state system, but it is not always like this. Local camera clubs, running clubs, book clubs and the whole plethora of society are wholly independent – in less happy lands the state is jealous of people gathering without licence and would seek to regulate, but not in the Anglosphere.

The early growth of democracy in England ensured a participatory example of rule, and perhaps prevented legislative activism so that the uncodified common law remained unchallenged, while society could remain gathered around local circumstances.

Whatever the reasons, and I can only skim the surface, there is a clear difference between the cultural assumptions of the Anglosphere peoples and those in Europe, notwithstanding that the latter share many of the same cultural references.

There is no suggestion of a racial superiority amongst Anglo-Saxons, which would be a nonsense, and one could not even say that our Anglosphere culture is objectively “superior”, if such a concept can even be defined – just that it is different in important respects from its neighbours, and largely coherent across the many nations of the world which share it.

See also

Books

By Sir Roger Scruton:

By others:

Who are the Iranians?

We do not understand Iran and maybe never shall. It is not a normal country, and that is meant in a good way. Half a century of dealing with fractious, artificial Arab states in the Middle East, and suddenly the face of conflict is not one of these but Persia, and we cannot behave the same way.

Iran is an ancient land. We once knew it as Persia and by that name we had more understanding of it. The land was not renamed: Persia was always called ‘Iran’ in its own tongue, going back five thousand years, but in the 1920s the king demanded that the native name be used by outsiders too. In doing so he unwittingly built a wall of incomprehension. Had we continued to use the name of ‘Persia’, then the nature of this extraordinary land would be more apparent to us all.

Persia echoes throughout our history and our culture. Biblical Judah encountered it; the Greeks fought it; Alexander conquered it and his followers became Persian as they ruled it; the Romans met the Persian Empire as an equal throughout their long Empire; but long before Rome was founded and long after it fell, Persia remained. Their language too is so deeply embedded that it became a lingua franca across the middle of Asia, and was even the official language of British India until Macauley’s reforms.

This is a fundamental distinction with the fractious Arab world we have become used to. Those states are a loose collection of emirates and new republics, the largest of them carved from the flesh of the old Ottoman Empire just a hundred years ago and they have no deeply rooted sense of nationality, beyond the name of ‘Arab’. Persia however has had that idea of itself for five thousand years. When Saddam Hussein invaded the Iranian province of Khuzestan, he thought that its people, as Arabs, would rise and join him, but he could not appreciate that the Persian Empire has embraced a variety of peoples and languages for millennia and the Arabs of Khuzestan were just as proud to be Iranians their Persian-speaking compatriots.

Therefore when the west confronts Iran, the Iranians may see us as precocious children: the western states, even the oldest, have nothing to say to a country which was a mighty empire of cities, craftsmen and armies when our forefathers were living in mud shelters.

It hurts such a nation if it is belittled or humbled, as it has been in 19th century conflicts with British India and Russia, in the concessions wrung out at that time, in that it took European archaeologists to display their own ancient treasures, in the almost casual military occupation of Iran by Britain and the Soviet Union in 1944.

The current sickness in the heart of the Iranian state comes from an existential conflict. Iran, Persia is ancient, but the ruling ideology is not. Extreme Islam will tolerate no rival identity; even that of the nation, and this leaves a problem for an average Iranian. Iran is 98% Muslim, which is a religion brought from outside by conquerors to supersede their culture, and there lies a conflict that has never been resolved. There is no consensus about whether the 7th century Arab conquest can be considered a liberation from evil practices, or a national humiliation. The late Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, incurred the wrath of the Ayatollah by modernisation, but it is said that the final straw was when n 1971 he lavishly celebrated 2,500 years of the Persian Empire and those aspects of Persian history which predated Islam: Khomeini called it “the Devil’s Festival”.

I do not believe an entire culture can be provided by Islam alone, to the exclusion of all other influences. If you look at Pakistan, it was an equal inheritor of India’s heritage, but in creating a separate, artificial country its rulers tried to create a difference, casting out their inherent Indian identity and millennia of rich culture, which left only the Mohammedan religion to be their basis. It seems as if the Iranian rulers are attempting the same.

This division, between popular culture and religiously defined culture is a powerful one. Iranians personally are delightful people in my experience, intelligent, aware, celebrating life and culture as well as anyone might, and they are very aware of their country’s seniority. Against them are the religious authorities which guard the state and would define every minute aspect. In 2014, you may recall, the young folk who filmed themselves joyously dancing to Pharrell Williams’s ‘Happy’; only to be shut down and sentenced to 71 lashes.

