During student protests in Paris in 1968, Roger Scruton watched students overturn cars to erect barricades and tear up cobblestones to throw at police. It was at that moment he realized he was a conservative:
I suddenly realized I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted by it, and thought there must be a way back to the defence of western civilization against these things. That’s when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.
Scrunton, an philosopher who specializes in aesthetics, is one of the most intriguing conservatives in England. In a recent interview for Prospect, Scruton talks about his new book, How To Be a Conservative.
Here are six quotes from that interview:
On what conservatism means: “[W]e have collectively inherited good things that we must strive to keep.”
On what conservatism shares with liberalism (and how they differ): “[They share] 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.”
On political order: “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.”
On how conservatives should be optimistic: “So much of modern political conservatism—and you see this in America, which has a quite articulate conservative movement compared with us—is phrased in elegiac terms. [It’s about] what we’ve lost—we’ve lost the traditional working-class family, the black family or whatever it might be. Now, all that is perfectly reasonable. But the most important question is what have we got, rather than what we’ve lost, and how do we keep it?”
On Margaret Thatcher: “I think of her as an old-fashioned British patriot who saw the country to the dogs and said, ‘We’re going to rescue it.’ She had a very clear conception of old, lower-middle-class virtues—frugality, responsibility and so on. This was displayed in events like the Falklands War, when her instinct was immediately to ask, ‘What is the threat? What shall we do?’ The ‘we’ feeling was very, very strong.”
On sacrifice as a basis for human life: “The ability to give things up. I think of the great Christian virtue of forgiveness in those terms. This is a giving up of resentment, a giving up of the thing that is dear to you.”