Truth rebranded as thought crimes

by PAUL COLLITS – TIME flies, even when you’re not having fun. It is four years this month since Sir Roger Scruton passed. He had cancer, and was 75 years young. 

Roger Scruton was a British philosopher of the first order, a scholar, teacher (on both sides of the Atlantic), journalist and afficionado of the arts. 

Their thought crimes were many. The worst of the lot? They stood for truth, a notion whose very existence their enemies denied. They stood up to the follies of the age.

His interests were very broad, and where he had interests, there followed expertise. His knowledge was seriously deep across many areas of study and thought.

He was a traditionalist. A British patriot and a conservative. And, incidentally, not especially political in the narrow sense of the term. If culture is upstream from politics, then Roger Scruton was upstream from culture.


Scruton’s philosophy more than touched the real world of issues and problems. As the author of around 50 books on all sorts of subjects – sex, alcohol, conservation, beauty, music, communism, architecture, culture, animal rights, the war on tobacco, the Church of England as well as his English homeland.

He, more than anyone else in my lifetime, can effortlessly claim polymath status. Few topics were left untouched. He also wrote novels – and poetry. He did a law degree in his spare time, when young.

He also mentored anti-communist Eastern European dissidents, deeply behind the Iron Curtain.

For those not too familiar with Scruton’s life and oeuvre, a good starting point might be Conversations with Roger Scruton, written together by Scruton and Mark Dooley (2016).

It is a great read, and quickly reveals one of Scruton’s strengths. He was an exemplar of wondrous prose, light of touch, ironic and gentle, just like his “gentle regrets” over his life, captured in a book of the same name written in middle age.

Those who die in the high Aussie summer – like Pope Benedict and Cardinal George Pell one year ago – can easily slip past our consciousness. Which strengthens the argument for noting their deaths.

These three were men of great consequence. And all reviled by their numerous enemies, for whom they were endlessly engaged in vice-signalling.

Their thought crimes were many. The worst of the lot? They stood for truth, a notion whose very existence their enemies denied. They had a bit in common, apart from being almost universally unpopular among the beautiful people. They stood up to the follies of the age.

Given this, it isn’t an accident that Scruton has been described as “purposefully controversial”. Everywhere he went, everything he said, caused him trouble.

His academic career was curtailed. His opponents engaged in blackmail with his and their publishers, in order to have him cancelled. At a time when the term cancel culture hadn’t even been invented.


I am instinctively drawn to those who are hated for being right. Permanent outsiders. The best are those who really piss off their enemies, who send them bonkers with hatred. This is an achievement.

Scruton himself, in describing the rise of Margaret Thatcher, noted the Left’s sheer excitement at her rise to the top. At last, after Tory wimps like Ted Heath and Labour yawners like Jim Callaghan, the Left had someone into whom they could really get their fangs. There are Scruton parallels here, of course.

The COVID hero and Jewish supporter of Israel’s current war efforts Norman Fenton, was recently cancelled from a planned YouTube interview because, the host suggested, he was “a person who spread division”.

The host also said: “… this conflicted with his and his audience’s views which are all about peace, love and humanity.”

This equally sums up Roger Scruton, his impact on his opponents and his career trajectory. Of course, the limits of his enemies’ “peace, love and humanity” were clearly defined when it came to Scruton-bashing. And it is a neat summary of the times, as well.

Some are reviled by the fact of division-spreading, or those who cancel them simply fear backlash. Others just say their opponents (or guests) are “spreading division” where what they actually mean is “I don’t approve of you and your repulsive views”.

Norman Fenton now knows the drill. Scruton did, all his life. There was another, even more famous, who “came to spread division”.


This was the Lord Jesus Christ. We all know His fate. (Interestingly, Roger “got” religion again latish in life, following his earlier, memorable (book chapter) account of “losing our religion”.

This is always the fate of public whistleblowers whose target is their audience. Think also of English comedian Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, who provided a master class in how instantly to lose friends. The cliché, coopted long ago by progressives, is speaking “truth to power”.

Roger Scruton certainly hasn’t been forgotten since his passing. The Scruton legacy Foundation appears to be prospering.

