How to Be a Conservative | Roger Scruton

Summary of: How to Be a Conservative
By: Roger Scruton


Dive into the thought-provoking world of conservatism as we explore Roger Scruton’s ‘How to Be a Conservative.’ This summary will guide you through the events and experiences that shaped Scruton’s conservative beliefs, from witnessing his father’s political evolution to experiencing the harsh realities of Communism. Discover the key elements of conservative philosophy, such as the importance of building societies from below, the role of the nation-state, and the limitations of modern human rights. Learn about the need to embrace organic, civil society and how that can lead to a more inclusive and cohesive world. Get ready to challenge your own views on political ideologies and gain fresh insight into the conservative perspective.

From Socialism to Conservatism

Roger Scruton’s journey from a Labour-voting upbringing to becoming a conservative is influenced by his father’s views on the importance of conservation, the 1968 Paris riots, Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, and a visit to Communist Czechoslovakia.

Roger Scruton’s life-long support of conservatism came about through a journey that began in his childhood in inner-city Manchester. His father, a lifelong Labour party voter, believed that the working-class was oppressed by the aristocracy, and that a class war was necessary. However, he also had a strong affinity for England’s countryside and its history, and saw modern housing as a threat to its preservation. Scruton’s early exposure to his father’s passion for conservation influenced his thinking about the importance of conserving things, especially when the proposed alternatives were worse.

Another factor that impacted Scruton’s political beliefs came in 1968 when he witnessed the May riots in Paris firsthand. As middle-class students destroyed property and attacked the police, Scruton felt a surge of anger at their disregard for what he saw as the privileges that democracy had afforded them.

Then in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the British prime minister. Scruton saw her leadership as a turning point for the country, which had been in a period of decline, overrun by a self-hating leftism that denigrated Britain’s achievements. Though he did not agree with her entirely, he sympathized with her basic philosophy that people needed to take responsibility for their own lives rather than blindly trusting the state.

Finally, it was a trip to Communist Czechoslovakia that cemented Scruton firmly to the cause of freedom. Seeing former intellectuals that he knew reduced to coal stokers by authoritarian regimes made him realize the true dangers of radical leftism.

Scruton’s journey from a Labour-voting upbringing to a lifelong supporter of conservatism was not a predictable one. It was influenced by his father’s views, firsthand experience of the Paris riots, Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, and a visit to Communist Czechoslovakia, all of which contributed to his belief that freedom was worth conserving at all costs.

Building Society from the Bottom Up

In “Conservatism,” the author reveals the failures of both socialist and capitalist ideologies in trying to mold society into predetermined shapes. Societies are too complex to be reduced to political plans, and a true conservative believes that societies should be built from the bottom up – organically, from below. This thinking is supported by the observations of British philosopher Edmund Burke. Burke believed that societies needed affection and loyalty, interactions that happen naturally in families, workplaces, schools, and local clubs and societies. These are the simple things that lead to a cohesive society – taking responsibility for one’s actions and offering assistance to those in need. Ultimately, societies are sustained by “purposeless” things like friendship and neighborliness that endure even in the aftermath of failed political regimes.

Opening Up Opportunities

When Communists took power in the 20th century, they shut down civil associations that didn’t align with their values. Private schools and clubs were banned because they provided advantages to those who joined, contradicting an egalitarian society. However, conservatives believe that rather than shutting down exclusive organizations, the key to social mobility is in opening them up to everyone. Private schools can offer scholarships for poorer students, and wealthy parents will find other ways to give their children an advantage. Natural parts of society, private associations and clubs should be allowed to exist for their own sake as places of expertise, pleasure, and social bonds. The glue holding society together is the organic civil society that must not be destroyed.

The Importance of the Nation-State

Nationalism and the sense of belonging to a nation-state are not the same. While the former can lead to prejudice and persecution, the latter is a natural and necessary sentiment that fosters a healthy society. The nation-state is like a family, and just like in a family, there will be disagreements and factions, but ultimately, there is a shared identity that holds the family together. This national “we” is what binds us together in Western democracies, and it can only work if it’s inclusive and secular. Conservatives understand the importance of this shared identity and acknowledge that it’s only through the nation-state that we can learn to live in peace with our fellow citizens.

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