A DOUBLE MEANING lies at the heart of Roger Scruton’s latest book, on post-Brexit Britain. We instinctively read the “where” of the title as temporal: where are we now after the vote, its implications sinking in, and its consequences playing out? We soon realise, however, that Scruton means it spatially: where we are in Britain, and how attached and committed we are to this place — because it is only through attachment to place that we can forge the solidarity that we lack, and need, right now.
Those familiar with Scruton’s work will recognise a familiar elegiac tone, not naïve or reactionary, as his critics would have it, but romantic and yearning. Politics, he notes, presupposes a shared identity. It makes little sense to talk about what we should do, if we have no coherent idea of who we are; and who we are is ineradicably tied to where we are.
This is a “pre-political” issue that should transcend the political spectrum. George Orwell, of whom conservative Scruton has long written warmly, is favourably cited, in spite of his deep-rooted socialism, while the apostles of the free movement of capital and labour, usually placed on the political Right, are intelligently criticised. Scruton’s conservatism is beholden to no modern political agenda, grounded as it is in deeper commitments to nation, landscape, monarchy, common law, and Established Church.
In his sights are the “oikophobes”, Scruton’s neologism for those who fear and loathe the idea of home and what it demands of us. It is their ideas that grub up our roots and prevent others’ sinking them, replacing the stability of institutions and traditions with the shallow and undemanding “freedoms” of multiculturalism.
Readers may cavil with Scruton’s unduly romantic and uncritical patriotism, and Christian ones will feel uneasy at the instrumentalisation of the faith, a buttress to support the nation rather than a thing of intrinsic value, let alone one that might challenge and undermine the nation.
But he gets far more right than he gets wrong. Embodied beings as we are, we need the security of place to flourish. Even if we don’t agree with or like one another, we can at least recognise the mutual benefit of a shared, peaceful, and orderly environment. Where we are profoundly informs who we are, and our post-Brexit analysis would benefit from careful attention to what we have inherited from, and what we owe, to this “little world”.
Nick Spencer is Research Director at Theos.
Where We Are: The state of Britain now
Church Times Bookshop £15.30