I was listening, last night, to the latest Uncommon Knowledge interview, with Sir Roger Scruton of Great Britain. He specializes in political philosophy, which is what we do here at the Spherical Model.
|Sir Roger Scruton|
photo from Uncommon Knowledge
Host Peter Robinson describes his way of thinking like this:
I take it that you decided that you intended to work in the tradition of Aristotle, philosophy as it bears on ordinary political life. Is that correct?
And Sir Roger Scruton answers,
Well, yes. I've always thought that philosophy has ordinary life as its subject matter. That's what it's about. But it's also a reflection on ordinary life and its meaning.
Philosophy in those terms, instead of, “I wonder if I can prove whether this tree really exists,” seems more likely to be fruitful.
He particularly got my attention when he was talking about former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:
Sir Roger Scruton: She came into our lives as a representative of our country at a time when the country looked particularly enfeebled by the trade unions, by the whole labor party attempt to rope society into a communal prison run by the state. All that was wonderful. We felt, we don't actually have to go along with all that crap. We can do our own thing. And we can revert to our natural condition as rebellious, eccentric Englishmen. But she felt that she had to embellish it with a complete doctrine, which she borrowed from the Institute of Economic Affairs, and about the need for market solutions to every social problem. Now, I'm all in favor of market solutions where they apply, but not every social problem does have a market solution. There is a need for the maintenance of traditions in education and in culture and in the law, which are not traditions of free enterprise.
They continue this conversation:
Peter Robinson: Again, [Scruton’s book] How to Be a Conservative. "Pressed for arguments," I'm quoting you, "Mrs. Thatcher leaned too readily on market economics, and ignored the deeper roots of conservatism in the theory and practice of civil society ... " You've just said this, but I want to tee it up again. " ... family, civil association, the Christian religion and the common law were all integrated into her ideal of freedom of the law. The pity was that she had no philosophy with which to articulate that idea." She felt it. She knew it. But she had not thought it through in a way that permitted her to articulate it. Here's Mrs. Thatcher.
Now, if I may go a step backward, and I am doing something very dangerous, because my knowledge of this history is tenuous. Yours will be deep. Winston Churchill had the capacity to articulate this deeper conservatism. Throughout the war he's talking about love of native land. He uses the phrase ... He actually uses the phrase, which would today have the man thrown in jail. He uses the phrase, "Christian civilization." Yet, in the 1945 election, in the face of the socialists, because he lacked a vocabulary to talk about free markets, he was naked before Attlee and this socialist impulse.
So what I'm getting at is, it almost seems to me as though there's a kind of ideological teeter totter. Conservatives in Britain either get to talk about free markets, or they get to talk Churchill, McMillan, Eden to the extent that he talked about anything. Heath later on. Or they get to try to talk about cultural conservatism. Somehow, the two don't seem to go together. Is there some reason for that, or is it mere happenstance?
Sir Roger Scruton: That's a very insightful observation. I think since Edmund Burke, we've had this tension between the adoption of the free market as the instrument of economic organization, the primary way in which a society should create and exchange goods, and the sense that some things should be withheld from the market, and that those things are just as important but much more difficult to defend.
Of course, Burke was talking about those things which should be withheld from the market: love, family and so on. All societies have recognized from the beginning of history that a market in sexual relations is the end of all social coherence. It's always very hard to say why. That's just one example. All the things that matter to us, as soon as we recognize how much must they matter, we want to withdraw them from the whole business of exchange and proliferation and, as it were, have them to ourselves. It's that aspect of humanity which is so difficult to articulate. But as you rightly say, Churchill did articulate it. And does it so much easier when it's under threat.
Hmm. So, we have free-market conservatism, and we have social conservatism. And we should mention that this is within the frame of thought that the people are choosing how they will be governed—which is what we call classical liberalism, but since the term liberal has been hijacked to mean its opposite, we mean freedom of limited government, as guaranteed in the US Constitution.
So there’s a political sphere, an economic sphere, and a social sphere. To be conservative, then, is to reach for political freedom, economic prosperity, and social civilization. The opposites, whatever words they use today—liberal, socialist, progressive—reach for political control over people, or tyranny: economic control over people, or poverty; and social decadence, or savagery.
The Spherical Model is a way of saying that these three spheres of conservatism interrelate. To be an economic conservative only is to be incomplete. To be a social conservative only is to be incomplete. To expect freedom without a free economy and a self-governing people is an impossibility.
Later in the conversation, they were talking about cultural issues, particularly concerning sex, marriage, and family:
Sir Roger Scruton: We all of us fall away from the standards that are required in this area. That is undoubtedly the case, because this is the biggest area of temptation. But it is also the biggest area in which examples are needed, and in which a culture of resistance is needed. That culture of resistance was absolutely vital to the protection of the working class family, and especially of children who need a father at home and have lost that protection.
It is undeniable that it's liberal propaganda which has made it almost impossible to say those things. It's not possible to say the things that are needed in this area, unless you're Charles Murray and don't care what's said about you anyway.
Peter Robinson: Or Sir Roger Scruton.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: That makes two of you.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yeah. Exactly. The point is, it's an area in which the truth has been made unsayable by the liberal censorship.
When pressed, he said that liberal censorship is a main reason Donald Trump was elected:
Sir Roger Scruton: People have been living under a regime of liberal censorship, which makes it very hard to say things without being accused of faults like racism, xenophobia. You yourself mentioned this, which nobody wants to be accused of, but which are very easy to— These are accusations, which are very easy to make, because there's no criteria on the basis of which to make them, other than the feelings involved.
We do, as individuals, have non-mainstream-media outlets. Like this blog. I can say here what Charles Murray and Sir Roger Scruton say, but I am only safe from the accusations while I am obscure. Even so, the accusations sometimes come. I will nevertheless keep speaking truth as clearly as I can, because I love truth.
I just want to add one more of his comments—this one about immigration issues, particularly illegal immigration. He has a way of making the issue clear:
Sir Roger Scruton: You have a house, which you share with your wife and children, assuming you have them. You do recognize the right to keep out of that house people whom you've not invited in. Don't you?
Peter Robinson: I do.
Sir Roger Scruton: Having invited people in who start smashing things up, you recognize a right to exclude them?
Peter Robinson: I do.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yeah. Just multiply that by a few hundred thousand, and you'll recognize that people taken as a whole have that right. That is another part of democracy, that we live in a place. We have the right to exclude from that place those whom we think are not going to fit into it or to whom we don't want to extend a welcome. If we didn't have that right, we wouldn't feel secure in occupying the place that we claim as ours.
Political philosophy has the means to explore the ideas, and find the truths—aside from the push and pull of political waves. While we still have to function in a political world, at least we can have the depth of understanding that explains what it is we conservatives want to conserve.