Scrutonizing American Conservatism

Later this week I’m away to Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, for a conference Friday afternoon with—and about the works of—philosopher Roger Scruton. If you’re in the Memphis area and would like to come, it is free and open to the public. Here are the full details. My paper, which I’m struggling mightily to finish today, is entitled “What American Conservatives Should Learn from Roger Scruton.” Beyond the obvious opening joke that American conservatism deserves close “Scrutony” (insert rim shot here), I have no idea how to handle the theme I picked.

The program for the conference says boldly that “Roger Scruton is the leading conservative philosopher in the world,” and I think I have to agree, though I think one of my fellow conferees is going to put in a plug for Pierre Manent of France. I’ve featured Roger before on Power Line here and here. He is hard to keep up with, though. He’s written over 40 books, including novels and meditations on the really important subjects like wine. He can dive deep with Hegel, Kant, Wittgenstein, and the others, but can also write with great wit and irony.

Gentle Regrets copyIf you haven’t read Scruton before, I recommend his more personal memoir, Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life. It includes brisk but serious analysis of politics and philosophy, but also charming excursions into music, fox hunting, and romance.

A few samples:

Wittgenstein, for me, has the sound of a frozen mountaineer, poised on the apex of an argument and remaining there, aloof, uncomforted and alone.

I grew to immaturity in the sixties, when disorder was the order of the day. Like most of my generation, I was a rebel, but a meta-rebel. . .

T.S. Eliot saved me from Spengler. Four Quartets told me that our culture contains the seeds of its own renewal, that it is a source of meaning and value and that, even at the eleventh hour, it can be received and passed on.

The substitution of reason for prejudice as indeed occurred. . . Hence the extraordinary situation in America, where law suits 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 harassment.’ This is an example of what happens when prejudice is wiped away in the name of reason, without regard for the real social function that prejudice alone can fulfill.

I ceased to be an intellectual Conservative, and became a conservative intellectual instead. This was an even worse idea.

I know the feeling. Meanwhile, there are a ton of YouTube videos of Roger in action, some complete long lectures. But I rather like this seven-minute clip from Australian TV where Roger explains why the Left hate: