Recorded on February 27, 2017
In the latest episode from Uncommon Knowledge, Sir Roger Scruton (Died: January 12, 2020), a formally trained political philosopher, talks about his life and the events he’s witnessed that led him to conservatism. He first embraced conservatism after witnessing the leftist student protests in France in May 1968. During the ensuing riots in Paris, more than three hundred people were injured. Scruton walked away from this event with a change in worldview and a strong leaning toward conservatism. Visits to communist- controlled Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1979 cemented his preference for conservatism and his distaste for the fraud of communism and socialism, initiating a desire to do something about it. From thereon he dedicated himself to helping organize underground seminars for the young people oppressed behind the iron curtain.
Sir Roger examines a brief history of conservatism in the twentieth century of England in regard to Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill. Although he appreciates what Margaret Thatcher stood for, he argues that she had many conservative ideals but never used the conservative framework to organize her overall political strategy. Instead she organized around market economics, which was not always effective in the social, cultural, and legal areas. Peter Robinson argues that Winston Churchill did a much better job of organizing around conservative ideals but eventually lost an election because he didn’t have the vocabulary or the focus on free markets. They discuss the tenuous relationship between free markets and conservative ideals that have not mixed well together in British politics.
Robinson and Sir Roger discuss the 2016 political upset of Brexit in the United Kingdom and how the political analysts failed to predict the vote outcome, much like what happened in November 2016 in the United States. They deliberate how the issues around immigration from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom contributed to Brexit, in addition to general dissatisfaction with the European Union. Thus, in the cases of both the United Kingdom and the United States, the media and intellectuals ignored the will of the “indigenous working classes” who made their voices known through their votes.
About the Guest: Sir Roger Scruton
Sir Roger Scruton is an English writer and philosopher who has published more than fifty books in philosophy, aesthetics, and politics. His book discussed in this episode was How to Be a Conservative; it was published in 2014. He is a fellow of the British Academy and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He teaches in both England and America and is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington. DC. He is currently teaching an MA in philosophy course for the University of Buckingham. Sir Scruton was knighted in 2016 by Queen Elizabeth II for his “services to philosophy, teaching and public education.”
Peter Robinson: The British man of letters, Edmund Burke founded modern conservatism in the 18th century. Today, a British man of letters is redefining conservative for the 21st. With us today, Sir Roger Scruton. Uncommon Knowledge, now. Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Born in Lincolnshire during the second World War, the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton represents one of Britain's most significant conservative intellectuals. In the words of one observer, "England's most accomplished conservative since Edmund Burke." Knighted last year, Sir Roger holds undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Cambridge. He is the author of more than 50 books. You write faster than I can read. Including his most recent book, On Human Nature, and his classic work, How to Be a Conservative. Sir Sir Roger Scruton, welcome.
Sir Roger Scruton: Thank you.
Peter Robinson: From How to Be a Conservative, "It is not unusual to be a conservative. But it is unusual to be an intellectual conservative. In both Britain and America some 70 percent of academics identify themselves as 'on the left,' while the surrounding culture is increasingly hostile to traditional values, or to any claim that might be made for the high achievements of Western civilization." The press, the bureaucracy, the universities all hostile to conservatism. Why?
Sir Roger Scruton: It's a very good question. I think I spent my life trying to answer it, in fact. My impression is that this hostility comes in part because people who self-identify as intellectuals and thinkers also want to identify themselves as in some way outside the community, standing in judgment on it, gifted with superior insight and intellect, and therefore, inevitably critical of whatever it is that ordinary people do by way of surviving. So we have created an intellectual class, which by its nature does not identify with the way of life around it, and tries to gain another kind of identity through its critical stance.
Peter Robinson: And produces the paradox that within academic circles and within the press, to be a liberal instead of a conservative is almost boringly conventional.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yes. That's right. The convention is to be hostile to conventions.
Peter Robinson: Right. I'm showing this book because I want everybody to get a good look at it. It's a wonderful book. You begin How to Be a Conservative with a marvelous essay on your own journey from left to right, and you identify a couple of events in particular as crucial in that journey. In the spring of 1968, you're in Paris. Mass protests take place across France. I quote How to Be a Conservative. "May of 1968 led me to understand what I value in the customs, institutions, and culture of Europe." Paris explodes, and young Roger Scruton decides to become conservative, not to join the students in the street. Why?
