Previously unpublished responses by conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton to questions asked in 2016 demonstrate his prescience on the Brexit vote, the future of Europe, and the migrant crisis.
Sir Roger Scruton, the globally respected philosopher, writer, and conservative activist, has passed away from the cancer he was diagnosed with in 2019. I had the occasion to exchange questions with Sir Roger in 2016, the week before Britain voted to leave the European Union — and while the decision by Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel to unilaterally open the gates of Europe, creating the migrant crisis, was still fresh in the minds of many.
His responses to my questions were not, unfortunately, published at the time. But perhaps they might now be an interesting insight into his perspective on the foremost matters of the day — and ones that remain of overriding importance in 2020.
The context of the exchange was Sir Roger’s recent investiture with the Lech Kaczynski Foundation’s Medal for Courage and Integrity — one of several awards he received from European nations for his work in founding and running underground universities in communist-occupied countries.
Asked what impact he felt his work in the 1980s had in places like Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, — which must today surely be among the most conservative-minded nations in Europe — Sir Roger was typically self-effacing, remarking:
I helped to plant a few seeds of conservative thinking in those countries, and to emphasise that it is permissible to love your country more than the global forces that wish to suppress it. But of course I am a public intellectual, not a political leader, and my ideas may have little relation to the actual practice that takes off from them.
In 1989 the destructive materialism of the communists was replaced by the soft materialism of the new Europe. My small influence comes from expressing the belief that materialism, in whatever form, is the problem.
One of the most striking differences between those central and eastern European nations and western ones at the time was their responses to the migrant crisis the year before.
Over one million migrants had arrived in Europe in 2015 — over 800,000 by sea — and while Germany and Sweden had thrown their borders open to all comers, Hungary had built a border fence that reduced arrivals by a staggering 99 per cent.
In his response to this act, Sir Roger spoke not of Islam but rather of Islamism — the careful distinction he always made between a faith on one hand and an “armed doctrine” on the other (c.f. The West and the Rest) — but made no bones about the danger Europe faced, in essence from its own foolish decisions.
He said of Europe’s open borders:
The migrant crisis is an existential one: if we get it wrong our civilization may crumble under the impact of belligerent Islamism.
I think the first step must be to protect our borders and to impose strict conditions of national loyalty on anyone who wishes to reside within them. That is what the Visegrad countries [Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland] are trying to do and what we have failed to do.
Finally, we moved to Brexit, a matter Sir Roger frequently spoke about and supported. Seven days later, against the advice of David Cameron’s government and the predictions of the polling companies, the voters of the United Kingdom put the nation on a new track outside the European Union.
Despite the prevailing view at the time that Britain would vote to Remain, when asked his views on the future of Sir Roger answered on the assumption that the British would vote to leave.
Breaking free of the European Union would not be easy, he said — but to do so would be a rebirth for the United Kingdom. He told me:
It will be difficult, almost as difficult as our future inside the EU. But if we can unite and face our new condition with courage, we can renew our nation and its standing in the world.
So independence will be difficult. Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty, it is said. Sir Roger, who swam against the tide to do the right thing all his life was an embodiment of that spirit. Rest in peace.