Sir Roger Scruton who died on Sunday 12th January 2020 was the greatest conservative philosopher of his generation. He was by any estimation a polymath, from writing many books about philosophy to expert articles on wine and the law to deep thought about religion and art, and even sex and opera. He was a seeker of truth and beauty so that his philosophical speciality was aesthetics, and a courageous intellectual giant.
Roger was born in the county of Lincolnshire in England but grew up in High Wycombe, a town about 50 kilometres to the north-west of London and went to the local grammar school. From there he obtained a scholarship to Jesus College of Cambridge University and studied philosophy gaining the top degree of a ‘double first’. His PhD was awarded in 1973 for a thesis entitled ‘Art and imagination, a study in the philosophy of the mind’. He studied law from 1974 to 1976 and was called to the bar but never practised, although he kept a lifelong belief in the practicality and benefits of English Common Law.
Roger was a lecturer at the University of London, Birkbeck College, from 1971 to 1992. He finally left after most of his bigoted left-wing colleagues could not accept him as a conservative, indeed he said he was the only conservative in the Common Room.
His academic career continued in the USA from 1992 to 1995 at Boston University and returned to England in 1996 to get married and he continued writing extensively. After a controversy over his views on tobacco he considered returning to live permanently in the USA and held academic posts there from 2005 to 2009. He had homes in both England and Virginia but finally decided on England as the family home and to sell his American property.
Since 2010 he has held professorships at Oxford, Buckingham and St Andrews.
His conservatism was realised at the time of the student riots in Paris in May 1968 where he saw what he called ‘an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans’ who when asked what they wanted replied with ‘ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook’.
He dedication to truth led him to support dissidents in Czechoslovakia through the underground education network started by Julius Tomin. He visited Prague and Brno and gave lectures, smuggled books, and helped create links to western Universities. He saw totalitarianism at first hand and its evil methods. He was detained in 1985 on one visit and expelled, and then placed on the Index of Undesirable Persons. He looked on this latter as more a badge of honour than a punishment.
He wrote a novel Notes from Underground set in Prague showing a deep understanding from his experiences of that time . It would be good if this could be translated in Slovene.
He also visited Poland and Hungary and has noted that he was followed whenever there by the authorities.
He was considered a great friend of all three countries and honoured by all three governments after the return to democracy. (Czech Republic Medal of Merit First Class, Republic of Poland Grand Cross Order of Merit, Hungary Star of the Order of Merit)
Roger Scruton was a true patriot and believed that the firm basis for society is family and nation, and we should be loyal to and grateful for our heritage. His brand of conservatism was close to the views of Edmund Burke. His books How to be a Conservative, The Meaning of Conservatism, Conservative Thinkers, Conservative Thoughts, and Conservatism: An invitation to the Great Tradition are not political manifestos but they laid out the intellectual basis of why conservatism is the best philosophy for a truly free and truly human society. He was often attacked by the left through misinformation or quotes out of context but his courage and resilience enabled him to withstand them. He was a scourge of the left because his deep understanding of philosophy and humanity was always superior to their shallow and discredited ideas. He wrote well on animal rights and put them in the full context of philosophy. He only believed in free markets as far as they supported freedom not as an end in themselves.
He was a religious man in later life of a very personal type, particularly from a sense of the sacred, and wrote interesting books on faith from a philosophical point of view. He was an Anglican but was very wary of so-called modernisation as he had a love of tradition, indeed in his conservative philosophy he saw traditions as important stabilisers in society. He was an accomplished pianist who occasionally played the organ in church and was a church bell-ringer.
He was truly a renaissance man, a man for all seasons, who could write two operas which received public performances, who could write expertly about wine for a national magazine for 8 years, who could chair a commission on beauty in architecture, who could write high quality books on Kant and Spinoza, and still give public lectures which hard left students tried and sometimes succeeded to stop.
After a failed first marriage he finally settled down with Sophie Jeffreys and they had two children and lived on a small farm in Wiltshire in the west of England. He was a great lover of the English countryside and the associated traditions, and a believer in national sovereignty. He came to support Brexit because of the centralising and bureaucratic direction of the EU.
He wrote 50 books and many articles which will remain a source of great instruction and inspiration for many many years, and a simple reading of the list shows his huge range of knowledge.
I first met Roger over 20 years ago and wrote a few articles for the conservative magazine that he founded The Salisbury Review. He was the supervisor for my studies for my MA in Philosophy and I could not have been more fortunate. I also attended many private seminars on philosophy that he led and which were an extraordinary experience, and also some public talks.
Always thoughtful and polite with a humble demeanour despite his exceptional erudition. We kept in touch and my last contact was two weeks ago when he asked me to provide a translation of an article in Demokracija about his book that had been translated into Slovene Zablode, prevare, hujskastva: misleci nove levice. He mentioned his battle with cancer and seemed in good spirits so it was a shock for me to hear of his death on 12th January 2020.
He was elected in 2008 as a Fellow to the prestigious British Academy, was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and knighted by the Queen in 2016.
Roger, rest in peace, your work will live forever.