Roger Scruton’s dismissal from his chairmanship of a commission set up to bring beauty back into the discussion of British housing policy was probably inevitable. Sir Roger is a voice of reason who will not shut up, and good for him. But like any such sane voice in an asylum run by its inmates – a fair characterization of Britain these days – Scruton had a target on his back. He had to go, and if no good reason to sack him could be found, let a bad one suffice. Even the swiftness of his defenestration was no surprise.
Scruton’s politically incorrect remarks on immigration and other touchy topics were taken out of context, but to those likely to be offended by common sense on any of these issues, what Scruton had to say would have been equally damning in context. His views on architecture – which favor traditional styles over experimentation – probably did not trigger his departure so much as his broader views on a range of political and cultural issues, which aroused against him a much more powerful set of elites who care nothing about architecture.
Gratifying as it was to see him hired to advise the Tory government from a seat on this Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, architecture itself is probably better off with Scruton roaming freely to speak his mind without the restrains of chairmanship. If this week’s expulsion means anything, it means that his Conservative Party backers in government probably lacked the spine to take his architectural advice anyway.
Last year, in his first lecture after his appointment, Scruton recalled to his audience the great good sense of his friend and ally in the fight to bring beauty back to Britain, the late Colin Amory:
As Colin constantly reminded us, the city is an evolving fabric, in which old and new come together, the old disciplining the new, and at the same time adapting to it. Something in this process of evolution must remain the same: the city itself, conceived as a settlement. Conservation should occur not in order to pickle the city in aspic, but so as to retain its identity as a living community and an object of steadfast affection. Burke argued that in politics we must reform in order to conserve; the lesson of architectural aesthetics is that we must conserve in order to reform.
The essential kindness, generosity and open-mindedness of those remarks make them doubly infuriating to those who hate him, whether for his taste in architecture or his political and cultural views. Despite his departure from government, or perhaps because of it, we will hear more from Sir Roger.
(The illustration atop this post of a housing development in London shows quasi-Tudor houses whose quality I cannot be sure would suit Scruton as adequate to serve Great Britain’s need for more housing, especially of the affordable kind. But I think he would prefer them over the housing estates, as the Brits call what Americans call “the projects,” that have been inflicted on British cities and towns over the past half century.)
Here’s Scruton’s reaction to how his interview with The New Statesman (for which he once was wine critic) was distorted by interviewer George Eaton. “An Apology for Thinking” is in the current online UK Spectator.
Here’s “Sacking Scruton,” Theodore Dalrymple’s take on the same subject.