Scruton, Roger 1944–
Scruton, Roger 1944–
Born February 27, 1944, in Buslingthorpe, England; son of John and Beryl C. Scruton; married Danielle Laffitte, 1973 (divorced, 1979); married Sophie Jeffreys, 1996; children: (second marriage) Samuel, Lucy. Education: Jesus College, Cambridge, B.A., 1965, M.A., 1967, Ph.D., 1973.
Home—Brinkworth, Wilts, England. Office—University of London, Birkbeck College, Malet St., London WC1, England.
Philosopher, educator, writer, composer, and journalist. Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, fellow of Peterhouse, 1969-71; University of London, Birkbeck College, London, England, lecturer in philosophy, 1971-79, reader, 1979-85, professor of aesthetics, 1985-92, visiting professor of philosophy, 1995—; Boston University, Boston, MA, professor of philosophy, 1992-95; Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Oxford, England, and Washington, DC, research professor. Visiting professor at Princeton, Stanford, Louvain, Guelph (Ontario), Witwatersrand (S. Africa), Waterloo (Ontario), Oslo, Bordeaux, and Cambridge Universities. Also founder and director of Claridge Press Ltd., 1987-2004; cofounder and director of Central European Consulting Ltd., 1989-2004; and cofounder of and consultant for Horsell's Farm Enterprises, 1999—. Cofounder and trustee of The Jan Hus Educational Foundation, 1980—; cofounder and trustee of the Jagiellonian Trust, 1982-89; founder and trustee of the Anglo-Lebanese Cultural Association, 1987-95; and board member of the Civic Institute in Prague, 1990—.
Academic Medal, University of Helsinki, 1989; European Academy of Arts and Sciences fellow, 1995; First of June Prize from the city of Plzen, Czech Republic, for services to the Czech people in their resistance to communist oppression, 1996; decorated by Czech President Vaclav Havel; Medal for Merit, First Class, Czech Republic, 2000; Royal Society of Literature fellow, 2003; Ingersoll-Weaver Prize for Scholarly Letters, 2004; honorary doctorate degrees from Adelphi University, New York, and Masaryk University, Brno, Moravia, Czech Republic.
Art and Imagination: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind, Methuen (London, England), 1974.
The Aesthetics of Architecture, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1979.
From Descartes to Wittgenstein: A Short History of Modern Philosophy, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1981, revised and enlarged as AShort History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Wittgenstein, Routledge & Kegan Paul (New York, NY), 1984, 2nd revised edition, Routledge (New York, NY), 2002.
The Politics of Culture, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1981.
Fortnight's Anger (novel), Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1981.
A Dictionary of Political Thought, Harper (New York, NY), 1982, revised edition, Macmillan (London, England), 1996.
Kant, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1982.
(With Frank Brennan and John Hyde) Land Rights and Legitimacy: Three Views, Australian Institute for Public Policy (Perth, Australia), 1985.
Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic, Free Press (New York, NY), 1986, published as Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1986, reprinted, Continuum (New York, NY), 2006.
Thinkers of the New Left, Longman (Harlow, Essex, England), 1986.
Spinoza, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1986.
A Land Held Hostage: Lebanon and the West, Claridge (London, England), 1987.
Untimely Tracts, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.
(Editor and author of introduction) Conservative Thinkers: Essays from the Salisbury Review, Claridge Press (London, England), 1988.
(Editor and author of introduction) Conservative Thoughts: Essays from the Salisbury Review, Claridge Press (London, England), 1988.
The Philosopher on Dover Beach, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Francesca (novel), Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1991.
A Dove Descending and Other Stories, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1991.
(Editor, with John Haldane) J.G. McFetridge, Logical Necessity and Other Essays, Aristotelian Society, 1991.
(Editor and author of introduction) Conservative Texts: An Anthology, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.
Xanthippic Dialogues, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1993.
Modern Philosophy: A Survey, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1994, published as Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey, A. Lane (New York, NY), 1995.
The Classical Vernacular: Architectural Principles in An Age of Nihilism, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Animal Rights and Wrongs, Demos, 1996, revised edition, Metro Publishers (London, England), 2000.
The Aesthetics of Music, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1997, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
German Philosophers, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy, A. Lane (New York, NY), 1998.
