Thursday, June 5, 2014

Satanic mendacity

Considering "The Philosophy Of Roger Scruton," Mervyn F. Bendle begins with the epiphany Scruton experienced on May Day in Paris, 1968, as anarchists seemed to threaten the survival of the Fifth Republic:
But what, Scruton asked his visitor, do you propose to put in its place? “What vision of France and its culture compels you?” To which, “she replied with a book: Foucault’s Les mots et les choses, the bible of the soixante-huitards [sixty-eighters] the text which seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat”. Michel Foucault’s tome had appeared in 1966 (English translation, 1970, as The Order of Things), becoming de rigueur amongst intellectuals and students desperate to appear aligned with the avant-garde of social theory, despite the fact that Foucault’s structuralist determinism reduced people to the status of elements in a gigantic system and was the antithesis of the libertarian anarcho-communism that the soixante-huitards professed. More often invoked as a magic talisman than read as a coherent work of history, it was an impenetrable exercise in radical scholasticism that established Foucault’s reputation as a “master thinker” of the Left.

For Scruton, The Order of Things “is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the discourses of power” to be condemned as just further forms of oppression. A work not of philosophy but of rhetoric, “its goal is subversion, not truth”, and it perpetrates “the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies—that ‘truth’ requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the episteme, imposed by the class which profits from its propagation”. This is a core conception of the cultural relativism that is now a taken-for-granted premise of academic discourse, while Foucault’s “vision of European culture as the institutionalized form of oppressive power is taught everywhere as gospel”, as Scruton laments. ....

Burke persuaded him that “societies are not and cannot be organized according to a plan or a goal, that there is no direction to history, and no such thing as moral or spiritual progress”, while all attempts to pretend otherwise must decline into “militant irrationality” as the proponents of such visions struggle to impose their abstract template onto an intractable world. Faced with such resistance, the would-be revolutionaries seek to mobilise the masses around a shared hatred of a real or imagined foe: “Hence the strident and militant language of the socialist literature—the hate-filled, purpose-filled, bourgeois-baiting prose, one example of which had been offered to me in 1968”. ....

Scruton insists that religion plays a vital social role.... At the very least, conservatives recognise “the indispensability, in sound political judgement, of religious ideas—in particular, ideas of original sin, corporate guilt and suffering—and of the ever-present fear of death and retribution”. Such recognition highlights the extent to which conservatives “place politics, culture and morality before economic order and the distribution of power”, as Marxists and other radicals would have it:
[Conservatives] see politics not as the pursuit of some ultimate goal—whether national supremacy, social justice or economic growth—but as the attempt to reconcile conflicting interests, and to establish law, order and peace throughout society.
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