In 1980, Roger Scruton Explained 2016

Jun 13, 2018

I have read precious little which explains the 2016 election (or the two elections before that, say) better than this passage from The Meaning of Conservatism, originally published in 1980. Most of the explanations of the 2016 election come down to fear and hatred, but Scruton intuits something quite human about how we vote for heads of state which makes 2016 seem much less tawdry, at least so far as voters are concerned.   

…even when the titular head of state is ‘chosen’– where there is an elected president, say, who offers ‘promises’ to the voters— the choice is not in fact a choice of policy. The aims of politics, as they arise from day to day, are beyond the voters’ competence, the ideals of social policy largely beyond their care. Usually, therefore, the president is chosen not as a means to an end, but as a peculiar kind of end in himself— as a ‘statesman.’ Once again, he is a symbol. In a world of mass communication this means that a president will be chosen for his ‘style’, where style carries an implication of inward identity between president and nation, an identity that derives from no common end to which they might be moving. This attachment to style represents an attempt to escape from the burden of democratic election, to escape from the ‘contractual’ element of the choice, to escape most of all from the sense of the state as constantly remade at each election, like a machine that has become outclassed.

-Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism (p 30)

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches great books to high school students at Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia. He is the editor of FilmFisher and has two daughters, both of whom have seven names. You can find him on Twitter @joshgibbs. 

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