Obituary: Sir Roger Scruton, philosopher whose ultra-conservative views often proved controversial

Sir Roger Vernon Scruton FBA FRSL, philosopher. Born: 27 February 1944 in Buslingthorpe, Lincolnshire. Died: 12 January 2020, aged 75
Sir Roger Scruton after he was knighted at Buckingham Palace in, 2016 (Picture: John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)Sir Roger Scruton after he was knighted at Buckingham Palace in, 2016 (Picture: John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Sir Roger Scruton after he was knighted at Buckingham Palace in, 2016 (Picture: John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Roger Scruton, one of Britain’s most prominent conservative philosophers, has died. He was 75.

Scruton’s family said in a statement that he died last Sunday after a six-month battle with cancer.

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A graduate of Cambridge University, S cruton embraced conservative ideas after visiting Paris amid the May 1968 student uprising. He recalled later that the students on the barricades struck him as “self-indulgent middle-class hooligans”.

A lecturer for many years at the University of London’s Birkbeck College, Scruton carved out a role as a public intellectual – a relatively rare thing in Britain – with more than 50 books on morality, politics, culture and aesthetics, including The Meaning of Conservatism, The Aesthetics of Architecture and England: An Elegy.

Scruton valued tradition, high culture and the British countryside; he disliked socialism, liberalism, most modern architecture and much of popular culture.

He was widely respected in eastern Europe for his support for dissidents during Communist rule. He received honours from late Czech President Vaclav Havel, the Polish government and Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Here, Scruton wrote articles for many publications and appeared on radio and television. He was eloquent and forthright in expressing his often contentious views. Over the years, he said homosexuality wasn’t “normal,” opposed gay marriage, supported capital punishment and wondered whether date rape should be considered a crime.

In 1999 the Pet Shop Boys won a libel suit against him after he alleged in a book on pop culture that their songs were mostly the work of sound engineers, a nd in 2002 he 
proposed to a tobacco company that he could place pro-smoking articles in the media in exchange for a fee.

Scruton was hired by the Conservative government in 2018 as an adviser on improving modern architecture. He was fired several months later after the left-of-centre New Statesman magazine published an interview in which Scruton said Chinese authorities were “creating robots of their own people,” disparaged billionaire philanthropist George Soros and called Islamophobia “a word invented to stop discussion of a major issue”.

The magazine later apologized for the way it had promoted the interview on social media, acknowledging that “the views of Professor Scruton were not accurately represented in the tweets”.

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Scruton was reappointed to the government post. He said the incident showed there was a “witch hunt” against those on the political right and an “attempt to silence the conservative voice” – though his voice was long prominent in public discussions.

Scruton was knighted in 2016 for services to philosophy, teaching and public education.

Looking back on his life in December, Scruton wrote in the Spectator that “coming close to death you begin to know what life means, and what it means is gratitude”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “We have lost the greatest modern conservative thinker – who not only had the guts to say what he thought but said it beautifully.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid said that “from his support for freedom fighters in Eastern Europe to his immense intellectual contribution to conservatism in the West, he made a unique contribution to public life.”

Historian Timothy Garton Ash said Scruton was “a man of extraordinary intellect, learning and humour, a great supporter of central European dissidents, and the kind of provocative – sometimes outrageous – conservative thinker that a truly liberal society should be glad to have challenging it”.

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