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« "The Passenger" | Main | Computerized Sudoku »

November 30, 2005

Right Reason Interviews Roger Scruton

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Not to be missed: Right Reason's Max Goss is interviewing the conservative political philosopher Roger Scruton. Part One is up today. Great passage:

The free market is a necessary part of any stable community, and the arguments for maintaining it as the core of economic life were unanswerably set out by Ludwig von Mises ... The problem for conservatism is to reconcile the many and often conflicting demands that these various forms of life impose on us. The free-market ideologues take one instance of spontaneous order, and erect it into a prescription for all the others. They ask us to believe that the free exchange of commodities is the model for all social interaction. But many of our most important forms of life involve withdrawing what we value from the market: sexual morality is an obvious instance, city planning another. (America has failed abysmally in both those respects, of course.)

How do you respond to Scruton? I'm amazed he isn't better-known than he is. I certainly don't agree with him about everything. (I don't agree with anyone about everything.) He's stuffy in a way I often have little patience with. But despite his squareness, I like reading him. I almost always find him brilliant and provocative. He almost always sets my brain abuzz.

He's written a number of books I've enjoyed wrestling with, including a history of modern philosophy, an analysis of sexual desire, and an intro to modern culture. Here's another online interview with Scruton. Here's a terrific piece he wrote for City Journal, and another terrific piece he wrote for the New Criterion. Here's Scruton's own website.

It's a blogging event! And the comments are even open.

Many thanks to Right Reason and to Max Goss.

Best,

Michael

UPDATE: Traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb lays out a taxonomy of liberal tyranny. 2Blowhards did a q&a with Jim that can be read here.

posted by Michael at November 30, 2005




Comments

Scruton's Modern Culture is excellent. Given the Blowhards' predilection for photography and art, what do they think of his argument that a photogrpah of a woman posing as the Venus de Milo can never be art in the way a painting of Venus is art?

Posted by: Toby on November 30, 2005 07:08 PM



"The free market is a necessary part of any stable community"

Since anything even arguably resembling "free markets" didn't exist before 1600 or so at the earliest, it's hard to take the rest of the paragraph seriously. Yes, there were "markets", markets being physical places where goods were exhanged - but even the broadest conception of a "free market" would have made no sense to anyone.

Further, anybody who expects all of his listeners simply to accept that v. Mises was the world's greatest economist ever.......knows that he's talking to an audience of complete cranks.

Third, anybody who believes that America (and England as well) is a conservative construction - needs to figure out that there were actual revolutions in both countries. Revolutions in which the nobility (or fake nobility in America's case) were killed wholesale. The king's authority was rather abruptly ended when his troops were defeated in battle by the revolutionary forces. In one case, the king was allowed to retreat and in another, he lost his head. I'm not sure how to portray that as "conservative". There isn't much that isn't conservative if you can kill the king, overthrow the Church and expel much of the aristocracy.

Posted by: burritoboy on November 30, 2005 10:34 PM



Hey Toby, Good to see you dropping by! Does everyone else know Toby's blog? Excellent stuff, snazzily-written, smart as anything -- check it out. I don't recall the argument Scruton makes about painting vs. photography, though I can imagine what it might be. Does it make any sense? I notice that Scruton now has a place in Virginia. It'll be interesting to see if spending a lot of time in the States has any impact on his thinking about the arts. I think he's very sensible generally (in a traditional high-art kind of way). But I also think that, so far as tha arts go, America is often exceptional ...

Burritoboy -- You don't think Scruton is talking about modern societies? I suspect he is. He clearly isn't intending a generalization about tribal societies. I'm not sure your point about revolutions trumps him either. In "Reflections," Burke isn't arguing that revolutions simply should never happen. As I recall the book, he's saying that, if/when the time has come for a revolution, there are better and worse ways to go about it. Do you generally find conservative philosophizing a drag? Are there conservative philosophers you've enjoyed wrestling with?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 1, 2005 10:26 AM



Burrito Boy:

You write:

Since anything even arguably resembling "free markets" didn't exist before 1600 or so at the earliest, it's hard to take the rest of the paragraph seriously.

I've done a little reading of economic history, and find myself stumped as to what happened in "1600 or so" to create a free market for the first time. There had certainly been quite active long-distance European trade markets, both physical and financial, for hundreds of years prior to 1600, and for nearly 1,000 years in the Islamic world, that were remarkably free from any kind of state control. What distinguishes those markets from, um, "free markets" as they suddenly sprang into existence after 1600?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 1, 2005 01:06 PM



"I've done a little reading of economic history"

No, actually you haven't.

"There had certainly been quite active long-distance European trade markets, both physical and financial, for hundreds of years prior to 1600, and for nearly 1,000 years in the Islamic world, that were remarkably free from any kind of state control."

A usual dodge. No one's saying there wasn't oeconomic activity - there was, of course, but far less than most people can now imagine. What there weren't was a concept called "free markets" - such an idea would have been anathema, since it demands that economic activity be generally excluded from justice (or from the gods) and mostly exempt from regulation, especially in theory. That, of course, is theoretically impossible within either classical, Talmudic, Islamic or medieval Christian thought.

Simply because the state was simply too weak to regulate commerce, does not imply that the intent to regulate wasn't there. When medieval and classical states were strong enough to regulate, they eagerly did so. City-states that were mercantile republics often regulated trade significantly more than other states.

