Bokhari: Sir Roger Scruton Is Dead, but His Ideas Live On
“Conservatism,” wrote Sir Roger Scruton, “is not a matter of defending global capitalism at all costs, or securing the privileges of the few against the many… Its underlying motive is not greed or the lust for power but simply attachment to a way of life.”
The great English philosopher, taken by cancer at the age of 75, was certainly no Chamber of Commerce conservative. For him, conservatism was not defined by the clash of competing economic systems, but by far simpler and more important matters; the preservation of truth, beauty, tradition, heritage, place, and identity.
His definition of patriotism, too, involved concepts you’re unlikely to hear at a Koch-funded lecture:
“When we wish to summon the ‘we’ of identity we refer to our country. We refer simply to this spot of earth, which belongs to us because we belong to it, have loved it, lived in it, defended it and established peace and prosperity within its borders.”
Scruton’s ideas, marginalized for many decades, have bubbled back to the top of the mainstream conservative movement. Under the leadership of nationalist and populist firebrands like President Donald Trump, Matteo Salvini of Italy, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Viktor Orban of Hungary (which recently awarded Scruton the Order of Merit), all manner of Scrutonite ideas have returned to the frontline of politics.
Take the concept of Oikophobes and Oikophiles, which Scruton often talked about. Oikophobia — from the Greek word “Oikos”, meaning “home” — refers to an aversion to one’s home; to its people, its traditions, and its culture.
As Scruton described it in a 2006 speech in Brussels, the Oikophobe opposes and ultimately seeks to supplant his own nation with rootless, bureaucratic political entities:
The oikophobe repudiates national loyalties and defines his goals and ideals against the nation, promoting transnational institutions over national governments, accepting and endorsing laws that are imposed from on high by the EU or the UN, and defining his political vision in terms of cosmopolitan values that have been purified of all reference to the particular attachments of a real historical community.
Is there any doubt that the division between Oikophobes and Oikophiles — or, one might say, globalists and nationalists — is now the primary political divide in the west? Has it not sidelined the old, 20th-century battle between capitalism and socialism, which defined the left-right divide in that era? To be sure, the Kochs and the Chamber of Commerce and the D.C. think tanks are still deeply entrenched in the conservative establishment, but the momentum of the movement is no longer behind them.
This is not to say that Scruton was in any way soft on socialism. Far from it: in the 1980s, he played a leading role in the underground academic networks behind the Iron Curtain that helped bring about the collapse of Soviet communism. Socialism and communism, after all, are Oikophobe ideologies — throughout the 20th century they laid waste to national loyalties, to traditional architecture, to Christianity and other religions. Their fanatical adherents sought to supplant the authority of the masses with the authority of politburos whose loyalty lay not with their nation or people, but with a transnational ideology.
What set Scruton apart from mass-produced “conservative intellectuals” of the think-tank circuit, however, was his recognition that western neoliberalism was perfectly capable of producing its own kind of Oikophobia.
Even as eastern and Central European nationalism flowered amid the ruins of communism, western politicians — including so-called “conservatives” — pushed for mass immigration and deeper ties to artificial constructs like the E.U., which Scruton firmly opposed. Domestically, opponents of the agenda were demonized as cranks, conspiracy theorists, or racists. (Scruton himself recently fell prey to this well-oiled witchhunt machine). Overseas, western powers sought to import their rationalist, liberal values into cultures to which they were alien, with predictably disastrous results.
The rise of leaders like Trump, Bolsonaro, and Salvini has undermined that post-Soviet order, but Scruton wasn’t uncritical of populism either. He took issue with its American variant’s opposition to free trade, and thought Trump, “a creation of social media,” lacked intellect.
Despite this, Scruton recognized the conservative instinct behind two central ideas of the Trump movement, opposition to mass immigration and a revival of national identity.
As he wrote in 2018:
National identity is the origin of the trust on which political order depends. Such trust does not exist in Libya or Syria. But it exists in America, and the country has no more precious asset than the mutual loyalty that enables the words “we, the people” to resonate with every American, regardless of whether it is a liberal or a conservative who utters them.
Those first words of the United States Constitution do not refer to all people everywhere. They refer to the people who reside here, in this place and under this rule of law, and who are the guardians and beneficiaries of a shared political inheritance. Grasping that point is the first principle of conservatism.
Our political inheritance is not the property of humanity in general but of our country in particular. Unlike liberalism, with its philosophy of abstract human rights, conservatism is based not in a universal doctrine but in a particular tradition, and this point at least the president has grasped.
Happily, Scruton lived to see the twilight years of globalism, the Oikophobe ideology that despises national identity. In the early 2010s, if you said you were a “nationalist”, or that place, culture, and people matter, you would receive funny looks at best or be denounced as a racist at worst. Some people still think that way. And yet, everywhere you look, nationalists are now openly campaigning and winning elections.
Roger Scruton may be dead, but his ideas, grounded in a deep understanding of how people actually are, not how 20th-century ideologies wished them to be, have a destiny that stretches far into the future.
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Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News.