• On the Left and Roger Scruton

    Image Credit – CEU, Adam Draskovics (Kepszerkesztoseg)

    By Jonathan Rutherford

    I got to know Roger Scruton because, being Blue Labour, I was interested in conservative thinking and he is England’s foremost conservative thinker and our country’s most eminent philosopher. He explained conservatism to me as liberalism taking a pause. The New Statesman might consider a pause having succeeded in getting him sacked from his role as chair of the government commission on ‘Building More, Building Beautifully’ after he gave an interview to the magazine in which he made intemperate comments on Islam and George Soros.

    The glee in bringing down Roger Scruton exposes a journalistic culture tinged with a liberal Stalinism. The New Statesman was reduced to the political Twitter sphere with its toxic mixture of self-righteous ignorance and intolerance. And more than this it reveals a contemporary liberalism whose own illiberalism undermines the values upon which it is based and which it is striving to defend.

    What is the purpose of the “new” New Statesman? Its contributors include liberals and Marxists, Blue Labour types and, occasionally, Corbyn types. It features Andrew Murray and Helen Lewis alongside John Gray and Adrian Pabst. It has run exemplary long interview-profiles of Nigel Farage and John McDonnell. As a regular reader, I do not see this pluralism as simply a celebration of diversity for its own sake. As our political crisis has deepened, the New Statesman under Jason Cowley has been engaged in a deeply considered intellectual search for new thinking that can help us to navigate our way through the current interregnum.

    It has recognised that our liberal market settlement is exhausted and that there is as yet no viable alternative. The liberal world order is changing fundamentally. Populism is not simply reducible to xenophobia. Leave voters are not stupid or deluded. There exists a deep popular disquiet at the state of our society and its governing class. Our political parties have been unable to renew themselves and millions feel disenfranchised. The New Statesman has been questioning received orthodoxies, creating dialogue, and thinking philosophically in service to the revival of a democratic politics. And it is unique in our national culture in holding open the paradoxes of politics in order to imagine and construct a new political settlement.

    It has pursued its intention in a deeply polarised and fractious political environment. However, the treatment of Roger Scruton and the response to his sacking by some of the staff reveals how easily such an open- minded project can succumb to the soft bigotry of self-righteous indignation.

    Scruton has got views on Islam. His book The West and the Rest explores its relationship to the West. Read it and form a judgment. His views on the intellectual left are set out in Fools, Frauds and Firebrands and can be countered and challenged. His latest book Where We Are, on the state of Britain, should be widely read on the left.

    Scruton’s conservatism is a philosophy of attachment. He describes it as a love of home, by which he means the common life and inheritance that belongs to “us”, the people, and which grows out of everyday life. This “us” is not made by contract and nor is it ethnic in its origins. It is membership which is made in the ordinary life of friendship, family, community and love of place.

    The left has followed the liberal philosopher Friedrich Hayek’s disparaging view of conservatism in his essay, Why I am not a Conservative. Conservatism, writes Hayek with its fear of change and timid distrust of the new, is dragged along paths not of its choosing, constantly applying the “brake on the vehicle of progress”. But we have all learned that things don’t only get better. The destructive impact of liberal economics over the last 40 years requires that we recognise the enduring presence and value of the conservative instinct in society. As Scruton argues, the market has a corrosive effect on human settlement. Global capitalism is a kind of brigandage in which costs are transferred to future generations for the sake of rewards here and now.

    Scruton’s books are testimony to intellectual rigour and they demand a similar rigour in response. His accusers on the left resort to the superficial and brittle activism of twittered words and phrases. Is this the best the intellectual left can do?

