Mervyn F. Bendle is one of Australia’s foremost conservative intellectuals. He frequently contributes to Quadrant magazine and Quadrant Online, Australia’s foremost organ for the display of conservative thought. Quadrant‘s importance is highlighted by the constant attempts of Australia’s dominant leftist class to shut it down. It is a magazine that belongs in the library of every philosophical conservative. The article below is a survey of the philosophy of the world’s foremost conservative intellectual Roger Scruton. There could hardly be a more readable survey and introduction to Scruton’s thought than this article. Lovers of the writings of Edmund Burke will recognise Burke’s deep influence on Scruton.
The Philosophy Of Roger Scruton
Quadrant May 2014
Mervyn F. Bendle
As the conservative philosopher put it, his “unacceptable” views prompted character assassination, three lawsuits, two interrogations, one expulsion, the loss of a university career, contemptuous reviews, Tory suspicion, and the hatred of decent liberals everywhere. And, he swears, it was all worth it
Reality itself had been affronted. Repulsed, it had recoiled and collapsed into countless pieces, never to be reconstituted. Such is the striking image of the May 1968 French student rebellion recalled by Roger Scruton in his autobiography, Gentle Regrets (2005; all quotations are from this source unless otherwise stated). The twenty-four-year-old Scruton had completed a BA in philosophy at Cambridge and was determined to be a writer, taking Jean-Paul Sartre as his role model because the French existentialist’s prose moved effortlessly “from the abstract to the concrete and from the general to the particular [and] wound philosophy and poetry together in a seamless web, which was also a web of seeming”, as Scruton later recalled on his web page. From Sartre he learned that intellectual life need not be confined to the academy but can flourish around the creative arts like literature, art and music, “through which the world strives to become conscious of itself”. But he rebelled against the Frenchman’s conviction that such a life demanded a radical political commitment, and Sartre’s mindless embrace of Maoism in 1968 alienated him completely.
In the decades since, Scruton has established himself as Britain’s leading conservative public intellectual and as an influential philosopher in a large number of fields, publishing some forty books, innumerable articles, several novels and many other works. Nevertheless, on that May Day forty-six years ago, anarchic leftism held sway and appeared momentarily to threaten President Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic.
Transfixed, Scruton watched as a violent battle between students and police unfolded beneath his attic window until abruptly “the plate-glass windows of the shops appeared to step back, shudder for a second, and then give up the ghost, as the reflections suddenly left them and they slid in jagged fragments to the ground”. In this moment, at the centre of an archetypal 1960s event, it appears that Scruton enjoyed an epiphany, a sudden intuitive insight into the advent of the nihilistic postmodern era, characterised by the collapse of representation, and the fragmentation, violence, heresy and unbelief that Scruton later claimed in A Political Philosophy: Arguments for Conservatism (2006), provided the context for the conservative philosophical response of which he has proven to be the most articulate British proponent.