Konservative personer i vår del av verden er ikke så glad i manifester, for deres måte å forholde seg til verden på er snarere en diskret og vanskelig artikulerbar grunnholdning basert på det levde livets erfaringer, ikke en utbasunert smørbrødliste over prinsipper. Ingen klarer bedre enn Roger Scruton å trenge inn i dybden på såpass komplekse saker, og samtidig sette forståelige ord på dem, noe alle som var så heldige å være tilstede i Oslo Militære Samfund den 24. mai selv kunne konstatere. Her foreligger omsider opptak og tekst fra møtet.
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HANS RUSTAD: Welcome. Dear Roger Scruton, dear audience,
We are honored to have Scruton in our midst. Scruton worked as an editor of Salisbury Review for many years. It was a time of adversity and I presume that we are facing some of the same adversity at this moment.
Let us seize this as an opportunity to find out who we are and what we stand for, because unless we do, we will not have a chance to rise to the challenge. We shall have to rediscover our roots, our identity, the very roots that are cut off every day. A foreign, alien culture is introduced into our daily lives that traditionally have fought Europe for centuries. And it’s introduced as a perfectly normal thing, and our children are taught to adapt to its precepts in school. They are taught that tolerance knows no limits, that everything is the same and can be understood within the same context.
As we know from history that may not be the case. Some systems are incompatible. Roger Scruton fought communism. He was expelled from Czechoslovakia during the cold war. Today, twenty two years, brief twenty two years after the fall of the Berlin wall, we are facing a new culture and religion that is, I would say, antithetical to the West, as communism was. But this time its adherents are living amongst us in great quantity. That makes for a very difficult task to criticize and defend our culture, especially since the elite have decided for a postmodern, tolerant Utopia, where the lamb grazes beside the lion. Because that puts the onus of criticism on the outsiders, who are left to fend for themselves.
This puts us in a very demanding spot. How to keep our balance? How to retain a sense of being oneself and not only reacting? Because that seems to be a great danger, that we do only react and not act. In that way our actions are predicated on others. We must establish our own sense of self and not beat around the bush. Only that’s going to keep a moral standard, that does not make us into copies of our adversaries. At present, Europe is reacting and not acting.
Scruton has been immensely important in that he has done just that. He has set an example what it means to be a European in the twenty-first century, one that we shall need. He has reminded us of our past history, of what made us, and made us proud of who we are. He has by his example reminded us that we have the right to speak our minds and defend ourselves and our communities. The bad conscience that the present regime instills in us vis-à-vis others is an evil trick. It does not bring peace, but resentment and worse. This example Scruton has set, by his books as well as by his character, seems to me an important one. And it will live on. Thank you. I’ll give the word to Scruton.
ROGER SCRUTON: What I propose to do is talk for forty minutes, just say the kind of things which I think I ought to be saying in response to what Hans has just said, and then invite you to ask questions, because I don’t know, until you’ve asked questions, exactly what problems and questions are on your mind. And I think it’s much better for you if you take this opportunity to interrogate me and ask me to explain myself.
So I’ll say some general things and just begin with a compliment, of course, that I’m always amazed by the way in which Scandinavians generally, and Norwegians in particular, have taken the trouble to learn my language. It’s all very flattering for the English, for us Anglo-Saxons, that you who once came to rape, pillage and destroy us actually have now decided to learn our language instead.
But, of course, if we look back over the history of our relations, relations between our country, we will see that we have bound together by many things other than our Germanic language. We are bound by our Protestantism, by our serene and somewhat uptight attitudes towards conflict, by our way of gritting our teeth and facing difficulties without a murmur. And of course that is something which stood both our countries in great stead in recent times. And of course we would like to say, i.e. the Norwegians and the English and probably the Scots too, that that is part of the glory of Europe, that is has produced cultures like ours, in which people take responsibility for public life and stand side by side in the face of danger, without making too great a complaint, and with an eye to defend their nation against the enemy. And that, I think, is something that we still should be proud of.
But, again, it is something which we’re told that perhaps we ought to be ashamed of, that we’re not opening ourselves sufficiently to the world, but taking a stand against it. And that’s the thought that’s in the public culture of my country as well as yours, which I think we should repudiate.
Everybody knows that Europe is in a state of crisis. That’s nothing new, of course. But the tendency is to analyze this crisis as an economic or a financial matter. You know, that somehow financial markets have got out of control. That the Euro zone is threatening to break up. That the common market has ceased to have the standing that it had before. That somehow the project of the European union is not fulfilling its promise and so on.
