Thought for the Day: Scruton on Foucault

Roger Scruton’s charming and invaluable memoir, Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life, includes a chapter explaining how he first started turning in a conservative direction (he wasn’t raised one—his father was a devoted semi-socialist Labourite), when he witnessed first-hand the student revolt in Paris in May 1968. He was repelled by the spectacle, and concluded that ‘whatever these people are for, I’m against.’

But what were the student protestors for? He recounts arguing with a radical acquaintance on the scene over the question:

What, I asked, do you propose to put in place of this “bourgeoisie” whom you so despise, and to whom your owe your freedom and prosperity that enable you to play on your toy barricades? . . .

She replied with a book: Foucault’s Les mots et les choses [The Order of Things], the bible of the soixante-huitards [“sixty-eighters,” as the May protestors are still known], the text that seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat. 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. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argue—by the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies—that “truth” requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the epistime, imposed by the class that profits from its propagation. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula. [Emphasis added.]

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