Thursday, January 16, 2020

"True but boring, ...exciting but false"

Roger Scruton authored some fifty books. I've read only a few. One that I haven't has been among those often recommended in the days since his death. How to be a Conservative (2014) just arrived in the post. From his Preface in the "New Edition":
The conservatism I shall be defending tells us that we have collectively inherited good things that we must strive to keep. In the situation in which we, the inheritors both of Western civilization and of the English-speaking part of it, find ourselves, we are well aware of what those good things are. The opportunity to live our lives as we will; the security of impartial law, through which our grievances are answered and our hurts restored; the protection of our environment as a shared asset, which cannot be seized or destroyed at the whim of powerful interests; the open and enquiring culture that has shaped our schools and universities; the democratic procedures that enable us to elect our representatives and to pass our own laws — these and many other things are familiar to us and taken for granted. All are under threat. And conservatism is the rational response to that threat. Maybe it is a response that requires more understanding than the ordinary person is prepared to devote to it. But conservatism is the only response that answers to the emerging realities, and in this book I try to say, as succinctly as I can, why it would be irrational to adopt any other.

Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created. This is especially true of the good things that come to us as collective assets: peace, freedom, law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life, in all of which we depend on the cooperation of others while having no means singlehandedly to obtain it. In respect of such things, the work of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation slow, laborious and dull. That is one of the lessons of the twentieth century. It is also one reason why conservatives suffer such a disadvantage when it comes to public opinion. Their position is true but boring, that of their opponents exciting but false.

Because of this rhetorical disadvantage, conservatives often present their case in the language of mourning. Lamentations can sweep everything before them, like the Lamentations of Jeremiah, in just the way that the literature of revolution sweeps away the world of our frail achievements. And mourning is sometimes necessary; without 'the work of mourning' as Freud described it, the heart cannot move on from the thing that is lost to the thing that will replace it. Nevertheless, the case for conservatism does not have to be presented in elegiac accents. It is not about what we have lost, but about what we have retained, and how to hold on to it. Such is the case that I present in this book. ....
Roger Scruton, How to be a Conservative, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019.

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