And all this tends to be interpreted in economic terms, but I think it needs only a small amount of reflection to recognize that the real crisis of Europe is spiritual, not economic. That’s to say it concerns our sense of identity, what we think we are and how we think we relate to our neighbors and to our children and to our ancestors. This aspect of the human condition, which involves religion, art, culture and the customs of daily life, is the aspect about which we feel least sure, and yet without certainty in that area our economic enterprises are not likely to be very meaningful to us. And I think in fact that the financial crisis that Europe is going through is partly a result of the spiritual crisis. But it results from the habits of squandering our resources. We’ve squandered spiritual resources and as a result, having allowed ourselves to squander physical resources too, we have adopted a habit of borrowing from future generations without thinking that we have to pay repay them, a habit of squandering the capital bequeathed to us by our ancestors without thinking we owe them anything.
And I think the remedy for that of course is to recognize that our place in this Earth is one of trusteeship. We are the trustees of a heritage. We must pass it on and if possible improve it, and that means feeling confident in our right to do so.
Now, many people, historians in particular, will say that the identity of Europe is founded in the concept of Christendom, the idea of a Christian community which stretches across a whole continent and perhaps even further, and which unites people under a common faith. And of course you can’t deny that Europe grew out of the Christian faith and its history is to a great extent a history of that faith, in particular the great schism between the Eastern Church and the Roman Church, and then the other great schism at the Reformation between the Protestant and the Catholic communities of Europe.
All these things have left an indelible mark on our conscience, regardless of whether we count ourselves as believing Christians. In particular, we inherited not just the Christian religion, but the morality, the customs, the law and the political order which Christianity produced, and I think that is certainly a really important fact that people tend to overlook.
One of the many things that Christianity gave to us is the idea of a secular law. That is to say a law which attaches to the territory in which we live, but it’s not a law laid down by God or punished by him for its transgression. It’s a law which is man-made but of an authority that nevertheless religion acknowledges. This point was made at the very beginning of the Christian faith by its founder in the famous parable of the tribute money in St. Matthew’s gospel. Christ said: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” In other words, obey the secular law in matters of shared jurisdiction and day-to-day commerce. But recognize that your soul nevertheless is owed to someone outside this world. That way Christ was able to draw attention to the fact that we must never let our religious principles invade the sphere of secular order to its cost. The secular order is not only an achievement, but it benefits to all of us, provided of course it allows that sphere of private right in which we can pursue our own salvation.
And I think this is a very important point about the Christian faith which distinguishes it, obviously, from the Muslim faith, which does not recognize a distinction between holy law and secular law, or at least the distinction of validity, but it also points to the fact that our legal systems still contain within themselves some of the Christian morality and the Christian spiritual inheritance. And I think this is something that again one can talk about without closing discussion or making it a private property of people of Christian faith.
Most Christian communities recognize that religion is founded on very, very simple principles. The rule of neighborliness. The two commandments that Christ said contain all others within them. To love God entirely and to love your neighbor as yourself. The first of those concerns your spiritual well-being; the second concerns the moral order in which you exist on Earth. This loving your neighbor as yourself goes with a habit of forgiveness. We’re commanded to forgive the faults of others, to forgive the aggression that’s wielded against us, and indeed the Lord’s prayer tells us exactly that. We ask God to forgive us our trespassers as we forgive them the trespass against us. In other words, if you want forgiveness then give it. And that is an extremely important moral observation which lies at the heart of our civilization and is contained here in one way or another in the background conditions of our legal systems.
Now, you don’t need reminding of that, I think. Nor do you need reminding of the fact that that is those two commandments we have in common with the Jewish faith. And from these two commandments a whole morality of public responsibility has over two thousand years emerged. And we are heirs to that. But there’s another aspect of the Christian inheritance which I think is not so clearly appreciated, and that is the idea that our dealings with each other should be governed by a sense of irony. A sense that we are not entitled to lay down rules for everyone, that everything that we try to do, however serious, has an air of the ridiculous about it. And that we have to accept the imperfections of this world and not rebel constantly against them.
This is wonderfully conveyed in another of the New Testament stories: The story of the woman taken in adultery, who was taken out to be stoned to death, which was the punishment then fashionable. And Christ was asked his opinion about it, and after some meditation, playing with a stick in the sand, he looked up and said: “Let him who is without fault cast the first stone.” Which is a wonderful ironical observation, because it forced people then to look into their hearts and recognize that they had all done the same thing, or wanted to do it, and that their aggression was really directed against themselves. And that kind of irony I think is something that we have cultivated in our civilization and it’s one of the reasons why every now and then we laugh. And obviously without criticizing Muslim civilization, which was at one stage full of laughter, one could say that today it’s rather a joke-free zone. And this is something which of course we have to deal with, because the attempt… one of our natural attempts of dealing with something alien and strange is to… is to laugh. Not to laugh aggressively but to see the comic side of it. But we’re not really allowed to see the comic side.
