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Con­ver­sa­tions with Roger Scru­ton

Roger Scru­ton and Mark Doo­ley ( Blooms­bury, £17.99)

I was ini­tially sur­prised by this book. why should we need in­ter­views with a man whose life is al­ready well known from his own works? Roger scru­ton, as he tells Mark Doo­ley, wanted to be a writer be­fore even be­com­ing a philoso­pher and he dips into pop­u­lar jour­nal­ism be­tween tomes on Po­lit­i­cal Thought and spinoza. How­ever, as I read on, I saw the point of it. It’s not only that Prof scru­ton’s writ­ings are so multifarious that even his great­est ad­mirer may have missed some of them, but here is a man whose life is a state­ment of his own be­liefs, al­most, per­haps, a work of art.

This life is pur­sued, for the most part, in wilt­shire, amid horses, chick­ens and chil­dren—although he might not put them in that or­der. Read­ers of Coun­try Life are most likely to be fa­mil­iar with his el­e­gant On Hunt­ing, which de­scribes the sense of be­long­ing that the sport gave to some­one who had not pre­vi­ously found an en­tirely com­fort­able place in the world. His re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther, a pri­mary-school teacher who felt that his tal­ents were over­looked, had been dif­fi­cult.

The aca­demic world in which he ought to have felt at home vis­cer­ally hated a thinker whose con­ser­vatism seemed a sin against the Holy Ghost. For­tu­nately, he was suf­fi­ciently thick-skinned to with­stand most of the name-call­ing—although he re­signed his po­si­tion at Birk­beck Col­lege, Lon­don, fol­low­ing the brouhaha caused by head­mas­ter Ray Honey­ford’s ar­ti­cle crit­i­cis­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism that ap­peared in Prof scru­ton’s Salisbury Re­view.

America beck­oned, but was ul­ti­mately re­jected. Just as Ruskin could not have lived in a land with­out cas­tles, Prof scru­ton could not adapt him­self to an ex­is­tence with­out fox­hunt­ing as prac­tised in eng­land.

Ar­chi­tec­ture, beauty, wag­ner, sex­ual de­sire: all have been sub­jects for Prof scru­ton’s pen. wine (he wrote about it in I Drink There­fore I am) be­comes a metaphor to ex­plain Kant. Ob­scure though some of his aca­demic work may be, he is the re­verse of the philoso­pher who lives in an ivory tower. His engagement with the world as it ex­isted be­fore the fall of the Iron Cur­tain led him to smug­gle lit­er­a­ture to be­lea­guered in­tel­lec­tu­als in Cze­choslo­vakia and Poland, as well as sup­port­ing three refugee chil­dren from Ro­ma­nia through school and in­tro­duc­ing them to english life through the Pony Club.

De­spite a mi­nor lapse—the au­thor says at one point that a bo­hemian fam­ily he knew when young lived in a house over­look­ing the home of ‘the age­ing scott Mon­crieff, trans­la­tor of Proust’ (C. K. scott Mon­crieff died in 1930, aged 40)—I closed this book feel­ing that these were con­ver­sa­tions that had been well worth hav­ing. Clive Aslet

Philoso­pher, writer and pro­fes­sor: Roger Scru­ton

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