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Roger Scruton dies of cancer, aged 75

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Roger Scruton, the controversial philosopher, champion of conservatism and head of the government’s beauty commission has died, aged 75

The outspoken intellectual and author, who wrote nearly 50 books on aesthetics, politics and morals, had been suffering from cancer.

His death was announced on his personal website early yesterday (12 January). A statement read: ’It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Sir Roger Scruton.

‘He was born on 27 February 1944 and had been fighting cancer for the last six months. His family are hugely proud of him and of all his achievements.’

The opinion-splitting academic had initially been a member of the government’s housing design panel unveiled under a cloud of controversy in 2014.

Four years later he was appointed as chair of the Conservative government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. He was fired from the role in April last year following a row over comments he made in an interview with The New Statesman.

However the magazine subsequently published a clarification of Scruton’s comments on China and antisemitism, prompting then housing secretary James Brokenshire to apologise for the way he had been had been sacked.

In the interview, Scruton had been reported as saying that China was ‘creating robots of their own people’. But the magazine later clarified that he was referring to the country’s Communist Party regime, rather than the Chinese people as a whole.

Scruton also referred in the interview to a ‘Soros empire’ in Hungary – a reference to Jewish billionaire George Soros. But the rest of his comment that ‘it’s not necessarily an empire of Jews; that’s such nonsense’ had been omitted from the article.

After the clarification Brokenshire wrote to Scruton in July, inviting him to return to co-chair the commission with Nicholas Boys Smith. According to the Spectator, Brokenshire said: ‘I know that you still have so much more to give and hope this may also help to put things right after the regrettable events of recent months’.

Scruton responded: ‘I am so pleased that all has been resolved in a friendly way and we can return to the matter in hand, which is so important.’

During his time as chair of the commission, Scruton had proved provocative and been blamed for reopening the architectural style wars between Modernism and Classicism.

Scruton also claimed the reason no architects had been appointed to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission was because they had ‘vested interests’.

Speaking to the AJ at the launch of a design conference in Birmingham in February, Scruton said architects were ‘only interested in building their stuff’ and not necessarily in building what the public wanted.

Roger Scruton at the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange early last year

Roger scruton policy exchange classicism

Roger Scruton at the Policy Exchange early last year

A few months later an interim report produced by the commission called on councils to ‘say no to ugliness’ by naming and shaming bad housing developments, urging town planners to publicise examples of ‘bad schemes’ they reject to encourage better design.

A final report had been expected to be published before the end of last year.

On Twitter (see below) housing minister Robert Jenrick paid tribute to Scruton, insisting ’his work on building more beautifully, submitted recently to my department, will proceed and stand part of his unusually rich legacy’.

Boys Smith also praised Scruton’s dedication to the commission’s work, despite his increasingly failing health. He said: ’Stricken by a vicious cancer and vindicated against The New Statesman’s mendacious misreporting, Roger Scruton returned to the work of the government’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission this autumn with a vigour and commitment which, particularly in sad retrospect, seems almost superhuman. He may have come to meetings in a wheelchair but his intellectual focus to finish the report was utterly undimmed.

’I joined the commission initially serving under Roger’s chairmanship. After his return we served together as co-chairs. It could have been a difficult and tense relationship. That it was anything but. Indeed that it was a joy to work closely with him was a testament to his courtesy and humour, dedication and civility.’

Boys Smith added: ’I hope that the report of the Commission and the government’s response to it can, among other things, be taken as a vindication of part of his life’s work.’

Scruton is survived by his wife Sophie and children Sam and Lucy.

Comment

Robert Adam, director of ADAM Architecture

I am very sad to hear of Roger Scruton’s death. I got to know him well only recently and found him to be charming and polite. He told me how to have right-wing views at a university was to be treated as a pariah. I think that tells us something about the freedom of thought in our apparently liberal further education system. He was always prepared to argue a point in a balanced and sensible manner but was often met with prejudice and hysteria.

He was often met with prejudice and hysteria

As a philosopher, he understood that people would have different views and that this was not a matter for opprobrium but for debate. He was a great thinker and a great author and his work will have a lasting legacy but, for me, it is the principle of reasoned and courteous debate, without personal acrimony, with those with whom you disagree, that will live on.

Alun Jones of Dow Jones Architects

I have been fascinated by Scruton’s writing for many years, and while I sit on the opposite side of the political spectrum and disagree with a number of his conclusions, the idea of continuity he developed provides a valuable insight into thinking about how culture works. In his career he celebrated notions of self determination and freedom of expression, and saw forms of bureaucratic control as an inhibiting factor on culture. He espoused an idea of architecture that called for a return to an image of merry England that probably never existed.

