Western Civilisation

Roger Scruton and Enlightened Patriotism

roger scrutonTen important European thinkers attached their name to the October 2017 Paris Statement, a manifesto condemning the tyranny and utopianism of “false Europe” and calling for the re-emergence of “real Europe”, an entity Christian in character and taking the nation-state as its hallmark. False Europe, while denying the Christian roots of European civilisation, “trades on the Christian ideal of universal charity in an exaggerated and unsustainable form” and requires from the European peoples—in the way of multiculturalism and unrestricted immigration—“a saintly degree of self-abnegation”. Europe’s civilisational suicide, according to the Paris Statement, continues to take place under the auspices of the “ersatz religion” of universalism. One signatory to the Paris Statement was Sir Roger Scruton (above), the great English philosopher.  

Scruton’s The West and the Rest: Globalisation and the Terrorist Threat, published in the immediate aftermath of September 11, begins by asserting that Samuel P. Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” thesis had accrued “more credibility” than ever. Although Western civilisation found itself under attack, little serious thought went into addressing a central problem: “What exactly is Western civilisation, and what holds it together?”

Individual self-determination, as I noted in “Standing Up for the House of Freedom” (Quadrant, September 2017), goes a long way towards answering the first half of that double-headed question, but what of the second part? As Scruton writes: “If all that Western civilisation offers is freedom, then it is a civilisation bent on its own destruction.” The glue that holds together a society based on Western principles—the Western nation-state, in other words—is a form of enlightened patriotism. Much of Scruton’s writing, in The West and the Rest and subsequent to that, is an attempt to clarify the uniqueness of the correlation between national identity and individual sovereignty in the West.

One of the fundamental differences between Western civilisation and every other civilisation is that in a typical Western nation-state the political and the personal are demarcated. Clearly delineating the political sphere, argues Scruton, involves separating (or quarantining) the political from the personal, thus allowing self-determining individuals to pursue happiness and fulfilment in their private lives without some version or other of Big Brother meddling in their affairs. Scruton contrasts this scenario with the Soviet Union’s 1936 constitution; failing to define the CPSU’s role, Stalin’s constitution licensed the party to expand into every aspect of existence.

There are other advantages to enlightened patriotism. Scruton offers the case of the Czech Republic (Czechia) and Slovakia. These two adjoining states were amalgamated after the First World War, torn asunder during the Second World War and then united under the auspices of Moscow for the duration of the Cold War. After the dissolution of the Soviet empire, the two entities detached from each other “without violence and with the retention of a large number of social, institutional and economic ties”.

Binding the citizens of the Czech Republic together on the one hand, and the citizens of Slovakia on the other, was what Scruton, in Green Philosophy (2012), termed oikophilia, the love of one’s home or homeland. Each state went on to effortlessly establish its own discrete European-style polity (Rechtsstaat) because each already possessed a unique cohesive identity informed not by tribal, creedal or ideological considerations but by a national distinctiveness.

It is this unique cohesive identity, Scruton wrote at the time of the 2016 Brexit vote, that allows the citizens of a Western polity to accept the laws and decisions made by a government “of which we don’t approve” and politicians “with whom we disagree and whom we perhaps deeply dislike”. Scruton explained it this way in a fifteen-minute reflection on the BBC:

Clearly, a democracy has to be held together by something stronger than politics. There has to be a first-person plural, a pre-political loyalty, which causes neighbours who voted in opposing ways to treat each other as fellow citizens, for whom the government is not “mine” or “yours” but “ours”, whether or not we approve of it.

The European Union project, and its attendant administrative state, “tried to create such a first-person plural by using gimmicks and subsidies while suppressing the national loyalties of the European people”. Political representation, as a form of authentic people’s power, only works if the rulers and ruled are accountable to each other, and they can only be accountable to each other if they share a first-person-plural relationship, which in turn is only possible if they have a common identity: “But it is nationality, the home country and its shared culture, that define the true European identity. It astonishes me that so many people fail to see this, or to understand that democracy, and national identity, in the end, depend on each other.”

