Magazine article The Spectator

'How to Be a Conservative', by Roger Scruton - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'How to Be a Conservative', by Roger Scruton - Review

Article excerpt

How to Be a Conservative Roger Scruton

Bloomsbury, pp.194, £20, ISBN: 9781472903761

Roger Scruton is that rarest of things: a first-rate philosopher who actually has a philosophy. Unfortunately at times for him, that philosophy is a conservative one. But his personal loss has been our great collective gain. As his new book again demonstrates, over the years his has been one of the few intellectually authoritative voices in modern British conservatism.

In 1980, at the outset of the Thatcher decade, Scruton wrote The Meaning of Conservatism , a book which reportedly blighted his academic career: it remains an embarrassment to the British Academy that he was not made a Fellow until 2008.

Academia may be softening at last, as his various professorships at Oxford and St Andrews testify. Yet living by his wits has not served him so badly. Over four decades he has poured out more than 30 works, including monographs on aesthetics, architecture, music and sexual desire, textbooks, studies of great thinkers such as Kant and Spinoza, reflections on Islam, England and nationalism, as well as journalism, reviews, an autobiography, two novels, two operas and a defence of hunting.

As well as contributing to a given field, each of these works forms part of a far larger, richer and more developed philosophical position. Yet each is also a deeply felt profession of personal belief, expressed in clear, often intense and sometimes arresting prose.

The effect is both third- and first-personal: we enter a landscape in the company of a sure-footed guide, yet that guide is also the farmer and landscape designer. It is carefully worked, and worked out. But one may doubt if the ground need always lie as described, and whether it might have different contours in different hands.

How to be a Conservative starts and ends with the personal, with a brief account of Scruton's own (by no means purely Thatcherite) awakening to conservatism, and a passionate, romantic appeal on behalf of western society as a realm of continuing moral and aesthetic value.

In between are chapters on a host of other -isms, from nationalism to socialism, capitalism and liberalism to multiculturalism and environmentalism, each of which skewers many current pieties, while simultaneously extracting what Scruton takes to be the source of their appeal. If this sounds dry, it isn't. There are occasional missteps and the odd mini-rant, but the book is highly engaging, and studded with insights into topics as diverse as international treaties, alienation and the nature of laughter. …

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