Of Beauty and Consolation

Years ago, I posted Roger Scruton’s documentary for BBC Scotland on “Why Beauty Matters.” It has been a while since viewing it, but I assume it still holds up well. It’s classic Scruton.

Perhaps even more engrossing is the video embedded below. It is the second episode in a Dutch series called, “Of Beauty and Consolation.” The series is hosted by Wim Kayzer, and episodes include Martha Nussbaum and Edward Witten among others.

Here is the episode featuring Scruton:

The setting is a fox hunt, with Kayzer narrating and conducting the interview segments. The discussion becomes more and more interesting along the way.

For students of theology, you will notice Scruton’s indebtedness to modern philosophy and philosophical theology, as you would know from reading his Gifford Lectures. He cites Spinoza approvingly a few times. He came to his beliefs through an intense, often restless search, which continues. He embodies almost every culminating movement in later modern philosophy — at once idealist, romantic, and existentialist — which is perhaps not what you would expect from someone best known as a conservative. Since modernity is his philosophical home, he is able to perceive its losses, its blindness with greater acuity than those who occupy an anti-modern, blame-it-on-the-Enlightenment standpoint.




  1. Quite the interview. Goes to show, that unlike modern liberalism and its cult-like followers, conservatives (and they’re allies) cannot be truly pinned down. There is are basic, tried and true, propositions, but it cannot be placed into a neat little box. I’d have to say 53:00-58 is the most pinnacle of this.

    “Hysteria dominates modern politics … I think it’s no accident that the loss of faith in our century [20th Cent.] immediately was accompanied by the rise of totalitarian government. Communism; Nazism; Fascism. All of which are atheistic creeds growing out of superstitions [& hysteria]; growing out of a loss of the God-head”

    Another two points very worth mentioning: First, 1:03/49 is very Barthian. Second, Scruton’s comments, near the end, on marriage as being a ”creative endeavor that lifts us out of the animal realm and inscribes us into the eternal”

    Final thought, can’t say I’m a fan of the tone given out by the interviewer.

    • Scruton is a rarity in the eclectic sources of his beliefs and certainly not easy to pin down. I’ve read some criticisms of Scruton over the years that are so far off the mark as to be comical and merely evidence of never having read the man at any length or attention.

      His theology is not as refined as I would like, perhaps owing to the fact that his theological writings are a fairly recent development in his oeuvre. Thus, he’s not worried about citing Spinoza immediately after describing God’s love in personalist terms!

      • I haven’t spent a lot of time in Spinoza’s work, only a very brief introduction. The content of Scruton’s developing theology seems to be on track. I was also amazed at his candour about his social anxiety issues caused by being raised in a troubled home. Thumbs up!

      • Oh yes, I love the personal context; the connection he makes to his upbringing. As for Spinoza, Scruton finds some value in his monism (identifying God and creaturely being), but Scruton parts company with Spinoza wherever Scruton’s conception of God is more akin to Christian revelation (a personal God). None of this is developed in this interview, but I enjoy watching his mind work in this off-the-cuff manner of speaking.

  2. It think it’s fair to say that Scruton more or less dismisses dogmatic theology on Kantian grounds. I don’t have the references to hand but there are statements scattered throughout his work to this effect. His book ‘Our Church’ has a few of them. It’s a good book but it does highlight a number of his limitations when it comes to theology.

    But I do think we can see a development in his work where he increasingly sees that “religion” has an importance of its own. Whereas in Of Beauty and Consolation and then in Why Beauty Matters religion and beauty are “two doors opening onto a single space”. Not competitors or substitutes one for the other but essentially doing the same thing.

    There’s a book on his religious philosophy coming out later this year; it should be good.

    • I agree. He is a modern philosopher, very much at home with Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel. And you are also correct to see a development, something approaching an appreciation of dogmatic theology. I would love to see him engage with Hans Urs von Balthasar, someone who could bridge the transcendentals of philosophy with the dogmas of revelation.

      Is the book The Religious Philosophy of Roger Scruton by James Bryson? It looks like the paperback is coming out this summer, but the hardback was released last year.

  3. There’s a line in a recent interview (in the Belgian television programme Wanderlust) where he says something like ‘my whole life is aesthetic’. He sums himself up pretty well! If there is to be a bridge to dogmatics it is probably to be made from aesthetics. So interaction with Balthasar would be fascinating.

    Yes, that’s the book I mean. Have you read it?

    • No, I haven’t read it, but with the reduced pb price I might get it. At the least, I’ll have our seminary library get it.

  4. I just finished a course on Beauty (pretty massive subject to cover in a semester, but oh well) and Scruton’s introduction to the subject was occasionally mentioned as a resource, though never without the caveat that Scruton is into DUN DUN DAAAAAA Kant. The kids always shouted with fright when that opening “k” sound was invoked.

      • That’s ironic Ian, because Kant really lacks for aesthetic when it comes to language. Though it looks like Scruton’s hair might be taking grooming tips from the old Prussian master.

        In other news: is the categorical imperative helpful for winning poker?: http://existentialcomics.com/comic/176

        PS. Kevin, the new blog design is overwhelming. My conservative temperament was shocked to find such a bright color scheme in comparison to the old!

      • For sure on both points, Cal. Scruton’s coiffure is endlessly inspiring and served as a point of contact for me when I was still in the Van Tillian dogmatic slumbers of “I literally Kant even.”

      • I was experimenting with lots of different templates. That was probably one that I intended to change the color scheme but decided I didn’t like the template features. The only thing I didn’t like about the old design was how small it was unless you zoom your browser to at least 150%. So, that’s why I’ve been trying different ones.

  5. I’ve seen Scruton accused of being abstract in his treatment of beauty, but I think just the opposite is the case. I think it’s fair to say that part of his ‘project’ is to bring beauty (and the other transcendentals) down to earth, as it were. I’d almost say that he’s giving a good portion of classical thought a Kantian coat of paint.

    • That’s a good way of describing it. As is especially clear in this interview, Scruton’s philosophy derives from a personal drive and necessity. This is what gives his aesthetics an existential quality, and it explains his attraction to modern philosophy’s “subjective turn,” which he treats as a good thing that can be abused.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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