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Roger Scruton on Being Conservative; Glen Newey on Being Republican
February 5, 2003 9:08 PM   Subscribe

Tweedledum and Tweedledee: Two great essays from very opposite sides of the barricades, but embodying the same healthy bloody-mindedness: reverent Roger Scruton, English, conservative and monarchist ,on the Right, and irreverent Glen Newey, Scottish, socialist and republican, on the Left. The differences are plain to see. But it's the similarities, I think, that point to the enduring strength of the British political spirit.
posted by MiguelCardoso (9 comments total)

you can only pronounce scrutons name in proper rp,
which i certainly delight in doing on occasion in the privacy of my own home.
you could do it ned flanders wise as well:
darn tootin roger scruton!
"enduring strength" ?
enduring inequalities more like.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:54 PM on February 5, 2003

Excellent reading. Many thanks, Miguel.

Some choice bits.

Burke brought home to me that our most necessary beliefs may be both unjustified and unjustifiable from our own perspective, and that the attempt to justify them will lead merely to their loss. Replacing them with the abstract rational systems of the philosophers, we may think ourselves more rational and better equipped for life in the modern world. But in fact we are less well equipped, and our new beliefs are far less justified, for the very reason that they are justified by ourselves.

Scruton is certainly on to something here, though I fear he may overstate his case. If nothing else he deserves credit for having the gall to praise prejudice. But in his defense of traditional behavior he is at least against the right thing, which is a radicalism that seeks to destroy completely in order to rebuild superior. While this has a marvelous lyrical association with the Phoenix, which certainly does wonders for its rhetorical strength, radicals have always forgotten that humanity is not made up of mythical birds but quite fragile individuals, for whom self-immolation is better metaphor than public policy. In this sense he's correct to say that the attempt to live entirely anti-historically, wholly outside of tradition, is destructive, not to mention a tad delusional.

That said, it's unclear how open Scruton really is to the calm, methodical critique of traditional forms that could improve without destroying. There's a passing reference to it in the opening, "Do we improve society bit by bit, or do we rub it out and start again?", but his love-affair with inherent human prejudices seems to reject the possibilities that some prejudices arise from outside of "nature", or beyond that that, though our prejudices often arise for a very good reason, even natural prejudices can be deleterious and Darwin does not postulate instinctual perfection for the human animal.

But, all said, he adds an interesting voice to the difficult question of just how much of tradition one should accept, and how critical one should be in doing so.
posted by apostasy at 11:10 PM on February 5, 2003

Burke brought home to me that our most necessary beliefs may be both unjustified and unjustifiable from our own perspective, and that the attempt to justify them will lead merely to their loss.

Folkways. Keep the best, discard the rest, but for shitsake, don't admit that doing so is another frolic in nostalgia-scented moral relativism.

But in fact we are less well equipped, and our new beliefs are far less justified, for the very reason that they are justified by ourselves.

But somehow, the selective enshrining of a carefully trimmed subset of traditional values isn't "justified by ourselves"?

posted by Opus Dark at 2:01 AM on February 6, 2003


He persuaded me that societies are not and cannot be organized according to a plan or a goal, that there is no direction to history, and no such thing as moral or spiritual progress.

It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the “discourses” of power.
He then goes on to complain about the lefts discourses of power.
Ok Roger, its either theres no moral or spiritual progress or society is just an expression of the power of others.
Its a real great choice there.
The only definition of conservatism that he can come up with is that is somehow vaguely like returning to some 'former land' or a safe parental home , then accuses the left of behaving like satan in 'paradise lost'.
conservatism is all about making money, always has been , always will be and you can sing jerusalem all you want and wave that flag in my face but you know as well as i do that (and you've had 200 years to come up with a credible alternative definition) is the truth it's just a shame it attached itself to some noble parts of society in an attempt to justify its existence and oddly enough, once it succeeded in this , these things began to be destroyed.
Conservatism is the greatest destroyer of tradition yet known to man.
Its profit motive Fatally undermines anything it attaches itself to.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:59 AM on February 6, 2003

and you can take that to the bank.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:01 AM on February 6, 2003

What a depressing read the Scruton piece makes. He is, or was, one of the great intellectual forces in the country and he can write .. but this disorganised ramble lost me half way through. Reminds me of this astonishing drivel from the once great William Rees-Mogg " naval officers, Irish revolutionaries, country clergymen ..". What is happening to our Conservatives? Perhaps there's something in the water.
posted by grahamwell at 11:03 AM on February 6, 2003

by a strange coincidence both of my children married descendants of Chancellors of the Exchequer and of Edwardian novelists who were friends of Henry James.

By a strange coincidence, you are a conservative and a complete fuckin arse.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:07 AM on February 6, 2003

Commentators sometimes portray this monarcho-syndicalism as a coalition against capitalism, a pseudo-Tawneyite rerun of the Middle Ages. But the lines of allegiance can run either way, since capital's apologists like to pretend that companies such as Enron and WorldCom - sleights of the invisible hand - come to us by popular demand. In any case, it is a myth that royalty and capitalism don't mix. The first anniversary of Diana's death saw an effluent-stream of memorabilia, coffee-table books and the like, including commemoration plates which tootled out a rendition of 'Candle in the Wind' at the press of a button, assorted effigies and, reportedly, a commemorative seat-belt issued by an enterprising German auto-parts firm. The Golden Jubilee was marked by the issue of a limited-edition dildo embossed with the royal crest, presumably designed to concentrate the minds of Albion's daughters (and sons) as they gaze at the ceiling and wax nostalgic over Empire.

Priceless. Thanks, Miguel.

and you can take that to the bank.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:01 AM PST on February 6

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:20 AM on February 6, 2003

Hence the extraordinary situation in America, where lawsuits have replaced common courtesy, where post-coital accusations of “date-rape” take the place of pre-coital modesty, and where advances made by the unattractive are routinely penalized as “sexual harrassment.”

It's funny: in praising Burke (a reactionary in the mode of King Canute, if we take the modern misreading of the Canute story, rather than the more modest original), Scruton shows he really doesn't understand the realities of Burke's own time - wasn't Clarissa a story of date-rape? So he proves one point: the sad end of Burkean conservatism lies in the cultivation of ignorance under the guise of nostalgia, aka 'the defence of prejudice'.
posted by riviera at 2:13 PM on February 6, 2003

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