The reward of moral courage

Viktor Orbán presents Scruton with Hungary’s Order of Merit

Sir Roger Scruton, writes Dalrymple, swam against the tide

regardless of the deprecation, insult, denunciation, even hatred directed at him. His name among much of the British intelligentsia was a byword for political atavism, as if he had been a radical advocate of tyranny and pogroms rather than a defender of freedom and civilised values. At the time of his coming to public notice, much of the intelligentsia refused to believe that a highly gifted and knowledgeable man could also be a conservative. Their rejection of all that was traditional seemed so self-evidently right to them that they thought that the only possible explanation for someone who valued tradition was obtuseness, moral turpitude—or both.

In the two editions of his book about thinkers of the New Left,

he praised them generously for whatever he considered praiseworthy in them. He paid them the honour of reading their work with attention, trying hard to decipher what it meant (by no means easy, given their frequent resort to high-sounding, multisyllabic verbiage), and refuting what was sufficiently intelligible to be refutable.

Sartre

was—for his earlier work—Scruton’s hero. Sartre had then the ability seamlessly to combine observation and experience of life with subtle metaphysical thought. It was only the later Sartre, an apologist for tyranny and mass murder, whom Scruton reprehended.

Scruton saw the events of May 1968 as

the wilful destruction of a beautiful civilisation by the spoiled beneficiaries of that civilisation and as a rejection of refinement in favour of crudity. He sided with the preservers rather than with the destroyers. The fragility of our cultural inheritance was clear to him.

He was revered in Eastern Europe where,

with others, and at risk to himself, he helped keep alive the hopes of dissident intellectuals. He ran clandestine philosophical seminars in several countries. It was a matter of disappointment to him that young British people were so cut off from any historical knowledge and so lacking in powers of imagination that they had no conception of what life in a totalitarian system could be like.

Václav Havel presents Scruton with the Czech Medal of Merit

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