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In Memoriam: Sir Roger Scruton (1944–2020)
This is a tough one to process: Sir Roger Scruton is gone. He died on Sunday after fighting cancer for the past six months.
It is impossible to overstate Sir Roger’s importance. To get a sense of the influence of this brilliant polymath, consider a small sampling of the praise for him:
- “The greatest conservative of our age . . . A towering intellect.” —Daniel Hannan, author, journalist, and politician
- “One of the most eminent philosophers in the world.” —Robert P. George, Princeton University
- “The world’s greatest conservative thinker.” —Institute for Public Affairs
- “A virtuoso in so many genres that it is almost impossible for any ordinary person to assess his accomplishments.” —Daniel Cullen, Rhodes College
The breadth of Sir Roger’s thought is simply staggering. In some fifty books and thousands of articles, he wrote on politics, philosophy, aesthetics, religion, culture, music, wine, environmentalism, hunting, and more. He wrote novels. He wrote operas.
But he should be remembered not merely for his contributions as an intellectual. During the Cold War, Sir Roger frequently traveled behind the Iron Curtain to meet with dissidents and establish underground education networks. He and the dissidents operated right under the noses of the Communist secret police. In Czechoslovakia, the Communist authorities arrested him, strip-searched him, and questioned him for hours before kicking him out of the country.
These were not risks that many in the West were willing to take. But Sir Roger took them. He fought to hold Western civilization together when it was tearing itself apart.
For many around the globe who have risked their lives to challenge totalist ideologies and regimes, Sir Roger is both philosopher and hero.
In 2016, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Roger Scruton for his services to “philosophy, teaching, and public education.” He also became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the British Academy. For all those honors, however, he remained underappreciated. Rebekah Mercer said it well this past September at ISI’s Gala for Western Civilization, when she accepted the Defender of Western Civilization award in Sir Roger’s behalf:
In a just world, a brilliant scholar with Sir Roger’s accomplishments would occupy a distinguished chair at Oxford or at Cambridge or at some similarly acclaimed institution of higher learning. Why not Sir Roger? Could it be because he has unflinchingly championed a conservative worldview? Or perhaps because he has unfailingly defended the Western tradition? Or maybe because he has condemned what is wrong, even when doing so flies in the face of elite opinion? Or perhaps The Spectator had it right when it said of Sir Roger that he is “that rarest of things: a first-rate philosopher who actually has a philosophy.”
Chemotherapy treatments kept Sir Roger from accepting ISI’s Defender of Western Civilization in person that evening. But he recorded a video to express his gratitude. His remarks there were characteristically thoughtful. They are well worth revisiting as we honor this great man:
Requiescat in pace.
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