On 10 April, the New Statesman published a 900-word Encounter between George Eaton and the philosopher Roger Scruton.
The Encounter is a short interview slot in the Observations section, which opens the magazine each week.
The piece was also published online and promoted on Twitter by George, after which Roger Scruton was sacked without official explanation from his role as a government adviser on architectural matters.
The original interview was headlined “Cameron renounced leadership when it was most needed”.
The headline of the online version was: “Roger Scruton: ‘Cameron’s resignation was the death knell of the Conservative Party’”.
It is highly unusual to release the transcript of a print interview but in the interests of transparency, we are happy to do so.
The full transcript of the conversation between George and Roger Scruton:
George Eaton: You are both a conservative and a supporter of Brexit. What’s your response to those who say that Brexit is an unconservative project? They say it’s utopian, it’s immoderate, and so on.
Roger Scruton: Oh gosh. I never saw it as a project. I mean, the fact is we were given… Let me go back to the beginning. What I really think is that the then prime minister David Cameron should not have given us the chance of a referendum if he did not intend to go through with the result. I think that was a major constitutional betrayal and I think, I suspect that most people would feel that. And having got the wrong – the result he didn’t want, he walked away at the very moment when the country needed leadership, not just leadership from a specific political party but from the prime minister who had initiated this. Given the right to – given the opportunity to vote, I voted for Brexit because I’ve never approved really of the European Union, I never approved of it because of its attempts to confiscate national sovereignty in all the issues that matter. To me that is derogation from real politics. That’s not to say I don’t see the absolute necessity of a trans-European system of co-operation. And I think everybody agrees with that. But I think it had the wrong form. And all attempts to reform it seem to get nowhere. So my view was that we should withdraw and then work for a new treaty, but it didn’t turn out that way because the vote, the referendum, was not really respected by parliament and that’s understandable because we don’t have a direct democracy, we don’t really believe in referenda in Britain. We assume that we have a representative democracy and that parliament will take decisions on our behalf. So that parliament, having been landed with a decision that it did not itself make, then decides to undo it, essentially, that’s the situation we’re in. So where we are now is not a happy place. But it doesn’t follow from that that it was – if Cameron had said, having received the vote, that, “OK, I understand what you’re saying, I’ll now lead you in the direction which I would not have chosen” there would have been a completely different scenario now. He might have had the courage to go for a no-deal Brexit, at least he would have been able to say, “I come to you, you Europeans with a particular decision that my people have made and I have no choice but to enact it.” And I think that something would have gone through, not necessarily a deal. I don’t think you can have a deal with an institution that consists of 28 members. How can you get them all to agree to it? That’s my position, does that make it clear?
GE: Yes that makes sense. Obviously one of the great obstacles and leaving, to getting a deal, has been the Irish question, specifically the Irish border. What’s your view on how that could have been resolved?
RS: Well I think it is a difficult question because the opening of that border went with a long and difficult process of reconciliation between communities that have been at each other’s throats for 300 years and to risk undoing that was impossible. So I think we’re trying to keep the border open while respecting Ireland’s desire to remain in the European Union and our desire to withdraw from it. But the European Union does not have a concept of national identity. It was set up to abolish that idea, not to abolish German national identity because that was trying to save itself. But it doesn’t recognise the absolute value to the people of Northern Ireland of being part of this kingdom – for them that’s a negotiable thing, it’s not negotiable for the Northern Irish. I think that’s sort of the problem. My hope has been that deeply engendered history of conflict between the northern and the southern Irish has, to a great extent, not been forgotten but been conciliated in some way, that perhaps people don’t now want immediately to return to the polarised situation that we had, it’s hard to know. When the Troubles occurred, southern Ireland still was that strange entity described in Ulysses, which I’m re-reading: a deeply Catholic country in which divorce was impossible, and abortion and all that, hadn’t moved with the modern world. It wasn’t the country which now has a Taoiseach who is a Hindu immigrant and a homosexual, you know, who has brought about all these extraordinary changes. Not saying that those changes are necessarily right but Ireland has jumped forward into the modern world in a way which I’m sure many of the Irish people themselves regret but nevertheless it’s not that romantic thing that was so yearned for by the IRA. So could it be that this old conflict is now dwindling and disappearing? I don’t know.
