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What Roger Scruton Taught Me about Chores
The cult of celebrity has damaged more than its fair share of Western culture, and it falls to students to resist this wrecking ball, for new wine must be placed in new wineskins. I do not mean to demand more dreadful blogs against Ms. Cyrus or Mr. Thicke; those we have in abundance. Rather, the most potent resistance to celebrity that a student can offer is to remember that the “stars” of modern conservatism are not celebrities but human beings like ourselves. We ought to treat them as such.
This simple principle led me to write to Peter Kreeft about political philosophy. He wrote back with beautiful penmanship and constructive critique. I again tested the waters by e-mailing Robert George about (what else?) banjos. But the moment of trepidation came when I began a letter to Roger Scruton about his autobiographical essay “Becoming a Family.”
I had read the essay in question to my (then) girlfriend on the southern shore of Lake Superior. A rare and wonderful find is the woman who will listen with joy to the words of Roger Scruton. Soon we ourselves shall be “becoming a family” to test the truth of Mr. Scruton’s assertion that: “the best of love comes after marriage, not before.”
We read, and walked with Mr. Scruton through his life and love. Then a single sentence hit me with the force and chill of a wave off the great lake. Concerning the everyday life of Roger Scruton and his wife, Sophie: “I do the cooking and the housework; she looks after the animals.”
Perhaps the reader grew up thinking, as I did, that working around a house is of the same genus as working around a quarry: exhausting labor leaving no energy for any other pursuit. But behold Roger Scruton, author of more than thirty-five books and hundreds of essays, currently visiting professor at both Oxford and St. Andrews, telling the world that he cleans up around the house and cooks for his family. Why? How!?
I wrote to him because I, like almost every grad student, am looking for the easy answers to life. How do I become both a husband and an author? Give me the syllabus. I want a weekly reading, writing, cooking, cleaning, and loving schedule. He, being rather wise, didn’t give me what I asked for. Instead, he wrote to explain how he approached cleaning and cooking. Not a chore for him; they are “aesthetic undertakings.” Beauty and order are intertwined such that one brings about the other. The beautiful is orderly and the orderly is beautiful. Cleaning the house creates order, and therefore creates beauty. No one need undertake the task of rearranging matter as a draining labor to be endured. Cleaning is an art to be cultivated.
We needn’t write self-indulgent defenses of messes, justifying disorder as a protest against minimalism. Every blade of grass cut, every circuit wired, every dish washed, every carpet vacuumed is an ongoing work of the highest art: art that aspires to create beauty rather to mock it. I dearly wish I could quote more extensively from Mr. Scruton’s letter to me. Perhaps at a later date I will. But alas I first must find where it rests in my room, which is currently a total mess.
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