Roger Scruton and the Love for Home

Bart Byl
17 min readMay 23, 2023

What allegiance do we owe our homes? Karl Marx famously declared that “the worker has no country”, and argued that patriotism was simply an aspect of the false consciousness that kept the proletariat enslaved in systems of oppression.¹ Their only proper loyalty lay with the international workers’ movement, and to the revolution which would liberate them. This rootless, cosmopolitan vision contrasts sharply with the love of home espoused by the late English political philosopher Roger Scruton (1944–2020).

Scruton grew up in a left-wing household and studied at Cambridge, writing his doctoral thesis on the philosophy of aesthetics. While a graduate student in Paris during the May 1968 student riots, Scruton experienced his political epiphany. As he stood at his apartment window watching the would-be revolutionaries overturn cars and hurl cobblestones at the police,

I suddenly realised that I was on the other side… What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted by it, and thought there must be a way back to the defence of western civilisation against these things. That’s when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.²

This conversion required courage to maintain, because the few conservatives in Western academia tended to hide their beliefs to protect their career prospects. (Scruton wryly recalled that when he was appointed lecturer at Birkbeck College in London his lone political ally was the Neapolitan woman who served meals in the Senior Common Room.³) In 1985 Scruton published Thinkers of the New Left (later reissued with new material as Fools, Frauds and Firebrands), a searing critique of fourteen leftist intellectuals, including Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, and Jürgen Habermas. Scruton had been provoked to write by his visits behind the Iron Curtain to work with Polish, Czech and Hungarian dissidents, where he saw for himself the Marxist society being defended by Western European intellectuals.⁴ As he tells it, his open attack on left-wing orthodoxy in this book and in The Salisbury Review rendered him a class traitor and effectively scuppered his academic career.⁵ This, however, freed Scruton for a lifetime of writing from his English farmhouse, where he penned over fifty books, whose topics ranged from sexual desire to animal rights, all expressions of a consistent outlook rooted in the English conservative tradition that went back to Edmund Burke.

Oikophobia

Karl Marx and his followers, of course, believed society had nothing worth conserving. Marx and Engels argued that the base of society was composed of the means and relation of material production, while all culture, family, religion, state, and other institutions formed the superstructure that reflected and maintained the base. Thus in the second chapter of The Communist Manifesto they infamously called for the abolition of the family as a bourgeois institution based on capital and private gain, in which “the bourgeois sees his wife as a mere instrument of production”.⁶ Noting that “the Communists are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality,” they reply,

The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.

Both Marx and Engels believed that as capitalism progressed it would inevitably undermine the very nation-states it had established. Already the acid was dissolving the old order of things. The continual destruction of old modes of production and the unending search for new markets meant that “all fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away… All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.”⁷ To their minds, this process was the necessary precondition for the proletarian revolution, as workers everywhere realised their true solidarity lay with the comrades struggling on the other side of the globe rather than with the bourgeois oppressing them at home.

But other than these suggestive pronouncements, Marx never addressed the question of nationalism and the rise of the nation-state in a systematic way, leaving “a veritable ’black hole’ where a confrontation with one of the most potent social and political forces of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries should have been.”⁸ It was left to Marx’s intellectual heirs to expand Marx’s remarks into more coherent theories, which often contradicted each other in surprising ways: Lenin, a Russian who believed in the right of national self-determination for the many peoples suffering under Tsarist repression, argued in favour of Polish independence, while Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish Jew, argued passionately against it on internationalist principles.⁹ Something of the same paradox occurred with Joseph Stalin, the bank robber and revolutionary who had rejected his birth name, Jughashvili, along with Georgian nationalism. Despite paying lip service to national self-determination in a 1913 pamphlet warmly endorsed by Lenin, Stalin in 1921 led the Red Army to reconquer the briefly-independent Georgia when local Bolsheviks proved too inept to overthrow their Menshevik government. It was the ailing Lenin’s anger at this adventure that led him to accuse Stalin of Russian chauvinism and to urge, in his Testament, that Stalin be replaced as General Secretary of the Central Committee — a recommendation that the wily Stalin managed to suppress after Lenin’s death.