GE: Do you still favour English independence?
RS: No, I don’t think I’ve ever really favoured English independence. My view is that if the Scots want to be independent then we should aim for the same thing. Scottish independence, I don’t think the Welsh want independence, the Northern Irish certainly don’t. The Scottish desire for independence is, to some extent, a fabrication. They want to identify themselves as Scots but still to be part of a, to enjoy the subsidy they get from being part of the kingdom. I can see there are Scottish nationalists who envision something more than that, but if that becomes a real political force then yeah, we should try for independence too. As it is, as you know, the Scots have two votes: they can vote for their own parliament and vote to put their people into our parliament, who come to our parliament with no interest in Scotland but an interest in bullying us.
GE: So you’d favour an English parliament?
RS: Well I think yes it’s very odd that there isn’t such a thing. My only worry is if there were such a thing it would be a new building just as horrible as the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.
GE: On the economy, there’s always been a conservative critique of the free market, and it’s increasingly said by not only some on the left but by some on the right that capitalism is no longer working for the majority and that free-market economics has proved to be inherently unconservative. Do you agree with that?
RS: Well, I’ve never been an ardent free-marketeer, although I am sceptical of state involvement in the economy, as I think most people are these days. Capitalism, it’s a word, and what we have today is so different from what was originally described as by Marx and people like that. It’s no longer the capitalist class of property-owners and property-less workers who are forced to sell their labour or anything like that. Most big firms now are collectively owned by their own members not as cooperatives, but as something like that, as shareholders. There is a big guy at the top, the founding person, but so many of them are not like that. These are kind of sovereign entities and they accumulate huge sums in profits, which do enable them to take actions which are not necessarily contributous [sic], don’t necessarily contribute to the public good. So I don’t know, I’m of the view that the free market is a necessary institution, it simply is what people do when they try to make ends meet. But that when things get too big and when they try to transcend tax boundaries and other boundaries which are necessary for the control of human behaviour, then they have to be themselves cut down to size. I think that’s where we need national sovereignty. I think it is outrageous that Amazon doesn’t pay any tax in this country, or hardly any at all, but it operates from Luxembourg, which is a tin-pot little place, which seems to be getting more and more power over us over the years. A lot more could have been done to discipline international business in this way.
GE: Have you been surprised by the revival of socialists both here and in the US?
RS: Yes, although in the end I’m not really surprised because the decline of education means that people don’t understand any more what it was, they haven’t got the historical narrative that will tell you exactly why communism leads to the gulag, even though the evidence is still with us, with China and the rest. And they don’t really know quite what socialism meant. But people will always go on believing that the present disposition of property in the world is unjust, and that people who don’t have things ought to have them, and that people who have too much ought not to have it, that’s deep in the human condition to think that. But it’s a pure fantasy to think that socialism will rectify that. It never did.
GE: Are there any of the individual polices that you think have merit – renationalisation of public utilities or higher tax for top earners? What’s your view on those?
RS: I do think, well obviously as a railway user, I get tempted by the idea of renationalising the railways, partly because they seem to run quite well in places where they’re nationalised; although it gives huge powers of strike action to people, cripples France every now and then. I’m not really in favour of nationalisation, nor high rates of taxation, because all that does is send the people whom you most want to be in the country spending their money elsewhere, as happened with all those 300,000 wealthy French people living in London. So I think these are unreal solutions. No, I think there are elements – much more important in the socialist legacy, to my way of thinking, is the proper provisions both to look after the poor and the disadvantaged and also to give them some way into society, so that they’re not just dependents, that’s what socialism should really be thinking about. Unfortunately, the Momentum movement has invaded the Labour Party and stopped it thinking about those things, turned it more in the direction of absolute power over everything.
GE: What’s your view on the question of tuition fees?
RS: To be quite honest, I have two views really. One is that university education is incredibly cheap for what it is, for what it claims to be. The second view is that it’s incredibly expensive given that the universities don’t teach anything any more. But if they were doing what they did £9,000 or £10,000 a year is nothing, and well, I have two children at university so I have a few thoughts about it. But they are actually working hard my two and getting an awful lot out of it, I think it’s money incredibly well spent. Most people would spend that on a holiday.
