Toby Young Toby Young

In defence of Roger Scruton

Once identified as right-wing you are beyond the pale of argument,’ wrote Sir Roger Scruton. ‘Your views are irrelevant, your character discredited, your presence in the world a mistake. You are not an opponent to be argued with, but a disease to be shunned. This has been my experience.’

Unfortunately, that experience is due to intensify for the 74-year-old conservative philosopher. Last weekend, the government announced it had set up a commission to try and make new housing developments ‘beautiful’ and appointed Sir Roger as its chair. It’s one of the few sensible things the present government has done; so, of course, it’s caused a scandal.

Within minutes of Sir Roger’s appointment, the offence archaeologists had gone to work, digging through everything he’d written in the hope of finding ‘inappropriate’ comments they could be outraged by. It didn’t take them long, and earlier this week the mob started to form up. His most egregious sin, we are told, was giving a speech in Hungary in which he said that many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish and ‘form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire’.

Taken out of context, that looks as if Scruton is endorsing an anti-Semitic trope, particularly if you simplify it to remove any of the nuance, which is what the Daily Mirror did. ‘New Tory housing tsar claimed Hungarian Jews form part of “Soros Empire”,’ screamed its headline.

But if you bother to read the speech, you’ll discover that its subject is a defence of nationalism and how it came to be regarded as toxic by the architects of the European project. The reason he brings up the fact that some of the pro-EU Hungarian intelligentsia are Jewish is because he goes on to explain that they, along with George Soros, are ‘rightly suspicious of nationalism’ since they see it as being ‘the major cause of the tragedy of Central Europe in the 20th century’.

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