On Roger Scruton: Can well-cultured atheists save our civilization?
by Lea Singh
British philosopher Roger Scruton has gained legendary status among conservatives and liberals alike for both his massive intellect and the unusual direction of his political leanings. As one of the few conservatives in an ocean of left-wing academics, he has become the flag-waving Robinson Crusoe of Western civilization. In Culture Counts (Encounter Books, 2007), Scruton takes it upon himself to explain why the cultural inheritance of the Western world is a treasure of immense importance, and one that must be passed down to younger generations.
Scruton’s conclusion used to be so obvious as to require no explanations. Today, his attempt to prove the importance of works by ‘old dead white men’ is a herculean task with precarious chances of success. Most universities have become masterful trick artists, charging parents more than the average household earns in a year and then producing, in a surprise sleight-of-hand students who prefer feminist literature to Shakespeare, Jay-Z to Mozart, and a urinal to the work of Leonardo da Vinci.
The cause of this confusion, Scruton explains, is the neo-Marxist philosophy of French philosopher Michel Foucault, a modern-day Aristotle in terms of his influence throughout the humanities. Foucault is no longer alive: he died of AIDS in 1984. But his ideas are being taught on campuses across the globe, and are continuing to hoodwink generations of students into repudiating Western classical music, literature, art, architecture and even philosophy as the rotten fruit of a sexist, racist, elitist, capitalist and oppressively Judeo-Christian heritage.
Foucault didn’t believe in truth, only in power. His creed could be summed up as “you have your truth and I have mine,” and “the truth is whatever the winner says it is.” Scruton calls this system the “cult of darkness”, and the name seems very appropriate. In Foucault’s relativist world, people never really address “the truth or reasonableness of another’s opinion.” Instead, students are trained to look behind the arguments. They focus on the background, or social context, of the person who is speaking. As Scruton explains, “The question ceases to be ‘what are you saying?’ and becomes, instead, ‘where are you speaking from?’” This personal background becomes far more important than the argument being made, because according to Foucault, even logical reasoning itself is suspect and can be used as a tool of oppression.
So let’s apply his own method and see where Foucault was speaking from. Foucault was an openly gay man who engaged in promiscuous sexual encounters and drug use. Perhaps not surprisingly, he considered the heterosexual norms of Western culture outdated and tyrannical. For a man who didn’t believe in objective truth, Foucault spent a surprising amount of time and energy trying to philosophically discredit and destroy both traditional marriage and monogamy, devoting a three-volume History of Sexuality to this objective. Foucault was also, incidentally, “[o]bsessed with the idea of self-mutilation and suicide,” and praised suicide in his later works.
Parents of teenagers be warned: Foucault is the father and prophet of today’s college campuses, where professors are hired specifically because they “disparage the old values, old hierarchies and old forms of social order” and reject the traditional curriculum which contained the highest achievements of Western culture. Scruton writes in another of his books that Foucault’s “vision of European culture as the institutionalized form of oppressive power is taught everywhere as gospel, to students who have neither the culture nor the religion to resist it.”
And there, very simply, Scruton reveals the two weapons which he believes are effective against the Foucaultian cult of darkness: culture and religion.
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