An Apology for thinking - 11 April 19 - The Spectator

This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.

I recently gave an interview to the New Statesman, on the assumption that, as the magazine’s former wine critic I would be treated with respect, and that the journalist, George Eaton, was sincere in wanting to talk to me about my intellectual life. Not for the first time I am forced to acknowledge what a mistake it is to address young leftists as though they were responsible human beings. Here is my brief response to an unscrupulous collection of out of context remarks, some of them merely words designed to accuse me of thought-crimes, and to persuade the government that I am not fit to be chairman of the commission recently entrusted to me.

Eaton repeats the libel, uttered under Parliamentary privilege originally, that I believe in some kind of Jewish conspiracy theory. Here is what I said in the speech (discussing the idea of the Nation State, and delivered to the Hungarian Academy) in which the relevant words occurred:

‘The Jewish minority (here in Hungary) that survived the Nazi occupation suffered further persecution under the communists, but nevertheless is active in making its presence known. Many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish, and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire. People in these networks include many who are rightly suspicious of nationalism, regard nationalism as the major cause of the tragedy of Central Europe in the 20th century, and do not distinguish nationalism from the kind of national loyalty that I have defended in this talk. Moreover, as the world knows, indigenous anti-Semitism still plays a part in Hungarian society and politics, and presents an obstacle to the emergence of a shared national loyalty among ethnic Hungarians and Jews.’

In retrospect I could have chosen the words more carefully. But my purpose was to point out that anti-Semitism has become an issue in Hungary, and an obstacle to a shared national identity. As for the Soros Empire, I am the only person I know who has actually tried to persuade Viktor Orbán to accept its presence, and that of the Central European University in particular, in Hungary. I did not succeed, but that is another matter. I should add that I am neither a friend nor an enemy of Orbán, but know him from the days when I helped him and his colleagues to set up a free university under the communists. What Orbán did then was the first step towards the liberation of his country, and George Soros was one of those who helped him too. It is sad for Hungary that the two have fallen out, and that the old spectre of anti-Semitism has been reborn from their clash. Given their two aggressive personalities, however, it is hardly surprising.

Then there is Islamophobia. It seems that by questioning this word and pointing to its origin in the Muslim Brotherhood’s propaganda campaigns I am somehow showing myself to be guilty of the offence that it describes. I deplore the current use of this word, since it implies that there is some peculiar and irrational state of mind from which all objections to Islam proceed. I myself distinguish Islam, as a faith and a way of life, from the radicals who commit crimes in its name. I have a respect and tenderness towards the first of those, and a hatred of the second. But it is increasingly difficult, with the current abuse of language, to make this point, or to encourage Muslims to make it too.

I think of ‘homophobia’ as a similar word, designed to close all debate about a matter in which only one view is now deemed permissible. Apparently I once wrote that homosexuality is ‘not normal’, but nobody has told me where, or why that is a particularly offensive thing to say. Red hair too is not normal, nor is decency among left-wing journalists. In Sexual Desire (1986), I argued that homosexuality is different from heterosexuality, but not in itself a perversion. And I tried to explain the negative response that many people have towards homosexual relations in other terms.

Finally, my comments on China: I was describing the attempt of the Chinese Communist Party to achieve conformity of behaviour in everything that might threaten its comprehensive political control, and I think it is fair to describe this as an attempt to robotise the Chinese people. The Communist Party expects each person to replicate the behavioural code, not questioning its authority and finding safety in imitation. Many people see the threat of this in the attitude of Beijing towards Hong Kong. Far more important, to my mind, is the internment of a million or more Uighur Muslims, in order to clean their minds of the dangerous God idea and re-programme them with the Party idea instead. If we are not allowed to criticise this as the robotising of the victims, then what are we allowed to criticise and how?

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?

BBC Radio 4 Any Questions? 22 Feb 19

Jonathan Dimbleby chairs political debate from Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, with a panel consisting of Robert Buckland MP, Baroness Smith, Chuka Umunna MP and Sir Roger Scruton.

Listen back to the programme HERE. 

The Virtue of Irrelevance - Future Symphony Institute, Feb 19

How many writers, educators, and opinion formers, urgently wishing to convey the thoughts and feelings that inspire them, have found themselves confronted with the cry “that’s not relevant?” In the world of mass communication today, when people are marshaled into flocks by social media, intrusions of the unusual, the unsanctioned, and the merely meaningful are increasingly resented if they come from outside the group. And this group mentality has invaded the world of education in ways that threaten the young.

Gratitude for Philosophy- The Telegraph, Dec 18

I began my career as an academic philosopher, and am often asked what philosophers do. ‘Philosophy’ means ‘the love of wisdom’, but what is wisdom? Does the person with wisdom turn things to advantage when the one with mere knowledge is stumped? In my own case philosophy has involved accepting little or nothing at face value, and wanting to pursue each question to the end. But what use has that been, either to myself or to anyone else? Is it not one cause of the storms of hostility that I encounter and one reason why, earlier this year, I was judged by some not to be an acceptable choice for a public appointment? Should I not practise the art that the Druze and the ‘Alawites call taqiyya, and hide behind a veil of ludicrous orthodoxies, while inwardly scorning the people who repeat them?

