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Roger Scruton: ‘These Left Thinkers Have Destroyed the Intellectual Life’ 

The philosopher talks to Mick Hume about politics, marriage and Islam.

Mick Hume writes: Ours is an age of intellectual conformism, in which expressing offensive opinions often seems to be deemed the worst offence of all; academia is decreed a ‘safe space’ where ‘uncomfortable’ ideas are banished, and using the wrong word can see you accused of committing a ‘microaggression’. And you are supposed to apologise at the first sign of a wagging finger.

“When I was in Paris in ’68 I became indignant at the total ignorance of the people who tried to tell me that this revolution was something important. I couldn’t argue with them about the thing that really mattered to me, culture. To them that was just ‘bourgeois’. This word bourgeois really got up my nose.”

Roger Scruton apparently didn’t get the memo. During our conversation, the conservative philosopher gently but unapologetically delivered blunt and cutting opinions on subjects ranging from Slavoj Zizek to Jeremy Corbyn, from banning the veil to Islamist terrorism, from homosexuality to fox hunting. Whatever anybody thinks of his views, they should surely endorse his aversion to the ‘radical censorship of anything that disturbs people’ and his insistence that the controversial ‘needs to be discussed’ rather than continually ‘pushed under the carpet’.

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“I decided, yes, of course there is such a thing as the bourgeoisie and you are it, these well-fed, pampered middle-class students whose one concern was to throw stones at working-class people who happened to be in a policeman’s uniform.’”

Now 71, Scruton has been the bête noire of British left intellectuals for more than 30 years, and gives them another beastly mauling in his new book Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. It is a tour de force that, the introduction concedes, is ‘not a word-mincing book’, but rather ‘a provocation’. In just under 300 pages he Scruton-izes a collection of stars, past and present, of the radical Western intelligentsia – the likes of Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson in Britain, JK Galbraith and Ronald Dworkin in the US, Jurgen Habermas, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze in Europe. An expanded and updated version of his controversial 51-wPXgmYqL._SL250_Thinkers of the New Left(1985), the book ends with a new chapter entitled ‘The kraken wakes’ dealing with the ‘mad incantations’ of Alan Badiou and the left’s marginally newer academic celebrity, the Slovenian Zizek.

[Check out Roger Scruton’s bookFools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left” at Amazon.com]

The slightly pained look on his face suggests that I am not the first to ask Scruton why he has devoted a book to taking on a collection of largely declining or deceased intellectuals and a culture that he concedes ‘now survives largely in its academic redoubts’. ‘They may seem like obscure intellectuals to the man in the street but actually they are still dominant on the humanities curriculum’, he explains. ‘If you study English or French, even musicology or whatever, you have to swallow a whole load of Lacan and Deleuze. Take Deleuze’s book, A Thousand Plateaus – the English translation has only been out a few years, but it’s already gone through 11 printings. A huge, totally unreadable tome by somebody who can’t write French.’

“Defending academic freedom against the forces of conformity matters to Scruton because ‘My life began, insofar as it had a beginning, in the university. That’s where I grew up, and I love my subject, philosophy, love the whole idea of the academic and scholarly life, that one has a place apart where people are pursuing the truth and communicating that to people who are eager to learn it.”

‘Yet this is core curriculum throughout the humanities in American and English universities. Why? The one sole reason is it’s on the left. There is nothing that anybody can translate into lucid prose, but for that very reason, it seems like a suit of armour around the age-old prejudices against power and authority, the old unshaped and unshapeable agenda.’

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“‘And this thing has completely destroyed the intellectual life.’ He considers these leftists prime culprits in what might be called the closing of the university mind, though ‘whether they caused the closing of the mind or are the effect of it is another matter’.”

Defending academic freedom against the forces of conformity matters to Scruton because ‘My life began, insofar as it had a beginning, in the university. That’s where I grew up, and I love my subject, philosophy, love the whole idea of the academic and scholarly life, that one has a place apart where people are pursuing the truth and communicating that to people who are eager to learn it.

[Read the full story here, at spiked]

And this thing has completely destroyed the intellectual life.’ He considers these leftists prime culprits in what might be called the closing of the university mind, though ‘whether they caused the closing of the mind or are the effect of it is another matter’.

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“Scruton’s powerful aversion to ‘the French gurus of ’68 and their jargon-ridden prose’ dates from that student revolt in Paris in 1968. It gave birth to a generation of radical thinkers, and, in the process, helped turn at least one young Englishman into a conservative.”

Scruton’s powerful aversion to ‘the French gurus of ’68 and their jargon-ridden prose’ dates from that student revolt in Paris in 1968. It gave birth to a generation of radical thinkers, and, in the process, helped turn at least one young Englishman into a conservative. ‘I was there in Paris and I was indignant at the stupidity of what I observed. I was a normal young person in England, I was brought up in a Labour Party family and as far as I had any views they’d be vaguely on the left.’ His father was a working-class lad from Manchester who became a schoolteacher and moved his family south, where Scruton attended High Wycombe Royal Grammar School, played bass guitar and listened to The Beatles before being expelled shortly after winning a scholarship to Cambridge University. ‘But I’d been very influenced as a teenager by TS Eliot and FR Leavis, who put culture at the centre of the their vision. They understood that culture in a way that now would be described as elitist, as an initiation into something higher than where you were. I thought the culture of our civilisation was something intrinsically valuable – I still think that. And something that is worth making distinctions in order to preserve. So that was moving me in a conservative direction.

‘But when I was in Paris in ’68 I became indignant at the total ignorance of the people who tried to tell me that this revolution was something important. I couldn’t argue with them about the thing that really mattered to me, culture. To them that was just “bourgeois”. This word bourgeois really got up my nose….(read more)

Source: spiked

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