The annual Scruton lecture series has delivered some notable contributions, including a classic from Peter Hitchens in 2022 and a fine tribute lecture from Douglas Murray.

Murray’s summary included this: “He was not content to play in the shallows of his time.”

Murray noted in this connection that he applied himself to all the great questions of the age. Questions that often our age “does not like to ponder”. (And he did this with expertise, as noted. He was a polymath’s auto-didact).

A lot has happened in these past four years. Some of it, Scruton anticipated. Much of it even he would not have been remotely prepared for.

God knows what he would have made of the COVID State. Or the total inversion of the imploding, post-modern British Tories. Or the coming surveillance State. Or the fresh (seasonal) populist revolt in Europe and elsewhere.

Scruton’s anniversary hasn’t gone completely unnoticed in his native Britain. Michael Deacon in The Telegraph (London) has noted the occasion of his anniversary.

“He’s remembered as a great conservative philosopher. Increasingly, though, it feels more accurate to call him a prophet.

“If you have a copy of Against the Tide, a posthumous selection of his essays, read the one he wrote in 1997, in which he predicted how the country would change under New Labour.

“Government policies, forecast Sir Roger, ‘will be chosen not because there is a need for them. They will be chosen in order to advance the culture of equality and inclusion”. As a result, “Victim status will become universally coveted. New classes of victims will be discovered by the week’.”

Deacon refers to the book of Scruton’s Against the Tide essays, edited by Mark Dooley. It is a collection of short essays, with a focus on Scruton’s journalism. For he was, first, a journalist.


The sense we have, however, of our current polity, culture and society gives us to thinking that Scruton’s eminent skill-set would be utterly wasted on this 2020s generation. The point of “wisdom” is now far from clear, to many.

There isn’t much of a market for wisdom. The elites are actively opposed to it. The masses simply wouldn’t recognise it if they saw it. And if they recognised it, they probably wouldn’t know how to operationalise it politically.

Perhaps placing Scruton firmly in the “conservative” box is a category error. To do so is confining, at several levels.

For example, Scruton distanced himself from the British Conservative Party a long time ago. He treasured this separation. Early on, he critiqued the takeover of the Tories in the 1980s by the free-marketeers. Here, he was decades ahead of the game.

Many of us worshipped the Thatcherite revolution, missing the bigger issues of secular cultural decline that Thatcher’s core acolytes totally missed. Even ignored.

Economies can always recover later. Existential threats to cultures are terminal if unaddressed.

The Thatcherites were fighting the wrong enemy, we now realise, and it shows. The 1980s Tories were fighting the last war. They had no idea of the new front already being prepped by the cultural Marxists, and which they simply missed.

There was a revolution afoot, being waged by the bureaucrats, the academics and the NGOs, under the radar. Thatcher’s people were fighting UK mining union boss Arthur Scargill. Who?

They were too focused on the old, economic Marxist battle. Scruton was aware of this as the time, yet he was ignored by the Tories.

They never really knew what to do with him. They were fighting their revolution. They were besotted with neo-liberalism. Scruton wasn’t.


While the Tories were dismantling the Big State in the 1980s, Scruton was working behind the Iron Curtain (heroically and dangerously) to bring freedom to the Eastern European’s oppressed peoples. He had different priorities. They (sort of) valued him, but didn’t know why.

And we now know that the whole Thatcherite revolution was a waste of time. The momentary pulling back of the State went nowhere.

The State is now bigger than ever. The 1980s victories were pyrrhic, at best. And the socialists who the Thatcherites opposed came to embrace capitalism anyway.

The Blair revolution absorbed Thatcherite economics and then proceeded to dismantle tradition. Lord David Cameron completed the revolution. God help us all. And the conservatives have embraced the social revolution. They are progressive, green, globalist and woke.

They are populated by people like Matt Hancock and George Osborne. Now no one likes the Tories. Least of all conservatives.

Dooley correctly describes Scruton as a “controversialist”, as noted above. This might be a key to unlocking Scruton’s post-COVID relevance.

