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The Unpersoning of Sir Roger Scruton

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Matt Dunham, FILE

Roger Scruton, the world's foremost living conservative philosopher and public intellectual, was recently removed from his position as chair of the British government’s advisory committee on ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ at the behest of the Tory Party, which originally appointed him to the position five months ago.

The move comes in the wake of a renewed flurry of criticism directed at Scruton, knighted in 2016, for recent comments he made to the New Statesman on liberal billionaire George Soros’ influence in Hungary, the origin of the term “Islamophobia” in Muslim Brotherhood propaganda, and the totalitarian inclinations of the Chinese state. 

“They’re creating robots out of their own people,” Scruton said in the April 10 interview, referring to the Chinese government’s new social-credit system. “Each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.”

Members of parliament from the two main parties and former chancellor George Osborne all called for Scruton’s sacking in the wake of those comments: The Ministry of Housing promptly obliged, calling his words “deeply offensive and completely unacceptable.”

Scruton’s appointment to the position in November 2018 sparked similar calls for his resignation, although the Secretary of the Ministry of Housing then defended him as a “global authority on aesthetics” and “a public intellectual of renown.”

But all this hullabaloo begs the question: Why have Britain's Left and Right conspired to unceremoniously sack Sir Roger from an honorary, unpaid, low-stakes public appointment for which he is eminently qualified? 

Certainly not for the stated reasons, namely, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Chinese sentiment. Scruton has easily and repeatedly rebutted these accusations of intolerance, which are so flimsy they take on the appearance of innuendo rather than bona-fide examples of bigotry.

In point of fact, the beleaguered aesthetician represents one of the few intellectual threats to ascendant Leftist academia, and his removal from a committee primarily concerned with architecture is part of a larger effort to, in George Orwell's immortal terminology, 'unperson' the prominent conservative. 

In the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, ‘upersoning’ refers to the act of erasing all memory of a person from public life. Its historical inspiration is likely the Roman practice of damnatio memoriae, where the name and likeliness of the condemned would be chiseled off every monument, wall, and bust. Joseph Stalin updated the practice in the Soviet Union, murdering those who fell out of favor and then editing the unfortunate individual out of official photographs and other documents.

What the Roman emperors and Soviet dictators had in store for their enemies, the establishment has in store for Sir Roger. Once the media and their lapdog politicians succeed in discrediting Scruton as a bigot, they hope to silence all talk of his ideas--reclaiming beauty in art and public life, maintaining Britain’s rule of law through Brexit, avoiding mass immigration--once and for all. In short: if they can topple an intellectual masthead such as Scruton, they can undercut the best conservative arguments against the worst liberal ideas.

The modern media landscape of 24/7 news makes for a particularly effective outrage machine: a prominent conservative’s career can take a nosedive faster than one of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s jokes could start a nuclear war. One ill-phrased tweet got comedienne Roseanne Barr fired from her hit show on ABC, and liberal watchdog groups such as Media Matters have had the knives out for Fox television host Tucker Carlson for months.

Luckily Scruton, like Carlson, shows no signs of backing down. Last fall, in response to the first wave of controversy over his comments, Scruton refused to apologize, wryly noting about his academic accomplishments, “Inside Britain, where my every deviation from political correctness is noted down and stored for the next bout of denigration, praise is somewhat more rare.”

This time around, Sir Roger admitted that he was “forced to acknowledge … a mistake,” namely, addressing young leftists “as though they were responsible human beings.”

If the Left thinks it can intimidate Scruton so easily, they appear to be mistaken.

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