Sir Roger Scruton: Gosh. Why? For a start, the thing that most struck me about those students in the street was the sentimentality of their anger. It was all about themselves. It wasn't about anything objective. Here they were, the spoiled middle class Baby Boomers, who'd never had any real difficulties to cope with, shouting their heads off in the street, burning the cars belonging to ordinary proletarians, whom they pretended to be defending against some imaginary oppressive structures erected by the bourgeoisie. The whole thing was a complete fiction based on the antiquated ideas of Karl Marx, ideas which were already redundant in the mid-19th century. They were enacting out, if you like, a self-scripted drama in which the central character was themselves.
Peter Robinson: Again, from How to Be a Conservative: "Only someone raised in the anglosphere could believe, as I believed in the aftermath of 1968, that the political alternative to revolutionary socialism is conservatism." Only someone raised in the anglospehere?
Sir Roger Scruton: Yes. I think if you look around the world, those political parties and political movements that identify themselves as conservative, it's only in Britain, America, Australia, possibly India, that people would even use that word. Because there's a tradition, which we have inherited from Edmund Burke and the reaction to the French Revolution of recognizing that there is an alternative to revolutionary change, and that is not changing. This extraordinary original idea only enters the heads of English speaking people. I don't know why, but it's something to do with the English language. It's sort of accommodation of eccentricities, the fact that we live a life based on compromise, the common rule, which tells us that the ordinary person is charge of the law, not the people there who are pretending to impose it on him. All those things, which we've inherited from hundreds of years, actually, of discussion and debate, they make it natural for us to say, "Let's not change."
Peter Robinson: Second large event in your own journey. "A visit to Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1979 awoke me to the fraud that had been committed in socialism's name, and I felt an immediate obligation to do something about it." '79, the Pope visits Poland. You get the feeling that things are beginning to break up, but the iceberg is still sitting on eastern Europe.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: What happened in Czechoslovakia and Poland? What did you see? How were you awakened?
Sir Roger Scruton: I was there in Poland in the wake of the Pope's ...
Peter Robinson: You visited afterwards.
Sir Roger Scruton:... pilgrimage to his country. There was a visible sense that we Poles are together against this thing which controls us. But people of course couldn't openly talk about it, but the people I met talked to me about it. Then when going to Czechoslovakia where, of course, the oppression was much heavier, I got involved in talking to people who were actually trying to organize underground seminars ... curriculum, if you like, for young people who had been excluded from the system. Where there was a real contentiousness that it was a life and death struggle. Either these societies were going to be finally killed off by communism, or people were going to try and keep them alive in the catacombs. It was my first vision of a catacomb culture, which as it were, reenacted what the early Christians had to go through in the Roman Empire.
Peter Robinson: You also said you felt an immediate obligation to do something about it. Here, correct me, but as I understand, your formal training is as a philosopher.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: In your lifetime, philosophy has gone off in all kinds of directions, in this country in particular, and headed off in the direction of formal logic.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yes.
Peter Robinson: I take it that you decided that you intended to do the work ... You intended to work in the tradition of Aristotle, philosophy as it bears on ordinary political life. Is that correct?
Sir Roger Scruton: Well, yes. I've always thought that philosophy has ordinary life as its subject matter. That's what it's about. But it also a reflection on ordinary life and its meaning. When it came to working in eastern Europe, my main thought was that what young people there especially needed was not merely philosophy, but the whole range of knowledge, which had been excluded from the official curriculum. For instance, knowledge of history, knowledge of literature, knowledge of the way in which those things connect, how music and art and literature feed into a vision of your society, and of course, knowledge of the religious traditions of their countries. All those things had been excluded by the Communist Party from the national sense of identity. But it didn't alter my view that they'd also been excluded from our societies too by the universities themselves. Most young people today leave a university having studied history, but not actually knowing very much about it. They will know about the periods of revolutionary struggle and other things that have appealed to their professors as part of their own self-glorification, but they won't know that are, as it were, interred within the spirit of the people.