            A lady contemptuously said to Carlyle over dinner, ‘what is the use of this philosophy of yours?’ He replied that the same question was asked of Rousseau’s Social Contract, and the second edition was bound in the skins of those who had dismissed the first. The French Revolution was a drastic case of bad philosophy. But if bad philosophy can lead to mass murder and political collapse we stand greatly in need of the good philosophy that will point us in another direction. The problem is that bad philosophy is attractive and optimistic – why else would you be taken in by it? – whereas good philosophy is sceptical, with nothing to recommend it besides its truth, which is also its most depressing feature.

            However, Christmas is a festival of gratitude, and the right time to express my heartfelt thanks to this vocation that has both guided me through life and brought consolation in my times of darkness. To have answers, I acknowledge, is a wonderful thing. But more wonderful by far is to have questions, and to recognize that these questions lie buried in the simplest things, waiting to be watered into life by our curiosity. This last year I have been tending such a question, encouraging it to fill my mind with its fertile offshoots, to become something that I can take to bed at night and wake up with in the morning. The question is this: Why do we distinguish the pure from the polluted, and why do we think that it matters?

            Our prevailing bad philosophy is the philosophy of liberation, which tells us that all forms of self-expression are legitimate, and that happiness means letting it all hang out. The old notions of pollution and taboo, our philosophy says, have no bearing on how we should live now. Such is the orthodoxy: straightforward, attractive and optimistic as bad philosophy always is.

            In fact, however, although we may banish the concept of pollution from our thoughts, it cannot be banished from our feelings. It did not need the MeToo movement to tell us that sexual encounters can be felt in retrospect as contaminations. The entire literature of humanity points in that direction. In the weird hysterical society now emerging it is barely permissible to discuss this topic, certainly if you have my disadvantages: white, male, heterosexual, conservative and cultured. But I can’t refrain, since philosophy is my calling.

            Ritual purification is a feature of both Judaism and Islam, and cleanliness is regarded in both religions as the avenue to an inner purity. This inner purity is at stake in sex and love. But it also has a profoundly religious connotation, being a readiness towards God, a self-presentation to the Lord of creation, from whose grace we might otherwise irrecoverably fall. This thought struck me vividly when writing a novel (The Disappeared), indirectly inspired by the dire events in Rotherham and by my reading of the Koran.

            I saw the concept of purity as crucial to what had happened. The abusers in the Rotherham case regarded their victims as being in a state of pollution or najāsa. Losing their purity the girls had nothing more to lose. Abuse, in such circumstances, ceases to be considered as abuse and becomes instead a kind of ritual re-enactment of the victim’s loss of status. The story I told was about purity – the story of one girl’s bid to retain it, another’s to regain it, and of their abusers’ sister, in her bid to defend it to the death.

            Most people in our society have moved on from the simplistic vision of purity as chastity. But what, in that case, does purity mean? There is one great work of art that wrestles with the question, and which has therefore been pre-occupying me throughout this year – namely Wagner’s Parsifal. This tells the story of the ‘pure fool, knowing through compassion’, who is called to rescue a derelict religious community from the dire effects of its king’s transgression. Wagner’s Parsifal is a simple person who can neither exploit nor manipulate others, but who constantly surrenders his interests, endeavouring to restore right relations wherever he can. Purity, for Parsifal, means the recognition of the other as the true centre of attention, so that compassion takes over from every other form of power.

            Wagner’s drama took me into some of the deepest questions of philosophy, including that of the self. I am an object, a thing of flesh and blood. But I also know myself as a subject, who relates to others as ‘I’ to ‘you’. How are subject and object connected? By what right do I claim this body as mine and this ‘I’ as the very thing that looks from these eyes at you? It is exactly here, I came to see, that purity resides – in the I-to-you relation, which acknowledges complete equality between us.

            You too are a subject, addressing me freely with looks and words, and therefore not, for me, a thing to be exploited. If nevertheless I treat you as such a thing I have abolished the barrier between us. I have desecrated what is otherwise sacred, the untouchable centre of the will. I have reduced us both to objects and that, in the end, is what pollution amounts to. Explaining the thought is difficult, and Wagner presents it not with words but with music that wells up from the depths of his miraculous imaginative powers. But by reflecting on pollution in this way I began to understand why the girls in my story so intently and tragically flee from it.

            That kind of meditation shows, I hope, why philosophy has been, for me, both a therapy and a consolation. I agree with the great Socrates that ‘the unexamined life is not a life for a human being’. And I look with gratitude on philosophy, which was not a way of life that I chose, but a way of life by which I was chosen, and from which I have never turned back. And if I ask myself what good that has done for others, I can only reply that the joy I take in understanding things is also a joy that I seek to communicate. If others, reading the result, are consoled by it, then that is the best I can do; and if they dislike it, as so many of them do, Happy Christmas to them anyway.

 

Groupes d'Etudes Géopolitiques Interview - Dec 18

Read the interview between Sir Roger Scruton and Laetitia Strauch-Bonart for the Geopolitical Study Group HERE.

Close Encounters - Puritanical Progressivism, Dec 18

Sir Roger Scruton & Ben Weingarten discuss political unrest in the West & its historical context, the puritanical nature of progressivism & attempts by its adherents to stifle dissent, the imperative to defend free speech & more.

Watch the interview here.

Asnières speech - The right we want is conservative

"Conservatism can transmit the legacy of freedom, freedom that could be too much liberalism to be challenged by other ideologies." Roger Scruton 

Read the full transcript here.

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