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.
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
- [more to be added]
- The Roger Scruton Reader by Mark Dooley