Tag Archives: politics

“How to Be a Conservative”, by Roger Scruton – book Review

“How to Be a Conservative”, by Roger Scruton, is as the title suggests a defense of Conservatism.

Growing up in a working class household with a father who was deeply committed to Socialism, Scruton nonetheless discovered in his father a conservatism (of the non-political variety), for Scruton’s father was a lover of the English countryside and was possessed of a strong desire to preserve ancient buildings and the traditions of his locality.

While Scruton is a Conservative of the political kind, anyone reading “How to Be a Conservative” with a view to obtaining a detailed programme/manifesto will find instead a thoughtful defense of the philosophy of Conservatism in its broadest sense, rather than a list of proposals regarding how Conservative governments should operate. In passing Scruton does advocate choice in education via such methods as providing parents with vouchers in order to enhance choice in schooling. He also writes in support of welfare reform. However, as already stated “How to Be a Conservative” is not a manifesto.

So what is Scruton’s view of Conservatism?
Scruton argues that Socialism is a top down philosophy whereas Conservatism flows from the natural instincts of the people. People form into the “little platoons” defended by the Conservative philosopher Edmund Burke. Such “platoons” include the family, sports clubs and local charities through which people find meaning in common cause with others. For Scruton we are individuals and he criticises Socialists for what he perceives as their disregard for this self-evident fact. However the author is also critical of what he refers to as “homo economicus” (the tendency to view human activity in purely economic terms). So while Scruton defends private property and the market economy, he does so only insofar as they do (in his view) promote human flourishing. For example a good portion of the book is devoted to defending “high culture” which should not, in Scruton’s view be left to the visicitudes of the market. There is, for Scruton such a thing as “objectively” noble/good in the field of culture and there are things which constitute trash.

While Scruton defends aspects of the late Lady Thatcher’s legacy, he is critical of the obsession of many Thatcherites with economics pointing out that, in the end it is through social attachments (“the little platoons” that we flourish, not through economics.

During the existence of the former Eastern (Communist) Block, Scruton visited Czechoslavakia and met with disidents. He was arrested and expelled. His experiences behind “the Iron Curtain” help to explain Scruton’s Conservatism. In Czechoslovakia Burke’s “little platoons” had been abolished or absorbed into the state, there being no independent boy scouts or other independent institutions promoting human flourishing. Given the author’s experiences and the suffering he observed amongst disidents, one can understand why he adopts the position he does of defending those “little platoons”.

While Scruton shares the Classical Liberals view that the individual and private property should be protected from the encroachments of the state, he deplores “human rights” arguments seeing in them a potentially slippery slope leading to the lessening of human freedom. For example he mentions the decision of the courts to allow travellers to occupy a village green on the grounds that they (the traveling community) had a “right” to live somewhere. The courts did not take into account the concrete rights of the local property owners to enjoy the facilities of the village free from unwelcome intrusions. So, for Scruton there is a right to private property and to government welfare (although the latter is less than that supported by those on the left of the political spectrum).

The defense of existing institutions is, of course a cause dear to the Conservative’s heart. For Scruton (as for all true Conservatives) institutions reflect the collective history of the country and this fact leads the person of a conservative disposition to value them on account of this. For instance many people no longer attend church on a regular basis, yet the Christian ethos still plays an important role in the country and many people who would not regard themselves as religious are, nonetheless imbued with its ethos. We see the spires of churches and are glad they are there for they represent a part of who we are as a country. While things change the Conservative should attempt to shore up what is left and protect our culture from cultural relativism.

There is much in “How to Be a Conservative” with which Conservatives of all hues will agree. The defense of “the little platoons” and the scepticism regarding human nature are common to all true Conservatives. However Scruton’s support for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union is an issue which has split the Conservative Party, while others within the Conservative fold are (unlike Scruton) less inclined to advocate “family values”. While Scruton does not use the term “family values” he is strongly supportive of the traditional (hetrosexual) family, while other Conservatives hold that the state has no business in telling consenting adults how they should conduct their sex lives.

Finally people who are not political Conservatives will, I think still nonetheless find aspects of Scruton’s arguments persuasive, for instance his love of the English countryside and his advocacy of the need to protect and preserve historic buildings. For anyone wishing to understand traditional Conservatism I recommend this book.

“How to Be a Conservative”,, by Roger Scruton, https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/How-to-Be-a-Conservative-Audiobook/B00NGVR6NO

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Churchill

A fascinating podcast in which the historian Andrew Roberts discusses his new biography of Winston Churchill, (https://audioboom.com/posts/7039259-churchill-andrew-roberts-in-conversation-with-robert-tombs).

While the conversation between Robert Tombs and Roberts is both interesting and witty, I found the questions posed by members of the audience, following on from the discussion rather more illuminating.

While Roberts is by no means uncritical of Churchill he is (as indeed am I) an admirer of the man who played a pivotal role in saving Europe from Nazi tyranny, and we should all be eternally grateful to Churchill for doing so.

There Was A Young Man Called Moat

There was a young man called Moat
Who knowing not which way to vote
Asked his girlfriend Lou
Whether to vote red or blue
While riding on a goat!

There was a young man called Moat
Who knowing not which way to vote
Went out on the town
His sorrows to drown
Then voted for a goat!