6 Responsesso far.

  1. Robert says:

    A good article.
    Shamefully, it appears to be all what the dominant ‘intellectual’ left can do, however. The thinking and actions of the likes of George Eaton, Owen-bleeding-Jones, the hysterical and non-sensical “I’m literally a communist” and the latest NUS leader dominant discourse in Britain now. They have polluted it. For shame

    Glasman’s and Goodhart’s (fair-minded and sensible) voices are drowned by the wail of this Twitter lynch-mob

  2. Stephen Gwynne says:

    I think the national politics we are looking for is a politics of sufficiency.

    This politics of sufficiency can be inclusive in all the ways in which Blue Labour advocates and can be pluralistic in how we achieve sufficiency, whether in terms of our economy, our ecology and our relationship with the wider world.

    A politics of sufficiency creates a new perspective on how the European System should be organised in terms of a European System of national sufficiency economies in which European nations cooperate in order to achieve mutual sufficiency.

    This means democratic controls over our borders and the management of flows of people, capital, goods and services moving in and out of the country. It is also appreciative of the balance between green infrastructure and grey infrastructure and the balance between the human world and the natural world.

    The politics of sufficiency is pluralistic because it is mindful of the balance between liberal human rights and conservative ancestral rights. It is agonistic because this balance is always dependent on a deep understanding of countervailing ideologies rather than the superficial judgements that seek to isolate one ideological identity from another.

    Lastly, a politics of sufficiency ensures that the resource endowment of other countries is not something to be appropriated in order to sustain the unsustainable, but the economic lifeforce from which flows political and cultural continuity.

  3. Stephen Gwynne says:

    The Brexit/Remain Conundrum.

    The reason why the Brexit negotiations are so protracted without any end in sight is because so far the discussions have failed to incorporate sustainability politics and more importantly, sufficiency and resilience politics into the Brexit agenda. By this, I mean the Brexit debate has failed to integrate the wider issues concerning the liberal economic agenda of neoliberal globalization, the liberal socio-cultural agenda of universalism and the liberal political agenda of cosmopolitanism, which for all intent and purposes are seen by many Remainers as the means to alleviate global (or European)poverty and the sole means by which to achieve sustainable economic and cultural development.

    In the context of Brexit, these different liberal agendas are currently being played out in the British Parliament (as well as on the European stage) and are the ideological basis of the (neo) liberal consensus that drives the Remain agenda. (I use (neo) liberal to highlight the economic and social dimensions of the liberal consensus). However, upon deeper analysis (of which will follow), these (neo) liberal agendas are proving to be misguided liberal utopianism, whether at the European level or the Global level. Similarly, and more destructively, this (neo) liberal utopianism is the present source of the self-righteous indignation that underlies the self-legitimisation of ProjectFear, that is the propaganda war that is seeking to circumvent rational debate. In other words, ProjectFear is the process of self-legitimisation that underlies ‘plausible denialism’ which deems as inferior or derides as irrational contesting point of views and which underlies ‘targeted othering’ which seeks to demean and dehumanize the holders or delivers of these contesting points of view, even if these contesting perspectives are empirically sound and supported by scientific evidence. In other words, ProjectFear is the vehicle by which the (neo) liberal ideological identity asserts itself as superior to any other type of identity.

    It is these self-legitimised dimensions of ProjectFear that results in the accusations of illiberalism, illiberal democracy and authoritarianism despite the fact that ProjectFear itself is an expressions of these things. However, what is really being contested or challenged by ProjectFear within the Brexit debate is the national democratic basis of sovereignty and the ability of a nation to democratically control its economy, its ecology and its relations with other nations. This is because these national perspectives run counter to the (neo) liberal utopian belief that economic, cultural and political sustainability and sufficiency are best achieved at Regional or Global scales of governance and management and not at the National where democratic sovereignty and self-determination has the potential to produce illiberal results.

