Thursday, 5 November 2015

Roger Scruton on "The Future of European Civilisation: Lessons for America" - and his new book, "Fools, Frauds and Firebrands"

The talk starts at 4'22":

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a Christmas present guaranteed to thoroughly annoy a left-wing friend (or enemy)...

...I strongly recommend Professor Scruton's latest publication, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, a hardcover copy of which is available for a the derisory charge of £11.89 from Amazon, here. I haven't read it yet (I have an 800-page political biography to review first), but I'm looking forward to getting stuck in immediately after lunch on Christmas Day. I've read its predecessor, of which this new book is a revised, updated and (judging by the fact that it's 100 pages longer) considerably expanded version. Thinkers of the New Left, a review of what passed for the thinking of the most influential intellectual proponents of cultural Marxism (many of whose names were being tossed around by excited young would-be revolutionaries when I was at university in the early '70s), was published in 1985, and I shelled out a then-whopping £9.95 for a paperback edition. Its subtitle could have been "Scruton Unbound", because, while never stooping to crude insults, he certainly took no prisoners. As a result, his evisceration of revered figures such as E.P Thompson, Ronald Dworkin, Michel Foucault, R.D. Laing, J.K. Galbraith and Antonio Gramsci was both exhilarating and funny - especially where Scruton tries to make sense of the sort of utterly unconvincing and hopelessly woolly nonsense that "brilliant" lefties tend to excrete.

What I didn't realise until many years after reading the book was how harmful it proved to be for its author. Here's an extract from an excellent recent feature about Scruton by Tim Davis in The Observer (here):
It would be fair to say the book [Thinkers of the New Left] did not receive a warm welcome. In 1985 Margaret Thatcher was at the height of her ideological warfare against the nation’s research departments, particularly in the humanities; the dons of Oxford University had just taken the unprecedented step of refusing the prime minister an honorary degree. Scruton, the most visible example of that suddenly rare breed, a rightwing academic, found himself a lightning rod for all the fear and loathing six years of Tory government had produced; his somewhat esoteric book was greeted with derision and outrage with, as he recalls, “reviewers falling over each other for a chance to spit on the corpse”. The vitriol was such, he suggests, that it marked “the beginning of the end of my academic career” and made him a pariah (I recall seeing Scruton stand up to make a contribution to an open lecture at Cambridge not long after that, and a loud hiss going around the audience before the bogeyman had a chance to speak). His publisher, Longman, apparently under pressure of a boycott from other more profitable writers on its academic list, swiftly remaindered the book, and Scruton was left with several boxes of them in his garden shed.   
I was reminded of the playwright Peter Nichols reminiscing (in 2004) about the 20 June Group of Bollinger Bolshevik luvvies who convened at Harold and Antonia Pinter's agreeable Holland Park mansion in order to be jolly angry about the Tories in the '80s: "It's not easy to remember now how difficult it was at the height of Thatcher's regime to speak out against her." Yes, the knock on the door in the early hours, the beatings, the nights of terror shivering in freezing secret police cells... how brave they were, those daring, darling battlers for social justice!

While these ghastly, posturing ninnies were pretending that Britain was some sort of right-wing police state, Roger Scruton was regularly travelling behind the Iron Curtain (where Thinkers of the New Left and copies of his magazine, the Salisbury Review, were circulating in samizdat), helping dissident intellectuals living in fear of their lives in actual police states. His reward for such genuinely courageous behaviour? Here's another revealing extract from Tim Davis's excellent article:
Did he feel vindicated to some degree by the events of 1989, the end of Soviet communism? 
He laughs. “When the Berlin Wall came down the history society at my college, Birkbeck, declared an open meeting for all members to discuss this great event. They invited as their speakers Eric Hobsbawm and Perry Anderson [the old Etonian editor of the New Left Review]. It was going to be a debate between the old left and the new left. They were aware that I actually knew people who were then being appointed president and prime minister of various countries they were talking about, that I had been directly involved, but of course there was no suggestion that I be allowed to say a word.”
I'm particularly looking forward to reading the sections of the book in which Scruton discusses Hobsbawm. He wasn't very nice about the ghastly old commie in 1985: I can't imagine his opinions have mellowed much since then.

Roll on Christmas.


  1. Although a phrase used (rightly or wrongly) to describe contemporary Australian sportsmen, the following can more accurately be ascribed to today's (and yesterday's) lefties: "graceless in defeat, graceless in victory"

  2. " Indomitable in retreat, invincible in advance, insufferable in victory."
    Churchill on Montgomery [aka Bernard Sir Marshall Fields].

    The Graceless Aussies just posted a score o 556-4 dec. against India. How did your boys do against Pakistan? Are they behaving indomitably?

    1. Yes, well, let's not forget that Australia are playing at home against a side they usually beat and that England were playing away against a team that hasn't lost in the UAE in seven series, and that Pakistan beat Australia 2-0 in a two match series in UAE in 2014/15, and that Australia lost to a distinctly mediocre England team in the UK earlier this year. The Aussies can be great battlers, but I wouldn't say that graciousness in victory or defeat had necessarily been their hallmark in recent years.

      I'll admit that my admiration for Australians was somewhat dented a decade ago when we endured the torture of having a bunch of 20-something Aussies - male and female - renting a house whose garden backs onto ours. I've never witnessed such an unremitting display of selfish, jeering, drunken, sociopathic loutishness in my life - they were simply awful. Mind you, the Australians I have met since then have been charming, former PM Tony Abbott is a bit of a hero of mine, and the contestants on Australian Masterchef are astonishingly nice people. And yet it would be hard to find a better example of a graceless sportsman these days than that truly repellent oik, Nick Kyrgios.

      I couldn't agree with you more, Umbongo, but I'll always remember a BBC colleague of mine - then a rabidly left-wing political correspondent whom I've been very rude about on this blog on several occasions - coming up to me the day after the 1992 election, shaking my hand and saying "Your side won - well done." Gracious in defeat - I doubt it would happen today.

  3. Strewth....the Paddle of Rebuke!