Peter Robinson: Your visit to Poland and Czechoslovakia took place, again, in 1979. Mrs. Thatcher becomes Prime Minister in the same year. Your views of Mrs. Thatcher are a little more complicated, I think, than an American conservative would expect to read picking up a book entitled How to Be a Conservative. On the one hand, again, I'm quoting, "In the midst of our discouragement, Margaret Thatcher appeared, as though by a miracle." That surely is the way it felt to many people. On the other hand, again I'm quoting Roger Scruton, "I never swallowed in its entirety the free market rhetoric of the Thatcherites." Explain that. She a miraculous being, but there's a lot of hog wash involved.
Sir Roger Scruton: She came into our lives as a representative of our country at a time when the country looked particularly enfeebled by the trade unions, by the whole labor party attempt to rope society into a communal prison run by the state. All that was wonderful. We felt, we don't actually have to go along with all that crap. We can do our own thing. And we can revert to our natural condition as rebellious, eccentric Englishmen. But she felt that she had to embellish it with a complete doctrine, which she borrowed from the Institute of Economic Affairs, and about the need for market solutions to every social problem. Now, I'm all in favor of market solutions where they apply, but not every social problem does have a market solution. There is a need for the maintenance of traditions in education and in culture and in the law, which are not traditions of free enterprise, but much more conditions of some kind of collective renunciation.
Peter Robinson: Renunciation of the state?
Sir Roger Scruton: And a renunciation of one's own individuality. That's what her culture is partly. I think she wasn't sensitive to all that aspect of things. You have to remember that we inherited, at the time when she became prominent, we inherited a society and an economy that had been radically changed by the second World War, and by the socialist governments that came into being because of the second World War.
Peter Robinson: Yes.
Sir Roger Scruton: People wanted a government based on planning, because they had felt that the war showed the need for planning. If it hadn't been for planning, we wouldn't have survived it. We almost didn't survive it because weren't ready for it, et cetera.
Peter Robinson: Actually, let me pursue that point, if I may. Needless to say, here we sit in Washington of the second month of the Trump administration. So I'm going to haul you from Margaret Thatcher to Donald Trump, even if you come screaming. Again, How to Be a Conservative. "Pressed for arguments," I'm quoting you, "Mrs. Thatcher leaned too readily on market economics, and ignored the deeper roots of conservatism in the theory and practice of civil society ... " You've just said this, but I want to tee it up again. " ... family, civil association, the Christian religion and the common law were all integrated into her ideal of freedom of the law. The pity was that she had no philosophy with which to articulate that idea." She felt it. She knew it. But she had not thought it through in a way that permitted her to articulate it. Here's Mrs. Thatcher. Now, if I may go a step backward, and I am doing something very dangerous, because my knowledge of this history is tenuous. Yours will be deep. Winston Churchill had the capacity to articulate this deeper conservatism. Throughout the war he's talking about love of native land. He uses the phrase ... He actually uses the phrase, which would today have the man thrown in jail. He uses the phrase, "Christian civilization." Yet, in the 1945 election, in the face of the socialists, because he lacked a vocabulary to talk about free markets, he was naked before Attlee and this socialist impulse. So what I'm getting at is, it almost ... Of course, I want to come to the American situation in a moment, but it almost seems to me as though there's a kind of ideological teeter totter. Conservatives in Britain either get to talk about free markets, or they get to talk Churchill, McMillan, Eden to the extent that he talked about anything ... Heath later on ... Or they get to try to talk about cultural conservatism. Somehow, the two don't seem to go together. Is there some reason for that or is it mere happenstance?
Sir Roger Scruton: That's a very insightful observation. I think since Edmund Burke, we've had this tension between the adoption of the free market as the instrument of economic organization, the primary way in which a society should create and exchange goods, and the sense that some things should be withheld from the market, and that those things are just as important but much more difficult to defend. Of course, Burke was talking about those things which should be withheld from the market, love, family and so on. All societies have recognized from the beginning of history that a market and sexual relations is the end of all social coherence. It's always very hard to say why. That's just one example. All the things that matter to us, as soon as we recognize how much must they matter, we want to withdraw them from the whole business of exchange and proliferation and, as it were, have them to ourselves. It's that aspect of humanity which is so difficult to articulate. But as you rightly say, Churchill did articulate it. And was it so much easier when it's under threat.