I enjoyed meeting him on the Stratford walk, but what struck me was that he seemed slightly uncomfortable about being there - was this apparent discomfort because he realised the irony of his role as ’poacher turned game keeper’ in heading-up a commission which would ultimately provide the sorts of rules that he himself would have railed against; or was it just being surrounded by architects for a whole day…

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Readers' comments (5)

  • There is no point detesting someone just because they have a different view. If you are prone to this condition, then you are just as bad as those you vilify. Better by far to discuss, see if and where there may be merits, possibilities, good ideas, sound thoughts and extract these for mulling over. Its rare though not impossible of-course, that entire tracts of writing can be without something that deserves some thought. I guess it just makes me apprehensive and a little sad when the reaction to different value systems and thoughts is hatred. We can do better!

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  • Scruton was a clever man, insightful, thoughtful and often inspirational- a true intellect and a rare thing. Although you may disagree with his views, his writing was a pleasure to read. Like others, Jordan Petersen, Douglas Murray, Lionel Shriver and Brendan O'Neill included he was maligned, usually by those unwilling or unable to read his work.

    I agreed with much of his thoughts on architecture, particularly his view on soullessness, a lack of sense of place and starchitecture.

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  • RIP genius

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  • I totally agree with Robert Adam, even though I am at the other end of the architectural spectrum (mostly). Scruton was a brilliant man, with a view contrary to the Bauhaus driven dogmas popular today, that by their functional-rational logic are so constrained within their vision by the dogmas they’ve built their working model around, that they just can’t see beyond it to the need for things that their immune system rejects as frivolous. Once you’ve assumed that and that becomes your working model, with so much woo around it, then anyone who puts forward a different hypothesis becomes guilty merely by association. And so it was with Scruton. Like trying to say god doesn’t exist to the Pope. God exists in a world of blind faith within the Popes belief system, just as modernism exists as the only answer within the belief system of the modernist. And worryingly as CO2 exists as the only demon to be faced in the Climate Change debate.
    If you rule out other assumptions by this narrow vision you will stop looking for them. And thus the search for true humanitarian design, which should always be trying to be humane, becomes lost to blinkered dogma and incapable of achieving that goal. Why "modern" architecture has never really achieved "humane" architecture, particularly at the larger scale and in urban design.

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  • There is much to dislike Roger Scruton for, and it does not hinge on his recent immersion into the Conservative Party's efforts to control the aesthetics of new buildings, as your article suggests, nor does one need to be a member of the architectural profession to take issue with him.
    Scruton was one of several polemicists of roughly the same age (several of whom have died in the last year or so) whose insensitivity to urgent questions about the built environment was masked by their own false claims to being more sensitive, and especially more sensitive than those tasked with actually doing the job.
    In this regard, he and they exploited their dilettantism, whether as philosophers or as art historians, in a way that displaced the authority of practitioners in favour of that of theorists - and theorists with a provocatively simplistic reverence for the past.
    A comment on a website is hardly the place to explain this further, but it's important for architects to understand how the disservice which he and they did to architecture was only part of a larger disservice to contemporary culture and the profession of philosophy. Architects need to be better up informed in this respect, because they will hear endless praise for Scruton's brilliance in, for example, his explanation of texts such as Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and may feel overwhelmed by it.
    Such praise is an insufficient platform for announcing his originality, however, or his importance, if only because the Critique has been analysed and discussed for 250 years now. Philosophy already understands Kant, even if the rest of us still need help. To be original and brilliant in the late 20t and early 21st centuries requiref engagement with much more urgent ideas, and here, Scruton showed himself sadly lacking.
    I have written elsewhere about his lamentable promotion of 19th-century aesthetics and in particular the embrace of beauty. Traditional beauty is a difficult idea for the modern world because, as an inherent quality, it cannot be acquired; as such it can be considered exclusive, elitist, selfish, narcissistic and ungenerous. These are not qualities that are of assistance in a liberal democracy, which is why, with the emergence of Western liberalism, our arts have been marked by efforts to discover or create different kinds of aesthetic systems. That, and much else, is precisely what art has been doing for the last 150 years. Scruton did not have the sensitivity to see this - or, in his wilful, early rejection of leftist radicalism, he blinded himself to it. His friendships, including with other political turncoats like Hungary's Viktor Orbán, showed an affection for philosophical, national and religious boundaries that trapped us at a time when better minds were doing better work on how to release us. The thinking we ought to be applauding is that of our empirical thinkers - a tradition we really can be proud of, but which Scruton played no part in.
    He should not be greatly missed.
    (I apologize if there are errors in the above; it was tapped into a mobile phone.)

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