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.
By Sir Roger Scruton:
- On Human Nature
- The Ring of Truth
- Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left
- On Hunting
- Where We Are: The State of Britain
- How to Be a Conservative
- Conservatism: Ideas in Profile
- A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism
- Kant: a Very Short Introduction
- Spinosa: a Very Short Introduction
- Beauty: a Very Short Introduction
- Green Philosophy
- Philosophy: Principles and Problems
- The Soul of the World
- Souls in the Twilight
- The Roger Scruton Reader by Mark Dooley
- A History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Sir Winston Spenser Churchill:
- A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900 by Andrew Roberts
- The Dream of Rome by Boris Johnson
- The Victorians: Twelve Titans who Forged Britain by Jacob Rees-Mogg
- The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B Peterson