For starters, limiting Scruton to “conservative” misses much. His reach was extraordinary. Politics was merely one of his interests. His work extended far beyond the day-to-day workings of the political class.

One of Scruton’s last battles was against the Tory Party. Having appointed him as the chair of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, they then disgracefully abandoned him to his enemies when the New Statesman came for him, with concocted claims of racism (what else).

One of Scruton’s innovative philosophical quirks was his development of what he termed “Oikaphilia”. Another of his thought crimes, and yet totally in tune with the emergent populist agenda.


The Hannah Arendt Centre, drawing upon the American philosopher Robert George, noted: “Perhaps the most interesting element of Scruton’s brand of conservatism was his emphasis on the love of home, what he called “oikophilia”. Oikos, from which we take our word economy, means the household and names the order and guidance of a home. It is the private world of a family, but by extension also of a village, a people, or an ethnicity.

“In Scruton’s use, oikophilia is a principle of value for the small, the local and the private that stands against universalism. It was in his defense of localism and decentralist politics that Scruton most closely intersected with the work of Hannah Arendt.”

How to sum up his life’s work and his contribution to our times?

The late Jonathan Sacks, a former student of Scruton’s, said: “Roger is bigger than the age.”

A fitting testimony, indeed.

Larger than life, you might say. Coincidentally, these were the very words used this week in The Catholic Weekly in memory of George Pell.

Another who, like Roger Scruton, didn’t worry too much what people thought of him, and whose mission in life was to preach truth – and definitely when it was out-of-season.

And to preach it, principally, against what that third member of the anniversary club (Pope Ratzinger) called the “dictatorship of relativism”.

Above all, Scruton was a philosopher of the good, the true and the beautiful, and a staunch defender of all three.

A spiritual descendant of Edmund Burke, yet also an appreciator of Adam Smith and Hayek, without mindless adherence to what has come to be called neoliberalism. A philosopher first, before he was a conservative. Deep and broad. A literary man. Above all else, courageous.

Scruton was no mere performative intellectual. His ideological, polar opposite was, perhaps, the recently passed Leftist goon, John Pilger.

But there are performative types on the “Right” as well. He far surpassed the (for some) iconic Jordan Peterson, for example.

The estimable American political scientist Daniel Mahoney has put together a collection of essays on Scruton and the French thinker, Pierre Manent (Recovering Politics, Civilization, and the Soul – Essays on Pierre Manent and Roger Scruton, 2023).

The publisher’s notes state: “The Western inheritance is under sustained theoretical and practical assault. Legitimate self-criticism has given way to nihilistic self-loathing and cultural, moral and political repudiation is the order of the day. Yet, as Daniel J Mahoney shows in this learned, eloquent and provocative set of essays, two contemporary philosophic thinkers, Roger Scruton and Pierre Manent, have – separately and together – traced a path for the renewal of politics and practical reason, our civilized inheritance, the natural moral law, and the soul as the enduring site of self-conscious reflection, moral and civic agency, and mutual accountability.

“Both Scruton and Manent have repudiated the fashionable nihilism associated with the ‘thought of 1968’ and the ‘Parisian nonsense machine’, and have shown that gratitude is the proper response of the human person to the ‘givenness of things’. Both defend the self-governing nation against reckless nationalism and the even more reckless temptation of supranational governance and post-political democracy, what Manent suggestively calls a ‘kratos’ without a ‘demos’.

“Both defend the secular State while taking aim at a radical secularism that rejects ‘the Christian mark’ that is at the heart of our inheritance and that sustains the rich and necessary interpenetration of truth and liberty’.


This beautiful summary captures much. Scruton’s legacy is that important. Recovering the soul is God’s work.

In the four years since his premature passing, the world has changed.

Yes, the world is always changing. But this has been a rupture, with undercurrents in equal parts of evil and madness.

I would like to hope that the controversialist’s controversialist would have been at the forefront of those who were pushing back against the tide of safetyism and not-so-petty tyranny that has emerged in its homage.

After all, Scruton was, above all, a freedom conservative. Not every conservative is. This is why he is so missed.PC

Paul Collits

MAIN PHOTOGRAPH: Roger Scruton. (courtesy The Mirror)