An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture, St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN), 2000.
Perictione in Colophon: Reflections on the Aesthetic Way of Life, St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN), 2000.
England: An Elegy, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2000, Continuum (New York, NY), 2006.
On Hunting, St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN), 2001.
The West and the Rest, ISI (Wilmington, DE), 2002.
A Short History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Wittgenstein, Routledge (New York, NY), 2002.
Spinoza: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Death-devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.
News from Somewhere: On Settling, Continuum (New York, NY), 2004.
Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life, Continuum (New York, NY), 2005.
Modern Culture, Continuum (New York, NY), 2005.
Philosophy: Principles and Problems, Continuum (New York, NY), 2005.
A Political Philosophy, Continuum (New York, NY), 2006.
Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged, Encounter Books (New York, NY), 2007.
The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Political Thought, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to Morality and Moral Reasoning, edited by John Casey, Methuen, 1971. Contributor to scholarly journals, literary magazines, and newspapers, including the London Times, Guardian, and Los Angeles Times.
Editor, Salisbury Review, 1982-2001; serves or has served on the editorial boards of the British Journal of Aesthetics, Salisbury Review, Arka, and openDemocracy.net. Also author of the Roger Scruton Web log. Columnist for the New Statesman and the American Spectator.
Roger Scruton, one of the leading proponents of conservative thought in the United Kingdom, is "Britain's most famous philosopher," in the words of Deborah Ross, who profiled Scruton in the London Independent. He is not only famous but controversial, being "a lightning rod for criticism and abuse from the left," reported Nicholas Wroe in the Guardian. Ross listed some of the views that make Scruton so controversial: "He is fiercely right-wing. He doesn't believe in human equality. He is pro-hanging. He is pro-House of Lords." Ross continued: "He is anti-gay. He is perplexed by feminism." Jason Cowley, a critic for the New Statesman, has described Scruton as "a fearless slayer of cant." Cowley explained: "As the editor of the virulently right-wing Salisbury Review, he delighted in offending liberal orthodoxies, in launching missiles of disgust against the perceived ills of modernity. Single mothers, homosexuals, socialists and feminists have all found a place in his ministry of contempt." Yet Scruton is unpredictable, according to some observers. "He's a plain-talking philosopher and writer who confounds attempts at categorization," remarked Ray Sawhill in a profile of Scruton for Salon.com. "He's a conservative who is at his best making clear-cut distinctions, yet his thinking and language are nuanced and open. He enters enthusiastically into discussions on such old-fashioned topics as beauty, goodness and religion, yet there's nothing tweedy about his work. He looks on the conditions that markets create as warily as the most jaundiced lefty."
Scruton once told CA that his book The Meaning of Conservatism "is a statement of position, designed to show that the conservative attitude in politics is systematic and reasonable, and that it is rendered feeble and confused by the attempt to dilute it with the doctrines of American liberalism. It also argues for a separation of conservative politics from adherence to a free-market economy." He worked for the election of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister, and during her tenure (1979-90), he became known as her "court philosopher." Yet he was also highly critical of Thatcher's free-market ideas and sought to distance himself from her. "The market economy was a good thing but it wasn't the foundation of social order, and should be heavily qualified by all the traditions that enable people to live with each other rather than just compete," he told Wroe in 2000. "But under Thatcher it was completely the free market." The author went on to say: "I was identified in the intellectual world with this terrible woman—who I never knew, although I do now—and was blamed for everything she did, without me knowing what she would do." As of 2002, The Meaning of Conservatism had gone into three editions. Reviewing the third edition in Times Literary Supplement, Seamus Perry suggested that "what remains most compelling" about the book is the "odd discrepancy between [Scruton's] abrasive tone and the poetic—you might even say plangent—vision which it diffidently strives to enunciate." Noting Scuton's deep conservatism, Perry observed: "The ideological crux of the book is really a tussle over ‘nature.’ Liberalism claims a spurious universality for its ‘natural rights’ and misrepresents the social artefact of individuality as something ‘natural’ when it is really something made. Scruton offers us instead ‘natural justice,’ the kind of mutual regard which emerges spontaneously from normal human dealings."
