Roger Scruton is the author of some three dozen books, including "Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left" and "The Disappeared". (Photos: www.roger-scruton.com)
The writer and philosopher Roger Scruton (www.roger-scruton.com)
is perhaps most famous for being the scourge of the Left. Foregoing a
conventional academic career, he has forged his own way and put his rare
talents to work as a freelancer. Writing more than fifty books, he has
produced a remarkable corpus of philosophical and political writings
devoted to sundry aesthetic topics and conservative causes.
has written some especially thought-provoking meditations on music and
modern culture. This comes as no surprise when you learn he is a
philosopher who also composes musical works, writes poetry, and
publishes novels. Just recently, he has produced two extraordinarily
accomplished works of literary fiction that defy easy categorization: Notes From Underground (Beaufort Books, 2014; paperback edition 2015) and The Disappeared (Bloomsbury, 2015).
Bloomsbury has just reissued an updated and expanded version of Scruton’s classic book, Thinkers of the New Left (1985), under the new title Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left (2015).
Already available in the U.K., it is due to be out Stateside in
December. From the standpoint of a serious conservatism, it honestly
assesses the political and philosophical contributions of the Left. The
book also addresses what is likely our most pressing question: “Can
there be any foundation for resistance to the leftist agenda without
CWR: Your new book is a fresh update on politics that begins with an amusing title: Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands. What has stayed the same about the Left since you first published Thinkers of the New Left in 1985? What has changed?
apart from a general cultural decline. The obsession with equality
remains, the anti-capitalist rhetoric is accompanied by a slight
increase in ignorance as to what the term ‘capitalism’ means or where it
came from, and there has been a shift of emphasis in the search for new
victims with whom to identify. Otherwise the same negativity, and the
same joyful adoption of nonsense whenever it seems to justify the
CWR: What important new materials do you add to this new edition of Thinkers of the New Left?
add a consideration of Hobsbawm and Adorno, touch on Rorty and Said,
and explore the Parisian nonsense machine, with Deleuze, Guattari, Lacan
and Badiou. I end with Žižek.
CWR: Why is it important to
pay attention to these leftist thinkers? Shouldn’t we just ignore such
nonsense? Why do it any favors by drawing attention to it?
is important to offer students an account of why these thinkers are
talking nonsense, and why that nonsense serves to attract attention away
from real, hopeful, and constructive ways of thinking. It does not
matter if only one student is saved the future of truth is secured
CWR: Do you think Pope Francis is a leftist? Or, if not, do you see ways in which leftist thought adversely shapes him?
Francis clearly has the desire to be accepted by the secular culture,
and regarded as legitimate by those who disagree with him. He has
adopted a lot of the leftist agenda, possibly without thinking too
clearly about it. And of course he has made the fatal identification
between poverty and inequality, failing to realize that the only way to
secure equality is by making everyone equally poor. On the other hand,
much that he says seems to be orthodox theology, founded in Christian
CWR: Do you have any favorite observations by Pope Francis? What do you think about his remarks on modern architecture in Laudato Si?
“If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and
drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where
a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let
us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the
purpose and meaning of everything,” he writes (Laudato Si 113).
is absolutely right about the dehumanization of our environment by
concrete, glass, and steel, and about the marginalization of the sense
of beauty. He is endorsing things that I have devoted many waking hours
CWR: You are a famous critic of modern pop
music. How were you able to construct such a sympathetic and insightful
portrait of one of the main characters in your novel, The Disappeared, who is both an ardent fan and performer of heavy metal music?
wanted to enter the soul of someone whose sense of his masculinity had
been damaged, and who compensated through this kind of dramatization of
the primordial male. I also think that metal is the creation of people
with real musicality, who have developed the muscle of music as though
by weight lifting, and lost that beautiful, inner, female thing, which
is the sung melody.
CWR: One of Pope Francis’ great
concerns is human trafficking. What do you think of his efforts to
combat the problem? Pope Francis has helped launch the #EndSlavery
social media movement and the Web site EndSlavery.va devoted to raising
awareness and mobilizing concerted action.
I am not aware of his efforts to combat the problem, but whatever they
are I endorse them, to the extent that they are effective.
CWR: Not only does The Disappeared
portray how human trafficking affects our world, it also has profound
insights into contemporary relations between men and women that are also
very topical. It’s the sort of book every serious university student
should read, in order to learn about love and marriage. What obstacles
are there to such readers ever finding your book?
it is an e-book, and available in print form only from Amazon. But when
the world wakes up to the need for it which I hope will be soon
Amazon will be flooded with demands for it.
CWR: Notes From Underground
is another novel that you published recently. It too is astonishing in
its range of unusual human sympathies and its careful artistic
achievement. Has anyone every told you that perhaps you should be
writing novels instead of all your political and philosophical works?
Would you be surprised if posterity remembers you most for your fiction
Scruton: I would be surprised
to be remembered in that way, but I have to say I like the two books you
mention, put more of myself into them than into most of my
philosophical writings, and know that they express what is dearest to
me, which is sympathy for the inner life and the desire for spiritual
order in a disordered world.
CWR: Do you think novels have
a future in human culture? Or is technology disrupting young minds too
much for such art forms ever to touch souls in the future as they have
in the past?
Scruton: This is a matter
of some concern to me, of course. I don’t think novels will have the
same significance in the future as they have now, and the visual
fixation of our culture will certainly destroy much of the impact of the
written word, which to me has always been a holy thing. But still,
there is hope, since after all you read my stuff and send me such
encouraging messages about it.
CWR: What is the future of
liberal arts education? How can conservatives realistically hope to
conserve anything via education anymore when adverse forces control so
much of it?
Scruton: I think it is
necessary to build up networks of cultural exchange outside university
and college. It was inevitable, when higher education expanded, that
quality would decline, and of course there has been a politicization of
the teachers, which is the inevitable result when second-rate people
compete for scarce positions, and look for a way of excluding their
rivals (as ‘right wing’ or ‘conservative’).
CWR: Do you have plans for any more artworks in the near future? Can we expect new operas or novels from you?
Scruton: I have a few stories I might work up, and also the libretto for an opera Going Home set in a railway station.
CWR: What books would you encourage smart young people, 14 years or older, to read as soon as possible?
Scruton: Heart of Darkness, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Four Quartets.
How can young people be best introduced to good music at an early age?
What is the optimal way to inoculate them against the adverse effects of
bad music on their souls?
think it is very important to learn to sing in choirs, and if possible
to learn an instrument, even if only the recorder or the guitar. To read
music, to play for yourself, to sing melodically all these establish
the link between music and the inner life which will serve to inoculate
the young person against the worst kind of musical influenza.
CWR: What does Roger Scruton most desire to see in his lifetime?
Scruton: Peace in the Middle East and the restoration of the Christian communities there.
CWR: Perhaps the next book of yours to be reissued with updated materials should be A Land Held Hostage: Lebanon and the West (1987).
That said, I do hope that especially your novels, which are so
beautiful, will find their way into the hands of more and more readers.