Peter Robinson: I see. Of course. All right. We're creeping up to Trump, but first, one more large question about Britain. Brexit. Last June, the United Kingdom held a referendum on whether to remain in or to leave the European Union. Overturning the predictions of virtually every poll and virtually every pundit ... I myself, as I'm sure ... I was on the telephone to friends in ... Very, I thought, well-informed friends, and the most pro-Brexit prediction I got on the day of the voting was, "It'll be very touch and go. We'll have to see." Almost everybody expected it to fail, and it carried. 52 to 48%, close, but at the same time, unambiguous. Sir Roger Scruton, speaking on the BBC soon afterwards, "The experts failed to see that the British people are profoundly democratic and do not accept to be governed by bureaucrats who are not accountable for their mistakes." Now, one hears that said, over and over and over again, that it was xenophobia, that Brexit was a reaction against immigration. Roger Scruton says it was a blow for democracy. Explain.
Sir Roger Scruton: Well, could be both. I think what has been ... The feelings of opposition the European Union are much longer standing than the recent feelings about the mass immigration from Europe. They have been about democratic accountability. The thought being that more than half, I think nearly two-thirds, of the laws rubber stamped by our parliament originate in Brussels in the minds of bureaucrats who have no knowledge of or interest in the peculiar social conditions of Britain, which are very peculiar. Because we haven't been interfered with in this way before. People have resented that, and rightly. Because after all, what is democracy, if it's not the ability of a people to decide for themselves about the laws that operate in the country that is theirs? That reference to the country, our country, is absolutely fundamental to the democratic idea. It is true, of course, that British people also reacted strongly to the mass immigration ... The rate of something like 300,000 a year of people from the former communist countries. They were brought into the European Union without any mandate, any popular mandate from the existing members. They were people living in countries ruined by communism, suddenly given the opportunity to settle in places which were not so ruined. England, in particular, and Britain in general, has the advantage that its infrastructure was not destroyed in the war.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Sir Roger Scruton: It speaks the international language. The freedom to settle there and to enjoy what the British people had defended at great cost to themselves was suddenly offered to these people. Inevitably, they all transferred to Britain. It's not xenophobia to recognize that your life, if you’re an ordinary person, that your life has been changed when suddenly people better qualified than you competing for your job, where your child is going to a school where English is the second language, where your right to social housing has been conferred on people who never paid anything to obtain it, et cetera.
Peter Robinson: Right. One more question about Brexit. You've spoken about the peculiar customs of Britain. You've spoken about the distinctiveness of the anglosphere. Is it your position simply that Britain ought to have left the European Union, or is it your position that the European Union is bad for everyone? One can see, the Germans with war guilt, it would be lovely if they could dissolve themselves in a new sense of international identity. Spain wanting to rejoin Europe after the years of being cut off under France ... You could create a psychological case for every continent. The Italians would far rather have their money supply run by good, steady Germans than by their fellow Italians, and so on and so forth. The European Union, let the continent have it. It's just that it's improper for us to be in. Let us be out. Or the European Union is a nasty piece of work in and of itself?
Sir Roger Scruton: Well, I would say ... And I did say this prior to the vote, that what is needed is not simply for us to withdraw from the treaty. What is needed is a new treaty, one that we could accept, and that everybody else could accept too. My view is that treaties are dead hands. They weigh upon you, maybe beneficially if they're restraining you from doing something that would otherwise be destructive, as peace treaties do. But they might actually prevent you from taking the measures needed to cope with new situations. Treaties don't adapt. The more signatures for them there are, the less likely it is that they ever will adapt. That is the problem. We were living under a treaty signed or conceived 70 years ago by people long since dead, in a situation that has vanished. Why should we be governed by it? It's unusual for a treaty, in that it sets up a system of government. So you have a system of government, which is essentially non-adaptable. My view is, get rid of it, and everybody come together again, seeing if they can get another kind of treaty, which answers to all their separate national interests. The Poles. Take the Poles. They thought it was great to join the treaty, because at last they would have a system of law, which would replace the complete nonsense of communist legality. They had access to proper infrastructure and markets and so on. What they did not realize is that they would also lose all their youth, so that Poland is in a state of demographic collapse.
Peter Robinson: Everyone goes off to London to work.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yeah. Clearly, each country has a different problem. Likewise, the Greeks thought, "Great. The single currency, as you say, we can transfer all our debts to those reliable Germans." Then suddenly they realize, well of course, you can no longer govern our economy as we used to by periodic devaluation.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Sir Roger Scruton: The result is a total collapse in youth employment.
