Juicy Quotes From Roger Scruton About Conservatism

Jun 12, 2018

Around ten years ago, I was caught between the basically Republican ideals with which I had been raised, and the ambivalent approach to tradition which has been popular for around two hundred years now in the West. For several years, I was quite sympathetic to pacifism and anarchy, and a leftist anthropology seemed more compelling, more humane, and more true to reality than my old loves. Then I read Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolutions in France and found that I had never really understood conservatism to begin with, and that it was (paradoxically) both more mystical and more full of common sense than anything I had ever heard before. I am not content there are many disciples of Burke left in the world, but Roger Scruton is one of them. Lord, how I love Roger Scruton. I would trade a dozen Jordan Petersons for half a Scruton. What follows is a series of quotes from the first several chapters of Scruton's remarkable The Meaning of Conservatism, which you ought to order and read in full. 


For the conservative, constraint should be upheld, until it can be shown that society is not damaged by its removal. (p 6)

Freedom without institutions is blind: it embodies neither genuine social continuity nor… genuine individual choice. (p 8)

…conservatism becomes conscious only when forced to be so… (p 9)

…conservatism arises directly from the sense that one belongs to some continuing, and pre-existing social order, and that this fact is all-important in determining what to do. (p 10)

…in so far as people love life they will love what has given them life… (p 10)

A politician who seeks to impose upon [society] a given set of purposes, and seeks no understanding of the reason and values which the society proposes in return, acts in defiance of friendship. (p 13)

Indeed, for the conservative, power will not be able to mask itself as subordinate to some clear justifying aim— it is not the means to ‘social justice’, or ‘equality’, or ‘freedom’. It is power to command and influence, and its justification must be found within itself, in an idea of legitimacy or established right. (p 15)

…it has to be conceded that conservatives suffer from a singular disadvantage… For, lacking any obvious aim in politics, they lack any offering with which to stir up the enthusiasm of the crowd. They are concerned solely with the task of government, and their attitude defies translation into a shopping-list of social goals. They look with skepticism upon the myths of equality and social justice; they regard universal political agitation with distaste, and the clamor for ‘progress’ seems to them no more than a passing fad, serious only in so far as it constitutes a threat to the political order… The great intellectual advantage of socialism is obvious. Through its ability to align itself with ideals that everyone can recognize, socialism has been able to perpetuate the belief in its moral purity, despite crime upon crime committed in its name. (p 15-16)

It is a remarkable fact that people recognize authority in their fellows… (p 18)

Now no one, least of all a conservative, is likely to believe that government is possible without the propagation of myths. But this particular fiction— which at one time proved convenient in persuading people that the legitimacy of government lay elsewhere than in the divine right of kings— bears about as much relation to the facts as the view that my parents and I once surreptitiously contracted that they would nourish and educate me in return for my later care. Naturally, not every contract has to be explicit… (p 19)

Perhaps the most remarkable thing that has happened in American politics during this century is the recognition that the powers of the state in fact transcend their supposed contractual basis, and must therefore look for their authority elsewhere. (p 21)

Consider the family. I have already suggested that it would be absurd to think of family ties as contractual, or family obligations as in any way arising from a free relinquishing of autonomy, or even from some unspoken bargain which arises into consciousness, so to speak, at some later stage. Even as a metaphor, the language of contract here fails to make contact with the facts. And it is because of this that extreme individualists— those who can see no virtue in any arrangement which does not in the end derive from conscious choice— have begun to attack the family, to fabricate an idea of its ‘dispensability’, to declare war on it as a form of ‘patriarchal’ oppression, from which women and children must be liberated if they are to enjoy a freedom and fulfillment of their own. (p 21)

Impiety is the refusal to recognize as legitimate a demand that does not arise from consent or choice. (p 23)

No serious conservative can believe that there ought to be a power greater than that of the state, a power that can, if it chooses, put itself beyond the reach of the law. (p 23)

Individuality too is an artifact, an achievement which depends upon the social life of people. And indeed, as many historians have pointed out, it is a recent venture of the human spirit for men and women to define themselves as individuals, as creatures whose nature and value are summed up in their unique individual being. The condition of mankind requires that individuals, while they exist and act as autonomous beings, do so only because they can first identify themselves as something greater— as members of a society, group, class, name, but which they recognize instinctively as home. (p 24)

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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