    Underneath ProjectFear, there is also a class struggle, in that the (neo) liberal agenda of globalization, universalism and cosmopolitanism strengthens the potential of a metropolitan liberal middle class uprising in which to displace national based aristocratic or traditional upper class formations. In this respect, ProjectFear is utilized to force the working class to choose which side of history to be on – the right liberal side or the wrong conservative side. In turn ProjectFear evokes either national self-reflection or national self-flagellation which not only landscapes the British sovereignty argument but also delineates the opposition between a EU (neo) liberal technocratic centre of power and a national democratic centre of power. The latter of which incorporating its own opposition between parliamentary democracy and popular democracy (populism). However, the resolution of these intersectional issues of sustainability, sufficiency, national sovereignty and an EU (neo) liberal technocracy are not as simple as ideological liberal identities would have us believe.
    Overall, it is these contested fields of power that sets the overall context for the Brexit/Remain battle and in particular the bitter argument about which pathway will best reduce national anxieties regarding economic, cultural and political security and which pathway leads towards a sustainable and sufficient future for all of Europe. There is abundant scientific evidence to demonstrate that the current (neo) liberal EU economic system is fundamentally unsustainable and is unable to deliver long term economic, social and ecological wellbeing and prosperity without the continued and sustained appropriation of foreign resources and future reserves of renewable resources. This ecological fact is in turn causing national anxieties across Europe but unfortunately (neo) liberal ideologues are seeking to close down debate because this will invariably mean the slow deconstruction of the (neo) liberal model before it has the chance to get a foothold in the European Psyche. Hence all European eyes are on Brexit, to see how the (neo) liberal forces behind the Remain agenda will seek to destabilize national democratic systems, of which ProjectFear is an intrinsic part. In this respect, ProjectFear is simultaneously seeking to capture British democracy, overturn Brexit and bring down the Tory Government, all in the name of ideologically driven (neo) liberal utopianism.

    At present, the aspects of the Brexit/Remain battle which are not being fully explored is the ecological implications of a European wide single system that embraces the tenets of neoliberal globalization, which presently includes the privatisation and marketisation of what is traditionally considered the public sphere of public services and public infrastructure, cultural universalism, which specifically promotes human rights over and above ancestral rights, and political cosmopolitanism in which a technocratic supranational state overrules the democratic national state.
    The deeper implications are highlighted when the European single system is assessed for its ability to create resilience, sustainability and sufficiency within the overall European system. Resilience is created through diversity and redundancy (see Stockholm Resilience Centre) whereby diversity replicates functional traits within different sub-systems. This means if one or more functional traits are loss in one sub-system, they can be backed up by functional traits in another. This replication of functional traits across the system is the basis of redundancy in that the diverse distribution of functional traits across a system ensures an adequate reserve of functional traits in case one or more are lost. In (neo) liberal economic terms, this is represented as a capital inefficiency but if nations have the capability to be sufficient in their own means of production, by which to satisfy the needs of a national population, then these capital inefficiencies translate as improved national security. Therefore rather than a couple of large European car manufacturing plants that take advantage of economies of scale, car manufacturing plants that are distributed nationally means that in the event of an economic crisis, Europe might see the shutdown of one or two national plants, but there will be others that can continue operating to satisfy human needs.

    Enhancing resilience also requires buffers in order to limit connectivity so that in the event of a crisis, disruptions are isolated within a sub-system and so are less likely to spread to other sub-systems. This means for a system to be resilient, it needs to be differentiated into sub-systems which in the European context, means the requirement for national sufficiency and an adequate degree of national autonomy in order to maintain the resilience functions that national sufficiency creates. Arguably, this is why Nature itself demarcates itself into differentiated feeding territories since this is how the system as a whole is able to maximize resilience. However, a centralized single system approach reduces resilience in the same way a decentralized system doesn’t.

    Therefore, the more a centralized system disempowers its national parts and the more it seeks to inhibit nations from democratically demarcating its own sufficiency regime through the democratic management of flows of people, capital, goods and services, the more the centralised system reduces its ability to adapt and recover from shocks. This intersectional context between the ability of a European System to create systemic resilience and the ability of nations to create sufficiency is the determining factor of whether the European System is able to create long term sustainability or not. Therefore, the primary reason why the current European System is unsustainable and requires the appropriation of foreign resources and future reserves of renewable resources is because it does not create systemic resilience through national sufficiency.