GE: Yes. Of course you’re trying to fill the void that some universities have left with your summer schools, Scrutopia.
RS: That’s right. I have a specific worldview which people do want to learn about. It’s not easy to teach it through a university. I have a position, I teach an MA for Buckingham, but Buckingham is a sort of free university, rather outside the system, a pure business deal.
GE: Evelyn Waugh once said that the problem with the Conservative Party is that it’s never put the clock back by a minute. Do you agree with that?
RS: I think that’s his romanticism, of course it’s true. But it’s not entirely true. What the word conservative means is not putting things back but conserving them. There are things that are threatened and you love them, so you want to keep them. I think in that sense the Conservative Party has been conservation, certainly in comparison with the Labour Party.
GE: Do you think there are some institutions, some traditions which it hasn’t conserved enough when it should have done?
RS: It’s hard, I think. There is the interesting case of David Cameron and gay marriage; obviously he made a big decision that he was going to pre-empt that whole discussion and go straight into the gay marriage agenda, which was in many ways admirable because it stopped the whole thing becoming the issue as it might have been for two years. But most conservatives would have said, “Isn’t marriage one of the institutions that we ought to be sustaining in its proper nature? etc”, so there was an occasion where there was a genuine conservative issue at stake where the Conservative Party essentially took the other line. Whether it was right or wrong is another matter because it’s such a complex issue now.
GE: On homosexuality, you’ve been criticised by some for saying, for instance, homosexuality is not normal. But that seems to be a statement of fact rather than a…
RS: Well I mean I wrote a book about sexual desire about 30 years ago nearly, that’s stayed in print because it’s the only philosophical attempt to say what it’s about. But in that book I say a lot of things about homosexuality, none of which could be conceived as what is now called “homophobic”. I actually argue that it’s not a perversion and so on, but that it’s different, and say a lot of things about why it’s different. Then people take little sentences out of context, the learned editors of BuzzFeed, who have their views on all these things, put together a kind of patchwork of offences without bothering to examine arguments or anything like that, and so you get caricatured as a particular kind of thing as though you were somebody who wants to stone homosexuals to death or something, just because you said that it’s different. My own view is don’t go there, don’t get involved in that kind of conversation because these are people who don’t understand ideas, there’s no point in it. They themselves aren’t in it for the ideas, they’re in it to take revenge on the world.
GE: In terms of policy, would you rather gay marriage hadn’t been introduced?
RS: I’m not sure. I mean, I think… We can’t claim that the English, British society at the time it was introduced was a great exemplar for the maintenance of the old marital idea, almost everybody is divorced and children abandoned and all that kind of thing, so… But still, I do take a sacramental view of marriage and I think that on that view the state can’t legitimise marriage anyway, so let it call what it wants marriage, it doesn’t matter.
GE: And where do you stand on the other reforms we’ve seen in the area of homosexuality, things like the repeal of Section 28? Was that right?
RS: That was the sexual offences act?
RS: Oh yeah, that’s history. One must remember the sexual offences act was very late in the day. Homosexuality was not an offence for most of the 19th century, sodomy was but that was regarded as a physical degradation, it wasn’t to do with the sexuality, the sex of the partners. No it was a late 19th century thing all over Europe to criminalise homosexuality and I think the – 1968 was it, the act? 1964 – which liberalised everything was simply a return to how things were and that’s in my view how it should be.
GE: With Section 28, that was on measures preventing schools promoting homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.
RS: I don’t like the idea of preaching homosexuality as a lifestyle in schools because, for a start, it isn’t a lifestyle, it’s a desire that some people have. And you’re introducing children to something at an age when they can’t possibly understand it. I’ve never been in favour of sex education as it has evolved anyway. I think it’s always done in a kind of prurience, an awakening of children to that which they perhaps don’t want to be awakened to by a person who doesn’t have the right to do it. I think parents have to do this and children themselves as the old explorations that we all made…
GE: Of course the subject which is increasingly coming up now is the debate around transgender. How should that be handled in your view?