Now, but moving on I want to just to say a few points about what would be involved if we were now in our present condition to affirm our identity and our heritage in some way stronger than just enjoying it. And enjoying it perhaps apprehensively, thinking that we’re enjoying it for the last time. Now, my view is that the incredible successes of our civilization in enduring for two thousand years, or to give us confidence that it can endure for a good few hundred years more, and I think what we must recognize is that we still have things which are infinitely precious which are far easier to destroy than to create, and one of them is that of the secular law, which I’ve just been describing, a law which applies to everybody within a community, regardless of their religious faith.
That is a remarkable achievement, but it’s made possible only because all the people who are obedient to that law recognize something in common. They recognize a kind of mutuality, but they are together, they are a “we”: the first person plural. That’s what makes it possible for them to not only to obey the law themselves, but to expect that their neighbors are going to do so as well. And this kind of collectivity has been made possible in Europe by the emergence of national boundaries.
Once national boundaries began to emerge in the late middle ages and separate systems of law with separate monarchical privileges attached to them, people began to identify their loyalties independently of their faith. It became in due course more important to be an Englishman than a Christian, more important from the point of view of the law, more important to be a Norwegian than a pietist. Even though, of course nobody doubted for one moment that being a Norwegian in the nineteenth century was a way of being a Christian. But nevertheless, being a Norwegian came first when it came to the important tests, the test of whether you’re going to defend your country, whether you’re going to risk yourself in foreign encounters, whether you’re going to stand up and defend your neighbor or forgive him for his faults.
And that, I think, is a really important part of our heritage, perhaps the most important part, that we are now called upon to defend. And it means insisting that everybody who exist within the national boundaries has that shared loyalty to the law that prevails there, a shared obedience to the prevailing sovereignty. That is one of the things which of course is being challenged.
Many people from the incoming communities say that we don’t actually recognize the legitimacy of that law, or at least it’s only a provisional law. The real law is the holy law, the sharia, which is laid down for all time by God, makes no mention of national boundaries and is binding on us all regardless of our history. That rival conception of law is in my view a deep threat to our communities and it has to be marginalized. We have to stand up and say “No, I’m sorry, if you live here, this is the way the law is construed, this is the kind of loyalty that we demand of you.” It doesn’t follow that you can’t follow your faith or that you can’t do whatever your own religious law requires in the sphere of private life. But in the public sphere the law is laid down by the national community in accordance with the tradition that we’ve inherited.
Now, I don’t think there’s anything threatening in saying that. But Hans mentioned the idea of tolerance, that this is being made into the fundamental principle that we stand for, rather than the things that I’ve been talking about. Now, I agree that we are, in the European nations, on the whole tolerant communities. They haven’t been, of course, and in Germany we’ve lived through the most terrible period of intolerance. But we do believe, and have believed probably since the late middle ages, that some measure of tolerance towards what is strange, unfamiliar or not wholly a part of our community is a moral duty.
But I think we have to understand what tolerance means. Tolerance does not mean accepting everything and disapproving of nothing. That is not tolerance, it’s the opposite of tolerance. Real tolerance means accepting and living with something of which you disapprove. That’s the real test of toleration. This point was made by John Locke in the seventeenth century and I think it is still valid. The really tolerant person is not the one who has no values, but the one who has strong values, but can nevertheless keep them to himself even when they are being offended. And that is something which I think we have learned to do. But it’s a very hard thing to do. You know, if somebody really offends what you believe in, really offends your values, then it’s the test as to whether you’re a tolerant person or not. Now, of course, some things cannot be tolerated. And it’s a very interesting question of political philosophy just how far toleration could be extended without society disintegrating. But you’ll have your ideas about how far we can tolerate things and how far we can’t. And I think all I want to emphasize is that the real tolerance means extending your acceptance to things of which you disapprove. And that means granting rights to people to be difficult, difficult for you. And we have a long tradition of doing this.
But the problem is how to grant rights to people whom we disapprove of without losing some of our own certainty. It’s a difficult balancing act and we’ve all had to do this in postwar Europe about matters like divorce in marriage, homosexuality and a variety of other things that arise in the private sphere as well as within matters of dress code and so on. So we’re up against some really difficult new cases here of whether and when we’ve got to tolerate what and why. And I think most of us would agree that this is something that we have collectively to work out. What are we going to tolerate and what are we not going to tolerate.
The French recently, as you know, have made a decision not to tolerate the burqa, that’s to say the full facial covering, that some Muslim women wear, either because they want to or because they’ve been told to, and arguing that this is incompatible with French cultural identity. And that’s a strong and interesting position to take and I think if you look at it, you can see that there may be some deep truth here.
Our civilization, which I’ve been defending so far, is one which takes the face very seriously. We are face to face with each other, we stand up and deal directly with each other. It’s one of the things which are most important, especially for us Protestants, that’s to say the people of Protestant inheritance, like the British and the Scandinavians. We think that in a difficulty we look each other in the eye, that if somebody wants something from us or want to make a deal with us, that we shake his hand and look at his face. The face is the image of the soul within and if people come into our community hiding their faces, it’s as though they wanted not to be part of that community, not to be face to face with their neighbors, in other words to take advantage of the community without belonging to it.