Despite these sometimes bitter disagreements, all Marx’s heirs agreed that the worker’s highest solidarity lay with their class; the nation served the revolution, not the other way around. After all, in the Manifesto Marx and Engels had spilled a great deal of ink distinguishing the Communists from their left-wing rivals, and one of the chief points of difference was that “in the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.” Hence the famous closing summons of the Manifesto: “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”¹⁰

So what place is left for patriotism within Marxist thought? According to Marxist philosopher Paul Gomberg, none at all. “States arise in human prehistory to consolidate and extend exploitation and oppression of laboring classes by a ruling class,” he explains. “So for the working class, patriotism is loyalty to the state of those who oppress them, and it makes no sense to be loyal to one’s oppressors.”¹¹ Still, it proved difficult to detach the working classes from their wrong-headed loyalties. In The Lion and the Unicorn, written in the desperate days after the fall of France in 1940, the socialist George Orwell observed that, in England at least, “Patriotism is usually stronger than class-hatred, and always stronger than any kind of internationalism. Except for a brief moment in 1920 (the ‘Hands off Russia’ movement) the British working class have never thought or acted internationally.”¹² He went on to describe England as “a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private language and its common memories, and at the approach of an enemy it closes its ranks.”¹³ The only explanation for such obtuseness, from a Marxist perspective, was that the workers were still labouring under the false consciousness that caused them to misunderstand their true interests.

The task of the intelligentsia, therefore, is to expose the social injustice and economic exploitation that the superstructures of society exist to reinforce — to pursue the “ruthless criticism of all that exists,” as Marx had once summed up his program.¹⁴ All the “structures of domination”, from the family to the nation-state, must be deconstructed to liberate the marginalized from oppression. Nothing is too sacred to be withheld from the bonfire.

To Scruton’s mind, this is a shameful rejection of the cultural inheritance of the West, an animus he termed oikophobia. His first use of this term in print appeared in a 1993 article on multiculturalism (a favourite target), in which Scruton argued that

the advocate of multiculturalism … is suffering from a pathological oikophobia, a hatred of home, which has been a frequent disease among intellectuals since the Enlightenment. He sees that which is his ‘own,’ his inheritance, as alien; he has fallen out of communication with it and feels tainted by its claim on him. Therefore he portrays his home as something Other, by means of a stereotype that seems to free him from all obligation towards it.¹⁵

For Scruton radical leftism is infected with the sin of Esau: contempt for one’s birthright. Elsewhere he complains of “the educated derision that has been directed towards historical loyalties by our intellectual elites, who have tended to dismiss all the ordinary forms of patriotism and local attachment as forms of racism, imperialism or xenophobia.”¹⁶ This criticism resurfaces in almost every study he makes of the thinkers of the New Left in Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands. The rosy glow of the classless society never comes clearly into focus for its advocates; their real energy is spent on the work of revolutionary destruction. “We know nothing of the socialist future, save only that it is both necessary and desirable. Our concern is with the ‘compelling’ case against the present, which leads us to destroy what we lack the knowledge to replace.”¹⁷

If the goal is revolution, then, as Marx foresaw, those who work for incremental reforms within the system are actually retarding the cause of liberation. The anger of the oppressed must be continually stoked by the intelligentsia, ever in search of new victim classes, so that it may finally boil over into revolution. Resentment then becomes ”an existential posture: the posture of the one whom the world has betrayed.” When the bourgeois is demonized as completely Other and the very structures of democratic society are denounced as irredeemably evil, there can be no discussion and compromise. A whole class must be labelled as the enemies of the people and denied the right to exist.¹⁸