This kind of enlightened patriotism distinguishes the West from other civilisations, not least Islamic civilisation. For instance, overall authority in the Ottoman empire “depended upon the dominant millet of Sunni Muslims and on the sharia as interpreted by the Mufti”. Scruton, in The West and the Rest, laments the dissolution of the Ottoman empire in 1922 because one of the benefits of this arrangement was that the central authority often suppressed religious fanatics, as per the Wahhabis in the eighteenth century. But while the powers-that-be could act as a moderating force to quash zealots, it remained a fact that local jurisdiction was creedal—albeit Christian, Jewish, Alawite or Druze in places—overseen, on a higher and more critical level, by the strictures of Sunni Islam. Secular authority, in any Western sense of that concept, was alien.

Scruton has, in various settings, attempted to explain the divergent effect of the Gospels on the political evolution of the West versus the Koran on Islamic civilisation. An argument can be made that Muslim-majority nations as disparate as (say) Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey are all “secular” constitutional republics, and yet popularly elected governments in each of those countries have been viewed as suspect or even illegitimate in the eyes of their indigenous Islamic critics. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk believed his Turkish Republic could successfully emulate a Western-style democracy:

My people are going to learn the dictates of democracy … Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him to act against the sane reason of his fellow men.

Were Ataturk to return today, however, he would no doubt be charged with treason or heresy or both.

Western-style democracies, as Scruton summarises so effectively in The Uses of Pessimism (2010), are “societies of rational beings, bound to each other by accountability, friendship and respect”. They exist in a post-tribal and post-creedal paradigm that Ataturk hoped might be Turkey’s destiny. This understanding of modernity is, in Scruton’s words, an advanced way of existing “that confers security and freedom in exchange for consent—an order not of submission but of settlement”. But holding each distinct nation-state together, in addition to the mutual respect and accountability of its citizens, is a shared love of homeland (oikophilia) and all its attendant traditions of political liberty and national identity. Refugees and newcomers, argues Scruton in The West and the Rest, will not automatically “have the sense of belonging that is shared by the native population”. Genuine citizenship (as opposed to legal documentation to that effect) can only be acquired “by renouncing an identity” that is bound to “another time and place”. The love of—and primary loyalty to—the homeland is not optional if a Western-style nation or citizen-state wishes to remain democratic and avoid sectarianism.

Samuel P. Huntington, writing at about the same time as The West and the Rest, makes many of the same points—notwithstanding his American rather than European focus—in his book Who Are We? There is the same concern that without a unifying national identity, along the lines of the American Creed, everything changes: “Conflicts over what we should do abroad are rooted in conflicts over who we are at home.” Anticipating Donald Trump’s America First campaign by some fifteen years, Huntington believed the United States needed to eschew the “cosmopolitan alternative” of political correctness, dual citizenship, identity politics, multiculturalism, sectarian loyalties and modern-day tribalism and recommit itself to assimilation and some version of the American Creed. The country should remain true to its singular national idea, formed through a European and Christian heritage and characterised by the love of individual liberty and unabashed patriotism—an admonition that sounds, all these years later, like red meat for Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”.

Scruton, in “Defending the West”, an essay included in the collection Confessions of a Heretic (2016), expands on the particularities of the citizen-state. A Western society can only be sustained because (a) individual citizens enjoy a “private sovereignty” to make the key decisions about their lives and (b) individual citizens use this capacity for self-determination to establish “a shared allegiance among strangers” through “self-criticism, representation and corporate life”. Such an understanding, Scruton contends, explains why the West has shown a flexibility adjusting to the challenges of technology and modernity in general.

This association of strangers (co-citizens) is a social arrangement not to be found in traditional Islamic societies. Sayyid Qutb, a key theorist in the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, found the freedoms of citizenship he encountered in the United States—everything from the “animal-like” mixing of the sexes to superficiality in friendships and conversations, not to mention poor haircuts—horrifying. We might note that Qutb’s two-year stay in the America occurred not in the sexy 1960s or naughty 1990s but in the old-fashioned 1940s. The ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which now characterises key Muslim organisations in the United States such as the Council of American-Islamic Relations, indoctrinates its adherents with a vision of brotherhood (ikhwan), “an altogether warmer, closer and more metaphysically satisfying thing” than citizenship or the fellowship of strangers. In other words, the anti-Western fervour of the activist Salafist and the Salafi-jihadist alike is not about “envy” but “resentment”.

