Rise of the Young Scrutonians

It is over three years now since Sir Roger Scruton, Britain’s last conservative philosopher, died. He left a legacy of thought and ideas captured in crystalline prose, eloquent speeches and daring deeds to spread his certain idea of conservatism across the civilised world. His output in books alone was hugely varied but which more than matched the breadth of subject matter with depth of learning and wisdom. Sitting here typing this I only need to look to my left at my bookcase to see half the shelf devoted to political philosophy taken up with works by Scruton, ranging from his philosophy on human nature, to conservatism, to anatomising leftist thinkers, to metaphysics and faith, to the environment and home. 

That last subject is the underlying theme that binds the diversity of Scruton’s thought into a coherent whole: the search for home in a world living with the legacy of the Enlightenment and the modern condition. The old ways that cultivated a sense of belonging and purpose have been uprooted and disembedded, but in which we still seek a sense of meaning and a feeling of rootedness. There is an increasing pall of alienation and detachment that hangs over much of Britain’s younger population. One would therefore think Scruton’s ceaseless quest to cultivate a philosophy of homecoming in a world where our culture seems to actively work to leave us homeless would find a strong resonance. 

But it is notable that there hasn’t been a flowering of interest in Scruton’s conservative vision among the younger members of the British Right. While his influence on an older generation is undeniable, the young seem to have left his work on the shelf. They perhaps share short videos here and there online, retweeting quotes from the Roger Scruton Quotes account. But it seems that they’ve largely relinquished the legacy of ideas and philosophy that Scruton left behind. This has puzzled me somewhat, as Scruton always seemed keen to engage with younger people, looking to pass on the insights gained in long years of reflection on what makes life worth living in the context of our interdependent nature, and our responsibilities to the dead and those yet to be born. 

One reason I could give for this neglect of such a rich seam of ideas is that today’s younger Right in Britain is split between two camps. One comprises those who are happy to accommodate themselves to the Conservative Party machine, with its lamentable lack of intellectual power and hostility to anything that smells like deep, careful thought about the fundamentals of what Scruton in The Meaning of Conservatism called “political dogmatics.” Perhaps this isn’t so surprising. If the party is no longer quite that described by Peter Hitchens, a vehicle for giving jobs and influence to the sons of gentry and minor lords, then it is still a mechanism for securing one’s place in the managerial political order, where one’s “expertise” is focused on “transferrable skills” and the ability to cycle in and out of the administrative layer of the political, corporate and Third Sector worlds. 

While being too deep and complex for one type of young conservative, Scruton also lacks the radicalism that would appeal to the second camp: young British Right-wingers who have adopted a more revolutionary approach to politics. Among a small but growing segment of them, there is a fervour – born of material precarity and frustration, combined with moral disillusionment at an alienating culture – which sees radical measures as the only way to save or restore a Britain which seems destined to slide over the cliff. 

This reactionary radicalism is most common online, but the line between online and offline worlds among the young is almost entirely permeable, so it matters. Whether it concerns calls to return to a traditional – or, as they call it, “trad” –  way of life, advocating for an absolute monarchy, dreaming of a space-faring Anglo-futurism, or a British version of the German Conservative Revolution, this space views politics and ideas through a conflictual, agonistic lens, uncharacteristic of Scruton’s prudential political philosophy. 

So much for the British Right. The National Conservative movement, led by Yoram Hazony, may take root and channel some of this youthful radicalism into a more prudent and reflective politics, into which Scruton’s thought could readily be applied. However, Scrutonian conservatism appears to have sunk its deepest roots into the lifeworld of the European Right, appealing across national and cultural lines, as well as up and down the generations. In some ways this makes sense. While there is undoubtedly a revolutionary strain to European Right-wing thought, there is also a greater communitarian strain that is largely absent from the Anglosphere right, colonised as it is by the “classical liberalism is conservatism” meme. 