Oikophilia

Throughout his vast corpus Scruton develops a positive exposition of oikophobia’s opposite, oikophilia, the love of home, for “his is a philosophy of homecoming and all the joy that it provides.”¹⁹ His most sustained exposition of this idea appears, interestingly, in How to Think Seriously about the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism, in which a love for home becomes a key element in an environmental ethic. He observed that healthy, settled human beings love their homes and the people in and around them, and that this love is the foundation of human civilization and political life:

Home is not just any place. It is the place that contains the ones you love and need; it is the place that you share, the place that you defend, the place for which you might still be commanded to fight and die. Oikophilia is the source of many of our most generous and self-sacrificing gestures. It helps soldiers in battle to give their lives for the benefit of their ‘homeland’; it animates the place where children are raised, and in which parents make a gift of what they have been given; and it enables neighbours to overlook differences of religion and culture for the sake of their common home.²⁰

We do not enter the world as rational agents able to freely enter into social contracts. As helpless infants, we receive the oikos from the generation before us, and find ourselves enmeshed in an web of gift and obligation which we sense instinctively. The natural gratitude this should prompt, which the Romans called pietas, is at the root of Scruton’s social thought. He notes that Hegel (“who was perhaps the first systematic political philosopher in modern times to put the concept of piety at the centre of his thinking”) had argued that familial piety creates those strands of trust between neighbours that allow society and its institutions to flourish. Conversely, both state and family “will collapse if people lose the instinctive gratitude and piety that enable them to identify kin and country as personal assets, to be cherished and protected in return for what they give.”²¹

The great gift we receive from the past is tradition — not “arbitrary rules and conventions” but “answers that have been discovered to enduring questions. These answers are tacit, shared, embodied in social practices and inarticulate expectations.”²² In his 1790 pamphlet Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke had used ‘prejudice’ positively term to denote the latent wisdom received from the past, in contrast with the destructive Utopian schemes of the revolutionaries.

We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages… [Prejudice] is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, sceptical, puzzled, and unresolved.²³

It is not true, as the heirs of the Enlightenment seem to imagine, that we can form ourselves as ethical persons through some abstract, universal Reason. “It is in general only within a community that individuals become capable of morality, are sustained in their morality and are constituted as moral agents by the way in which other people regard them and what is owed to and by them as well as by the way in which they regard themselves,” Alisdair MacIntyre observes. “Hence my allegiance to the community and what it requires of me … Detached from my community, I will be apt to lose my hold upon all genuine standards of judgment.”²⁴

Such respect for tradition is no mere hankering after the past. True piety recognizes that what we received from our ancestors must be held in trust for those who will come after us. This recognition of our place in the greater story keeps us from selfishly consuming or even destroying the resources of today, whether physical or spiritual:

We learn to circumscribe our demands, to see our own place in things as part of a continuous chain of giving and receiving, and to recognize that the good things we inherit are not ours to spoil, but ours to use wisely and pass on. There is a line of obligation that connects us to those who gave us what we have; and our concern for the future is an extension of that line.²⁵

Such unchosen relationships of gift and obligation are evidence to Scruton that the “social contract” is a misleading description how social relations are established. Human beings do not freely negotiate their basic relationships as free, rational agents: “Such a contract is addressed to the abstract and universal Homo oeconomicus who comes into the world without attachments.” Any agreements on a group’s future arise from a pre-existing “mutual togetherness and reciprocal dependence… the social contract requires a relationship of membership.”²⁶

The trust and obligation shared by its members ensure the community survives internal differences of opinion. Just as in a happy family, “they have a shared investment in staying together.”²⁷ Even more important than one’s individual opinion is the well-being of the group. This deep sense of belonging, and the knowledge that one’s fellow members equally belong, mean that all work toward the same goal, despite disagreements on how to reach it. Shared loyalty to the group means that one does one’s public duty confident other members are doing the same; absent such trust, society will fall apart as people demand rights divorced from duties and scramble for dwindling resources.²⁸

Without a sense of social belonging, no nation can emerge or flourish. As Charles Taylor has pointed out, there is a need, “in self-governing societies, of a high degree of cohesion. Democratic states need something like a common identity.” If decisions are to be made that involve the whole community, “the members must know one another, listen to one another, and understand one another. If they are not mutually acquainted, or if they cannot really understand one another, how can they truly engage in joint deliberation?”²⁹ Where this common identity does not obtain, as in African states who have inherited arbitrary colonial boundaries, politics can never rise above the struggle for power between tribal subgroups, and the state and its institutions lack democratic legitimacy.

