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A Conversation with Roger Scruton on How to be a Conservative

with Sir Roger Scruton

This conversation with Roger Scruton engages his defense of the conservative disposition. Scruton’s just-released book, How to be a Conservative, might be said to take on the challenge Friedrich Hayek issued in his famous essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” There, you will recall, Hayek argued that conservatism does not offer a program, or any substantive content that would affirm a free society. It is always in prudential retreat. This conversation explores Scruton’s Burkean-informed notion that tradition and habit aren’t blind guides, but are teachers and modes of social knowledge by which the perennial problem of social coordination is solved. Here begins the basis of Scruton’s elemental defense of the free society and how common law, tradition, associations, religion, and the boring nation-state are integral to its existence.

We begin with the law that governs the contractual relationships of people, a law not shaped by the legislature, but by social and economic interactions. We can say, Scruton observes, that this law is the people’s common law, one that guarantees their property and associations. Centralization is impatient with this private ordering and attempts to upend it with efficient legislation.

While European elites look to the transnational governance of the European Union as the condition of peace and prosperity, Scruton puts before us the nation-state and its borders as the first order of democracy and political accountability. Scruton notes that limited government is about being relational in a particular spot, ring-fenced by borders, and that allows a common life to develop and evolve. Rulers and ruled can hold one another accountable because the terms of government have emerged from the people of this defined group with their particular history, myths, and shared commitments. Such forms of social, moral, and political capital are eroded, Scruton argues, by a boundless and unaccountable European Union, for whom the principle of subsidiarity is, paradoxically, only the powers that Brussels decides to let member states retain rather than a bottom up conception of government and order.

In this regard, we also discuss the “to hell with us” mentality that is multiculturalism. Scruton notes that it’s cold comfort that major leaders are belatedly coming to terms with its wreckage. Multiculturalism’s existence in the government education system, laws limiting speech, and the soft tyranny of political correctness have ensured its ability to redefine life in his native United Kingdom and throughout much of Europe.

Finally, this conversation explores Scruton’s argument that a free market depends not only on an Austrian understanding of the need for local knowledge but on traditions that encircle goods, practices, relationships, excepting these from the market itself. In short, Scruton argues, an enduring free market will have the sense to recognize its limitations. There really can’t be markets in everything.

I look forward to your thoughts on this podcast.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on October 14, 2014 at 15:40:32 pm

[…] behind on your reading pile, as I always am, you should avail yourself of Richard Reinsch’s interview/podcast with Roger about his new book at the Liberty Fund’s indispensable LibertyLawSite. (In fact you should […]

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Image of Scruton to the Rescue | Drawnlines Politics
Scruton to the Rescue | Drawnlines Politics
on October 14, 2014 at 20:59:36 pm

Thank you for this excellent article and the conversation. It ought to be in every high school.

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DiMu
on October 15, 2014 at 00:15:15 am

[…] A Conversation with Roger Scruton on How to be a Conservative Richard M. Reinsch, Library of Law and Liberty […]

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Image of PowerLinks 10.15.14 | Acton PowerBlog
PowerLinks 10.15.14 | Acton PowerBlog
on October 15, 2014 at 05:26:55 am

Hayek also argued (perhaps not in the essay you mention) that there is a spontaneous order in the nature of reality, represented by the theories of Darwin in biology and Adam Smith in economics. It is not obvious how this is different from Scruton's view. I am certain Hayek did not think everything is ruled by the market; he thought the market is one manifestation of the spontaneous order of the world.

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doyne dawson
on October 29, 2014 at 12:39:42 pm

"Scruton puts before us the nation-state and its borders as the first order of democracy and political accountability. Scruton notes that limited government is about being relational in a particular spot, ring-fenced by borders, and that allows a common life to develop and evolve."

In listening to the podcast, this observation was especially striking to me given the current impasse of a President who, together with his administration, will not, on principle, defend our borders insofar as to limit travel into the country from West Africa during an epidemic.

If our leaders do not respect our borders, who are we? By whose consent do they govern this territory?

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Tamsin
on July 24, 2018 at 07:08:39 am

[…] for that was that conservatives had always seen him as one of theirs (even today, because they think Hayek’s criticism only pertained a specific kind of conservatism, but not […]

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Image of Five of Hayek's Biggest Ideas: A Study Guide - Speak Freely
Five of Hayek's Biggest Ideas: A Study Guide - Speak Freely

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

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