Don’t let the offendotrons take down Scruton

Theresa May must not cave in to the ‘offence archaeologists’.

Helen Dale
Author

If Twitter offendotrons manage to get Maybot and Co to sack Sir Roger Scruton from his new job advising Building Better, Building Beautiful on housing policy, you can safely stick a fork in British civil society. It’s done.

Years ago, he argued that ‘once identified as right-wing you are beyond the pale of argument; your views are irrelevant, your character discredited, your presence in the world a mistake. You are not an opponent to be argued with, but a disease to be shunned.’ At the time it was hyperbole. Now it seems what Freddie deBoer calls ‘offence archaeologists’ – people determined to ‘sniff out baddies doing bad things’ by going through everything a person has ever said or written – are determined to make it true.

I encountered Roger Scruton for the first time at Oxford, where he delivered guest seminars for BCL, MPhil, and DPhil students studying jurisprudence. He was there at the invitation of Professor Tony Honoré, the Roman law specialist who ran the course. The seminars in question were delivered at All Souls.

They were very good seminars, too. Our classes were held in part of the college called the ‘Old Library’. I suspect we broke every health-and-safety rule known to man. Students finished up sitting in window ledges and on the floor. Possessed of a resonant, sonorous voice, Scruton had an uncanny ability to speak in complete sentences, something I had not seen before and have only rarely seen since. Everything he said was extraordinarily thoughtful even when one disagreed with it with every fibre of one’s being, as I often did.

See, I’m as gay as a handbag full of rainbows and was once juvenile enough to wear a Pride pin to one of Scruton’s seminars. If he gave a toss there was no sign. He continued to teach in that remarkable voice and succeeded in piercing the carapace of my half-smart provocation by sheer force of intellect. Even then (I now have a goodly collection of white hairs), most students were left-leaning or, occasionally, classical liberal. There were few genuine conservatives. Those of us who considered ourselves classical liberals would go along to Oxford University Conservative Association ‘Port & Policy’ events because they were more generous with alcohol than Labour, not out of any loyalty to Scruton-style conservatism.

Scruton, however, forced one to think. He persuaded me that urban planning since the Second World War did more damage to the country’s architectural fabric than the Luftwaffe. He really has forgotten more about what’s now called ‘the built environment’ than most people will ever know. The fact that among the offendotrons accusing him of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and homophobia there are also a lot of moaning architects is a sure sign his appointment is an excellent idea.

The frenzied responses to anyone even remotely controversial means, if people pitch up and accuse an individual of racism or anti-Semitism or homophobia, my default position is now disbelief. I’ve seen too many claims like this – by people on all sides of the aisle – to be willing to take them at face value. I’m not alone, either.

More broadly, a lot of people from minorities (I’ve detected it in my own character) want to be liked and accepted. Unfortunately, a hectoring demand for sackings and public obloquy is often an attempt to mandate respect and affection when the best one can hope for is non-interference. Anyone who has been in a schoolyard and seen a teacher tell two warring children to ‘shake hands and be friends’ knows how fake it is. You can’t make people like each other. You can only stop them hitting each other.

One tiny crumb of comfort: offendotrons may convince the government to sack Roger Scruton but I assure you he will not apologise. He is what he is.

Helen Dale won the Miles Franklin Award for her first novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper, read law at Oxford (where she was at Brasenose) and Edinburgh, and was previously senior adviser to Australian senator David Leyonhjelm. Her most recent novel, Kingdom of the Wicked – set in a Roman Empire that has undergone an industrial revolution – has just been published. Follow her on Twitter: @_HelenDale.

Picture by: Getty