What then is a nation? Scruton uses the term to describe “a people settled in a certain territory, who share institutions, customs and a sense of history and who regard themselves as equally committed both to their place of residence and to the legal and political process that governs it.”³⁰ By this definition not every member of the United Nations is a nation in the full sense; passionate tribal and religious loyalties may render commitment to the nation tenuous, as the failed American experiment in Iraqi nation-building amply demonstrated. Scruton points to four necessary factors — shared language, shared associations, shared history, and common culture — that forge disparate groups who happen to occupy the same territory into a genuine ‘we’. Together these generate the shared oikophilia in which people meet as neighbours with a mutual interest and a common loyalty.³¹

Scruton emphasises that this bond of membership is social, not political, adding, “It is not for the state to manufacture the deeper forms of loyalty, and the attempt to do so is inherently totalitarian.”³² He quotes with disapproval the declaration of the Abbé Sieyès, the chief political theorist of the French Revolution — “The nation is prior to everything. It is the source of everything. Its will is always legal” — and observes, “Those words express the very opposite of a true national loyalty. Not only do they involve an idolatrous deification of the ‘Nation’, elevating it far above the people of whom it is in fact composed.”³³ Such grandiose language, far from unifying the nation, usually means one political faction is about to unleash state terror upon its enemies. Nor, it should be added, does national loyalty imply fear or hatred of one’s neighbours; why should those who love their own homes not expect and even hope that others will love theirs no less?

Shared loyalty to the nation allows one to live with one’s neighbours in freedom, safety, and prosperity. We call this loyalty to the nation patriotism: “the recognition that we stand or fall together, and that we therefore owe it to each other to maintain the customs and the symbols of our common membership.”³⁴ This does not mean we blind ourselves to our nation’s defects; as G.K. Chesterton, both an English patriot and a critic of the Boer War, remarked, “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’”³⁵ True patriotism means that at times we criticise our country precisely because we love it enough to help it live up to its ideals.³⁶ And it is our shared bond of membership that ensures that our grievances over real or imagined injustices are not allowed to fester.

The business of society is to conduct our social life so that resentment does not occur: to live by mutual aid and fellowship, not so as to be all alike and inoffensively mediocre, but so as to gain others’ cooperation in our small successes. Living in this way we create the channels through which resentment drains away of its own accord: channels like custom, gift, hospitality, shared worship, penitence, forgiveness and the common law, all of which are instantly stopped up when the totalitarians come to power.³⁷

Such loyalty “enables people to co-operate with their opponents, to recognise an agreement to differ, and to build institutions that are higher, more durable and more impartial than the political process itself. It enables people to live, in other words, in a depoliticised society.”³⁸ The only force that can save societies from splintering into destructive political factions, or the conflagration of Marxist revolution, is the shared loyalty and mutual trust engendered by a shared loved of our common home.