Peter Robinson: Right. This country, Trump. From the British referendum on Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, Sir Roger Scruton, in a talk on the BBC the week after the American election, "In America as in Britain, the indigenous working class has been put out of mind, even overtly disparaged by the media and the political class. All attempts to give voice to their anxieties over immigration, over the impact on their lives of globalization and the spread of liberal conceptions of sex, marriage, and the family have been dismissed or silenced." First question, how can it be that when Franklin Roosevelt seven decades ago, in establishing modern conservatism ... I beg your pardon, modern liberalism, of which the Democratic Party is the great champion. He placed the working class at the very center of that coalition. How can it be that these decades later that same party, that same liberalism has turned its back on the indigenous working class? How did it happen?
Sir Roger Scruton: Yes. Well, it's happened everywhere. I think, again, it's one of those deep mysteries, but I think there are two important factors that contributed to this. One is that the change in the economy, which has transferred an awful lot of economic activity to service activities, to activities we conducted through the Internet or through companies based outside the jurisdiction. All that, it means that the old traditional working class no longer has that cohesion that it had before, and it's no longer an identifiable social mass in the way that it was in Roosevelt's day. That's one very important thing. The other important thing is that the liberal establishment has ceased to represent the interests of that class anyway. It represents the interest of people who are saying that they represent the interests of that class. It's a self-serving ideology. If people who want to appear virtuous without the cost of it. People in the media, the administration, and so on, who love the image of themselves as defenders of the people, but recognize that, when in the proximity of the people, they feel nothing except repugnance.
Peter Robinson: You're making a moral point. Pride, vanity, it all happened through pride and vanity and sloth and inattention on the part of very comfortable people.
Sir Roger Scruton: Well, I said that's only one factor.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Sir Roger Scruton: There are also lots of good people who are liberals who really do worry about these things. But I'm just talking about these new social factors, which we have to recognize.
Peter Robinson: You mention these factors that are legitimate concerns, anxieties over immigration. Now again, one will hear over and over again, "The American anxiety over immigration is xenophobia. It's just immoral to think you can draw a line at the border and keep out ... The people on the south of the border have immortal souls just as those ... " Well, of course, the liberal would doubt that, but their worth, they have as much value as ... All right. Then the other big one here is it just economically the more immigration the more the economy grows? Then, a kind of counterargument but still, it's the argument against the concern for immigration. Immigration has slowed as the Mexican middle class has risen, and partly because our economy has slowed. Net immigration from Mexico is almost zero, and net immigration from everywhere else in the world is a million people a year. In a population of 330 million, you can live with that. There are all these arguments. Why should anyone be anxious over immigration? Yet, you would argue, I think I take you to argue, that it is actually a legitimate concern in this country.
Sir Roger Scruton: Well, yes. Again, there are many factors, but illegal immigration has been a great concern to people. There are 10 million illegal immigrants possibly in this country. And I think ordinary people would say, "Look, if the first thing that somebody does when coming into the country is to commit a crime, should he really be allowed to stay?" I think it is a very strong argument. Of course, legal immigration, which has the consent of congress, and therefore the consent indirectly of the people, is not something that people are complaining about, not in the same tone of voice, anyway. Then again, you have to recognize that what is being asked of the people is to offer hospitality to those who are not currently part of their home. You can offer hospitality to others if you have a secure home from which to offer it. But if that home has become insecure, as it has in large parts of Europe because of immigration, then what are asking of people? You're asking of them, essentially, to de-territorialize themselves, to detach themselves from the place that is theirs without giving them any alternative.
Peter Robinson: Another of the concerns that you mentioned ... I'm quoting you again. "The spread of liberal conceptions of sex, marriage, and the family ... " This is legitimate concern ... Here's the difficulty about that one. All the figures, divorce rate, illegitimacy rates and so forth, all these are at least as high among ... It depends on how you would define the indigenous working class and so forth. The argument could be made that the indigenous class has no right to be ... Indigenous working class. Again, I'm using your phrase. The indigenous working class has no right to be upset about these liberal conceptions of sex, and marriage and the family, because they're the ones who've embraced them. To which Sir Roger Scruton replies?
