I thought I knew everything about Sir Roger Scruton. I had already written two books on his life and philosophy and was just about to embark on the last volume in my Scruton trilogy. This was to be a book of conversations that encompassed all facets of his biography and intellectual interests.
Over three days at his farm in Wiltshire, we discussed everything from religion, architecture, wine and music, to sex, farming, family and fame. Scruton spoke to me not as a fellow philosopher or journalist but as a long-time friend. As such, our conversations revealed Scruton at his most intimate and humorous.
It was, however, on the last night of my visit, while cooking dinner to Rossini, that he casually said something for which I was totally unprepared. We were discussing his underground activities in Eastern Europe on behalf of persecuted dissidents, something for which he was arrested and promptly expelled from Communist Czechoslovakia in 1986. That, while remarkable enough for an academic philosopher, was something already well publicised.
What I had not known, and what Scruton proceeded to tell me as though it were something routine, was that his work on behalf of the Romanian resistance resulted in him acquiring ‘a kind of family’. In his quiet and unassuming way, he had rescued a family of Romanian refugees, opened his home to them, and ‘saw them through their education’.
To brand such a man a bigot or a racist is simply shameful. Yet, in recent weeks, this is precisely what he has been accused of by people who believe they have a monopoly on moral courage. Has any one of Scruton’s detractors opened their homes to those fleeing or fighting tyranny? I doubt it, and yet it was because of such genuine valour that Vaclav Havel awarded Scruton the Medal of Merit – the Czech Republic’s highest civilian honour.
To those that accuse Scruton of bigotry, I say go and speak to his adopted Romanian family. To those that accuse him of Islamophobia, I say go and read his book ‘The West and the Rest’, where he writes that Islamic education ‘is vastly superior, from the moral and cultural point of view, to the education now available to a great many young people in Western cities. It teaches piety, consideration, and respect for age; it offers a clear rite of passage into the adult world; it presents the student at every point with certainties rather than doubts, and consolation rather than anxiety’.
Unlike those who rush to judgment on the basis of a tweet, Scruton thinks his way through an argument. He never offers gratuitous platitudes in place of rigorous ideas. What’s more, he is a writer of uncommon sensitivity and elegance, one for whom the world offers intimations of infinity.
Anyone who reads Scruton understands this, which is why, I suggest, those who celebrated his sacking from the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission have never seriously read him. It is true that he gives no comfort to ideological leftists, but should that be treated as a crime? Not in any democratic society it shouldn’t, but, more than anything else, it is this which is the true source of his enemies’ hostility.
I am often asked why, as an Irishman, I have devoted so many years to writing about someone so quintessentially English. The answer is simple: for me, Roger Scruton is a latter-day Edmund Burke, a person who shows us why we ought to love this place we call ‘home’. We must be conservationists of the soul, people who can distinguish between the human world and the scientific order. Our homes, our land and our culture are endowed with meaning, and only when we see them in this light will we protect them against environmental and political degradation.
It is this vision of love which animates the life and work of Sir Roger Scruton – a vision which is shared by few intellectuals and by even fewer politicians. They accuse him of hate when all the while it is they who loathe those very things to which he has committed his life – home, beauty and the sacred – and which render human existence meaningful and consoling.
In sum, Scruton affirms what his detractors detest, but which we all need to survive and flourish.
Attempting to silence such a man is not a moral victory. It is, if anything, the triumph of ignorance over intellect.
Mark Dooley’s books Roger Scruton: The Philosopher on Dover Beach, The Roger Scruton Reader and Conversations with Roger Scruton are all published by Bloomsbury