Conservatism and love

Roger Scruton gave a great interview about a decade ago that’s worth revisiting in its entirety. I’m sharing just a few parts that I think are worth looking at, if you don’t read the whole piece.

You have described conservatism as ‘loving the world for what it is.’ What do you mean by that?

Conservatism involves, as you say, loving the world as it is – not all of it, but that which we can receive as a gift from the dead. It means recognizing that it is easier to destroy than create. It involves an attitude of friendship towards the community, rather than a desire to remake it in obedience to some all-encompassing goal. And so on.

What distinguishes conservatism from classical liberalism?

The problem with classical liberalism is that it never pauses to examine what is involved in ‘not harming others’. Do I leave others unharmed when I destroy my capacity for personal relationships, through drug-taking, promiscuity, or porn addiction? Do I leave them unharmed when I stupefy myself with pop music? I have nothing against individualism, so long as it is recognized that the individual is created by a community and by the moral constraints that prevail in it. The individual is not the foundation of society but its most important by-product.

You write about the need to conserve a wide range of things: the traditional family, sexual taboos, nature, foxhunting, viable farming communities, the nation-state. What do these things have in common?

All the things you mention are forms of, or preparations for, love. This is true even of fox-hunting, which is founded in the love of horse and hound, of place, landscape and climate, and of the community that has grown in a place and made it a home. You can easily discover this from the remarkable fox-hunting literature in English, from Fielding to Sassoon and beyond.

In what way are sexual taboos a preparation for love? Because they protect the possibility of a normal sexual relationship?

A normal sexual relationship is one in which desire takes a personal and accountable form, which puts mutuality above gratification, and which envisions a long-term commitment as its fulfillment – a commitment that permits the partners to get beyond mere desire. This kind of normality is threatened by the cult of youth, by the new kind of sex education that makes technique more important than restraint, and by the fear of commitment. Pornography should obviously be removed from the public sphere: but the problem is that the line between public and private has been dissolved by the internet, and only radical measures could now be contemplated. If they are not introduced, however, I fear that human sexual relations will be so damaged that they will gradually retreat to a kind of universal narcissism.

Many people consider conservatism a form of romantic nostalgia, an irrational reverence of the past. How would you respond to that? Is conservatism a romantic movement?

Every form of social and political belief that lies before us today is related to the Romantic movement, for that is the archetype of our ongoing attempt to live by our own devices. This is more true of socialism than of conservatism, in fact – socialism being a kind of diseased nostalgia for the future, which is yet more damaging than nostalgia for the past. And this word “nostalgia” – what does it mean? The longing for the nostos, the “homecoming”, the Heimkehr, which is the heart of all serious thinking about our time on earth. You must simply distinguish the negative from the positive forms of it. The Renaissance was a great movement of nostalgia towards the classical world; and look how it shook things up!

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