Roger Scruton on postmodernism

This is a delightful and wide-ranging discussion with Roger Scruton on the concept of human rights, tolerance, art/aesthetics, gender theory, and more:

Scruton is the foremost public intellectual within the Burkean school of conservatism. I have previously linked his documentary on art for the BBC, as well as Edward Feser’s summary of Scruton’s definition of sentimentality.

Also, you can watch Terry Eagleton in conversation with Roger Scruton. Needless to say, I am a bit incredulous about Eagleton’s rosy picture of leftist cultural values, but he’s an articulate defender of his cause, which has long won.


  1. So where would the civil rights movement fall under Scruton’s distinction between negative and positive rights?

    • That would be a good question to ask him. Since Scruton would presumably define civil liberties as part and parcel of the Enlightenment, and thereby “negative” in aiming to remove restrictions to such liberties, then that aspect of civil rights is legitimate — that is, it is extending the same civil liberties given to whites (males) during the Enlightenment to all people today. As such, the civil rights movement would be seen as a continuation of the Enlightenment, removing the racial barriers.

      This is a broadly libertarian (though Scruton is not a libertarian) conception of rights. It is the right to pursue happiness, through one’s own labor and financial responsibilities, but it is not the right to receive happiness…by way of a “right” to health, income status, marriage, etc. At least, that is how I understand Scruton on this point. This is not to say that I am entirely satisfied by it, and it is surely more difficult to parse negative versus positive rights in his definition (e.g., education?) — but I am in basic agreement with him and especially on the interposition of the state as these new rights accumulate.

      Having said that, when it comes to a topic like universal healthcare, it could still be argued as a worthy pursuit of the state on grounds other than “rights” (such as, compassion). Whether such pursuits are fiscally plausible and sustainable over the long run (and some European countries are good warning signs) is another question and where Christians can disagree about the most responsible and moral path forward.

      • Some have argued that Obamacare is “conservative” because it preserves and works within the existing infrastructure of the health insurance market.

        For me, the healthcare issue is so dauntingly complicated that I’m wary of taking a strong opinion on it without doing a lot more research. But I do think the shutdown is a bad idea that sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

      • Ha, yes, the whole country has no idea what’s going on with Obamacare. Regardless of the merits or demerits of the legislation as a whole, it appears to be unnecessarily complicated and poorly communicated, and proponents have admitted as much.

        Part of the complication is due to the fact that it’s an integration into the existing system, which is indeed “conservative” to an extent. In fact, the basic gist of Obamacare was first proposed by the Heritage Foundation in the 90’s (I believe, or maybe one of the other conservative think tanks), which was back when conservatives actually did creative thinking (and still do at The American Conservative and elsewhere). The shutdown is atrocious, clearly the GOP’s fault, and I say that as a registered Republican with no intent on changing my affiliation. I’d rather stay in the GOP and advocate for reform from the inside.

        The obvious truth is that health care overhaul was a longtime coming. Conservative intellectuals saw it coming, and eight years of Bush was a plenty wide-enough window of opportunity. Instead, the status quo remained, passing the ball to Obama and the DNC. So, conservatives lost the opportunity, on this and much else during the Bush years. Now we have to deal with this idiot breed of young Republicans in the House, elected on reactionary premises (which is never a good idea and always bound to falter). I have innumerable complaints about Obama and the DNC, including concerns about religious freedom, but the GOP (at least the most vocal wing as of late) is doing everything it can to prove itself as infantile and irresponsible.

      • What concerns me about the shutdown is not only the childishness of it and the deleterious immediate/medium-term effects of abruptly cutting off a bunch of government workers, but the precedent it sets in the long-term.

        Increasingly, instead of three branches checking and balancing each other, we have any one branch – or even half a branch! – being able to just run roughshod over the others. Someone who is bothered by Judicial activism or increasing Executive power (valid concerns, though I would add that these are hardly things exclusive to the left) should be bothered by this legislative stunt for the same reasons. And who’s to say Democrats can’t do the same sort of thing in the future if they become the minority in government? Maybe not a shutdown, but some sort of underhanded thing to stop a Republican program.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s