    Within this ecological fact, (neo) liberal utopianism is currently unable to provide alternatives to the capability of nations to utilize their autonomy and their democratic sovereignty to create systemic resilience and sustainability despite the oft repeated promise for major EU Reform. In other words, there is no EU Reform Plan because (neo) liberal utopianism is unable to imagine one without contradicting its own ideals of globalization, universalism and cosmopolitanism. Hence, there is no manifest EU Reform Plan beyond #ProjectFear rhethoric. The only possible way in which European Systemic resilience and national sufficiency can be created through a (neo) liberal framework is through deep forms of national subsidiarity which basically allows and enables the nation to exert democratic control over the sacred four economic freedoms. This would of course need deep reform of the EU Treaties, whereby the sufficiency principle replaces the growth principle and the cooperation principle replaces the competition principle.

    In terms of cultural (identity, ethnic and racial) politics, this need for national democratic systems to create systemic resilience produces dilemmas, especially in the context of national self-determination. The (neo) liberal fear of national self-determination is that majority white populations will exert ancestral rights over and above human rights, which to some degree is already happening in some Eastern European countries. Therefore, the task that is at hand is not only to appreciate that (neo) liberal utopianism has no empirical validity but that the need for national democratic systems requires a re-invention of European enlightenment liberalism and one that takes us away from ideological globalised liberalism to one that moves us towards various forms of nationalised liberalism. I argue this, because whilst a European System of National Sufficiency provides the resilience and the sustainability solutions for our European System as a whole, the resilience functions of diversity and redundancy also need to be replicated within nations too, so that both European systemic resilience and National systemic resilience are combined to produce optimal sustainability for the European system as a whole. However, I argue that national systemic resilience needs to be created through national liberal democratic debate as opposed to being enforced through illiberal technocratic interventions. Therefore, a WTO Brexit or an Unilateral Backstop Brexit provides the best pathway to not only create National systemic resilience but also provides the foundation for the creation of European systemic resilience until such time that the EU Treaties are deeply reformed.

  4. Sarah Hancock says:

    I thought this a very balanced reasonable piece and am interested in blue Labour as could be my political home. I have just read a brilliant book National Populism the Revolt against Liberal Democracy by Matthew Goodwin and Roger Eatwell and it shows how many politicians and journalists have no understanding of Populism at all and just dismiss it and people associated with it by throwing around more labels. In fact it’s roots go back a long way. I follow Douglas Murray and have been appalled at the way Roger Scruton has been treated. In the good old days people could debate and disagree whereas now people are labelled and vilified and misquoted or quoted out of context. This can’t be good for democracy or civil society in general.

  5. David Mottershead says:

    Very well said. We all need to stick together in defending people from wrongful accusation, whether on the left or right. We must talk to each other truthfully and not lie. I live in a democracy because I want to be surrounded by people who may disagree with me. How else will I learn anything?

  6. John Roddam says:

    Thanks for the article. I came to the Blue Labour website after watching Roger Scruton and Douglas Murray talking about conservatism on a YouTube video.
    There was a lot to like in their discussion even though I’m from a left leaning working class background. There were some points in their discussion I could have taken issue with and there is one example near the end of your piece.
    “The common life and inheritance” and the belonging to “us” he talks about is unfortunately (some might say criminally) so very, very different depending on your social class and to some extent geography. Growing up within a wealthy family, public school, good university, career opportunities through social contacts, society events e.g. Henley Regatta etc. is so very different to the experience of a person from an ex-mining village or a sink estate somewhere. That is why a lot of “lefties” get angry and aggressive. Does Roger recognise the injustice and has he a solution? Does he even want one? Thanks again.

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