Footnotes

  1. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848, accessed April 7, 2023, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/.
  2. Nicholas Wroe, “Thinking for England,” The Guardian, October 28, 2000, sec. Books, accessed April 7, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2000/oct/28/politics.
  3. Roger Scruton, The Roger Scruton Reader, ed. Mark Dooley, Paperback edition. (London ; New York: Continuum, 2011), 6.
  4. Tim Adams, “Roger Scruton: ‘Funnily Enough, My Father Looked Very Like Jeremy Corbyn’,” The Observer, October 4, 2015, sec. Culture, accessed April 7, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/oct/04/roger-scruton-my-father-looked-like-jeremy-corbyn-fools-frauds-firebrands-interview.
  5. Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, New edition. (London Oxford New York: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019), vii.
  6. The abolition of the family was a cause dear to the heart of Engels in particular. See Richard Weikart, “Marx, Engels, and the Abolition of the Family,” History of European Ideas 18, no. 5 (September 1, 1994): 657–672.
  7. Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Ch. 1.
  8. Shlomo Avineri, “Marxism and Nationalism,” Journal of Contemporary History 26, no. 3 (July 1991): 638, https://doi.org/10.1177/002200949102600315.
  9. Ibid., 644.
  10. Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party.
  11. Paul Gomberg, “Against Patriotism, for Internationalism: A Marxist Critique of Patriotism,” in Handbook of Patriotism, ed. Mitja Sardoc (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2018), 575–76.
  12. George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, 6th ed., Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics (London: Penguin Books, 1982), 48.
  13. Ibid., 54.
  14. Karl Marx, “M. To R. [Article in Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher],” vol. 3, Marx/Engels Collected Works (MECW) (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1843; repr. 1973), 143.
  15. Roger Scruton, “Oikophobia,” Journal of Education 175, no. 2 (April 1, 1993): 93–98, https://doi.org/10.1177/002205749317500207, 96–97. Benedict Beckeld argues that historically oikophobia tends to arise as a civilization decays, when the oikophobe “will regret the exploits of his culture and the perpetrated injustices and sufferings that will always be part of any people’s rise.” Benedict Beckeld, Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations (Ithaca: Northern Illinois University Press, 2022), 7–9.
  16. Roger Scruton, How to Think Seriously about the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 247.
  17. Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, 274.
  18. Ibid., 15.
  19. Mark Dooley, Roger Scruton: The Philosopher on Dover Beach (London ; New York: Continuum, 2009), 142.
  20. Scruton, How to Think Seriously about the Planet, 239.
  21. Ibid., 224–25.
  22. Roger Scruton, How to Be a Conservative (London: Continuum, 2019), 21.
  23. Edmund Burke, Frank M. Turner, and Darrin M. McMahon, Reflections on the Revolution in France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 74.
  24. Alasdair MacIntyre, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” in Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy (Routledge, 2002), 292–93.
  25. Scruton, How to Think Seriously about the Planet, 216.
  26. Scruton, How to Be a Conservative, 22.
  27. Ibid., 33.
  28. Roger Scruton, The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat (Wilmington, Del: ISI Books, 2002), 68.
  29. Charles Taylor, “The Dynamics of Democratic Exclusion,” Journal of Democracy 9, no. 4 (1998): 142–43.
  30. Roger Scruton, England and the Need for Nations, 2nd ed. (London: Civitas, 2006), 12.
  31. Roger Scruton, “In Defence of the Nation,” in Ideas and Politics in Modern Britain, ed. J. C. D. Clark (London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1990), 280–81.
  32. Scruton, “In Defence of the Nation.”
  33. Scruton, England and the Need for Nations, 17.
  34. Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 3rd ed. (Handmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2001), 26.
  35. G.K. Chesterton, The Defendant (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1902), 125.
  36. Frederick Douglass provides a memorable model for such criticism in his 1852 speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, a blistering catalogue of injustice and hypocrisy on the part of white American Christians. Nevertheless, Douglass speaks as a patriot, “drawing encouragement from ‘the Declaration of Independence,’ the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions”. Frederick Douglass, The portable Frederick Douglass, ed. John Stauffer and Henry Louis Gates (New York: Penguin Classics, 2016), 220. See also James Baldwin’s remark, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), 9.
  37. Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, 14.
  38. Scruton, England and the Need for Nations, 23.

--

--

Bart Byl

Th.M. student at Regent College. Canadian in Georgia. 🇨🇦🇬🇪