RS: Well a lot of this is due to displaying in front of children all these complexities that adults have about their sexual identity and children pick it up and begin to wonder in a strange way well, am I a girl or am I a boy? And then this creates all kinds of traumas in children, and of course there is the possibility that it leads to this systematic identification with a particular sex which is not the one that your body exemplifies. I think we’re playing with fire in allowing children and their parents then to say OK so he’s really a girl and I’m going to give him this freedom to be a girl. What happens when after all the mutilation and hormones and everything you discover that he’s not at ease in that new body he’s been given? Can you give him back the old one? We’re playing with something that we don’t understand at all. That’s not to say that there aren’t difficulties, but has this come to the fore now? Why has it become the issue of the day when it hasn’t been an issue like that for the previous hundred thousand years of mankind? It’s obviously a kind of theatrical obsession which is being imposed upon children whether or not they understand it.
GE: To return to conservatism for a while, Margaret Thatcher is said to have remarked to the Conservative group, “The other side have got a philosophy they can test their policies against. We must have one as well.” Do you agree with that?
RS: Well not really, no. I think conservatism is not about ideology, it’s about love. We have something, this country and its institutions and our way of being, and that’s what we’re holding on to. We don’t know why, but it’s all that we’ve been given, so why not?
GE: How do you feel about the legacy of Thatcherism?
RS: Well, I mean I’m totally in favour of what she did, which was to shake things up and release the grip of the unions around the throat of the country, essentially give people pride in setting themselves up in life and taking responsibility for their own being. I think all that was good and when she had a genuine streak of patriotism. Obviously, she was in lots of ways narrow and had the shopkeeper mentality. She wasn’t the kind of sophisticated, super-cultivated conservative one might have hoped for. But in politics the choice is pretty limited
GE: You’ve described quite vividly how May 1968 in France was a pivotal moment in your intellectual formation.
RS: Well indeed, I was woken up then. I wasn’t really political until that moment and I just thought I can’t cope with all this stuff because I thought, here is the most beautiful city in the world, with its wonderful culture, all the things that I’ve just learned to appreciate, and these wretched spoilt brats are trying to pull it all down and smashing windows and burning cars which don’t belong to them. I had an old-fashioned English Puritanical revolt against it. But it was also was tremendously interesting to read the stuff that inspired them. That’s what made me first read Foucault and recognise the brilliance of the man and the completely demonic nature of what he was saying.
GE: So you shared, in a sense, the horror that Edmund Burke felt at the French Revolution?
RS: Except that May 1968 didn’t involve cutting off heads and all the rest.
GE: Some might say that’s a sign of progress.
RS: Well yes, it was. It was also a sign of the un-seriousness of the students. They didn’t do the real thing; real revolutionaries round up the other side and shoot them.
GE: Yes. Do you believe in progress?
RS: Well things change. Yes, some things get better, other things get better. But obviously in science there is progress. And in law there is progress too because there’s a process of reasoning which gradually adapts and changes social institutions without oppressing them and I think that’s all very positive.
GE: Who are your main intellectual and political influences, in your early years?
RS: Well intellectually I suppose, it has nothing to do with politics, Wittgenstein and Kant have been the two great influences. In politics though, Hegel has been a huge influence and Burke as well, and TS Eliot I think – not exactly politics but that’s my vision of culture. And that’s from school days, I came across Four Quartets aged 16 and that made sense of everything for the first time.
GE: Why was Hegel so crucial?
RS: Well, the whole vision of civil society as something independent of the state, and the individual as realised in institutions, made real through institutions, through belonging to things. That to me is really important. The anti-individualist side of Hegel, insisting that we are free but we become free only through social membership, that’s the crucial issue for me.
GE: Would you see Hobbs as too statist?
RS: Well he’s very, I don’t know. I guess his raw realism about the human condition doesn’t appeal very much to me. I think he’s a brilliant writer, but he’s not been a huge influence. Where were you educated then?
GE: Warwick University.
RS: In politics?
GE: History and politics.
RS: Oh right.
GE: I did philosophy at A-level.
RS: Well Warwick is good on all that.
GE: Were you surprised by some of the outrage you mentioned earlier over your appointment to the Building Beautiful Committee?
