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Red, Pink and Blue

In “The Enemies of Roger Scruton”, published in the April 21st issue of The New York Review of Books, Samuel Freeman reviews Roger Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left , a book whose main target is the postmodern philosophes of the academic left. While Freeman is himself no fan of postmodern theory and reminds his readers that writers such as Said and Derrida have been criticised in the pages of the NYR, he is not impressed by Scruton’s thesis, which he finds to be contradictory. If Freeman largely concurs with Scruton’s passionate (and often witty) excoriation of Lacan, Badiou, Žižek, Habermas et al he baulks at his inclusion of  US philosophers of the soft left such as Rawls and Dworkin, and indeed of the New York Review of Books itself, in the general denunciation. Further, Scruton alleges that for over fifty years, The New York Review has been the primary agent of the liberal left, contributing to a “bleak relativism” and “repudiation” of Western culture. The Review’s “disdainful overview of the American cultural wilderness has been such a powerful force in shaping the oppositional stance of university teachers and journalists.” Back in 1980 when Scruton published The Meaning of Conservatism his idea of the conservative was that it was situated in an intellectual tradition that derived from the much drawn upon Irish Whig Edmund Burke. Back then Scruton argued against the new direction British Conservatism was taking under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, favouring instead a strong state capable of enforcing social norms. In those days Scruton saw conservatism in these terrms: “allegiance to what is established is…a given, from which social criticism departs. It is … a form of immersion in the institutions to which one’s identity is owed.” Clearly this is quite different from liberalism, which, by contrast, whether free market or progressive, regards individual freedom and individuality as fundamental values and thereby threatens to undermine the institutions that are the source of the individual’s identity as well as the bonds of their community. It could be said that the timing of Scruton’s 1980 book was unfortunate in that political conservatism was about to move sharply in a liberal direction, albeit it in many cases behind a smokescreen of enthusiasm for “family values”. Old conservatism required a strong government to enforce social norms and protect established institutions. New liberal conservatism desired a weaker government, one which would not hamper the individual. Freeman tells us that Scruton has since managed to reconcile both forms of conservatism….

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