Anthony McIntyre thinks freedom of opinion and inquiry was the real casualty in the sacking of Roger Scruton.
Free discussion is being everywhere shut down, so that we will never know who is right – the heretics, or those who try to silence them - Roger Scruton
Since I first encountered the views of Roger Scruton while in prison, I have never warmed to the bulk of them. Arguing on television that it is better to teach the classics in schools than the history of US violence against Vietnam, it seemed clear then whose ideological corner man he was. Nevertheless, preferring eclectic flexibility over ideological rigidity, I never dismissed his ideas in kneejerk fashion and often enjoyed his writing. His 2003 piece on becoming a Conservative, in which he drew heavily on Edmund Burke, is still a compelling read.
Because the sceptic in me had, since the late 1980s, caused me to fall in love with the quip of the economist Joan Robison that Marxism is the opium of the Marxists, my favourite observation by Scruton, because of its huge wider significance to ideational systems, is this from an essay on totalitarianism:
It is not the truth of Marxism that explains the willingness of intellectuals to believe it, but the power that it confers on intellectuals, in their attempts to control the world. And since, as Swift says, it is futile to reason someone out of a thing that he was not reasoned into, we can conclude that Marxism owes its remarkable power to survive every criticism to the fact that it is not a truth-directed but a power-directed system of thought.
Not so much an ideologue as a philosopher of the right, Scruton is without question a rigorous top-drawer thinker. What was once said of Enoch Powell, possibly by Angus Maude, equally applies to Scruton: a rare bird, a right wing intellectual. When we look at the Brexit brigade it is not hard to see whey the cerebral faculty is considered a rarity. Its aviary is jammed with birds of a different sort: walking eagles, so full of crap they can't fly.
If a public thinker fails to prompt an audience to think, there is something seriously wrong either with them or with the audience. Scruton succeeds. Ultimately, what grates with Scruton is not how he thinks but what he thinks.
Until recently, Scruton was an adviser to the British government on housing but in recent days a spokesman for the Ministry of Housing said:
Prof Sir Roger Scruton has been dismissed as chairman of the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission with immediate effect, following his unacceptable comments.
James Brokenshire, former British secretary of State to the North of Ireland was the man whose job it was to put him to the sword. There are quite a few Jimmy B could have demanded be sacked for much worse – Massacre Mike Jackson for example, but he never once did.
Scruton's “unacceptable comments” were disclosed in an interview with the New Statesman, where more than anything else he seems to have spooked the Tory leadership, already nervous due to allegations of a party riven with Islamophobia. Scruton expressed the view that Islamophobia "was invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue.”
There was nothing novel, out of "right field", in this sentiment. The Tories were aware of where he stood when they appointed him to the Housing position in 2018, his views on the subject having being outlined two years earlier.
Muslims in our society are often victims of prejudice, abuse and assault, and this is a distressing situation that the law strives to remedy. But when people invent a phobia to explain all criticism of Islam it is not that kind of abuse that they have in mind. They wish to hide the truth, to shout “lies!” in the face of criticism and to silence any attempt at discussion. In my view, however, it is time to bring the truth into the open, including the truth about the Holy Book itself.
Not known for its principled politics, the Tory leadership has been blasted by conservative columnist Douglas Murray for its "sheer stupidity and cowardliness." The dismissal of Scruton is something that should raise eyebrows not only in the pages of the Spectator but elsewhere including the Progressive Left. Not because his views are likeable or that he should ever have been in the Housing position to begin with but out of deep misgivings about the future health of freedom of opinion and inquiry. The petty minded triumphalism of the interviewer, George Eaton, in celebration of his gotcha interview, is an eyes wide shut stance, easily more ominous for intellectual life than the philosopher's words.
Given that the thought police are determined to deny Scruton any word, he should have the last word:
We in Britain are entering a dangerous social condition in which the direct expression of opinions that conflict – or merely seem to conflict – with a narrow set of orthodoxies is instantly punished by a band of self-appointed vigilantes. We are being cowed into abject conformity around a dubious set of official doctrines and told to adopt a world view that we cannot examine for fear of being publicly humiliated by the censors. This world view might lead to a new and liberated social order; or it might lead to the social and spiritual destruction of our country. How shall we know, if we are too afraid to discuss it?