Posted by: burritoboy on December 1, 2005 04:05 PM



"Do you generally find conservative philosophizing a drag? Are there conservative philosophers you've enjoyed wrestling with?"

There's no such thing as "conservative" philosophizing. Philosophy cannot be conservative. The philosopher is always a radical and revolutionary figure, though he may sometimes pretend to be otherwise to allay suspicion.

Posted by: burritoboy on December 1, 2005 04:36 PM



Lordy me! Let me dial up David Hume and Michael Oakeshott and see what they think about this...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 1, 2005 04:50 PM



Um, and what changed, exactly, around the year 1600?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 1, 2005 07:52 PM



This very interesting interview with Roger Scruton leads me to conclude that Americans and Brits view some key concepts related to being “conservative” very differently. I think that a background to Scruton’s thought is an acceptance of the value of institutions such as the Church of England, the monarchy, and that entertainingly bizarre perversion which is the British class system, but that none of this particularly resonates on this side of the ocean. Also, I think that while British commentators like Scruton would obviously have to acknowledge the American Revolution as a done deal, few of them would be able to recognize its legitimacy. This gets to the heart of what is wrong, or incomplete, with most of Scruton’s blather about authority and tradition. In his comments to “The Joy of Conservatism,” posting, Michael Blowhard wrote that “Your mother's your mother, your language is your language, your inheritance is your inheritance -- very little can be done to alter any of these facts,” but America’s founders absolutely altered these “facts” with respect to the Mother Country.

Also, reading Scruton, Jim Kalb and others, I can’t help but conclude that political philosophy is largely a matter of personal psychology, despite all the huffing and puffing over the correctness of one theory over another. And the insistence that the political landscape must be reduced to either “liberal” or “conservative” is as wrong-headed and self-defeating as the Catholic/Protestant schism that consumed Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. But it makes for fun reading.

Posted by: Alec on December 4, 2005 10:13 PM



Alec writes,

Michael Blowhard wrote that “Your mother's your mother, your language is your language, your inheritance is your inheritance -- very little can be done to alter any of these facts,” but America’s founders absolutely altered these “facts” with respect to the Mother Country.

Um, after the American Revolution, did people start switching mothers, speaking a new language, or having their inheritances alienated? Sure, they severed their political ties to England, but did not sever any tie with their own culture, which had grown out of England, or with their colonial heritage. They fought off a tyrant in order to vindicate the rights that had been worked out over centuries in England and the colonies. Surely Russell Kirk was right to say that "revolution" is a misnomer in this case.

Posted by: Max Goss on December 5, 2005 11:46 AM



Max Gross – RE: Um, after the American Revolution, did people start switching mothers, speaking a new language, or having their inheritances alienated? Sure, they severed their political ties to England, but did not sever any tie with their own culture, which had grown out of England, or with their colonial heritage

I think that some people still underestimate the tremendous changes that culminated in the American Revolution. Somehow, between the 1750s and 1770s, people in the colonies ceased thinking of themselves as British and began to think of themselves as something different and distinct – Americans. As an aside, there are journals, diaries, and letters in which British visitors to the New World note that the colonists didn’t quite walk or talk like Europeans. So while there is indeed a cultural continuity with England, it is nothing like that of, say, Australia or Canada.

In addition to severing political ties to England, one of the biggest paradigm shifts was the abolition of an aristocracy, and all of the legal and cultural machinery which supported the notion of nobility, including a renunciation of the laws of inheritance which underlay this kind of class system. So even though no one actually “switched mothers or fathers,” in a very real sense, those who chose to be Americans deliberately alienated themselves from the economic and cultural legacy of their British born or loyalist parents. And this alienation even affected some new Americans and their children, as with Benjamin Franklin, who deliberately disinherited his loyalist son, William.

Posted by: Alec on December 5, 2005 11:00 PM



"Um, after the American Revolution, did people start switching mothers, speaking a new language, or having their inheritances alienated? Sure, they severed their political ties to England, but did not sever any tie with their own culture, which had grown out of England, or with their colonial heritage. They fought off a tyrant in order to vindicate the rights that had been worked out over centuries in England and the colonies. Surely Russell Kirk was right to say that "revolution" is a misnomer in this case."

The short answer is: yes, it was a revolution.

England was a parliamentary republic (without a formal written Constitution) with a monarch as head of state, an established church (w/ non-congregants of that church largely being banned from public office), a large and dominant aristocracy and a long-held colonialist imperial policy.

The United States was not a parliamentary republic, nor had any monarch, has an explicit social contract embodied in a transparent Constitutional process, a Constitution which explicitly bans an established Church, religious tests and any aristocracy. No imperial policy, either, at least for many years.

Further, the Revolutionary process involved the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Loyalists, many of whom were "encouraged" to leave through what we would now call terrorism. The social landscape of America was transformed by the expulsion of the Loyalists, especially in the upper reaches of society.

It's pretty clear that, just before the Revolution, the British intended to expand the colonial administration in America to resemble the forms later seen in their other colonies - small coteries forming around aristocratic administrators sent from England, and the colonies largely thought of as opportunities for the employment of the younger sons of the aristocracy and for economic exploitation for the benefit of the British merchant class.

Posted by: burritoboy on December 9, 2005 01:13 PM






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