Manhattan Institute

Sacking Scruton

All too predictably, the British government dismisses the distinguished philosopher from an architecture commission.

When the British government appointed Sir Roger Scruton, the recently knighted philosopher, as unpaid chairman of the Building Beautiful Architecture Commission, a belated attempt to slow down or halt the further desecration of the British townscape (it would be impossible to reverse it) by improving the aesthetic quality of the housing thenceforth to be built, howls of outrage arose from certain quarters—notably, but not surprisingly, from architects and the left-wing commentariat. How dare a Conservative government co-opt a conservative!

The Guardian called Scruton the Alf Garnett of architecture—Alf Garnett having been a white, working-class, fictional television character of the 1960s famed for his ignorant and prejudiced rants. The comparison could scarcely have been less apt or more defamatory. Even those who disagree with Scruton could hardly call him ignorant or his views the product of mere prejudice, in the sense of unthinking, dogmatic acceptance of the prevailing opinions of his milieu. Very much the contrary; all his life, he has swum against the intellectual stream, often at great personal cost.

It was obvious from the first that his appointment was a wound to the predominant faction of the British intelligentsia that could be healed only by his dismissal. The sheer hideousness of most of what has been built in Britain over the last few decades (so immediately apparent that only an intellectual could miss it) was no excuse for having allowed Scruton to sully the corridors of power even for a few months. In the great work of ridding the body politic of the stone in its shoe or the thorn in its flesh, any slur would do, any libel or slander that came to mind was perfectly acceptable.

An interview with the deputy editor of the New Statesman, a left-wing weekly, sealed Scruton’s fate, as it was intended to do. The deputy editor, George Eaton, almost certainly counted on the utter pusillanimity of the British government—and he had himself pictured swigging champagne directly from the bottle immediately after the government dismissed Scruton. In the published version of the interview, Eaton gives an impression of Scruton as an anti-Semite, hater of Muslims, and despiser of Chinese. All these accusations are false and defamatory, as any reader of Scruton would know—for example, he often quotes Islamic writings knowledgably and with respect, while maintaining that Islamophobia is an invented category to shield the religion from rational criticism. But as a well-known political writer once put it, if you sling enough mud, some of it sticks, and enough mud stuck for the British government to lose whatever little nerve it ever had and fire him.

I surmise that there is a reason why Scruton was particularly hated in his role as chairman of the Building Beautiful Architecture Commission—other than the fact that the existence of the Commission, by its very name, brings attention to the ugliness of what progressive social-engineering architects have wrought. Namely: he was unpaid. This set a bad precedent, for those who truly have the good of the country at heart, such as progressive social engineers, should surely be well rewarded for their trouble. Scruton was thus letting the side down by working for nothing and had to be punished for it.

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