December 7, 2005


The Joy of Conservatism: An Interview with Roger Scruton (Part II): This is the second of two parts of my Right Reason interview with Roger Scruton, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the publication of his landmark book, The Meaning of Conservatism. You can read the first part here. (MaxGoss, 12/05/05, Right Reason)

MG: You are often described as a "paleoconservative," a term that Russell Kirk, who was described the same way, was uncomfortable with. Do you accept this designation?

Scruton: I am not hostile to American neo-conservatism, which seems to me to show a commendable desire to think things through and to develop an active alternative to liberalism in both national and international politics. But I suppose I am more of a paleo than a neo-conservative, since I believe that the conservative position is rooted in cultural rather than economic factors, and that the single-minded pursuit of competitive markets is just as much a threat to social order as the single-minded pursuit of equality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 7, 2005 2:28 PM

"The emphasis on life-style also explains the extraordinary war now being waged against tobacco. Smoking belongs with those old and settled habits—like calling women "ladies," getting drunk on Friday nights with your mates, staying married nevertheless, and having babies in wedlock—that reflect the values of a society shaped by the clear division of sexual roles. It is a symbol of the old order, as portrayed by Hollywood and Ealing Studios in the post-war years, and its very innocence, when set beside cocaine or heroin, gives it the aspect of discarded and parental things.

Furthermore, tobacco advertising has specialized in evoking old ideas of male prowess and female seductiveness: even now, cigarette ads dramatize decidedly un-hip fantasies that stand opposed to the elite culture—after all, the target consumer is the ordinary person, whose fantasies these are. Nor should we forget that tobacco is big business, from which giant corporations make vast profits by the hour. In almost every way, tobacco offends against political correctness, and precisely because it seems to put older people at their ease and enable them to deal confidently with others, it raises the hackles of those who have never achieved that precious condition and whose discomfort is only increased by the sight of others so harmlessly and sociably enjoying themselves.

This is not to deny that tobacco is a risk to health: of course it is. Moreover, it is just about the only product on the market that relentlessly says so. But the health risk does not really explain the vehemence of the attacks on it or the extraordinary attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency and other bureaucracies to portray cigarette smoke as the single most important threat to our children's well-being. For the risk tobacco poses, when compared with those associated with marijuana, automobiles, fatty food, alcohol, or sedentary ways of life, is not actually very serious. Robert A. Levy and Rosalind B. Marimot have shown that smoking reduces the life expectancy of an American 20-year-old by 4.3 years. In an age when people manifestly live too long, why should Nanny be so worried? And why doesn't she turn her attention instead to those products that risk not the physical but the mental and moral health of the consumer: television, for example, or pornography?

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that what offends about tobacco is not its medical guilt but its moral innocence. It is precisely because it is so harmless, from every point of view other than the medical one, that smoking gets on Nanny's nerves. People don't commit crimes under the influence of smoking, as they do under the influence of drink or drugs. People who smoke have a ready way of putting themselves at ease, of standing back from the world of troubles and taking benign stock of it. Their characters are not distorted or corrupted by their habit, nor is their moral sense betrayed. The smoker is a normal, responsible member of the community, and he can be relied upon, when asked, to put out his fag. He is not led by his habit into transgressing the established order or the old moral code; on the contrary, his habit has been entirely domesticated by the old sexual morality and recruited to the task of glamorizing it."

Posted by: Carter at December 7, 2005 2:58 PM


The entire essay becomes unintelligible at this point "other than the medical one."

Posted by: oj at December 7, 2005 3:04 PM

To health cultists, perhaps, but to anyone with a conservative world view it makes perfect sense.

Posted by: Carter at December 7, 2005 3:17 PM


The same thing can be said about Drakes which you were promoting lower in the site.

Posted by: h-man at December 7, 2005 3:21 PM


Which sins is it that conservatism is indifferent to?

Posted by: oj at December 7, 2005 3:25 PM


Food serves social goods that smoking does not. But sin taxes on certain kinds of food make sense.

Posted by: oj at December 7, 2005 3:26 PM

So Carter: you're allowed to eat (for now) because there are social benefits. By the way, oj, don't tempt us. We can think of many, many social benefits that would flow from not feeding you at all.

Posted by: joe shropshire at December 7, 2005 3:35 PM


So pass them into law--that's how liberty works.

Posted by: oj at December 7, 2005 3:41 PM

Of course it's not. No liberty worth the name would let the mob take out its whims on you that way, even if you do ask for it every other time you open your pie hole, and even though you'd probably accept the punishment. Fuggedaboutit.

Posted by: joe shropshire at December 7, 2005 3:55 PM


The worry about the mob is that it will mistreat minorities. So long as the mob applies rules to itself then it is enacting liberty. No one will miss coffee cake much.

Posted by: oj at December 7, 2005 4:00 PM

God gave us every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth, OJ. The coffee cake, in contrast, is an invention of Man.

Posted by: Carter at December 7, 2005 4:45 PM

Tobacco, divine, rare, superexcellent tobacco, which goes far beyond all their panaceas, potable gold, and philosopher's stones, a sovereign remedy to all diseases. A good vomit, I confess, a virtuous herb, if it be well qualified and opportunely taken, and medicinally used, but as it is commonly abused by most men, which take it as tinkers do ale, 'tis a plague, a mischief, a violent purger of goods, lands, health; hellish, devilish and damned tobacco, the ruin and overthrow of body and soul.

Posted by: Stephen Maturin at December 7, 2005 5:02 PM


Smoke poison ivy much?

Posted by: oj at December 7, 2005 5:06 PM

God gave us tobacco to smoke and be happy, he gave us poison ivy as a practical joke, and he gave us kohlrabi because he works in mysterious ways.

Posted by: Carter at December 7, 2005 5:35 PM

He wants you to smoke kohlrabi--it's harmless.

Posted by: oj at December 7, 2005 5:39 PM

Dr Maturin:

Agreed, laudanum is much more civilised.

Posted by: Brit at December 8, 2005 5:49 AM