Sir Roger Scruton: Well, I would reply that just that, we all of us fall away from the standards that are required in this area. That is undoubtedly the case, because this is the biggest area of temptation. But it is also the biggest area in which examples are needed, and in which a culture of resistance is needed. That culture of resistance was absolutely vital to the protection of the working class family, and especially of children who need a father at home and have lost that protection. It is undeniable that it's liberal propaganda which has made it almost impossible to say those things. It's not possible to say the things that are needed in this area, unless your Charles Murry and don't care what's said about you anyway.
Peter Robinson: Or Sir Roger Scruton.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: That makes two of you.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yeah. Exactly. The point is, it's an area in which the truth has been made unsayable by the liberal censorship.
Peter Robinson: All right. Along comes Donald Trump. Whereas Mrs. Thatcher made, not exclusively, but made largely economic arguments, Donald Trump is making different kinds of arguments. Make America great again. Does Sir Roger Scruton approve of the 45th Chief Executive of the United States?
Sir Roger Scruton: Well, that's a direct question, which is not strictly relevant to my vision of the world.
Peter Robinson: Rewrite the question. How do you want to grapple with Donald Trump?
Sir Roger Scruton: Well, I'd rather not. But of course, his defects of character are so manifest that one can, as it were, recognize that he's put you in a new position. He is the legitimate President of the United States. He won the election on the basis of things, which were rightly said. Some things were rightly said ... And also on the basis of other things, which you could criticize, which perhaps should not have been said.
Peter Robinson: Did he have the virtue ... To go back to the point you were just making, did he have the virtue, at many points during the campaign, of saying the unsayable.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yes. One of the reasons why he was elected is exactly that, which is one thing that I said in my BBC talk that you referred to earlier, that people have been living under a regime of liberal censorship, which makes it very hard to say things without being accused of faults like racism, xenophobia. You yourself mentioned this, which nobody wants to be accused of, but which are very easy to ... These are accusations, which are very easy to make, because there's no criteria on the basis of which to make them, other than the feelings involved.
Peter Robinson: If I may, maybe this is the way to ask you to address Donald Trump, a man who's resistant to grapple with him. Trump and his critics, and, as I read it, and I have a couple of quotations here for you, criticisms of Donald Trump you'll recognize, partly of course, because you follow the American scene very closely, but partly because the echo or have echoes in Britain. Here's John McCain speaking very recently. Senator John McCain speaking very recently at the Munich Security Conference in oblique, but not that oblique, criticism of the President. "What would the founders of this security conference say if they saw our world today? They would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values, and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarianism." Donald Trump, and also Sir Roger Scruton, champion the native land, the organic culture. Here that can be called ... You want to turn us back to blood and soil, blood and race and sectarianism.
Sir Roger Scruton: That's the kind of language which I reject. My view is that the country is a vital part of our identity. I don't mean by that blood and soil in the Nazi sense. I mean, this land, the place where our jurisdiction operates. This is a crucial thing about the national idea. It's a defense of territorial jurisdiction against religious or quasi-religious jurisdiction, like the Universal Doctrine of Human Rights or the Sharia, to take another competitor. We are fortunate to live in countries where the law is defined by the land over which it operates. Within that land, of course there's a sense of belonging on which the law draws for the democratic process. There's nothing blood and soil about this. It's to do with neighborhood. We're settled among neighbors. We want to get along with them. We don't want to force them to agree with us about everything, nor do we require them to be of the same race, whatever that means. But we do require them to share our commitment to the place where we are, because this is where we're building a home. Other people might want to come into that home and we should be entitled to invite them, provided they agree to abide by the rules. All this is perfectly reasonable in my view. It's only because the left have dominated the language in which these things are discussed that my reasonable position can be made to look like that unreasonable position, which you were just attributing.
Peter Robinson: One more criticism of Trump. This is his now famous executive order imposing a temporary travel ban from seven countries in the middle east where there's been terrorism, seven Muslim majority countries as the press put it in reporting on this. One of the sources of immediate criticism was the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here's their statement. Part of their statement: "The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice, welcoming the strangers the very form of Christianity of itself. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity." Well, there you get ... You've heard this before. There you get the notion that drawing lines at the border is ... From the Catholics it's unchristian. From others, it's immoral. Who are you, who is Donald Trump, who is Sir Roger Scruton, who is Prime Minister May to say, "We have the right to keep people out."
