Roger Scruton: The New Left’s Owning Of The Language

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In his lifetime, George Orwell diagnosed the symptom of leftists and their power worship of Stalin as partly stemming from having no contact with reality; specifically no contact with the working classes they supposedly champion. Despite the considerable numbers of writer/intellectuals who supported Stalin, Orwell never had to contend with those who took over the universities.

This feature, so part of our time, is addressed, Orwell-like, by British conservative intellectual Roger Scruton toward the intellectuals of a New Left whose control of the language of political discourse (a particular beef of Orwell’s) is chiefly responsible for their takeover of academia.

Whether Michel Foucault’s post-modernism, or Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Thomson Marxism, their motivations are the same. All are impatient with Western Civilization’s imperfections. All seek an ideology more streamlined. All load the deck for civil war by selecting class as a category because of its explosive effects in a cohesive society. And most importantly defend the righteousness of their cause by owning the language and selecting lofty terms that express their moral vanity.

Despite their rhetoric of being willing to confront reality, Scruton pithily notes that their ideologies are designed to avoid it. And nowhere is this more apparent than with the realities presented by the Soviet Union. Eric Hobsbawm praised Lenin for emancipating Russians from the tsar and dealt with Lenin’s ruthless post-Revolution methods as necessary for the advancement of mankind. Such manipulation of the language requires editing out facts such as Lenin’s hunting down and executing intellectuals. Comb Hobsbawm’s work, and there is no mention of Stalin lowering the age at which the death penalty could apply to twelve-year-olds.

So confident are these intellectuals in their power that they are stricken almost wordless when one of their own leaves the pack. E. P. Thompson felt a “personal injury and betrayal” when a colleague condemned Communist brutality in Eastern Europe.

But for all his criticism of them, the British Scruton has a soft spot for British New Left thinkers Scruton displays a soft spot for them. Thompson had “a beautiful investigative mind.” Eschewing the internationalist search for class, British socialists have the “endearing” quality of locating it only on their native soil. This “love for home and territory” makes it possible for them to meet British conservatives on common ground.

Unlike many conservatives, Scruton isn’t merely a debunker but offers a way out of Marxism. It is through the rule of law, and not a revolutionary movement, that citizens have protection from institutions, while the same institutions are answerable to laws and to citizens.