RS: Well yes. It was very artificial, in that it didn’t have anything to do with building. There’s nothing you can do about that sort of thing. I was amazed that somebody had been collecting all these tiny remarks out of context over what looks like 50 years. I hope that the opportunity one day would arise to denounce this character. I didn’t read all the stuff. I just thought these are not people – that life is too short to deal with this kind of thing. But it was upsetting because it’s meant to undermine your authority and authority is the only thing I have, authority that comes from hard work and thinking, and if you lose that you’ve got no position in the world because I’m not employed by anything. That was a bit of a blow. What surprised me was the kind of people who repeated this. You expect people who spend their lives on Twitter to have this store of malice that they’re constantly returning to but when it comes up in parliament, as it did, I was astonished. I thought our members of parliament had better things to do than to spend their time gossiping on Twitter. But there we are.
GE: One of the things which people jumped on was your description of Islamophobia as a propaganda word. Would you defend that now?
RS: Absolutely. It was invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue which we are all worried about. We’re all worried about the extent to which Islam condones, or does not condone, the violence committed in its name. I think Douglas Murray has written quite well about this. I have a PhD student who you probably know, Ed Husain, who’s very much concerned with getting from the Islamic tradition the other side to this question, what it is that Muslims really say and can say about the violent manifestations of their own faith. And that’s what we have to do, we have to bring it into the open and discuss it, and this word is there to try and prevent that.
GE: Do you think Islam is compatible with Western traditions and democracy?
RS: Well this is what Ed thinks ultimately, and possibly not, I mean it would have to recognise that secular government takes precedence over religious obedience, and that is very hard. It was hard for us to recognise this. It was only in the course of the 17th century that we actually got to do it and I think Islam has to go through that process too. Whether it can is, you know… Meanwhile of course, I entirely agree with what Ayaan Hirsi Ali says, that there are two Islams, there’s the Islam of Mecca, the original revelation which gifted the Muslims with a peaceful way of life which was theirs and which included them, and then there’s the Islam of Medina when the prophet had been forced into exile and was in fighting mood, and the Medina Surahs of the Koran is full of this anger and violence and need to impose things and that’s a different thing altogether. And I think the Muslims who settle into the Meccan way of life are obviously perfect citizens, they have the inner serenity that the citizen should have and we ought to learn to appreciate that and encourage it.
GE: And then on the other side you accuse them of anti-Semitism for your use of the term “Soros empire”.
RS: Is that what I did wrong there? Well, I was talking about Hungary at the time wasn’t I? And anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts. It’s not necessarily an empire of Jews, that’s such nonsense, how can one possibly deal with that?
GE: What’s your view of Orbán? Do you think he’s misrepresented in the press?
RS: To some extent he is. I have a complicated relationship with Orbán because I helped him set up his free university in Budapest in 1987 before the collapse of communism, when he was a young man, and he and his colleagues were doing a fantastic job, that’s when they started Fidesz. I told them at the time that you shouldn’t make it into a youth party because you’re not going to be young forever, you should make it into a constitutional conservative party of the old school, then you’ve got a real tradition to build on, and that’s what they did. And it was all going pretty well, but I think power has gone to his head. He has huge charisma and he’s made some decisions which are very popular with the Hungarian people because the Hungarians were extremely alarmed by the sudden invasion of huge tribes of Muslims from the Middle East. You have to remember that their history with, their relationship with Islam is not a happy one. So he made those radical decisions that we’re going to exclude all this, we’re going to maintain the security of our borders come what may. And that’s put him at loggerheads with the European Union, so he’s got the whole propaganda machine to deal with. But I don’t say that I agree with his policies in general. I think he’s getting too close to Russia. But he’s also being deliberately isolated by the European Union, which is not in my view a wise thing. It’s the same problem as we have with the European Union: how do you negotiate something other than what’s being dictated to you?
GE: He is, of course, regularly accused of anti-Semitism.
