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Who’s Afraid of Sir Roger Scruton?

Sir Roger Scruton (Policy Exchange )
Progressives launch a smear campaign against Britain’s greatest living philosopher.

Interesting thinkers, of whom there are few, tend to express themselves in more than 280 characters. Take Sir Roger Scruton, for example, the British philosopher and writer who has written over 50 books on philosophy, aesthetics, and politics and who was knighted two years ago for “services to philosophy, teaching, and public education.”

Scruton is also a conservative and an old, straight, white male. In modern-day Britain, Scruton’s politics are considered to be a pathology — or, rather, multiple pathologies. This week, the appointment of Sir Roger as unpaid chairman of a government housing commission, Building Better, Building Beautiful, was met with a campaign to get him sacked.

Why? Apparently because the “news and gossip” website The Red Roar revealed that he had made allegedly anti-Semitic comments and voiced other opinions that “some view as outright prejudice.” The Labour party, which is only just recovering from an actual anti-Semitism scandal, has been spearheading the attack. One obscure MP told BuzzFeed:

Nobody holding those views has a place in modern democracy. The prime minister needs to finally show some leadership and sack Scruton with an investigation into how he was appointed in the first place.

But what are “those views,” exactly? Scruton has written hundreds of thousands of words over the course of his career. So where to start? A good place would be Critical Thinking 101 — identify the thesis.

First, Red Roar objected to this sentence uttered by Scruton in a 2016 lecture: “Many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire.”

Awkward declarative clauses . . . followed by an argument opposing anti-Semitism:

Many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire. People in these networks include many who are rightly suspicious of nationalism, regard nationalism as the major cause of the tragedy of Central Europe in the 20th century, and do not distinguish nationalism from the kind of national loyalty that I have defended in this talk. Moreover, as the world knows, indigenous anti-Semitism still plays a part in Hungarian society and politics and presents an obstacle to the emergence of a shared national loyalty among ethnic Hungarians and Jews.

Scruton argued that Jews in Eastern Europe have legitimate grievances against nationalism and that anti-Semitism continues to pose a serious problem to Hungarian society. Red Roar also claimed that Scruton is cozy with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, which the Guido Fawkes blog rebuts:

In fact Scruton only knows Orban because he helped him and a few other Hungarian students set up an independent law school in the late 1980s in Communist Czechoslovakia. Scruton lectured in that law school, as part of his drive to get young people to work for their country’s freedom. Attacking Scruton for this is pathetic …

Scruton actually took on Orban and lobbied hard against his move to close down the Central European University in Budapest last year. The university founded by George Soros. … Attempting to force Scruton out of a non-political government appointment on the basis of quotations taken out of context and a highly selective use of historical facts is dishonest. The only people guilty of illiberalism are the ones pursuing student union-style attempts to purge the ranks of civil society of any vestiges of conservative thought. …

Quite.

Next, some have taken issue with the following extract from Scruton’s 2005 lecture “Sexual Morality for Heathens”:

Whole new crimes have come into existence, like this supposed crime of “date rape.” What that means is — of course there is no such crime — but nevertheless, when a woman cries “date rape,” what she means is “the whole thing went too quickly,” you know, “I was not prepared,” and so consent is withdrawn, as it were, in retrospect.

Before introducing this argument, however, Scruton spent nearly 30 minutes framing the incoherency of “consent” as a moral stand-alone: Part of which is the severity of the crime of rape. In other words, the premise that “sex is merely a pleasurable sensation” contradicts the intuitive belief that rape is among the worst violations possible. Throughout his lecture, Scruton argued that interpersonal relationships are an essential facet of sexual morality, which is why “date rape” as a separate category misses the point. He was not negating consent but adding to it. As he said in the same talk: “The victim of rape has not just been abused and taken advantage of, but her being has somehow been destroyed. She’s been desecrated.”

Scruton also faces the charge of “homophobia,” apparently because of a 2007 article for the Telegraph in which he wrote of homosexuality: “it is not normal.” (For his views on this topic in more than four words, see his book Sexual Desire.) And accusations of “Islamophobia” for describing “Islamophobia” as a “propaganda-word.” (For more on this, see his book The West and the Rest. Or read my interview with him from earlier this year.)

As Scruton himself has pointed out, reputational destruction is now a bully tactic to drive conservatives from public life. But unlike those punished for historic dumb-joke tweets (such as Toby Young, who was fired from the Office for Students), Scruton is being attacked for a serious contribution to modern philosophy. It’s the very same contribution that earned him the title of knight, fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature and which — when explored even slightly — exposes the idiocy of his detractors.

That such a witch hunt has taken off in the first place is really only explainable by sheer ignorance or prejudice, neither of which bodes well for public discourse. Nor for interesting thought.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that Scruton’s talk to the Hungarian academy was in 2014. He gave this talk in 2016.

Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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