Roger Scruton: Philosopher on Dover Beach

Essays

St. Augustine’s Press, 1998 (1990)

Back Cover:

Scruton“The range is impressive, but un-nerving and episodic. His best piece is his long analysis of ‘Man’s Second Disobedience,’, his moralist’s assessment of the significance of the French Revolution…In Part III of the Collection…he is more outspoken and more lucid than elsewhere and, in places, savage.”  Esmond Wright, Contemporary Review

“Each essay has been constructed with considerable care, and the positions taken are clearly stated and soundly argued…He shows…that the philosopher-critic is alive and well…Recommended for all academic libraries.”  Library Journal

“[Scruton] writes eloquently of the way in which social bonds, if refashioned in contractual form, ‘become profane, a system of facade, a Disneyland version of what was formerly dignified and monumental.'”  Peter Clarke, London Review of Books

Scruton“It is a great pity that we in the United States do not have our own Roger Scruton. As his new collection of essays reminds us, he is an accomplished philosopher who writes trenchantly about many important political, social and religious issues, who cares passionately about art and culture and who is also a brilliant conservative polemicist…

Mr. Scruton has two great virtues as a critic. One is his ability to combine a delicate appreciation fo culture with the robust intellectual skills of a trained philosopher…

Mr. Scruton’s other great virtue is his habit of assessing things from the inside, taking them on their own terms. If his judgments are often harsh, one nevertheless comes away feeling that he has made the best case possible for his subject. This makes his criticism more devastating yet also more generous than the criticism of most other commentators.”  Roger Kimball, New York Times Book Review

The Essays:

I  PHILOSOPHY AND CULTURE

1  The philosopher on Dover Beach

2  Spengler’s Decline of the West

3  Understanding Hegel

4  Hegel as a Conservative Thinker

5  Gierke and the corporate person

6  Masaryk, Patocka and the care of the soul

7  Analytical philosophy and emotion

8  Modern philosophy and the neglect of aesthetics

9  Aesthetic experience and culture

II  CRITICAL ASIDES

10  Playwrights in performance: Pinter, Stoppard and Beckett

11  Peter Fuller as critic

12  Picasso and the women

13  Beastly bad taste: the work of Gilbert and George

14  Who owns art?

15  Radical critics: Harold Rosenberg and T. J. Clark

16  The photographic surrogate

17  In search of an audience

III  THE POLITICAL DIMENSION

18  The idea of progress

19  Man’s second disobedience: reflections on the French Revolution

20  Two enlightened Irishmen: G. B. Shaw and Conor Cruise O’Brien

21  The red and the green

22  A note on Bloch

23  The liturgy of the left

24  Ideologically speaking

25  Sexual morality and the liberal consensus

26  The usurpation of Australia

27  The left establishment

28  In defence of the nation

JOB’s Comment:

An extraordinarily rich and substantial collection of essays. The essays’ titles give an idea of Scruton’s versatility, and I list them since he should be carefully studied. But for all the deep and well-formulated insights in the fields of culture, politics, and society – Scruton is an essential thinker in our time – I suggest (and I have said this before) he must in fact be read with some discernment primarily in his own main field, philosophy, and in his other fields too, to the considerable extent that his problematic philosophical positions shape his understanding of them too.

His fundamental philosophical position depends on a certain understanding of the Lebenswelt, in terms of phenomenology, and of the scientific “worldview”, in terms of – well, science. I find his understanding of these things as well as of the relation between them to be basically mistaken, even as the intention to rescue the Lebenswelt in the face of scientific rationalism is a good one and many of his points are valid for those who accept or postulate that there is an objective reality corresponding to the ever-shifting theories and models that is the scientific “worldview”. The analysis and the arguments probably work, as it were, in a world where people actually believe this. The problem is that Scruton seems to ignore the philosophical reasons why this belief must be questioned (which is not at all to deny the value and validity of science, differently understood).

The Lebenswelt, I submit, is not what Scruton thinks it is, and not least because the scientific “worldview” is not what he thinks it is. The Lebenswelt is for Scruton a superficial yet precious phenomenon, and science a deep reality, the onesided modern emphasis on which threatens the values of the former. For me, the Lebenswelt is a comparatively deep – and indeed precious – phenomenon behind which and in which is hidden a still deeper, ultimate reality of spiritual nature; science is, in the respects Scruton has in mind, not really a worldview but a pragmatic fiction that threatens the values of the Lebenswelt primarily because it is thought to be something more than this. Scruton says he cannot bring himself to believe that, and he seems to regard it exclusively as a matter of religious faith.

But ultimately, only this understanding can save the values of the Lebenswelt from the illusions of scientific rationalism and its various misplaced applications. It is untenable to seek to rescue the traditional values of the Lebenswelt – and here we are talking of the whole edifice of culture, the arts, morality, society and religion, i.e., Scruton’s other fields – within and by means of this distinctly modern philosophical framework, disregarding the positions which traditionally underpinned the threatened values he cherishes and the defence of which, in their general worldview outline, are easily renewable and indeed continuosly maintained by many philosophers.

Scruton explains his position in these regards not primarily in these essays, but at greater length in other works. But it is necessary to understand, and, so to speak, be on one’s guard against this central position when reading most of his texts, for his many valuable truths often, and quite unnecessarily, rest on this weak foundation of twentieth-century philosophy (combining its analytical and phenomenological strands). This is why discernment is needed: the many truths of his analyses need to be distinguished and separated from this philosophical context and inserted into the broadly idealist framework where they really belong.

Roger Kimball, cited above from the back cover, takes the same position with regard to these things as Scruton, and I have briefly set forth my argument against it in my essay on him in Humanitas.

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All original writing © Jan Olof Bengtsson
"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
Ramana Maharshi