Monday, December 21, 2015

A touch of the Don Quixote's about him

I generally avoid Spiked, largely because I can't bear the whiny, hectoring voice of Brendan O'Neill complaining every column about the whiny, hectoring voices of the Left.

But this Spiked Review interview with Roger Scruton is interesting.   He has a new (or updated) book out, complaining about the rise and (in his mind) continuing influence of the style of Left wing intellectualism that got going in the 1960's.  I think these are the key paragraphs summarising Scruton's view:
In Fools, Frauds and Firebrands Scruton attacks the left idea of thought for a cause, ‘politics with a GOAL’. By contrast, he tells me, ‘Conservatives are by their nature people who are trying to defend and maintain existence without a cause’. Simply to keep things as they are? ‘We obviously all want to change things, but recognising that human life is an end in itself and not a means to replace itself with something else. And defending institutions and compromises is a very difficult and unexciting thing. But nevertheless it’s the truth.’

For Scruton, the left intellectuals’ apparent attachment to a higher cause only disguises what they really stand for: ‘Nothing.’ He writes that ‘when, in the works of Lacan, Deleuze and Althusser, the nonsense machine began to crank out its impenetrable sentences, of which nothing could be understood except that they all had “capitalism” as their target, it looked as though Nothing had at last found its voice’. More recently, ‘the windbaggery of Zizek and the nonsemes of Badiou’ exist only ‘to espouse a single and absolute cause’, which ‘admits of no compromise’ and ‘offers redemption to all who espouse it’. The name of that cause? ‘The answer is there on every page of these fatuous writings: Nothing.’
But the interviewer makes an obvious point, and one which is similar to what I've been saying from time to time about the "culture wars" as it is playing out in Australian right wing politics:

The slightly pained look on his face suggests that I am not the first to ask Scruton why he has devoted a book to taking on a collection of largely declining or deceased intellectuals and a culture that he concedes ‘now survives largely in its academic redoubts’. ‘They may seem like obscure intellectuals to the man in the street but actually they are still dominant on the humanities curriculum’, he explains. ‘If you study English or French, even musicology or whatever, you have to swallow a whole load of Lacan and Deleuze. Take Deleuze’s book, A Thousand Plateaus – the English translation has only been out a few years, but it’s already gone through 11 printings. A huge, totally unreadable tome by somebody who can’t write French.’
‘Yet this is core curriculum throughout the humanities in American and English universities. Why? The one sole reason is it’s on the left. There is nothing that anybody can translate into lucid prose, but for that very reason, it seems like a suit of armour around the age-old prejudices against power and authority, the old unshaped and unshapeable agenda.’
 Hmmm.   Many of the comments following the article are very good, and some go straight to the point that he's attacking a bit of a straw man:
He is a populist conservative who creates a grotesque caricature of the left, focusing on the nuttiest currents of academic leftism, then lumps all liberal thought in the same category and presents conservatism as a healthy and rational alternative. By and large this is how the new conservatism works. Part of it is the martyrdom fallacy, that is, presenting conservatism as the silenced victim who has "uncomfortable truths" to tell. The supposed outrage of the left at hearing these "truths" is presented as evidence that something true really was said. Needless to say, ad hominem attacks like these are never evidence.
For a more sympathetic, but still critical, take, try this one: 
I have a lot of time for Scruton. As a young person in the 80's all the arguments seemed to be coming either from the social liberal, "progressive" left, or from the Thatcherite neo-liberal right, both of which I found wanting, for various reasons. I'd alway been attracted to ideas, but had a conservative outlook for more instictive reasons, and so reading Scruton a lot later gave an intellectual justification for what was an essentially non-intellectual poitical disposition an I thank him for that.

I do get the impression these days though, that in railing against the post modern intellectual left, he is still fighting yesterdays's battles, as very few people take them seriously any more, and their influence really is on the wane. Another failing, is that he seems to fail to realize that neo-liberal, globalizing capitalism is as much as a threat to conservative values as left-wing socialism. He occasionally acknowledges this, but fails to eleborate on it, as if this woufd be "letting the side down" or something.Still, all in all, he's one of the good guys. Thumbs up Rog!
(I'm guessing that was typed on an iPad, by the way.)

All rather interesting.  

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