RS: That’s nonsense though in his case, well I assume it’s nonsense. The Hungarians, what I said in the speech that people quote from was, is true. I said there’s a legacy of anti-Semitism in Hungary which you can’t deny. You have to recognise that if you’re going to form any kind of coherent idea of what Hungary is as a nation. It has a large Jewish population who’ve got to be included and this was one of the great strengths of the Austro-Hungarian empire, that it gave to the Jews a sense of national identity as well as their ethnic and religious identity, and that’s what’s in danger of being lost because of the Nazi takeover and then the Communist takeover, which was also all part of that. So you should never ignore the possibility of anti-Semitism and the situation of the Jew in Hungary if you want to have a nation state. And I think Viktor is aware of that. He’s done a lot, with Holocaust memorials and all that sort of stuff, to include Jews in his particular form of national politics, but it’s not surprising that they don’t necessarily want to be included. And it’s not surprising if they join up with Soros’s transnational campaign against Orbán. It’s such a complicated matter. All I would say is that there is no easy solution to this but it’s not a case that Orbán is anti-Semitic. He is trying to find his own solution and if you had a political movement in Hungary which excluded the Jews in some way you’d be damn foolish because they’re the ones with the minds. The Budapest intelligentsia – many of them are Jewish and they have inherited a long history of political thinking, which has been extremely useful to previous generations of Hungarians.
GE: In the same way that Islamophobia is used to suppress debate, do you sometimes feel that the term anti-Semitism is used in the same way? That clearly there are Jews on the left who do try to exert influence through politics and sometimes a normal critique of that is prevented through
RS: [cuts in] I think that’s right, I think that a lot of the stuff about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party comes from this. It’s not necessarily anti-Semitic to be anti-Zionist. There is an issue of course that the Labour Party has tried a lot of recruiting among inner-city Muslim communities, which are often anti-Semitic, and so has suppressed all that, but yes, to get a clear open debate on the left about anti-Semitism is as difficult as getting a debate on the right about Islamophobia.
GE: Yes. What’s your view of Donald Trump’s presidency so far?
RS: Oh God. Well he hasn’t fulfilled expectations of the left of being a complete maniac who’s presided over the collapse of America. He’s pursued his little obsessions like the Mexican wall in a relatively peaceful and provocative way. He’s tried, he’s made some bold moves in foreign policy like attempting reconciliation with North Korea – probably a mistake because you’re dealing with a totally paranoid state. I don’t know. In the Middle East I’m not sure whether his policies are being, they’re no different from Obama’s actually. And the domestic policy largely leaves things unchanged, and I think that’s basically, that’s what America is, because big policy changes occur through the Supreme Court not through the presidency.
GE: Mm. Do you see him as a conservative?
RS: Well no. Like everybody else, I see him as a vulgar, half-educated oaf. But there’s no reason why vulgar, half-educated oafs should not be represented in politics. And here is a chance for one of them to say that we’re not as bad as you all think.
GE: Were you optimistic when Theresa May became Prime Minister?
RS: Definitely not because I think a prime minister should be elected. I think Cameron’s resignation really was the death knell of the Conservative Party as we knew it because that’s not something that a proper Conservative politician can do: renounce leadership at the moment when it’s needed, and so it was handed on to her as second best from Andrea Leadsom or someone like that. There was all the scandal around Boris. Anyway, I can’t say that Theresa May would have been my choice.
GE: What do you see as her flaws?
RS: I’m not sure I want to accuse her of any flaws. I think she’s obviously an honest, respectable, somewhat old-fashioned, wooden person, who’s been given a role which she probably would not have acquired any other way, but she’s doing her best. But it’s not what the country needs.
GE: What does the country need?
RS: It does need strong leadership, someone who says: “This is how it’s going to be and I’m going to take the cost of it, let it be on my shoulders and I’m going to do it.”
GE: Someone with the courage, prepared for instance to accept a no-deal Brexit.
RS: A Churchill-style figure is what is needed and there aren’t many of those around.
GE: Is Boris Johnson potentially one?
RS: Well that’s interesting that, he obviously imagines that he is, I think there’s the buffoonery and all that that we have to deal with.
GE: Is there anyone else you see in the wings as a potential leader?
RS: I don’t know. Not really, not at the moment. But I’m not a political being really.
GE: Yes. What do you think of Sajid Javid?
RS: He seems to be very honest, dealing with difficult situations reasonably well, I think. Nothing specific but nothing, he’s very much in the tradition of home secretaries.
GE: Philosophically he’s quite interesting, because I know he was very interested in libertarian thought and Ayn Rand.