There was a young man called Moat
Who knowing not which way to vote
Went out on the town
His sorrows to drown
And quite forgot to vote!

The Myth of “Free Will”

According to the author of this article, (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/14/yuval-noah-harari-the-new-threat-to-liberal-democracy) “free will” is a “myth”. While we can choose who to vote for, our choices are, for the most part products of our biology and societal influences (E.G. family upbringing). The author contends that governments and corporations will, in the future be able to “hack” us and know us better than we know ourselves for, in his view we are “hackable animals”.

The author is right that we are not free in some respects. For example there is considerable evidence that one’s sexual preferences are biologically determined (I.E. gay people have a natural/biological attraction for the same sex, while straight people have a natural/biological attraction to people of the opposite sex). For this reason it is, in my view cruel to try to change a gay person, by religious or other means into a straight individual. It doesn’t work and one is forcing them to adopt a way of life which goes against their natural inclinations.

I do, however fundamentally disagree with the author’s assertion that “free will” is a “myth”. Take, for example the young man attracted to a pretty girl. It can be argued that he lacks “free will” in the sense that he can not help being attracted to the beautiful woman. However where that same man to pester that young woman for sex or, god forbid sexually assault her, can we really say that he lacked “free will” and his actions where predetermined? We can not, for the overwhelming majority of men attracted to beautiful women do not make inappropriate advances or force themselves on the object of their desire. Where there no such thing as “free will” the number of sexual assaults would increase massively. It is moral precepts and the existence of “free will” that makes us human.

The author is correct that corporations and individuals can (and do) try to (and sometimes succeed) in influencing our behaviour. For example a person who frequently searches for news stories with a particular political bias may well find himself confronted by only those kinds of articles. However the educated person does (in my experience) go out of their way to find stories which challenge their preconceptions and its through education that we can help to combat the danger of “echo chambers” in which people only find themselves exposed to views that reinforce their existing view of the world.

With the growth of artificial intelligence, we do need to think seriously about the hacking of humans (the author is undoubtedly right here). However his view of “free will” (the lack thereof) is, in my opinion wrong and dangerous.

(My thanks to my friend Brian for drawing the above article to my attention).

Does Disraeli Awake?

I would like to think that the author of this article is correct in his view that the Conservative Party is seeing a revival of One-Nation Conservatism/Toryism within it’s ranks, https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/08/why-have-the-tories-abandoned-their-promise-to-fight-burning-injustices/?

A Man Resigns

Dr Philip Lee, the Justice Minister in Britain’s Conservative government, resigned yesterday over the government’s handling of the Brexit issue. Dr Lee said:

“Dr Lee added: ‘Sometimes when a majority of people want something that is against the good of society, government and parliament have a responsibility to protect us.

‘This was the case for the death penalty, where for decades politicians went against the majority view and refused to restore it.
‘Now I believe it has got to be the case for the Brexit process”.’ (See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5834013/Blow-justice-minister-QUITS-Brexit.html).

It is a brave man who stands up and says that the people are not always right, that government’s should not blindly follow “the will of the people” (my words and not those of Dr Lee) and that politicians should, sometimes protect people from the consequences of their ill judged decisions. I believe that Dr Lee is right and I applaud him for having the courage to resign on a matter of principle.

The issue of whether the UK should leave the European Union is too complicated to be put to the UK electorate, yet this is what was done. The debate surrounding the referendum saw a great deal of what where (quite frankly) lies, for example the claim by leading supporters of the Leave campaign that exiting the EU would mean far more investment in the NHS, and in the sound and fury of this ”tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” the truth and common sense was lost.

Dr Lee has been criticised for his decision to resign on the grounds that 53 percent of his constituents voted to leave the EU. Yet if a person does, in all conscience believe that his constituents are wrong, is he not correct to go with his own inner conscience rather than with “the will of the majority”? I believe that he is, for the man of conscience can not live with himself if he allow the views of the majority to trump what he, in his heart knows to be right.

“I laud the mass
For to do otherwise is considered crass.
One can not have the brass
Neck to deny
The truth that justice in the majority does lie.

Who am I
To raise
My voice in praise
Of the view
That the few
Sometimes best construe
What is just and true?”
(“My Old Clock I Wind And Other Poems” by K Morris).

Conservatism

Conservatism is a scepticism regarding what some call “progress”
Coupled with a desire to redress
Genuine grievances, lest the great wall crumble and fall
Crushing all.

Conservatism is men who
Wish the clock
Would stop
At half-past 2
But know that this man can not do.
While the reactionary believes that one can rewind the clock
And it’s hands lock
At some frozen place
In time and space.

Conservatism is scepticism about equality
For the Conservative does see
That each tree
Is different. but the forest has a heart
And we are all part
Of an organic whole
With each man being possessed of his own unique soul.

Some say
That the Conservative way
Is an obsession with the bottom line
And that selfishness does Conservatism define.
Others maintain
That economics is an obsession of the Classical Liberal’s brain
And that the liberal interloper
Should slope away.

Conservatism is walks in country parks
As the larks
Twitter high above.
It is a love
Of old friends
Who are not means to an end.
It is a desire to enjoy
And not to destroy.
The ship must be kept on an even keel
Lest we into anarchy reel.
Yet some say
That today
Many Conservatives do not behave that way …