Having better things to do with my time, I’m not quite sure how gratifying it feels to be the reason that an unpaid, low-level, government advisor is fired from their position. I imagine that, when that person is one of the most eminent philosophers of our time, it’s a somewhat more satisfying feeling than if it was a Mr John Smith, who you managed to trip up on account of years old tweets. Again, though, I’m simply not sure.
At least, I wasn’t sure until yesterday morning gifted me with the answer I so desperately sought. Turns out all I need to do is ask George Eaton, deputy-editor of the New Statesman. Eaton’s hatchet-job interview of Roger Scruton resulted in him being dismissed from his position as the unpaid chair of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission and, apparently, it’s quite an elating experience.
At least, I think it is, because, funnily enough, I can’t quite drop him a WhatsApp message about the whole affair. But then, how else would one interpret the now deleted Instagram picture of Eaton drinking champagne, with the caption of ‘the feeling when you get right-wing racist and homophobe Roger Scruton sacked as a Tory government adviser.’
I think I'll hold off adding George Eaton on WhatsApp for now.
I’m not too interested in going down the rabbit hole of whether Scruton was right/wrong, but I do wish to highlight exactly how dishonest Eaton’s characterisation of his interviewee was. In a tweet, Eaton explained that, Scruton thinks that ‘each Chinese person is a replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.’
Disgusting, right? Well yes, except, it seems that’s not at all what Scruton had to say. Eaton contextualises the comments in the interview about concerning the rise of China, and the very important prefix that ‘they’re creating robots out of their own people.’
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Scruton was talking about the Chinese Communist Party, that authoritarian regime of Leninist inclination, something that Scruton confirmed in his ‘response’ to the scandal. Yet, with journalistic sleight of hand, Eaton managed to turn a very valid critique of a Party and its ideology into a racist attack on the whole of the Chinese people.
All of this begs a simple question: why? Why wilfully mislead the public about something that an individual has said to you in an interview? Call me old-fashioned but if somebody said something repulsive to me, I’d quote the thing verbatim. If they didn’t, and I was trying to find a way to make it repulsive, I’d definitely figure out that I was being dishonest, and take a step back.
Surely, therefore, the issue is with Roger Scruton. Or, perhaps more specifically, his conservative philosophy, which there isn’t an awful lot of taste for in the modern media. With books like The Meaning of Conservatism, Arguments for Conservatism, and How to be a Conservative, nobody can accuse Scruton of doing anything but wearing his heart on his sleeve. And certain groups of people don’t like it.
It’s no wonder why. He refuses to toe the line on homosexuality, on multiculturalism, on globalisation, on the role of the state. He rejects utilitarianism, still an insidious influence in the corridors of policy making, and dismisses the claims of animal rights activists as being ‘pre-scientific’ akin to a Beatrix Potter novel in which ‘only man is vile.’
In other words, Roger Scruton represents a philosophical tour-de-force against the establishment of ideas, against the received wisdom of all the mainstream parties in our country. The way he thinks stands in stark opposition to the way we are expected to think, and so a certain breed of person (in this case, a ‘journalist’) seek to smear him.
And this should frighten us all.
It should frighten us because group-think is now a prescription delivered at gun-point. This interview is only a small drop in the ocean of censorship that we face. It’s an ocean that spans from police investigating a man who ‘liked’ a poem on Twitter that was critical of gender transitions, to Rod Liddle being investigated for being a little bit rude about Wales. We are being presented with the acceptable mode of opinion, and the overwhelming message is ‘believe it or shut up.’
Or, as Roger Scruton put it: ‘We in Britain are entering a dangerous social condition in which the direct expression of opinions that conflict – or merely seem to conflict – with a narrow set of orthodoxies is instantly punished by a band of self-appointed vigilantes.’ Is this really a world we want to live in? Or do we favour the other world: a world in which we can actually talk, discussing the things that bother us, exposing the flaws, criticising the inconsistencies?
There was once a time when I thought that second world was more likely. But, as time goes on, I’m starting to despair for our future. After all, if Roger Scruton can be fired for comments he didn’t even make, simply because some people don’t like what he’s said during his academic career, where does that leave the rest of us?