Scruton lays out many of his positions, in addition to providing a general overview of philosophy, in Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey, published in England as Modern Philosophy: A Survey. This book covers a broad range of philosophers, including Plato, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. It also includes an extensive study guide with essay questions. "With some skill, even brilliance, Scruton lays out the myriad positions adopted since Descartes, while at the same time never neglecting the debts we owe (for better or for worse) the Greeks and the medievals," observed Justin Wintle in New Statesman and Society. New York Times Book Review contributor Julia Annas related: "Mr. Scruton pulls the reader into vigorous debates; his own views are plain enough, but do not organize things until near the end." Wintle, though, found that these views rendered Modern Philosophy "hopelessly partisan," overriding the volume's value as a survey of philosophy. "Scruton wastes no opportunity during his pedagogic excursion to take a swipe at all the things he dislikes; i.e., almost anything that might remotely be characterised as belonging to the left," Wintle wrote. In doing so, the reviewer added, Scruton "reduces 200 years of political events to crude absurdity" and "relegates philosophy to the empyrean of an outmoded high culture." Annas thought Scruton erred by ignoring recent developments—specialization of philosophy and the study of philosophy and philosophers in a historical context. "Under the colorful, wide-ranging and entertaining aspects of this book lies a deeply conservative view of philosophy," she commented. She allowed that "Mr. Scruton's book is an excellent introduction to modern philosophical argument and debate. But anyone who accepts its view of the history of the subject or the limits of its concerns, and then takes his or her interest further, will be in for a surprise."
In An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture, Scruton mourns what he sees as the demise of high culture—great literature, classical music, challenging drama—and the rise of popular culture, as embodied by television, rock music, movies, and sports. He also laments the loss of reverence for tradition and for belief in absolute truths. "Scruton is a cultural pessimist," Cowley reported in New Statesman. "There will, so his argument goes, never be another Mozart or Shakespeare." Cowley thought that "one of the weaknesses in Scruton's pastoral conservatism is that he seems to have no sense of the excitement and urgency of the contemporary condition." Cowley continued in the same article: "As he looks back at what has been lost, he fails to see what stretches before him like a huge turbulent sea of unknowing: namely the future." Scruton also fails to understand the small joys that come from popular culture, Cowley added.
Times Literary Supplement contributor Eric Griffiths likened An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture to a "collaboration between the Hegel of Phenomenology, VI and the script-writers of Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Booklist contributor Ray Olson, however, maintained that Scruton "engagingly critiques" modern culture in this "brilliant and delightful book." Olson also called Scruton "a witty, articulate, artful writer as well as a keen analyst." Cowley, meanwhile, granted that "for all his stylised nostalgia, his call for the resurrection of the holy in art and his unashamed fogeyism, Scruton should be applauded for his courage to be serious and his desire to be different."
Nostalgia also figures in England: An Elegy. This book recalls a nation united not only by law but by common religious beliefs and respect for authority. To Scruton, the erosion of the latter two factors has contributed to the decline of the nation. Adam Thorpe, reviewing the book for the Times Literary Supplement, saw Scruton as overlooking much that was wrong with traditional English institutions, including corruption in the Church of England and exploitation of the poor by the monied classes. Scruton "talks sentimental nonsense about class (snobbery is part of the ‘decorum of belonging,’ for God's sake)," Thorpe commented. On the whole, however, the book "pleasurably lulls more than it infuriates, as befits an elegy," Thorpe observed.
In his 2002 book, The West and the Rest, Scruton offers an analysis of the values held by the West and explores how these values are distinct from those held by other cultures. In his examination of both the political and philosophical differences between the West and other parts of the world, the author pays special attention to Islam. Scruton argues that it is necessary to understand both what is unique and potentially dangerous about Western institutions, ideas, and technology in order to properly comprehend Islamist terrorism. As he explores the different religious and philosophical roots of Western and Islamic societies, he explains the resultant divergent beliefs about the nature of government and political order. The author goes on to write how modern times, typified by mass migrations, modern communications, and the worldwide media, have brought Islamic nations and peoples who once lived remote lives into contact with liberal Western thought and institutions.
Writing about The West and the Rest in the National Review, John Fonted noted that "on the crucial issues of national loyalty, national cohesion, and the absolute necessity of rallying to the defense of the Western democratic nation-state, Scruton is clear-headed and dead right." Report Newsmagazine contributor Kevin Michael Grace called The West and the Rest "an essential book."