RS: Yes that’s right, a lot of people come into conservatism through that route and because she made of libertarianism, she combined the libertarian economics with the sort of Nietzschean politics, this is the self-affirmation of the self-made man and that is very appealing to someone who is coming into politics from the outside, saying yes I can do it.
GE: Do you think the Conservative Party has been somewhat deformed by libertarianism though?
RS: Well it benefited from it too. With Keith Joseph and all that it, it gave it a kind of economic strength at a certain stage. It’s not the whole truth but it’s part of the truth.
GE: When you said Cameron’s resignation sounded the death knell for the Conservatives, you seem pessimistic about their future.
RS: No, for the old Conservative Party, it has to remake itself. It can’t just go along in the old way. I don’t see Labour as an alternative, not at the moment, because it is, well we all know the difficulties with the leadership problem. It would be nice to have a humane Labour Party, properly named, humane and patriotic, that’s the thing the Labour Party has always, the Attlee Labour Party aimed to be that. To have that as the opposition would help enormously.
GE: Do you think that Jeremy Corbyn could become prime minister?
RS: I think it’s unlikely, I just can’t see people voting for him. But you never know it’s, again I’m not really into all that sort of thing.
GE: If Corbyn did become prime minister, and he would be perhaps the most left-wing prime minister that the UK’s ever had…
RS: He would.
GE: …would you consider emigration at that point?
RS: I’m too old. No I think I would become quite active politically if my energy permits. We’ll have to see what he would do because you can’t just do things in this country, you can say things but there’s huge weight of institutional facts that you have to get together with.
GE: And beyond politics, how do you feel about humanity’s future?
RS: Erm, oh gosh. Are you talking about all the transhumanist stuff and all that?
GE: Well partly that. But when you look at the various forces changing the world are you an optimist or a pessimist?
RS: I’ve never been an optimist but that’s fine because pessimists have the possibility of being agreeably surprised, and that’s a reason for being pessimistic, but I’ve always defended a certain kind of pessimism because what is known as optimism is really a collection of illusions and I think one must recognise what all religious people know, which is that human beings are imperfect and fallen and there’s no way in which they can alone surmount the problems which they themselves create. I think there are difficulties round the corner that we are ignoring, like the rise of China. There’s something quite frightening about the Chinese sort of mass politics and the regimentation of the ordinary being. We invent robots and they are them. In a sense they’re creating robots out of their own people by so constraining what can be done. Each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing. Maybe I don’t know enough about it to be confident in making that judgement but the politics is like that and the foreign policy is like that and the concentration camps have come back, largely there to re-educate the Muslims and so on.
GE: I suppose when we look outside we’re seeing the resurgence of knife crime, for instance.
RS: That’s a bit like the transgender thing. It’s a kind of hysterical imitation of each other. These are local cyclical diseases which erupt, have their day and go. We’ve had this in America and I suspect it’s not the big thing, it’s a fashion among young men. Young men obviously have the genetic need to affirm their identity, and violently if necessary, because that’s a way of proving yourself in the gang, there’s all sorts of basic hunter-gatherer instincts at stake here, and we have to be to some extent understanding of that. The school system has let them down, they’re brought up in grim areas that we ourselves have created in our cities, which is one of the things that I’m supposed to be working on, how to cure all that ugliness.
GE: Some Conservatives say knife crime is really a black problem and linked to the decline of stop and search.
RS: Well we don’t know, we haven’t got the statistics and the stat will presumably be a carefully guarded secret. To some extent though it’s certainly proving yourself in the gang, I don’t say it’s something that is special to black people, but it can be special to a certain kind of isolated immigrant community. As in West Side Story, you know, it’s part of the human condition that when you’re put in that isolated condition, one community within another, and you haven’t got any way of proving yourself in the community outside, you’ve got to prove yourself here and now in the gang, and I think that is certainly a dynamic of the situation.
GE: OK, I think that about covers it so thank you.
RS: Thank you.
Editor’s note: An error in the transcription was corrected on 26 April at 23:09pm. Roger Scruton said of gang membership, “I don’t say it’s something that is special to black people”, rather than “I know it’s something that is special”.