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