Death-devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde provides a new analysis of Wagner's operatic tale of forbidden love and inevitable death. While many critics have praised the music, they have also derided the story as trifling and based solely on Wagner's own forbidden love for the wife of a banker who once supported him in exile. Scruton disputes this interpretation and writes that the story contains profound religious meaning and remains a relevant tale for modern society. "Scruton supplies answers to important questions: what is the opera about, what are the story's antecedents and how does religion come into it?," wrote Michael Portillo in the New Statesman. "He also offers a staggeringly comprehensive guide to the music." William R. Braun commented in Opera News that "there's a good deal of thoughtful commentary here."
Scruton is also the author of several memoirs, including On Hunting, which describes his life as a hunter from his youth onward. Ray Olson, writing in Booklist, called On Hunting "thoroughly delightful." In News from Somewhere: On Settling, published in 2004, the author tells about his becoming a yeoman farmer in Wiltshire in a memoir that mixes pastoral and philosophical musings. "He is right in so many of his observations, and so confident, that you begin to trust him," wrote P.J.J. Kavanagh in the Spectator. A Reference & Research Book News contributor noted that the author "gently describes the life and death that surrounds him."
Scruton's memoir Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life presents twelve essays focusing on the author's life and on his intellectual development. David Guaspari wrote of Gentle Regrets in the Weekly Standard: "Conservative political and moral ideas do not descend, by deduction, from abstract principles. They arise, bottom-up, from attempts to understand one's allegiances and debts of gratitude," adding: "Roger Scruton's Gentle Regrets—essays on books, friends, opera, politics, pets, family—is a varied and graceful collection of such attempts."
With titles such as "The Meaning of Conservatism" and "How I Discovered Culture," the essays in Gentle Regrets provide ruminations on topics ranging from beauty and religion to the importance of aesthetic values. Referring to Gentle Regrets as a "wistful, magnanimous, and ineluctably intelligent memoir," Roger Kimball wrote in the National Review: "There are two main themes in this book. One is gratitude, late won. The other is loss, its recuperative powers."
Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged, published in 2007, was referred to as "a highly recommended, thought-provoking philosophical treatise" by an Internet Bookwatch contributor. In this book, Scruton explores what culture is about and why and how it should be preserved. In the process, he defends Western culture against its critics and states his case that Western culture is not dead or dying. Much of the author's praise is reserved for traditional, or "high," culture, such as traditional architecture and figurative painting, as opposed to much of the culture of modernism and post-modernism.
Scruton once told CA: "My training is in analytical philosophy, but my principal interests have always included the arts and politics. I do not think that philosophy can be a valuable enterprise until connected to critical intelligence in the fields of human value, and this, combined with a deeply felt allegiance to conservative ways of thought, has led me to attempt to apply my philosophical training in describing subjects which have been bewildered by the impetuous pursuit of fashion, and rendered vulnerable to the opinions of people unable or unwilling to enquire after truth." Scruton further noted that his "principal philosophical work is completely independent of the conservative view that irritate his critics and above the heads of most of them." The author went on to say: "For the record, Scruton is not anti anything except the kind of bigotry that is exemplified in those judgements and which is otherwise known as political correctness. He would like to point out that those of his friends who are not gay seem to be single mothers. Moreover, contrary to widespread belief, he does not eat babies."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2000, Ray Olson, review of Perictione in Colophon: Reflections on the Aesthetic Way of Life, p. 1321; June 1, 2000, Ray Olson, review of An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture, p. 1818; September 1, 2001, Ray Olson, review of On Hunting, p. 38; August, 2002, Ray Olson, review of The West and the Rest, p. 1899; January 1, 2003, review of The West and the Rest, p. 791.
Catholic Insight, June, 2007, Ian Hunter, review of Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life, p. 42.
Commonweal, September 8, 2006, David Castronovo, review of Gentle Regrets, p. 28.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 29, 1987.
Guardian (London, England), March 21, 1994, Stuart Jeffries, "Do the Right Thing," p. 6; October 28, 2000, Nicholas Wroe, "Thinking for England," p. 6.
