Sir Roger Scruton FBA FRSL
The English philosopher and writer, Professor Sir Roger Scruton, FBA, FRSL, has died. The College extends its condolences to his family and friends.
Sir Roger Scruton, Research Fellow 1969-71, who died on 12 January aged 75, was an acclaimed philosopher of aesthetics with a profound understanding of the history of western philosophy as a whole. He was a scholar, academic, novelist, journalist and prolific writer. Scruton was a controversial Conservative thinker of patrician views based on tradition, authority and stability, who received strident and unstinting criticism from the political Left. His political beliefs were stimulated and formed by his experience of being in Paris in May 1968 watching as students ripped up the cobblestones to hurl at riot police. He saw a need to defend western civilisation.
Roger Vernon Scruton was born in 1944 into a working-class background. He was educated, from 1954, at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, and, from 1962, on an Open Scholarship, at Jesus College, Cambridge. Though admitted to read Natural Sciences, he immediately changed to Philosophy. After a period at the University of Bordeaux and in Rome, in 1969 he returned to Cambridge as a Research Fellow in aesthetics at Peterhouse; and he gained a Ph.D. in aesthetics in 1973.
Two years after arriving in Peterhouse he moved to Birkbeck College, London as a lecturer in philosophy; and he became a reader in 1979 and a professor of aesthetics in 1985. Wary of the suspicion in which other academics held him for his political views, he deemed it prudent to have a second string to his bow, and so read for the Bar and was called in 1978; but he never practised. While at Birkbeck he continued to work as a writer and journalist, and in politics. After not being selected as a Conservative candidate in 1978, the next year he went to Prague. He gave a secret lecture with a dissident Czech philosopher. Eventually he was arrested and thrown out of the country.
Undaunted, he worked with other British academics, mostly from Oxford, for the Czechs, with the Jan Hus educational trust, to provide books, support samizdat production and to teach. He learnt Czech and Czech culture; and after the collapse of communism, he established a consultancy firm to make contacts between Western businesses and the new government. In 1998 he received the Czech Republic’s highest civilian honour, the Medal for Merit (1st class), for his work.
In 1992 he became a professor of philosophy at Boston University in the United States. Three years later he returned to Britain where, with his second wife, he lived on a farm in Wiltshire; and he also kept an apartment in Albany in Piccadilly.
Scruton was an accomplished pianist with a keen appreciation of twentieth-century music; and he wrote operas, the first about a politician who sacrifices his personal life to ambition. It was staged in the Czech Republic and in Oxford. He was also a keen fox hunter.
He went back to America in 2004 to part-time academic positions at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Virginia, then at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet he returned to Britain once more in 2010, to an unpaid research professorship at Buckingham University and an unpaid three-year visiting professorship at the University of Oxford to teach graduate classes on aesthetics. From 2011 until 2014 he held a part-time professorial fellowship at St Andrews in moral philosophy. He was a chairman of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, 2018-19.
Scruton was knighted in 2016 for ‘services to philosophy, teaching and public education’, and was elected to fellowships of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature. In 2019 he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.
© P. Pattenden. 15.i.2020