Roger Scruton is the grand old man of English conservatism. Over four decades he has produced book after book, writing on politics, philosophy, music and architecture among other subjects. He has taken on the left (in Thinkers of the New Left), and libertines (in Sexual Desire), and philistines (in On Beauty and others). He smuggled books to Czech, Polish and Hungarian dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. He was knighted in 2016. Taking payments from tobacco companies in exchange for anti-prohibition represented a blip in an honourable career but overall the worst thing you can say about his life is that it is a shame his status as an English conservative intellectual has been such a lonely one.
When, last year, Scruton was appointed an unpaid adviser to the Housing Ministry there was a minor scandal. Buzzfeed and its energetic buzzybodies dredged up all manner of quotes to suggest that Scruton was beyond the pale. He said that there was a “Soros Empire” in Hungary! Well, yes, but he used “empire” in the sense that one might say “Koch Empire” not “Galactic Empire” and had even appealed to Viktor Orban not to close the Soros-funded Central European University. He said “Islamophobia” does not exist! He said it was a bad descriptor, not that there is no such thing as anti-Muslim hate. He said that homosexual relations are “not normal”. He said that only monogamous, heterosexual, marital relations were normal. That might offend many people with many different lifestyles but it is not “homophobic” any more than it is “cohabitophobic”.
For once, the Conservatives did not succumb to liberal and left-wing pressure. Scruton kept his place. Their fragile backbone collapsed less than six months later when Scruton did an interview with the left-wing New Statesman. Accepting the interview was a mistake, but understandable. Scruton had been the magazine’s wine columnist for years and imagined that he was in friendly if not comradely hands. Sadly, the New Statesman has become little more than Buzzfeed with book reviews.
The publication of the interview was announced to the world by the interviewer, New Statesman Deputy Editor George Eaton, who wrote that Scruton had made “outrageous remarks” about Hungarian Jews”, “the Chinese” and “Islamophobia”. Outrageous? I read on with interest.
The first sign that the interview is going to be mendacious comes when Eaton refers to Scruton calling his farmland “Scrutopia” as being “unintentionally comical”. Intellectual charity demands not only the presumption that our opponents can be honest and intelligent but that they can have a sense of humour. It is intentionally comical.
Eaton soon moves on to the “outrageous” stuff. He casually lies that Scruton had said “Hungarian Jews”, rather than some Hungarian Jews, are part of a “Soros empire” and asks Scruton if he still holds this opinion. He does. Eaton says that his words are “heedless of the anti-Semitic portrayal of the philanthropist George Soros as a Jewish puppet-master” but while Jew-haters have certainly exaggerated Soros’ power, influence and malice it is nonetheless true that Soros is a powerful patron in liberal causes in Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary. Perhaps one should avoid the term “empire” if one is being cautious but it is a correct use of the term in a colloquial sense. (Interestingly, one left-wing magazine has published a profile of Soros with the far more overheated claim that he is “the uncrowned king of Eastern Europe” with a “financial stranglehold over political parties, business, educational institutions and the arts”. That magazine? Why, the New Statesman.)
Eaton moves on to the next charge on his rap sheet. Scruton thinks that “Islamophobia” is a “propaganda word” “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood”. I think Scruton is misinformed on the origins of the term. The claim that it was invented by the Muslim Brotherhood dates back to an unsubstantiated claim by the American author Claire Berlinski, and even Robert Spencer rejects it. Still, Scruton’s rejection of the term as being an attempt to pathologise concerns about Islamic theology is defensible. He does not deny that anti-Muslim hatred exists, and he does not hate Muslims or Islam himself, as Jibran Khan writes for National Review.
The next of Eaton’s claims is the most duplicitous. “Remarkably,” he writes:
…he commented of the rise of China: “They’re creating robots out of their own people… each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.”
This is the comment that Eaton claimed referred to “the Chinese”, as if it was a comment on the essence of their being. As any idiot can tell, however, even with Eaton’s convenient ellipses, Scruton is not talking about the Chinese character but the ambitions of the Chinese government, which has implemented extensive schemes for social control. It is not correct, of course, that their plans have been so successful that each Chinese person is “a kind of replica” but somewhat exaggerating the power of a quasi-totalitarian government is not a mortal sin.
The one real mistake that it appears Scruton made, unless he was misquoted by the shameless Eaton, was referring to the 2015 influx of Middle Eastern and African migrants into Europe as an “invasion”. There were hostile men among the migrants but to believe the migrants constituted an invading force is to believe they were hostile as a whole and deserve violence. I do not think Scruton believes this but in that case he should not have used the word.
Still, we are not invited to debate Scruton’s ideas and language here. We are being ordered to expel him from our ranks. The Conservatives caved in. James Brokenshire, the Minister for Housing, sacked Scruton within hours of the interview appearing. As a chorus of liberals and left-wingers denounced the great man, Tories rushed to join in. Tom Tugendhat MP announced, “Antisemitism sits alongside racism, anti-Islam, homophobia, and sexism as a cretinous belief that has no place in our public life and particularly not in government.” That is quite a list, Tom. Why did you not throw in transphobia while you were at it? Johnny Mercer MP echoed Tugendhat’s words. “No brainer,” he wrote of Scruton’s expulsion, “Let’s not take our time on this.” Eaton posted a photo of himself swigging champagne on Instagram to celebrate getting a “racist and homophobe” sacked.
It is pointless to complain about Eaton’s behaviour. Why waste one’s breath complaining that a fox eats chickens? It is unpardonable, however, that Conservatives were so keen to do his bidding. Tugendhat has meekly said that he was “misled” but “can only act on the basis of information given.” Why did he have to “act”? Why could he not have reserved comment until he had analysed the interview? Is he so stupid that he trusts the New Statesman automatically or such a coward that he will throw a man under a bus rather than risk being associated with them? Mercer has at least stood by his words, saying he objected to Scruton’s reference to “invading Muslim tribes”. Well, so did I. But what does it say about Mr Mercer that he will abandon Scruton, who has fought for the causes that MP represents for longer than he has been alive, over a single comment, in the face of left-wingers who consider Scruton unpardonably offensive despite being or associating with communists, friends of North Korea, IRA apologists and other such unlovely ideologues. What kind of masochistic puritanism is this?
Unlike Scruton, I do not believe in Brexit. I think it has been an enormous waste of political capital that will not bring a golden era of independence but a grim parade of embarrassing deals with obnoxious regimes. Like him, however, I have less than no hope for the Conservative Party. If it will not fight for a man who has been defending its ostensible ideals for four decades, in the face all manner of libels, then it will not fight for me and it will not fight for you.