Roger Scruton is without a doubt the greatest living philosopher of conservatism. Apart from political philosophy and current affairs, he has also written important works on ethics, culture, religion, the history of philosophy, and, above all, aesthetics. In addition, he has written several novels, and a couple of operas. To give you a sense of how prolific he is, Scruton’s works take up slightly more than an entire three-foot shelf in my library – and even then I’m missing a volume or two. Nor does that include his many newspaper and magazine pieces. And absolutely everything he writes is worth reading, even when one disagrees with it. (He is a bit more reactionary than I am vis-à-vis contemporary popular culture – though I agree with him that most of it is pernicious trash, and one sometimes suspects that his über-snobbery is meant to be provocative. And he is, for my money, not reactionary enough vis-à-vis religion and modern philosophy, including modern political philosophy. Too little metaphysics, too much Kant. Which, of course, means any Kant…)
If contemporary academic moral and political philosophy were something more than a clubby chat society for people with broadly left-liberal assumptions and sensibilities, Scruton would be as widely read and assigned as Rawls, Nozick, Gauthier, Cohen, Thomson, Parfit, and the rest of the usual suspects. But it isn’t, so he’s not.
Anyway. This year has seen not only two new works from Scruton – Beauty and Understanding Music – but also two important works about Scruton from Mark Dooley: his study of Scruton’s work, Roger Scruton: The Philosopher on Dover Beach, which appeared this summer; and his edited volume The Roger Scruton Reader, which comes out next month. These are long overdue, and we are in Dooley’s debt. Perhaps we’re seeing the beginnings of a Scruton boom – sculptor Alexander Stoddart is selling a bust of Scruton, which is available to adorn your private study in either a bronze, marble, or plaster version.
In any event, The Roger Scruton Reader promises to make Scruton’s writings more easily available, and will surely be widely assigned by liberal professors of ethics and of political philosophy to their students, so that they might at long last get an idea of what the best representatives of the other side are saying.
Or maybe not.
UPDATE: My esteemed co-blogger Lydia McGrew has reminded me of something about which I had completely forgotten: that Scruton, while he opposes creating a legal right to assisted suicide, has taken the view that there are cases where a doctor who intentionally hastens a terminal patient’s death (e.g. via an overdose of morphine) should not be prosecuted and – Scruton seems to think – has even done something admirable. (See chapter 4 of his book A Political Philosophy.) Says Lydia: “I do think that pro-life, contemporary, Christian conservative writers should moderate their raptures about Scruton somewhat in light of such views.” And she is absolutely right. Such views are – in my judgment no less than Lydia’s – gravely immoral, and I regret having overlooked this unhappy side of Scruton’s work.