Sir Roger Scruton: You have a house, which you share with your wife and children, assuming you have them. You do recognize the right to keep out of that house people whom you've not invited in. Don't you?
Peter Robinson: I do.
Sir Roger Scruton: Having invited people in who start smashing things up, you recognize a right to exclude them.
Peter Robinson: I do.
Sir Roger Scruton: Yeah. Just multiply that by a few hundred thousand, and you'll recognize that people taken as a whole have that right. That is another part of democracy, that we live in a place. We have the right to exclude from that place those whom we think are not going to fit into it or to whom we don't want to extend a welcome. If we didn't have that right, we wouldn't feel secure in occupying the place that we claim as ours. It's a simple part of human nature, and although I think Trump should never have mentioned the Muslim idea in this, because that goes against the whole American tradition that religion is not what it's about, but settlement. Nevertheless, he wasn't exceeding the natural powers of a president in saying what he said if he'd left out that reference to religion. He did make various promises to people prior to the election, which he's obviously under some obligation to follow through anyway.
Peter Robinson: Last question, Sir Roger. If I feel this way to some extent ... Actually I feel this way to a great extent. I'll just ask this question on my own behalf. I was about to hide behind ... Say, "There will be people who listening to this feel ... " I won't do that. I'll say, I feel it myself. Wonderfully compelling, everything you say. Hugely attractive, but here's where I ... It fills the heart with hope. There's a way forward, but then comes the thought, "But it's nostalgic." It's the shire. It's Tolkien for goodness sake. Even England isn't green and pleasant in quite the same way anyway. We've got, in Britain itself, this massive, for all one can see, permanent, state apparatus. In this country, as President Trump is about to find out, as Republicans who now hold both houses of Congress and can barely pull themselves together to figure out how to deal with Obamacare are finding out, there is such a thing as the permanent state. And we live in a modern world, and for seven decades, at least seven decades in both your country and ... throughout the anglosphere. I'll grant you the anglosphere. The state has expanded and expanded and expanded. I love the world that you describe with the same yearning love with which I love Tolkien, but they belong on the bookshelf together. It's not a practical agenda.
Sir Roger Scruton: Right.
Peter Robinson: Tell me why I'm wrong, and please tell me why I'm wrong.
Sir Roger Scruton: Well, you're not entirely wrong. The expansion of the state to absorb more and more of civil society has happened everywhere, more outside the anglosphere than inside the anglosphere. Let's face it, you still have private education available here if you want it and can afford it. You still have all the little platoons, as Burke called them. If you have a problem, you can get together with your neighbors to solve it. You probably belong to all sorts of clubs and discussion groups and so on. All that free association, which made the English speaking countries what they are, still exist. It's just that there's a tax on it. Roughly speaking, half of what you earn, which goes to maintain a shadow community of parasites whose only justification is that they pretend to be governing us. We belong in an organism which is accompanied by a cancerous version of itself. That's the way it is. All you can do is every now and then diminish it. Cut off this or that bit of it. But it will always be there. At the same time, focusing on the other thing, it's not nostalgia. Although, nostalgia is an underrated aspect of the human condition. Remember the founding work of literature of our civilization describes Odysseus's decision to give up immortality and life with a goddess in order to travel across dangerous seas to his home. It set the model for what all our literature since has been about and all our art. Why turn away from that? We are in this world as dispossessed and alienated, and we do have that longing for a home. We try to build it. That's all I'm advocating, is that we should go on doing this. It'll always be a different home, but it isn't anyway nostalgia to say that this is where our values lie, rather than in that other thing, that great expanding state machine.
Peter Robinson: All right. That was penultimate question. Here's the last question. Brexit has happened. Britain has a new government. There hasn't been an election. Still the Tories, but you have a new Prime Minister and we have a new President. Are you hopeful?
Sir Roger Scruton: I've never in my life been hopeful. I take the view that pessimism is the wise position to adopt because you're always agreeably surprised.
Peter Robinson: All right. Sir Roger Scruton, author of more than 50 books, including the superb, How to Be a Conservative. Thank you.
Sir Roger Scruton: Thank you.
Peter Robinson: For the Hoover Institution and Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson.