I was saddened but strangely unsurprised to hear that Roger Scruton had died of cancer at the age of 75. I had somehow been expecting it, although I didn’t know that he was ill.
Reflecting on his life’s work, it occurred to me that his famous conservatism was simply a way of expressing in a political idiom a deeper current of thought, which actually has more to do with resistance than conservation. On the face of it, his passionate defence of high culture, for example, is about conserving the cultural riches of the past, particularly in music and architecture, for future generations. It is the expression of his sense of duty to the dead and the unborn. However, it is more than that.
It is a repudiation of equality. In aesthetic matters, some things are better than others. Beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder. It is not just down to subjective taste or conventional consensus. There is such a thing as “aesthetic value”. This is the corner stone of his whole philosophy, which boils down to being a defense of value against equality.
C.S. Lewis makes the point forcefully through the mouth of the demon Screwtape in Screwtape Proposes a Toast, written shortly before his death in 1963. It is a very witty piece of satire, with Screwtape bemoaning the blandness of the Tempters’ Training College annual dinner meal (of the damned) due to the mediocrity of people’s sins. But he goes on to argue that quantity is better than quality and that in the long run it’s a good thing, because it means that at least hardly anyone gets to Heaven.
According to Screwtape, this is because of the prevailing doctrine of I’m as good as you masquerading under the guise of “democracy”. He might equally have used the word “equality”. Because anyone is able to say I’m as good as you (without actually believing it of course – it is a perpetual inner deception) there is no incentive to be any good at anything or to admire those things or people which are.
There is an obvious flaw in the idea or equality. You cannot raise everyone up to be equally good, on a par with the saints or the great composers. That’s clearly highly unrealistic, considering it takes years of sweat and tears and not a little natural talent or even genius. Who would make the effort given every conceivable opportunity? Only a handful. The rest would remain what they were.
The only way to achieve equality therefore, is in the opposite direction, by dragging everyone down to the lowest common denominator. Who said “people are only perfectly equal when they’re dead”? For equality enthusiasts, people are only acceptably equal when they’re as good as dead.
The Utopian dream of “equalizers” is a world where everyone has made themselves so insignificant, that no-one can hurt anyone any more. Peace will only truly descend on Earth when no-one can pull themselves out of bed. Everyone is equalized and neutralized. No-one pokes their head above the bedclothes.
Aldous Huxley saw this. He called it Brave New World. C.S. Lewis saw it. Chesterton saw it. T.S. Eliot saw it. As did Nietzsche, the raging prophet of the “will to power”. Nietzsche was nauseated by the simpering Victorian Christianity he saw degenerating into the abject pathos of flaccid, facile, bourgeois domesticity. People should not be domesticated like cats and dogs.
Roger Scruton is in the same tradition, although he upholds authentic bourgeois aspirational values against the onslaughts of the radical socialist equalizers. He is a prophet against equality for the sake of individual freedom and self-realisation. So is Ken Wilber, another latter-day prophet of value. He makes much of the concept of hierarchy, which is of course anathema to equalizers, in fact, the very antithesis of their worldview. As does Jordan Peterson, the latest prophet on the block.
Jordan Peterson and Roger Scruton are well despised, as all good prophets should be. They are dismissed by equalizers with the two magic words, “Right Wing”. But, as I said, this goes deeper than political ideology. This goes to the heart of what it means to be human, which is something to do with standing up straight with your shoulders back.
Nelson Mandela famously didn’t say, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same” (it was Marianne Williamson). But where does the light come from? Where do genius and inner strength and power come from? When you are inspired, you are in-spired. It is as if something or someone has breathed into you. It is as if you are filled with a holy spirit. Why not just go ahead and say you are filled with the Holy Spirit?
King Arthur was made King because he pulled Excalibur from the stone. This was evidence that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. When you are King, you don’t subject yourself to the demands of “equality” or “democracy”. You don’t hide your light so as not to offend those who don’t shine. But neither do you abuse your power. You do not become a tyrant, because you know that you must obey the King above you, the King of Kings, otherwise the Holy Spirit will be withdrawn from you.
The prophets are on one side of the present fissure in history, exhorting us to wake up from our soft, comfortable, modern sleep and to take our place beside the Kings and Queens of myth and antiquity. On the other side are amassed an army of modern and postmodern ideologies and isms. Don’t let them bully you. Don’t let them fool you into joining the Church of Nobody. Your sins may be trivial, and your flesh may be tasteless, but you’ll still end up on the banqueting table in Hell.