As John Lloyd wrote recently for the online magazine Unherd, those at the summit of political power and influence in countries like Italy and Sweden explicitly cite Scruton’s philosophy as inspiration for their vision of life and how it relates to the role of government. In A Political Philosophy, Scruton articulated a form of conservatism antithetical to an Anglo-Saxon Right-liberalism, instantiated in the Thatcherite worldview, which sees liberation from bonds of restraint and the maximisation of economic autonomy as the highest good of politics, while simultaneously making incoherent gestures at socially conservative values. 

For Scruton, conservatism concerns “the conservation of our shared resources – social, material, economic and spiritual – and resistance to social entropy in all its forms”. As he wrote in Green Philosophy, his book on conservative conservationism, the goal of a conservatism oriented towards the common good is as much concerned with the protection and flourishing of the social and moral ecology as the natural ecology. The two are entwined, reflecting our nature as embodied souls who need to make a home in the world, fallen as it is and as broken as we are. 

Those European leaders who take inspiration from Scruton are notable for their relative youth. Giorgia Meloni, leader of The Brothers of Italy party, and now Italy’s prime minister, specifically references and praises Scruton in her autobiography, I am Giorgia. As Lloyd writes, Meloni admitted that “I’m quoting him too often, but it’s his own fault for writing so many interesting things.” In her speech to the National Conservatism conference in Rome in 2020, Meloni referenced Scruton again, with great affection. As Lloyd goes on to write, “from Scruton’s 2014 book, How to be a Conservative, the Italian prime minister highlights Scruton’s debt to Edmund Burke: society is a contract between the living, the dead and the unborn; a “civil association among neighbours” is superior to state intervention; ‘the most important thing a human being can do is to settle down, make a home and pass it on to one’s children’.” 

The leadership of the Sweden Democrats, Matthias Karlsson and Jimmie Akesson also look to Scruton for guidance. Lloyd quotes Akesson proclaiming that “Scruton has been my inspiration! I met him several times. He was a great influence on me when I was writing the party programme. We see very clearly the value of civil society, as he does. This has a very strong existence in my party. You see young people going around in Sir Roger Scruton T-shirts.” In his hostility to the encroachment of the EU on Swedish sovereignty, Akesson quotes from Scruton’s essay, “Newspeak and Eurospeak”. He laments the loss of the ballast that Britain provided against further integration while it was still a member of the EU, and bases much of his intellectual opposition to the project in Scruton’s thought. 

Both Italian and Swedish Scrutonians ground their opposition to the European project in Scruton’s ideas of oikophobia and oikophilia. The Greek word oikos referred to three interrelated concepts: the family, the family’s property, and the house. In other words, the sense of community, place, and home that binds a community together through space and time. Oikophobes repudiate “national loyalties and define… [their] goals and ideals against the nation, promoting transnational institutions over national governments… defining [their] political vision in terms of cosmopolitan values that have been purified of all reference to the particular attachments of a real historical community.” Oikophilia is the opposite disposition, one that expresses one’s love for the home that gave life, and which acts as an icon through which one gains knowledge of the universal via enculturation and habituation into a particular tradition and place. 

Unsurprisingly, Scruton’s philosophy of home has also found followers in Hungary, where the conservative movement benefits from political hegemony. The Matthias Corvinus Collegium roots its conservative teaching in Scrutonian thought, and there is a Roger Scruton café in Budapest. Meanwhile, European interest in Scruton’s form of aesthetic and political conservatism was demonstrated with books recently published by the philosopher Ferenc Horcher (Art and Politics in Roger Scruton’s Conservative Philosophy) as well as the Conservatives and Reformists group in the EU parliament (Tradition and Change: Scruton’s Philosophy & Its Meaning for Contemporary Europe). A discussion of both books was held in the European parliament by The European Conservative magazine. 

All of which shows that, despite Roger Scruton’s emphasis on his own English home as the driving force of his philosophical search for a sense of homecoming, his philosophy and aesthetics seem to have taken root with much greater effect in European cultural soil. Let us hope that his own country realises the richness of his thought and writing, and undertakes a similar intellectual journey of rediscovery in a time when conservatism needs a sense of depth and purpose more than ever. 

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  1. This is very encouraging. I’m wondering if RS has ANY profile in the university experience of any of the Young Scrutonians? And I hope us Old Scrutonians will still be made welcome by the new editor…

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