As a modern conservative, [the late Roger] Scruton defends a form of democracy unknown to Aristotle. Following David Hume and Edmund Burke, however, he opposes the idea that the “political order is founded on a contract.” For Scruton, the state of nature is a chimera—an invention of modern political philosophers who had forgotten the debt and gratitude owed to our predecessors. The fictitious state of nature—so central to philosophical liberalism—obscures the fact that membership in a community, with its requisite duties and obligations, is a precondition for meaningful freedom. “Absolute freedom”—doing whatever one wants—is always an invitation to anarchy or tyranny. In the modern world, the nation is the political form that guarantees membership and self-government.

In all of his political writings, Scruton takes on the Left for scorning existing norms and customs, and for promoting a “culture of repudiation.” The Left is “negative.” It dismisses “every aspect of our cultural capital” with the language of brutal invective: accusing every defender of human nature and sound tradition of “racism,” “xenophobia,” “homophobia,” and “sexism.” Like 1984’s “two minutes of hate,” this language tears down, intimidates, and can never build anything humane or constructive—it is nihilistic to the core. At the same time, Scruton wants to reach out to reasonable liberals who eschew ideology and who still believe in civility and the promise of national belonging. His conservatism can discern the truth in liberalism (another Aristotelian trait) while the partisans of repudiation see half the human race as enemies.

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