And that is the kind of offense which I think people are beginning to react against. It’s perfectly reasonable to visit a community, find that you do not belong to it and go home. But to visit a community, find that you don’t belong to it and stay is, in somewhat measure, a gesture of aggression. And that’s what I think people are feeling and they’re also suffering from the fact that to say that has been forbidden. What I’m saying to you at the moment is something that would easily get me into trouble, probably will get me into trouble if I don’t get onto that airplane tomorrow morning. But it seems to me that we have the right to affirm this kind of thing as long as we don’t affirm it as a threat. We’re affirming, on the contrary, not a threat. This is how is it and take-it-or-leave-it. And we should retain also that right to criticize what other people think in this connection.
And that is something which I think, again, is being confiscated from us. There are many aspects of our own behavior which we want to criticize and which we do criticize, especially the disorderliness of our youth and our habit of getting drunk and disorderly and being offensive. This is something that we in particular in Britain are very good at and I don’t think the Norwegians are lagging far behind either. This causes a great deal of heartache and soul-searching. We recognize that this is something we should criticize. But when it comes to criticizing other and minority communities, we are told to hold our tongue. And I think that’s a very un creative attitude and one which will not generate true social harmony. True social harmony comes when people integrate with each other, come to see just what their faults are and feel able to discuss them, and perhaps to come to some agreement as to which things are faults and which things are not. But this discussion has been silenced in my country and I think it’s been silenced here too.
So just to move towards the conclusion, to say something about where we are now: Because of the ethos, or rather the policy of multiculturalism, which was spread all across Europe in the seventies and eighties through the education system and elsewhere by the political class… Because of that policy, we now have among us quite large communities which are encouraged to be separatist, that’s to say they’re encouraged to follow their own ways of life, without turning their backs on the shared public realm within which we have been used to exercising our freedom.
Now, for us, brought up in the way that I think we all have been, the public realm is a very important part of our life. We are not just hiding away in private corners. We exist in a community where you go out, meet people, have institutions and associations where you speak your mind, you discuss things, your enter university, where all kinds of questions can be put on the table and submitted to general interrogation. We have courts of law which are largely public, in which things are worked out to the common satisfaction. We have parliaments by people who stand up and discuss things and… expect to be held to account for them and so on.
This whole idea of a public realm, which comes to us not to really from Christianity, but from much further back, from the Greek city-state, itself a precious part of our inheritance, and… But we’ve been encouraged to think that that’s not part of our culture, that somehow that’s an arbitrary thing, something that a few people like us seem to want to hang on to, but which others within our communities, within our society, don’t have to have. They can have a different culture, one which is purely private, which turns its back on the public realm. And when people turn their back on something, they are very apt also to think of that thing as a threat to themselves and… we shouldn’t be surprised that one of the legacies, one of the fruits of multiculturalism, is the homegrown terrorist: the person who sees around him this flourishing public realm to which he can’t belong, because he’s been brought up not to belong to it and encouraged not to belong to it. And that is something which in young men especially generates the desire for revenge, and we’ve suffered from this in Britain recently and of course elsewhere, even in Scandinavia, in Sweden. The disease has recently spread.
Now… So it seems to me that the first thing that we should be prepared to say is that this policy of multiculturalism is a mistake. If people come here it’s in order to belong, not to be apart. And belonging means accepting that public realm with all its secular accoutrements and not necessarily playing a great part in it, but wanting to be part of it. And that’s part of our very old idea of neighbor love, that when you settle somewhere you make the effort to accept the place around you, and that means accepting that this community is a national community.
A national community means one that’s defined by its territory and by things like language, custom and law, things which are inherited independently of the religion, even if they have their foundation in the religion. This national and territorial idea of the nation is not something that is accepted, or not clearly accepted, by our political class, our political elites, and that is something which I think it’s very important to remember. You in Norway have not surrendered yet to the European union, but the hope is, at least among the elites, that you will. But the European union was founded on the belief, especially among Germans and French, that the national idea, the idea of a national loyalty, had been the cause of the second world war and had to be transcended.
Now, of course nationalism has had some bad forms, but it wasn’t nationalism that caused the second world war, it was German nationalism. And German nationalism has a peculiar pathological form, or did have then, which was not the responsibility of anybody else. All forms of social order go through pathological phases, you know, and you can’t say that they are evil just because they have evil instances. What we have to do is to rescue our idea of national identity and national loyalty from those dark times when it seemed to be compromised. And I think we have done that. I doubt that anybody in the world feels threatened by Norwegian nationalism, and certainly not your neighbors. And I think this is something we should remind ourselves of.
