Sir Roger Scruton RIP

There is often a mismatch between a person’s public image and their private behaviour.

It is sometimes forgotten that Sir Roger Scruton, who died yesterday, was a barrister. He was rightly honoured as a  bencher of the Inner Temple. He held strong and often unfashionable views on human rights – he believed that they were better protected by the common law than by conventions and statutes – and on the criminal law, where he sometimes advocated more severe punishments.

Yet in private Sir Roger belied this hard-line image. He made friends easily and without regard to political persuasion, colour, religion or sexuality. Nor could you have met a more decent, forgiving and – although he would absolutely detest the word being used of him – liberal man. A conservative, of course, should be pessimistic about human behaviour, indeed it is often pessimism that leads to a belief in conservatism. Roger even wrote a passionate defence of pessimism.

But where it came to individuals, even individual criminals, he could be optimistic to the point that the President of The Howard League for Penal Reform might consider absurdly naive.

In the 1980s he lived in a spacious Notting Hill flat with a rather gloomy basement kitchen. Late one evening he returned alone with his shopping. He put down his bags in the narrow entrance hall, only to dimly apprehend a burglar preparing to ransack his flat.

Stay where you are!” he shouted, optimistically, “I’m going to call the police.”

He turned to leave the flat, but had forgotten the shopping bags over which he now stumbled and fell. The burglar, sensing his opportunity, had decided to make for the door as well, but found his route blocked by a confusion of broken shopping bags and the sprawling philosopher. Instead of trying to clamber over, he helped Roger to his feet and asked if he was hurt, which fortunately he was not. Roger suggested that they discuss the situation over a bottle of wine, an invitation which the burglar was happy to accept.

He had a sad story to tell. He was not a burglar by choice, he had drifted into the profession as a result of a series of undeserved misfortunes, which were related in great detail.  He was down on his luck and living in a nearby hostel.

Roger was touched. He forgot any thought of calling the police, and after some convivial glasses of what would have been fine wine – readers will know that he was a famous oenophile – he sent the burglar out into the night, wishing him well and promising to help him.

The following morning he telephoned the hostel.

They had never heard of him. Roger had believed the burglar, and the reason he had done so is that he was generous, good-natured and optimistic about the burglar’s good nature and capacity for rehabilitation, and he wanted to help him, as he wanted to help so many others who crossed his path.

Another rather more recent incident illustrates a similar capacity for forgiveness as well as his physical courage. Early one cold winter morning he was standing by the side of a narrow country road near his Wiltshire farm. Suddenly a car came round the corner at high speed, skidded on black ice and shot across the road towards him. He remained perfectly still, as the car spun past him before landing in the ditch beyond. The driver got out and came over to apologise, well aware that he had come within feet of hitting him. Most people would have been on the phone to the police immediately, and with good reason. Not Roger. He had narrowly escaped death but was politeness itself, and appeared to hold no resentment towards the driver, merely making the laconic observation that black ice often caught people out on that particular corner.

Dear Roger, you will be terribly mourned by your beloved wife and children, and by your many friends. You will be missed by the world as a philosopher, teacher, lecturer, writer, polemicist and musician. Your courage in confronting and undermining the Communists of Eastern Europe will never be forgotten. But it is not just for those public achievements that you deserve to be remembered, but also for your extraordinary human decency and generosity of spirit. You showed kindness to everyone you met, even to those who did not deserve it. You were traduced in public yet without bitterness in private. You were, in every sense a great man.

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

6 thoughts on “Sir Roger Scruton RIP”

  1. “Yet in private Sir Roger belied …”: isn’t it a common observation that people who are accused of being right wing ogres are often notable for their good treatment of friends, family, staff, and those members of the public whom they encounter in private? Whereas often Friends of the People notoriously treat actual people shittily.

    In other words, though your encomium was admirable and well deserved, yet I object to your “Yet”.

  2. I have left a little time before posting this comment. It is courteous at any rate to allow peaceful grief for a friend. But I feel that it is important to correct this interpretation of Scruton as a basically nice man. He wasn’t, whatever his attitudes to individuals in private.

    I strongly believe that him and people like him must be execrated, not just politely disagreed with; and why I think the less of you for your choice of friends. To justify that statement I need to say something about myself. I am a gay man. I am happily married (more happily than I deserve) to someone I have been with in a monogamous relationship for some 26 years. We married as soon as the law enabled us to do so. One of the (few) sadnesses in my life is that we were not able to have children. The reason, of course, is that society thought of gays as perverts, as “others”, as people who practised sexually deviant antics that made the decent majority sick. ( I often wonder if straights realise how gays retch at the thought of penile/vaginal sex, but that is for another day.) And when over the vicious objections of people like Scruton it became legal and acceptable – well, we were too old.

    I have had to suppress – or at worst deny – my sexuality for a large part of my life. It was lawful to discriminate against me – to sack me and my now husband for who we were. It made me an accomplished liar and it would be silly to deny the effects on my health that it continues to have.

    Scruton was a key supporter of this discrimination. In a famous polemic in the Telegraph (where else!) as relatively recently as 2007, he compared denying gay couples the opportunity to adopt children to refusing “incestuous liaisons or communes of promiscuous ‘swingers’ “ and said, in the context of opposing that gay relationships were not the norm because they were not a sacrificing union for children; had he not heard of the gay couples who self sacrificingly adopt the horribly damaged children straights won’t touch?

    These views, which you obviously don’t believe stand in the way of your eulogy, really hurt. They hurt gay people as much as racist statements and attitudes hurt BAME person; or anti-Semitism hurts Jewish people; or a woman is hurt when she is denied advancement because of her gender. Yet criticising Scruton for his vicious bigotry against LGBT+ people you call “traducing”.

    This says as much about you as it does about Scruton. For those that want a fuller account of Scruton’s disgusting views, see this excellent article by Charles Donovan:

    He was a nasty individual. We shouldn’t mourn him publicly.

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