Fools, Frauds and Firebrands by Roger Scruton

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Roger Scruton died in January after a six-month battle with cancer. He died after a much longer battle with people who did not like what he had to say.

As a conservative, he was never popular amongst his literary and academic peers. He was set-up a year before he died by the New Statesman, when he was selectively quoted, out of context, and labelled as a racist. At his insistence, the transcripts were produced, and apologies issued, but not after the Conservative Party removed him from his voluntary post as an unpaid housing advisor.

True to the man, he insisted that the interviewer who set him up not be sacked from his job. However, in a column in the conservative magazine Spectator, under the headline “Roger Scruton: My 2019,” he wrote, “During this year much was taken from me — my reputation, my standing as a public intellectual, my position in the Conservative movement, my peace of mind, my health.”

This event characterised how he has been treated by the left-wing establishment since 1968 when he witnessed the revolution in Paris and realised he was not of the left. Since then, he has been, if not a critic, a very strong adversary of the left – for which he ultimately suffered before he died.

An author of over 50 books, many on aesthetics and philosophy, there are a number that seek to explain conservatism to those who feel it but cannot articulate it. He also took aim at the left in a number of books, such as The Uses of Pessimism (and the Danger of False Hope) which is an easier entry point into his criticisms than Fools Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left which is a challenging read because Scruton is not at all a contrarian but an educated, and extremely well-read, philosopher in his own right.

He takes on a wide-range of left leaning political theorists and philosophers, such as: E. P. Thompson, Ronald Dworkin, R. D. Laing, Jurgen Habermas, Gyorgy Lukacs, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Zizek, Ralph Milliband and Eric Hobsbawn, deconstructing their own thoughts and positions with a clarity and directness that is sometimes bewildering. In this book he is at his irascible best.

But as the title tells you, Scruton has little time for the thinkers on the left – and for good reason as he considers many of them to be apologists for the oppressive communism of Russia and Eastern Europe who many of them defended as he was thrown in prison and kicked out of Czechoslovakia on numerous occasions for supporting academic freedom fighters. For his pains, he has been awarded state honours across Eastern Europe, while being sneered at in the UK, even in death, with papers, couching their obituaries with notes on him being ‘controversial’.

Sir Roger Scruton, writer and philosopher, born 27 February 1944, died 12 January 2020