A division between state and society is apparent and is growing, and as I grows the state must react against it, deepening the division. I dread to think how that may end.

When we ‘precocious children’ in the west stand against Iran, as we must, it is the wayward government of the country that we confront. Threatening economic ruin makes little sense if the government could not care what happens to the people, and threatening war plays well with the ‘victim narrative’. Behind it though is a most remarkable people waiting to be let out.

Sir Roger Scruton – in memory of greatness

All thoughts must be put aside to mourn the passing of the greatest thinker of our age – and greater too because he acted also. Sir Roger Scruton passed away yesterday. The obituaries record levelled that he left a widow and two children, but he left a mightier his legacy, namely freedom in half of Europe.

He was a philosopher, and head and shoulders above all others of our time, but I have hesitated to use that word as ‘philosopher’ has become a degraded title in the hands of unworthy sophists. If an intellectual is a man educated beyond common sense, a philosopher has become a man so intellectual that he can construct a whole world in his mind and show its truth by logic in spite of all the evidence disproving him.  Sir Roger was not like that: he saw and described reality and from it drew conclusions which the passage of time proved true.

Born in 1944, as the allied English-speaking world was preparing to strike at the beaches of Normandy to liberate half a continent, he was in his time to play a large part to liberate the other half. He was brought up in that ferment of conflicting ideas that followed the peace.  He studied in Paris, and was there in 1968, the summer of the student uprisings, and first-hand he saw the destruction created by the students’ movement; a destruction justified in their mind by some foolish slogans.  He determined from that point that he was for preserving the good, which the radicals so hated.  This was to be a pattern for his life, and the reason the left-wing intellectual establishment shunned him.

I had the privilege to be at a dinner with Sir Roger on two notable occasions, in elevated company, and heard him speak.  He was a modest man and nothing in his bearing would tell you that you were in the presence of greatness, until he spoke.  Even then, the better indication of the man was in what others have said of him.

A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin. Somehow polite opinion in Britain shunned him. James Brokenshire appears not to have known who he was when summarily dismissing him in April last year after a hit-job from the New Statesman: that was perhaps the most shocking part of that sordid affair.

In Central Europe though, he was a hero.  In the 1980s left-wing intellectuals (see definition above) had no place for a conservative thinker, but in the east, which at the time was still under the Communist jackboot, they knew all about the reality of socialism, and it was here that Roger Scruton travelled, slipping away from his minders and building, encouraging, nurturing the ‘underground universities’ which kept free thought alive. 

In 1989 the Communist world collapsed, and It was from these free thinkers, Sir Roger’s pupils, that the released states of Europe could rise to freedom and prosperity.  One such, Vaclav Havel, was a poet and so well known as the voice of liberty in the last days of tyranny in Czechoslovakia that the cry on the streets in 1989 was ‘Václav na Hrád’: ‘Vaclav to the Castle’, and to the presidential residence in Prague Castle he went.  He rewarded Sir Roger with his nation’s highest honour.

No wonder the Left hated him.  He told the truth and achieved freedom for the nations.

At home, Sir Roger was a busy academic, and wrote many books on his areas of expertise – all of them valuable and none less than brilliant. He also co-founded The Salisbury Review, named after the Third Marquess of Salisbury (and after his great-grandson, a founding patron), and he served as Editor for many years. The Salisbury Review remains the leading journal of British conservative thought and is well worth its subscription.

Another conservative philosopher, Aldous Huxley, wrote an introduction to a reprint of his great novel ‘Brave New World’ that was issued just after the Second World War, a war that come out of the rise of novel philosophies. He wrote:

I have been told by an eminent academic critic that I am a sad symptom of the failure of an intellectual class in time of crisis. The implication being, I suppose, that the professor and his colleagues are hilarious symptoms of success. The benefactors of humanity deserve due honour and commemoration. Let us build a Pantheon for professors. It should be located among the ruins of one of the gutted cities of Europe or Japan, and over the entrance to the ossuary I would inscribe, in letters six or seven feet high, the simple words: SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE WORLD’S EDUCATORS. SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE.

In the time that Sir Roger took his life in his hands, one such philosophy had become triumphant, and left the ancient lands in its grip to become wasted.  To this modest academic a monument extends across all the free countries of Central Europe.

Stand in the revived heart of Prague or Warsaw or Budapest to look for a monument to Sir Roger:

SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE.

Books

By Sir Roger Scruton:

By others: