October 18, 2014


How to be a conservative: a conversation with Roger Scruton (Jonathan Derbyshire,  September 12, 2014, Prospect)

JD: In the preface to the book, you say that there are two kinds of conservatism, "one metaphysical, the other empirical." The metaphysical variety, you write, "resides in the belief in sacred things and the desire to defend them against desecration." The empirical version, meanwhile, is a "reaction to the vast changes unleashed by the Reformation and the Enlightenment." You say you're mostly preoccupied in this book with "down-to-earth matters." I wonder, though, just how hard-and-fast that distinction is. It struck me that the empirical side of your conservatism is also underpinned by what might be call a metaphysics of personhood, a conception of the nature of the human person.

RS: That's absolutely true. I think it's what conservatism--my kind of conservatism, at least--shares with liberalism: an attempt to found things ultimately on a vision of what the human person is. Of course, it is the case that conservatism as I envisage it distances itself always from abstract conceptions and tries to find the concrete reality... the good in the present.

Related to this is the emphasis you place on what you call the "first-person plural," a phrase that occurs several times in the book.

Yes. Ultimately, political order does not generate itself. For that reason, social contract theories are suspended in mid-air, so to speak. All political order presupposes a pre-political order, a sense that people belong together. And then, of course, they might seek a contract that embodies their togetherness. But the togetherness has to be there. [...]

You have a very distinctive account of what the principal evil of communism was. People often talk in very general terms about totalitarianism and the sclerosis of the planned economy. But for you the real evil was the assault on the institutions of "civil association"--the closing down of choirs, theatre groups, reading societies, walking clubs, church institutions, charities and so on.

Absolutely. I think I'm speaking the same language as Burke there. He was so prescient about what he saw as evil in the French Revolution. It was not just the executions and so on--it was the confiscation of civil society from its members. That's what I felt most strongly [in Czechoslovakia], because I was trying to revive it in my own way.

Posted by at October 18, 2014 8:20 PM

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