If the Conservatives fire Roger Scruton from his new position as “housing czar” it will be as vivid a symbol of surrender as running a white sheet up a flagpole. Scruton is Britain’s most prominent and respected conservative intellectual. No one comes close. That singular fame is a grim reflection on the state of conservatism in the home of Burke, Eliot and Oakeshott but that is an argument for another day. The fact remains that the left has isolated a grand old lion from his scattered pride and if his brothers and sisters allow him to be hunted they have far too little spirit to deserve survival.
First, the charges against Scruton must be seen in the light of his achievements. No one alive today has given more epistemological and rhetorical ballast to the ideas of conservatism. His books The Meaning of Conservatism, Thinkers of the New Left and How to be a Conservative have sustained the intellectual tradition as the left has overtaken the British cultural and educational spheres and the Conservative Party has become little more than a force for economic liberalisation. His work on aesthetics, such as in The Aesthetics of Architecture and On Beauty, make him uniquely qualified for his new role. His career has not been without embarrassments – such as his dubious dealings with the tobacco industry – but they have been more than overshadowed by his achievements.
Since the 1980s, Scruton has not been an especially controversial figure. He has argued politely with left-wing intellectuals, and generally avoided the “no platforming” tactics of the social justice crowd. When he was knighted in 2016 there was no uproar. It is only now that journalists have scented blood that hacks and pundits have been combing through his articles and books for evidence of deviant traditionalism.
What are the charges that have been levelled against Scruton? Luciana Berger MP claims that he “peddles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.” What is that about? The claim began on the centre left “Red Roar” blog, which draws attention to a passage in a speech that Scruton gave in Hungary. “The Jewish minority that survived the Nazi occupation [of that country],” he said:
…suffered further persecution under the communists, but nevertheless is active in making its presence known. Many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish, and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire. People in these networks include many who are rightly suspicious of nationalism, regard nationalism as the major cause of the tragedy of Central Europe in the 20th century, and do not distinguish nationalism from the kind of national loyalty that I have defended in this talk. Moreover, as the world knows, indigenous anti-Semitism still plays a part in Hungarian society and politics, and presents an obstacle to the emergence of a shared national loyalty among ethnic Hungarians and Jews.
One could argue with some points that Scruton made. The reference to a Soros “Empire” is a little inflammatory. It might not be obvious enough that he is not suggesting that Hungarian Jews are monolithic. His sympathy for Viktor Orban could be challenged. Yet even if one has disagreements with Scruton’s rhetoric and opinions in this speech it is plainly false to suggest that he is “peddling antisemitic conspiracy theories.” He does not suggest that Jews are scheming or malicious. He has sympathy with their fear of nationalism, and draws critical attention to “indigenous anti-Semitism” in their homeland. Moreover, he defended Soros in interviews against attacks on his then Hungary based Central European University. What kind of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist does that?
The second charge against Scruton, detailed in a lengthy Buzzfeed article, is that he thinks “Islamophobia” is a “propaganda-word”. So? He does not deny that “Muslims in our society are often victims of prejudice, abuse and assault” and calls this “a distressing situation” but he thinks the term “Islamophobia” has pathologised a range of opinions including justified aversion to hostile and theocratic elements of Islamic teachings. I agree. Perhaps the government does not but is it so beholden to progressive trends that it believes that this opinion renders one deserving of exclusion from mainstream politics? It is a sad day if so.
The third charge against Scruton is that he believes that homosexuality is an abnormal condition. In an article for the Telegraph he wrote that “same-sex couples” are “alternatives to something,” which is “the joining of man and woman, in an act which leads in the natural course of things not just to mutual commitment but to the bearing of children, the raising of a family and the self-sacrificing habits on which, when all is said and done, the future of society depends.” This is what he considers “normal”, which, of course, also excludes short-term or polyamorous heterosexual relationships. One can disagree with him, of course, but if an outlook that was the norm until what was in historical terms about five minutes ago and still defines the traditional standards of Christianity, Islam and Judaism makes one persona non grata in politics, even when one’s position has nothing to do with sexual matters, conservativism is dead and the Conservative Party might as well rebrand itself the Liberal Party.
It is of course understandable that left-wingers hate Scruton. He has been their enemy for decades, ever since the publication, in 1980, of The Meaning of Conservatism. It is natural that they want him discredited and his ideas underground. What would not be understandable is the Conservatives acquiescing to their demands. They would, in effect, be spitting on their legacy and lying prostrate before their enemies’ advance. They would prove themselves nakedly vulnerable to humiliation and entirely deserving of being humiliated.