Finally, I wanted to say what we should do. You probably… You may think that I’ve spoken a bit too harshly and said things a bit too openly and without nuances, and that’s probably true. If I were talking to an academic audience in developing this over ten lectures, I’d be able to put in all the qualifications and I haven’t been able to, so of course I said things which are bound to be regarded as provocative. But it may be also that what I said touches some element in you of sympathy. I want to just conclude with a few suggestions of what we should be affirming. I said that we should be affirming the national idea, the idea that we live in communities which are founded on a territorial form of sovereignty. I also think that we should affirm the idea of a public realm, that we exist in communities where the public realm is all-important and part of the culture, something which we recognize as part of us, to which we owe an obligation, in which we might want to make a contribution to.
I myself think that we should affirm our Christian inheritance. Whether or not we can bring ourselves to believe the entire metaphysical apparatus which is necessary to be a Christian is a problem for us, because of course we’ve learned a lot, we’ve gone through a lot of doubt and hesitation about this issue. But nevertheless our culture is steeped in that inheritance, and even among… even among those who rejected… even among those who rejected, the language is inherited. I think we should affirm also the Enlightenment, the eighteenth century process which actually loosened the hold of the Christian religion on people’s conscience and introduced the idea of rational criticism in its place. The enlightenment is there and all our educational networks and our idea of what legitimacy is, political legitimacy, and we should affirm it against those who want to introduce a new kind of religious darkness.
And finally, I think we should affirm respect for majority values. We’re all asked to tolerate minority values, and I’m sure all we are all doing our best to do so. But majority values don’t get much respect from the political class or from the media. And I think it is perfectly reasonable to affirm them and say: look, these are the values of our people. People are… They are human beings like everybody else, prone to error, and prejudice, but nevertheless this is what the Norwegian people on the whole believe, and we are committed to the Norwegian people, they are ours. So we are, you know, so we will affirm their values until somebody shows exactly why we should reject them. And that I think is the messages which I want to give you, that there’s plenty of things to affirm out there, so we ought to just give up the habit of denying them and to say yes to them instead. Thank you.
QUESTION: I was wondering, whether from your personal conviction, or empirical scrutiny and logic, would say something about what you think would be the greatest threat to the Western world today? Would it be some development within the Western world, or introduction of elements from without?
ROGER SCRUTON: It’s a very good question. Obviously, we have lived for seventy years with an external threat posed by the Soviet Union and its manifest ambitions. Now, it’s not as though we have a threat of aggression from the Middle East, but we do have the threat of disintegration in the Middle East, which could lead to mass migrations which we would not be able to deal with. And we haven’t had to face this question yet. All the migrations that have occurred but have been voluntary by small groups whom we’ve tried to assimilate. But, of course, if we had a mass migration from collapsing communities in the Middle East, we would have a great problem to deal with. There is, I think, a threat from communities within us, but much greater is the threat, as I see it, from a liberal elite, who doesn’t allow us to discuss this question, and has sort of confiscated the whole language of public debate.
QUESTION: Thank you for a wonderful speech, and I don’t think you were too harsh — far from it. I want to ask you: T. S. Eliot writes somewhere that one of the worst sins against religion is making it instrumental. By that I think he means that; he thinks that: if you think religion is effective or good to have but you don’t believe its basic tenets. In Norway now, 80% or so are members of the state supported church. I think it’s about the same in Great Britain, perhaps, but when you ask people: do they actually believe in the Christian religion? about 23%-24%, maybe 40% say they are Christians. So how can you uphold this Christian ethos when fewer and fewer people actually believe in its basic tenets?
ROGER SCRUTON: It’s a very important question. I was trying to say that… there are aspects of this which depend upon that original gift of faith, which endure even when the faith dwindles, and that’s what we’re living through. And… England is far more agnostic and atheistic than Norway Hume remarked on this in the eighteenth century. He said there’s no country in the world where you can meet such indifference in matters of religion as England. And that’s… And Orwell said the same in the second world war. It’s not a new thing, but… when it comes to fundamental choices, people have showed the depth of their Christian inheritance nevertheless, you know, when it comes to something like a funeral, funerals are where you have to recognize that this person is… confronting his destiny, you know. Funerals always have a religious air to them. Most people want weddings to be like that. And, you know, births as well. So the rites of passage still exist. And we’ve inherited something which the Jews are very well known for, which is concealing faith within customs and rituals. A good Jew goes on doing the right thing. He doesn’t ask himself the question whether there’s a God who commanded it. It’s said in the Bible he should do it and there’s lots of talk about God in the Bible, but he never himself has to ask that question. Only at the last, where he says… where he might say “OK, God, I give in,” you know, “you do exist.” But what matters is the normalization of everyday life, making everyday-things sacred, which is what the Jews are so good at. And I think that in our own way we do something like that. We make our everyday life not exactly sacred, but something more than just the pursuit of appetite, because the vestige of the Christian faith is always there.
