How Not To Be A Conservative

I have great respect for Roger Scruton as a philosopher and writer. I have enjoyed several of his works, especially his histories of philosophy. Let me cut to the chase, as I am not one for disclaimers and popery.

In his new book, How To Be A Conservative, Scruton makes the claim that his conservative philosophy “in no way depends on the Christian faith. The relation between them is subtler and more personal than that implies. The argument of this book is addressed to the reader, regardless of his or her religious convictions, since it is about living in the empirical world, not believing in the transcendental.” (17)

Scruton’s thought implies a dichotomy between the transcendent and the empirical; that God has nothing to do and little to no affect upon our daily lives. This is not the Scruton I would have expected; one that does not make a connection between the validity of empirical experience and divine revelation. Hasn’t the history of modern philosophy been one of the rejection of transcendent truth and therefore also of empirical reliability?

Contrary to what Scruton admits at the outset of his conservative philosophy, one’s empirical experience depends entirely upon what one thinks of the transcendent. As James White is fond of saying, “Theology matters.” This becomes obvious in Scruton’s first chapter where he relates society to a Hobbesian social contract, where all neighbors recognize their mutual benefit and territorial alliance that itself transcends any religious beliefs. In his chapter on Nationalism, Scruton affirms the need for a nuanced nationalism which has not historical precedent and then reaffirms that he is “appealing to people who identify their political rights and duties in national terms, and who have learned to put God in the place where He belongs.” (40)

At least God received a capitalization. Otherwise, Scruton thinks in a dichotomy of thought that I am not willing to allow. There is no neutrality in any area of life, thought, action, reality. It is not whether we will have a god of our systems, but which god it will be.

Furthermore, the conservation of ideas, structures, morals, norms, etc., only comes about when one believes that absolute truth is attainable and that it has in some measure been attained in a certain area. This worldview – absolute and certain truth – is only made possible in Christianity where the transcendent absolute became an empirical particular. The reason conservatism is under attack is because of the humanist evolutionary idea, solidified in Hegel, that truth is realizing itself as history progresses through the ages. We have not arrived but are getting closer with each new societal revolution. Thus, every previous era or generation of ideas must be thrown out as disproven by default. Only Christianity provides the necessary conditions for intelligibility, truth, and certainty. Thus, conservatism only makes sense in an explicitly Christian worldview.


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