Accordingly, there’s no point apologising for who we are, because the enemy’s hatred of us is “entirely unjustified” and “his implacable enmity cannot be defused by our breast-beating”. Incessantly confessing to our faults only “exposes us to more determined hatred”. We don’t have to hire someone from the tribe for our private business and we don’t have to marry a relative. We are free to be the architects of our own lives—and what’s so wrong with that? We should not be expressing remorse and regret, writes Scruton at the conclusion of “Defending the West”, in this era of Global Jihad:

In the public sphere we can set out to protect the good things that we have inherited. And that means making no concessions to those who wish us to exchange citizenship for subjecthood, nationality for religious conformity, secular law for shari’ah, the Judeo-Christian inheritance for Islam, irony for solemnity, self-criticism for dogmatism, representation for submission, and cheerful drinking for censorious abstinence.

Yes, Sir Roger Scruton enthusiastically champions booze as “the necessary lubricant of the Western dynamo”. In our “society of strangers”, as distinct from the traditional Islamic “society of vigilant conformity”, alcohol breaks the barriers between sovereign individuals who have not already been forced together by “intimacy, brotherhood or tribal loyalties”. As a free people, then, we are permitted a tipple this side of the Great Beyond.

Such a cheery defence of Western civilisation could not be more different from the odium of the New Left. Roger Scruton’s great insight, as a twenty-four-year-old eyewitness to the 1968 Paris student protests, was that these pubertal revolutionaries were daunted by the prospect of adulthood in the most challenging and advanced social arrangement in the history of mankind. They turned the West’s tolerance for self-criticism—a necessary ingredient in a society of strangers—into a weapon of societal destruction. Leftists, in their own perverse way, turned out to be not so different from Sayyid Qutb. At least Qutb, as an Egyptian Muslim, could conceal his abject depression-anxiety in the face of modernity (that is to say, reality) behind the religious tribalism of Islamic revivalism. For the West’s “revolutionaries of 1968”, sadly, the only recourse was nihilism. Scruton called them out on this, in his remarkable 1985 book Thinkers of the New Left, and paid the price by having his academic career destroyed.

Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, published in 2015, is a reconfigured Thinkers of the New Left. It demolishes iconic leftist philosopher-fantasists from Michel Foucault to Slavoj Zizek. The power of Scruton’s critique is that he generously sets out their respective theories about the evils of “capitalism” before crushing what he calls the “nonsense machine”. The great tragedy for the West is that the “Nothing” of these would-be revolutionaries now taints every aspect of public life, from the Hollywood Academy to educational academies, and undermines the intellectual wherewithal or will to defend ourselves from the external (and increasingly internal) enemies of Western civilisation. Here two corroborative points will have to suffice. First, Michel Foucault’s giddiness at the “authenticity” of Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Second, a female ABC journalist of my acquaintance, who spoke enthusiastically about the “liberating effect” of the hijab after sojourning in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Few have encapsulated the nihilistic intent of the modern-day Left better than Roger Scruton: “Henceforth the bourgeois order would be vaporised and mankind would march victorious into the Void.”

These days, thank God, Sir Roger Scruton is too resilient, too prolific and too high-profile a figure to be ignored. The best Richard King, a journalist for the Australian, can do is misrepresent him. In his review of Scruton’s latest tome, On Human Nature, King contends that, as a philosopher and advocate of Immanuel Kant, Scruton sounds “disingenuous” in his defence of Christianity: that is, the philosopher evokes Christianity merely “to land a punch” on Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists, and nothing more. Scruton certainly lands a punch on geneticist fundamentalists: “It may be as impossible to understand the human person by exploring the human animal as it is to discover the significance of a Beethoven symphony by tracing the process of its composition.” But Scruton’s (admittedly nuanced) approval of Christianity is more than a concession to Christians who happen to be conservative.