QUESTION: I know you’ve read Edward Gibbon’s «The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire». Would you care to comment on the role of religion in this book where Gibbon argues that it is the insidious force of Christianity that helps bring down the Roman empire, and can Islam be such an insidious force in current-day Europe?
ROGER SCRUTON: Well, that’s a huge question. Gibbon obviously was talking about an empire that had already been weakened by external assault and he did blame the demoralization of the Roman city and the activities of Christians within it. And he may have been right. But Christianity also rescued from the Roman empire its most treasured possession, which was the law. You know, our laws are still Roman law, in origin, and except for British, the English, which is Anglo-Saxon, but influenced nevertheless, and this is a very important fact, that that’s what made it possible to build everything again. I don’t think that Islam is in a position to rot the fabric of Western civilization in the way that Christianity rotted the fabric of ancient Rome. After all, Islam is itself totally decadent. If you read the writings and pronouncements of the mullahs, you know, who claim to speak for the sharia and make judgments about this and that, it’s almost impossible to find any agreement among them since the eleventh century when it was pronounced by the jurisprudence that the gate of itjihad is closed, and you can no longer reflect on the holy law, you’ve just got to accept it. There’s been no creative jurisprudence at all, so nobody knows the answers to many of the questions, even though they’re pronouncing them with absolute certainty. And I think that is a real sign of decadence. And it… I connect this decadence with not just with the loss of the philosophical tradition, which is true, but also the change of customs which occurred in the middle ages, a kind of ossification, when Islam ceased to be a conquering faith and retreated into itself. It just stayed put and buried its head in the sand. But… you can go all over the Middle East and hardly ever see a book, and when you do see one of the great classics like the Arabian nights, for instance, the thousand and one nights, you’ll find it has been expurgated, there’s only half of it there. In Iran, you know, Hafiz and Rumi are still only available in burglarized versions, not surprisingly, because those who belonged to real Islamic civilization wrote most of the time about erotic love and wine, which are the two things which, you know, are unmentionable now.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Scruton. You were talking about the majority values And here now, the Norwegian values. I guess you are not thinking about the contemporary Norwegians’ urge for shopping in supermarkets or endless entertainment. What are you thinking about this? And what do you think about the possible new role for European tradition?
ROGER SCRUTON: People only show what they really value in emergencies, you know, and we shouldn’t judge the values of ordinary people by what they do by way of distracting themselves. When you’re bored, of course you go shopping and… popular entertainment, as it now is, is pretty awful. And… this is one area in which you should sympathize with the Muslims, except that they do the same, But, you know, when as a whole society we spend half a day watching pornography on the Internet, you know, you’re bound to think something’s gone wrong. This is not a society which has respectable values anymore and that it’s true that things have been rotted by the mass media and by the ease with which we can satisfy our appetites. It’s only when, you know… We are as a species what we are because of the difficulty of obtaining things, not from… because of the ease of obtaining things. So we are denatured when the things are too easy to obtain. Eh… the answer to this is not to say that this is all that people therefore care about. It’s not true. You know, the evidence from America is that people who’ve spent their time watching pornography, for instance, are disgusted with themselves as well, and they feel that they demean themselves, that they’ve vented, they’ve pulled the hole… made a hole in the bottom their lives, and it’s all run out. And I think they’re right. And so, people have a hunger to reconnect with the true values by which they live and, you know, if you look at our public sphere, those true values are still honored there, and that’s the important point.
QUESTION: Actually, it’s much of the same question. These values, that we are supposed to — or, which I agree with we should affirm: these are external, objective values. But we are increasingly becoming subjective and expecting society to cater for our subjective needs. So, how is this going to change? Do we need a crisis, or…?
ROGER SCRUTON: Well, that’s a very good question. Some people would say yes, you do. We do need a crisis, because then we are confronted with what is real in ourselves. But you have to remember that every life has a crisis within it, you know. If it’s a worthwhile life at all, there is that moment at which you face up to what you are and what you value. When your lover leaves you or your parents die, or you have the terrible accident or the illness, you know. Almost all of us will have that moment of confrontation of what am I really, what really matters to me. And we know, I think not just from our literature and art and music, but also from the form of our public life that when that question arises, we know we have some clear ideas about what matters. What matters is loyalty, attachment, love, sacrifice, things which are again embedded within our religious tradition even if we don’t attach them to any religious faith. And I would say those are not subjective values at all. It’s just that their objectivity only dawns on us in extremis.
QUESTION: May I ask a question? Because I know you have been teaching in America and been living there for quite a while. I wonder what you think about the divide between Europe and the United States? It seems to me that we Europeans have a difficulty understanding what the Americans are about? Even Obama we have trouble understanding.
