Roger Scruton

Diary - 25 August 2016

Also in Roger Scruton’s diary: the blessings of a broken femur, and a defence of aristocratic titles

Diary - 25 August 2016
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To Edinburgh for the book festival, where I am to explain Fools, Frauds and Firebrands to respectable middle-class Scots, who have an endearing way of suggesting to me that I, like them, am a thing of the past. They queue to buy the book, which is nice of them; however, the publisher has failed to deliver any copies, so the need to part with a few quid for politeness’ sake slips painlessly over the horizon. Only the students in the queue awaken me from my complacency. Where do we turn for comfort, they ask, when our reading lists are gibberish about which we can understand only that it is all left-wing? Is there no network, no secret society, no alternative reading list to get us through the next three years? Is there, in a modern university, no ‘safe space’ for conservatives?

I know of only one solution to leftist takeovers, and that is to start again. The decent parliamentarians in the Labour party should take note of this. When we set up the underground university in Prague, we composed a curriculum entirely of classics on a budget of £50,000 a year. We the teachers, and they the students, were volunteers; our shared concern was knowledge, not ideology; conversation, not conscription. Once the state takes over, however, and its vast resources are made available to people otherwise incapable of earning a penny, the fakes and the frauds muscle in. Chanting gobbledegook from Deleuze confers an air of erudition on even the most second-rate intellect, and since in most humanities departments teaching is no longer required and the only tests are political, there is no answer to those desperate students except to start something new. That is what we are doing at the University of Buckingham.

Back home to a punishing hour of physiotherapy. Two surprising and wonderful things happened to me this year. The first was a fall from a bridge, on my horse Desmond — who broke my femur in four places while using it to lever himself out of the water. That was five months ago, and the rescue by air ambulance and the NHS filled me with a kind of gratitude I hardly knew. The slow recovery has been a time to think about what matters to me, and how other people matter more. Even physiotherapy, with those thoughts in mind, is welcome.

The second surprising and wonderful thing was the knighthood conferred in the Queen’s birthday honours list, not for my services to righteous indignation (proud though I am of them) but for my life as an educator. At the very moment when my wife Sophie, as a master of foxhounds at the VWH Hunt, has earned those precious letters ‘MFH’ after her name, she can now put ‘Lady’ in front of it. A pity, of course, that the name is mine, with its ludicrous sound, so easily satirised. But you can’t have everything and in any case, euphonious though her maiden name of Jeffreys might be, she must live with the fact that she inherited it from the most notorious hanging judge in English history.

Of course, in the first-name culture that now prevails, titles might seem merely decorative, and offensive to the cult of equality. The death of the Duke of Westminster has briefly raised the question of what a titled aristocracy does for us. My own view is that titles are much to be preferred to wealth as a mark of distinction, since they give glamour without power. They promote the idea of a purely immaterial reward, and represent eminence as something to live up to, not a power to be used. Of course they can be abused, and a kind of snobbery goes with them. Take them away, however, and you have the mean-minded obsessions of ‘celebrity’ culture, the American idolisation of wealth or the power cult of the Russian mafia. An inherited title sanctifies a family and its ancient territory. The poetry of this is beautifully expressed by Proust, who wrote of an aristocracy from which everything had been taken except its titles — think of ‘Guermantes’ and compare it with ‘Trump’.

Back home in my role as grand panjandrum of Horsell’s Farm Enterprises, and preparing for Apple Day on 22 October, to which you are all invited. Our business is a terrific wheeze which brings together all the things we do on a single patch of earth and brands them with the coveted name of ‘farming’. We have even managed to assemble a group of stray conservatives for a conference in nearby Cirencester as part of our mission to foster worldwide dissent. They (the Vanenburg Meeting) are youngish, come from all parts of western civilisation, and agree about one thing only, which is the right of that civilisation to defend itself. And everything I see from my window, cows included, confirms what they believe.

Roger Scruton’s books include Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left and Confessions of a Heretic.