As Douglas Murray says, Sir Roger Scruton was as scintillating in conversation as he was on the page. It was typical of Roger’s generosity that in September 2018, a month in which he had no less than three books coming out, he gave up an afternoon to recording a Spectator USA podcast at his home, Sunday Hill Farm in Wiltshire. We originally published it under the headline ‘Knight of the Living Philosophers’. His death at 75 impoverishes us all.
Scruton was more than a philosopher. He wrote widely and well on subjects as various as wine and Wagner, fox-hunting and free trade. That month, Scruton the philosopher had published Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition. Scruton the musician — there were two pianos at hand in Scruton’s study — had an essay collection, Music as an Art. And Scruton the fiction writer has his second collection of short stories, Souls in the Twilight.
One of the pleasures of talking with Scruton was his intellectual seamlessness, the natural and illuminating way in which he moved from one field of enquiry to another. His voice on the page has the same quality; no mean achievement in any kind of writer, let alone among philosophers, where complexity often leads to obscurity and opacity.
‘I belong much more to a Continental way of thinking,’ Scruton told me. ‘In particular, my first efforts at self-discovery occurred in France, where a true intellectual does not make a distinction between philosophy on the one hand, and literature on the other. There is a continuity between all these things, and I’m the same. I don’t see my philosophical and political ideas developing in some abstract, arcane arena, isolated from everyday life. On the contrary: I see them as reflections on the life that I’ve known and the life that I’ve lived, and the life that I’ve observed in others. And all of this is bound up with the language that I use.’
Our conversation flowed from what makes American conservatism different, and whether we can identify a conservative tradition because we are in its ‘twilight’; to immigration and the novel of ideas; and to why classical music ‘distinguishes our civilization from all others’. As always with Roger, it was an education.