ROGER SCRUTON: Well, it’s not surprising, because they developed in another way. They developed in a condition of abundance and they have never had to fight a war on their own territory. You know, lots of things that we’ve gone through they have not gone through. And of course they have this… They’re a new country with a kind of political religion. The constitution settles everything for them, because it means that liberals and conservatives never agree as to what the constitution actually says, but they have that… that sort of constant point of reference, so they’re used to setting even the most extraordinary disputes by reference to that thing, and it’s made them much more adoptable to changes, demographic changes, changes in people’s outlook and beliefs and so on. And… because they can say what it is to… what an American is. Like, unroll the document and say it’s somebody who subscribes to this. And so they have a very positive, active concept of what it is to be an American, which includes all kinds of recent immigrants. And they’ve never had, until recently, a culture of multiculturalism. On the contrary. You come here to be American, you take the oath. This is your flag now, this is what you believe, you know, and you’re going to set about making your life for yourself in this soil and there’s always opportunities. And opinion polls say that something like eighty five percent of Americans think that this is the great country, this is the place to be and that life is going well for me. So it’s a very different thing. Most, I think, of similar polls of Europeans would be extremely gloomy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t know whether that helps. I’ll tell you one thing that immediately strikes. I’ve lived in rural America, which is the real America for the last six years. The first thing that strikes you is that your neighbors are interested in you. They’re not going to interfere with you, but they take immediate pleasure in your success. In Europe, the attitude is the opposite. That is something that leads one to really appreciate America.
QUESTION: In Europe, you’re sort of used to conservatives being a bit careful of expressing their views, which is totally different from the situation especially in South American countries, and maybe even in the U.S. Do you have any comments on the media’s role in this?
ROGER SCRUTON: Well, I think it’s very true that certainly in North America, and also in South America, conservatives can speak out and be acknowledged, and it has something to do with the fact that the media is much more balanced, that’s to say that there are media on both sides of most of the questions and there’s a culture of open expression and open debate And the European media have partly grown out of the state apparatus. The BBC used to be wonderfully impartial and it was listened to all over the world because it gave objective news, objective comment and high culture, you know, proper philosophical discussions, serious music, theater and so on. But, of course, inevitably because It’s controlled by the state, it moves in a statist direction. And now the BBC idea of an impartial debate is a debate between a leftist and an extreme leftist. Those are the two positions that are allowed.
QUESTION: You said that our liberal elites suppress our ability to speak the truth. How do you explain their motivation?
ROGER SCRUTON: Right. I often wonder how to explain this, because it does seem to be the case that as people go up the political ladder, they become more and more infused with this orthodoxy, that there are certain questions that you can’t discuss, other questions that you can and the discussion has to be framed in terms of a particular language. There’s a lot of censorship of language that goes on and… How to explain this? I don’t know. It has something to do with the fact that, you know, that the rewards of being in high office in politics are now very great, and you could enjoy them for a long time, provided you make no fuss, you know, so I think people are purchased by the system and that’s certainly true in the European union. It’s a huge career apparatuses put before you with enormous salaries and virtually no obligations except to, you know, wear the uniform, and say the right things, so people just lose the habit of saying anything that might bring down criticism on themselves. But I agree that’s not a sufficient explanation. There is a cultural thing here, an institutionalized timidity, and I think some of it has to do with the fact that people have seen the cost of speaking out. Sometimes, you know… In my country, Powell spoke out about immigration something like fifty years ago. And… he was made into a scapegoat. His career was destroyed and people hounded him out of office, essentially. And I think that is something people are obviously afraid of.
QUESTION: You said that Christianity had a difference (separation) between secular law and religious law. But that was not a Christian invention, because the Vikings had that also. In Iceland they had a secular law, the Vikings. In Iceland they had the first «court» and they judged [by] the secular law. And the reason why our societies are so complex and we have so high-technology societies is probably due to our intellectual capacity. But it also seems that the Christian countries around the world have the most problems with immigration. So, is it due to Christianity and the kind of «love your next» reason that we have so much immigration in Christian countries?
ROGER SCRUTON: Well, there are two points there and I think they’re both very important. I didn’t want to say that secular law is simply only the product of Christianity. Of course, it preceded Christianity. The Romans also had a secular law, which was not a Christian law, and that was the one that Christ was referring to. The Roman law, which explicitly put religion into one corner. And the Anglo-Saxon law was the same, very similar to the Viking law, no doubt. But the important point is that the Christian religion didn’t want to confiscate the secular law, it said that secular law is legitimate, it has its own sphere and it should be obeyed, that religion is another matter, it’s a matter between you and God and of course that too might have to be controlled by law, but it’s not a law that swamps everything and drives everything away. On the Christianity and immigration point, it is of course significant that most immigrants are trying to settle in what have been Christian communities. Much more significant, however, is that most immigrants are fleeing from what have been Muslim communities. That’s the crucial thing, that they’re fleeing from something to something, but the thing in which they arrive doesn’t satisfy them. And people flee from Muslim communities because they don’t have that ability to moderate conflicts that comes from having a properly established secular law. And we’re going to see this very soon in Egypt.