Conservatives should not allow themselves to be divided in their defence of Western civilisation. If the majority of the citizens of a Western nation-state are no longer practising Christians they might nevertheless appreciate, as Roger Scruton does, the paradox that Christianity has provided them with that option. While Mohammed lived long enough to construct an Islamic state, and therefore a potential political blueprint for all the political leaders who came after him, Christ had a different message: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” You can hold to the tenets of Christianity and still advocate for secular democracy; and you can be agnostic about the Christian faith without turning postmodernist. What righteous Westerners share, as the Paris Statement so clearly enunciates, is the “love of our [respective] homelands” and a rejection of “the utopian fantasy of a multicultural world without borders”.

Daryl McCann is a regular contributor. He has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au, and he tweets at @dosakamccann

5 thoughts on “Roger Scruton and Enlightened Patriotism

  • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

    Well reasoned and written, thank you, Daryl. As an atheist I think that all religions, with their obligatory appeals to the supernatural, are nonsensical. But some are patently more nonsensical, and hence therefore dangerous to civilisation, than others. How any ‘religion’ [philosophical system/creed etc.] that has only ever gained adherents at the point of a sword/gun and rarely ever by intellectual persuasion, can be taken seriously by academics and the so called ‘intelligentsia’ and commentators in the media is beyond my comprehension.
    The last ‘dark ages’ was caused by Islam trying to spread its influence into western Europe, although the leftist re-writing of history has tried [unfortunately successfully in many cases] to place the blame on Christianity. Islam has only ever been spread by the sword or by guns. Even now it must still be opposed by force, but it can only ever be completely stopped by intellectual means. This will be difficult because leftists love totalitarians, that is why they support Islam at the expense of the West and Israel and democracy. There is only one certainty, when given a choice between capitalism/freedom and totalitarianism the left will invariably choose the side of the totalitarian, be they secular totalitarians such as Communists, Nazis or environmentalists or theological totalitarians best exemplified by Islam. Mad mullahs with atomic weapons are truly apocalyptic, they do not fear death and cannot be bargained with. The next Islamic induced ‘dark ages’ may be fatal for our whole species, and not just freedom loving civilised people [westerners].
    That thought is frighful enough to make me publicly defend Christanity at every opportunity.

    • whitelaughter says:

      Something to consider when defending Christianity: many of the people you are argue with take the idea of life after death for granted (which I assume you do not). You can coherently argue how *this* world has benefited/suffered from different religions: you might also ask your opponents what they think an afterlife that has had a millennia and a half of Islam will be like, and get them to compare it to an afterlife inhabited by the Salvos, Vinnies, Flying Doctors and so forth. The idea of ‘hell’ and ‘heaven’ take on real meaning when you consider their inhabitants.

  • whitelaughter says:

    You tripped on the first sentence. Secular democracy is a Christian creation – why do you think we refer to separation of *church* and state, not say temple/mosque/synagogue and state? Nor is it accidental that separation of powers between arms of government is under constant attack; the respect for separate institutions was born in the Apostle Paul’s writings, when he talked about the different organs of the church needing to respect one another.

    Europe could only be united when it was still proudly Christian; thus a medieval, Christian monarch could legitimately try to unite the lands against the Islamic invader, and be remembered as a hero. Without that religious mandate, unification became mere powermongering.

  • pgang says:

    A good article until the very end, where Jesus’ words are completely de-contextualised to prove some sort of point about not having to be a Christian in a Christian society (which is generally stretched these days to mean not having to have Christianity in a Christian society). Jesus was not saying anything about secularism, and at the time the concept would have been incomprehensible. He was chiding the Jewish leadership for their hypocrisy, while at the same time avoiding the self-incriminating trap they had set for him.

    • Jacob Jonker says:

      @penang. That is an over the top, gratuitously piffling comment. Jesus could not, evidently, look ahead two thousand years and fit his wise words directed at the hypocrites with the situation Daryl describes and the aolutions presenting itself in our day and age in our (former) democracies.

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