Independent (London, England), December 14, 1998, Deborah Ross, "Interview: Roger Scruton," Features section, p. 1.
International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January, 2005, J. Dudley Woodberry, review of The West and the Rest, p. 42.
Internet Bookwatch, July, 2007, review of Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged.
Library Journal, September 15, 1998, Terry C. Skeats, review of Xanthippic Dialogues, p. 83; November 1, 1999, Terry C. Skeats, review of Spinoza: A Very Short Introduction, p. 86.
Modern Age, fall, 2006, Steve Faulkner, "Recovering the Holy," review of Gentle Regrets, p. 358.
National Observer—Australia and World Affairs, summer, 2003, I.C.F. Spry, review of The West and the Rest, p. 70.
National Review, December 23, 2002, John Fonte, "Defending the West," review of The West and the Rest, p. 51; April 5, 2004, Thomas Hibbs, "The Sickness unto Death," review of Death-devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, p. 46; March 27, 2006, Roger Kimball, "An Inward Turn," review of Gentle Regrets, p. 54.
New Criterion, March, 1999, Horace W. Brock, review of The Aesthetics of Music, p. 31; January, 2003, Roger Kimball, "Why the West?," review of The West and the Rest, p. 4; January, 2006, Peter Mullen, "Not Argued but Shown," review of Gentle Regrets, p. 65.
New Statesman, November 27, 1998, Jason Cowley, "An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture," p 54; June 7, 2004, Charlie Lee-Potter, "The Good Life," review of News from Somewhere: On Settling, p. 51; June 14, 2004, Michael Portillo, "Redemption Song," review of Death-devoted Heart, p. 52.
New Statesman and Society, April 1, 1994, Justin Wintle, review of Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey, p. 45.
New Yorker, March 6, 2006, "Culture and Society," p. 87.
New York Times Book Review, March 23, 1986, review of Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic, p. 38; February 17, 1991, review of The Philosopher on Dover Beach, p. 7; September 10, 1995, Julia Annas, review of Modern Philosophy, p. 52.
Notes, March, 2005, Thomas S. Grey, review of Death-devoted Heart, p. 763.
Opera News, October, 2004, William R. Braun, review of Death-devoted Heart, p. 84.
Publishers Weekly, January 12, 1998, review of An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy, p. 53; October 7, 2002, review of The West and the Rest, p. 23.
Quadrant, March, 2003, Dennis O'Keeffe, "The West Is the Best," p. 80.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 2005, review of Gentle Regrets; May, 2006, review of News from Somewhere; August, 2007, review of Culture Counts.
Report Newsmagazine, September 23, 2002, Kevin Michael Grace, "What Are We Fighting For? Islam and the West Are Worlds Apart, a Noted Philosopher Explains," review of The West and the Rest.
Spectator, May 8, 2004, P.J.J. Kavanagh, "Reasonable, Readable Rambles," review of News from Somewhere, p. 44.
Times Literary Supplement, February 28, 1986, review of Sexual Desire, p. 207; April 4, 1986, review of Thinkers of the New Left, p. 347; September 4, 1987, review of A Land Held Hostage: Lebanon and the West, p. 943; August 19, 1988, review of Conservative Thinkers: Essays from the Salisbury Review, p. 905; July 20, 1990, review of The Philosopher on Dover Beach, p. 768; July 19, 1991, review of Logical Necessity and Other Essays, p. 23; August 2, 1991, review of A Dove Descending and Other Stories, p. 18; September 7, 1999, Eric Griffiths, review of An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture; August 9, 2000, Mark Rowlands, review of Animal Rights and Wrongs; October 27, 2000, Adam Thorpe, "Gone, but Not Forgotten," p. 30; October 4, 2001, Seamus Perry, review of The Meaning of Conservatism.
Wall Street Journal, June 29, 1998, Robert L. Pollock, review of An Intelligent Person's Guide to Philosophy, p. A16.
Weekly Standard, April 3, 2006, David Kavanagh, "Life Scrutonized; the Hard-Won Faith of a Modern Philosopher," review of Gentle Regrets.
Roger Scruton Home Page, http://www.rogerscruton.com (January 10, 2002).
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (April 7, 1998), Ray Sawhill, "On Good Authority."