QUESTION: Thank you for your speech; many interesting things and you mentioned these problems with the media, for discussion freely in Britain, and it’s the same I think here in Norway, one should assume. For it has been very much politicized and some positions are supposed to be progressive. You should be FOR immigrants, you should be FOR the welfare state. While being for [tradition] or being for the national state that is regarded to be conservative. Some years ago, in 2004, the British editor David Goodhart, yes, that is his name, e wrote an article about problems in England saying that if it is to become too diversified it will have a problem with having the support for the immigration policy you have had. That article [..] inspired me to write a book in Norwegian, which I called: «The national state, the basis for the welfare state». The one thing is a condition for the other. In order to have a welfare state, you have to have support for the national state. And there you have the one thing that is regarded as conservative, and the other is regarded to be progressive. And then it is very difficult to get a real debate about it, so to speak, here in Norway and [..] to speak the subject in Britain. But – I think there are also some of these immigrants who are more or less criticizing the whole self-conception of Europe today. And I see it from three positions: First, we have the Muslims who are regarding us to be, say, decadent We will reduce ourselves, with our morality, and so on. I’ve also been in America and then you see another kind of critique. But it’s not THAT different. And, the last year I had contact with a professor in Vilnius, Leonidas Donskis. He is the Lithuanian representative in the [..] European Parliament and he has now written a book about a crisis of Europe seen from – Not Eastern Europe, but from what he calls the centre of the Europe of Vienna, Warsaw and Vilnius. And he is also criticizing these «former» leading countries in Europe: That is England, German and France — of course. And I was honored to [..] write the foreword of that book. It’s coming later this year. But, what I wanted to ask about: Do you have any ideas about this critique of Europe? Seen from the one side: from the Muslim world, from the other side: from the American world, and maybe also from some part of Eastern or Central Europe. I think there are three kinds of civilizational critique going on today and there are some similarities, even if they have very different positions. I, myself, am a member of this international institute for comparative studies of civilizations. So that is my place here. But I wondered if you have any, let’s say, considerations about this critique coming from outside, to Europe, today, from these different fields?
ROGER SCRUTON: It’s a huge topic. All I would say now is that Europe, like any civilization, it’s imperfect. No doubt all the criticisms have an element of truth. There is no perfect civilization, but one important feature of European civilization is that it has lasted for two thousand years, or more if you count in the Greek and Roman period with it, and that is superior to any competitor, I would say. I agree with quite a lot of the outside criticisms. I think the East Europeans… Your professor in Vilnius I would say is no doubt a very good Lithuanian patriot, but probably not representative of the opinion of all the countries that you referred to. I mean, they’re so different. And then the fact is they all clung to the idea of Europe through their years of hardship, in the case of Lithuania, something like sixty years of occupation by the Soviet Union, a very cruel occupation, and they were one of the few countries to resist it. They had partisans living in the woods right up into the nineteen sixties, I think. You know, they clung to the idea of Europe as something which legitimized their resistance to communism. That was what they were standing for against this terrible… a sort of… annihilating machine. So inevitably when nineteen eighty-nine happened and they saw what Europe is, they were disappointed. It’s very much what happens in every ideal, it can’t correspond to reality. But of course they also suffer from the same problem that we have now, which is that they have an elite that has been purchased and has lost contact with the people.
QUESTION: Onto your last words there, about the elite being purchased: I’m always asking myself that: Are they consciously maltreating their own populations, or are they just in fact well-meaning people who just happen to get it all wrong? This is a general question, of course It pertains to this country, and your country, So if we take as a particular starting point: The revelations [..] about the Labour government, which were the revelations made by a speech writer of one of the Labour ministers, that they in fact consciously set out to substitute the electorate with a new one which might be more partial to their Labour policies I’m asking myself the same in my country: Are they actually, consciously trying to get a more malleable population that will vote for them in the near future? What is your take on that big question?
ROGER SCRUTON: I think there is truth in that, but that’s… People… You may not agree with this, but it seems to me that people on the left are motivated by two very important motives, not only these two, but two very important motives. One is anti-patriotism. A sense that they want to repudiate this legacy, that is something which they feel tainted by, and that’s to my view a very common thing people feel in adolescence, and many people don’t grow out of it, a kind of rejection of the father. I think that it’s a very important motive on the left. And the other is this idea that since you don’t like this country, you could replace it by another one and still be in power, and that is, as you say, an important motive. But it’s not the only one, because there’s the old fashioned patriotic socialist of whom there are many in my country, and probably many here too, my father was one, but his being a socialist was a great education for me.