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Sir Roger Scruton: How to preserve freedom in the West


One of the leading philosophers of our time says Western culture will have to be handed down outside the ivory towers and college lecture halls — and he has strong reason to believe that its promulgators will be successful. 

scrutonencounterSir Roger Scruton's optimism is not unfounded; he found the dissident, underground student communities of communist-dominated Europe had a greater thirst for truth and Western culture than their contemporaries in the politically correct West.

Scruton reminisced about his career as a pioneering thinker — and target of leftist opprobrium — while receiving the Jeane Kirkpatrick Award for Academic Freedom on Thursday night at Encounter Books' twentieth anniversary gala.

In his native UK, he found his lectures — whether on conservative philosophy or subjects such as aesthetics — boycotted, canceled, or shouted down.  Decades before the term became accepted, Scruton had been "deplatformed."

"I've enjoyed the increasing certainty that there is a real distinction between true and fake knowledge, between truth and ideology, between the affirmation of an inheritance and resentment at one's inability to receive it," he said.  "The culture which has been entrusted to the universities to pass on is no longer passed on, because those charged with doing so no longer believe in it."

The trends holding academia in thrall lack not merely the content but the methodology of prior scholarship.  "The new curriculum is a curriculum of foregone conclusions," he said.

More bluntly, he said, new subjects amounted to "nonsense."

"Nonsense is extremely useful, as I'm sure you've all realized, if you want to affect a major change in the culture," he said.  "If you're speaking nonsense, nobody can correct you."

"Nonsense is extremely useful, as I'm sure you've all realized, if you want to affect a major change in the culture," he said.  "If you're speaking nonsense, nobody can correct you."

Yet Scruton found hope in an unexpected place.  Through "accidental circumstances," he came to give underground lectures in Prague and other Soviet-dominated nations during the Cold War.  His pupils, blacklisted from Marxist universities for refusing to countenance the regnant mythology of their society, huddled in "little rooms, with the secret police standing outside the door, waiting to pounce at any moment."

... And pounce they sometimes did.  Scruton found himself detained and then expelled from Czechoslovakia.  Larry Arnn, the president of  Hillsdale College, said Scruton had managed the rare feat of being "reviled by the communist world and the communist part of the liberal world at the same time."  But Vaclav Havel would one day give Scruton the nation's Medal of Merit.  In the meantime, Scruton had another reward.

Transmitting a culture of freedom

Scruton said  in Prague, "for the first time in 10 or 15 years, I breathed the air of free inquiry."

"That was an extraordinary thing, to recognize that there really is such a thing as free inquiry.  That is what leads to knowledge," Scruton said.  "The lesson of this for me is that real knowledge and real culture can be transmitted outside the universities, and must be transmitted outside the universities when the universities are in the control of the indoctrinating Left."

Scruton closed his speech by saluting his fellow "pariahs."

"It's been a great adventure for me to be so hated by people I hold in contempt," he said.

However, those who attended the event — which concluded with a toast from Richard Graber of the Bradley Foundation — were united, not by their kinship as mutual objects of hatred, but by their common love of  Western culture and values.  And their pledge to continue sharing those eternal and time-tested verities, circumventing academia if necessary, so that future generations may breathe the air of free inquiry.



johnson6Rev. Ben Johnson. "Sir Roger Scruton: How to preserve freedom in the West." Acton Institute Powerblog (October 12, 2018). 

Reprinted with permission of the Acton Institute. 

The Author

Rjohnsonben1.jpgev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He was managing editor of FrontPage Magazine and U.S. Bureau Chief at LifeSiteNews. He is the author of two books on tax-exempt foundations, as well as Party of Defeat (with David Horowitz). He serves two parishes in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

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