Roger Scruton makes conservatism intelligent again
The English love to hate their intellectuals. W. H. Auden captured it in clever doggerel: “To the man-in-the-street, who, I’m sorry to say, Is a keen observer of life, The word ‘Intellectual’ suggests right away, A man who’s untrue to his wife.” If we gloried in our cerebral caste, as do the French, Sir Roger Scruton would be a celebrity, with British television networks washing his feet with champagne.
I first stumbled on a Lilliputian book by this Brobdingnagian philosopher when I was Artistic Director at Liverpool Cathedral. I was nonplussed by the Cathedral’s devotion to tasteless tat masquerading as empyrean art. To my relief, the deplorables working in the Cathedral detested the parading of this sanctified kitsch. They mocked the neon sign lit in prostitute purple just above the West door calling it a billboard for a brothel.
The sign was the creation of Tracey Emin, England’s shock-jock artist, who sold her unmade bed at Christie’s for £2.54 million. Its message was steamily suggestive: “I felt you and knew that you loved me.” Cathedral Dean Justin Welby, now Archbishop of Canterbury, was in awe of Emin and refused to consign the purple anamorphosis to the trashcan of history.
A student at Liverpool Hope University, where I taught halftime, saved me from the hokum Welby & Co were using to defend the gargoylish monstrosities. She gave me Scruton’s book on Beauty. Like Samson with the jawbone of an ass, Scruton’s arguments felled Welby’s Philistine aesthetics to the ground.Scruton has recently responded to Philistines who accuse conservatism of intellectual vacuity.
In his book Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition, Scruton argues that conservatism’s best-kept secret lies in a vigorous intellectual genealogy that conserves the best of the past but adapts itself to the challenges of each new age.