Sir Roger Scruton, the prolific British philosopher and writer, died on January 12, 2020, after a six-month battle with cancer. A renowned intellectual whose interests and commentary covered political philosophy, aesthetics, and religion, Sir Roger was more than just a man who covered many topics with penetrating insight and erudition; he was, to me, a friend and a teacher.
I consider myself fortunate having just completed my master’s in philosophy with guidance under Sir Roger in the last year of his teaching. He was, during my tenure as a student at the University of Buckingham—where he ran the graduate program in philosophy—still the man of wit and charm that he had always been, a feature that attracted a diverse group of students of backgrounds and beliefs. His smile, his insight, his love of wine and the fine discussions he led have been indelibly stamped into my memory, as have his his polite jabs at my own intellectual commitments. It goes without saying that he made all his students better humans during the time we studied with him.
Sir Roger had risen to some fame with the publication of The Meaning of Conservatism in 1980, a philosophical exposition of the political tradition free from the negativity and pejoratives of those who have often controlled the meaning and understanding of conservatism. In this work, Sir Roger decisively showed how conservatism is, properly, independent of the classical liberal economic dogmas that largely usurped the older, communitarian, traditional, and aesthetic spirit of conservatism, which Sir Roger saw deriving from the thought of Aristotle through that of Burke and Eliot. In his defense and exposition of conservatism, Sir Roger explained that conservatism was an organic outgrowth of unique inheritances including Common Law, property rights, and institutional justice, producing the liberty that conservatives enjoy and in which they are allied in preserving. In American parlance, Sir Roger’s conservatism is what we now call paleo-conservatism.