i feel a great affinity for the british philosopher roger scruton, whom i've been reading on and off for decades. he's a fine writer, and a political dissident with regard to academia. we've both written books about beauty. somehow we have both ended up spending a lot of time in rappahannock county, va. he's charmingly yet at times brutally contrarian and eccentric and distinctive, things i would quite like to be myself. on the other hand, he is a self-declared conservative, and i am a self-declared anarchist.
for several years i've been planning a book called the tragedy of the left, which is to weave the tale of how the world left, and very particularly the academic left, spent a century endorsing totalitarianism, and still is. or putting it another way, the idea is to explain the interminable repetition of marxism in each generation: the political restriction, lack of imagination, and lack of self-reflection in, you know, sartre, adorno, althusser, foucault, zizek. (in cases such as sartre and foucault, the thing is in excruciating tension with their own basic orientation, i believe.) the amazing thing is that we're still here. but basically the theme is 'left: beautiful ideals, nightmare procedures, extremely confused or disingenuous thinking.'
so it pleased and yet displeased me when scruton came out last year with fools, frauds, and firebrands: thinkers of the new left, with a very similar project and a very overlapping list of people to be attacked. of course, the angle is very different, because i certainly do not consider myself a person of the right, and because i think of the left's goals - equality, justice, tolerance, etc. - as admirable. i will be writing in some ways from within, though still angrily, because i think these ideals have been sucked into nightmare statism due to extremely obvious empirical and theoretical and moral mistakes that could have been fixed for anyone who thought clearly or independently for a moment. they were too busy with solidarity and schism to do anything like that, and this includes some of the smartest people of the century, who made themselves evil idiots in the service of a politics of death, even as they flashed some brilliance on all sorts of things.
but there will also be a bunch of overlap. scruton is pretty hit-and-run, i must say, and the purpose is essentially polemical rather than theoretical; i hope to go a bit more carefully. also, i am flummoxed by some of the choices of figures, as scruton folds extremely mainstream liberals into the radical left just by moving from one to the next: why john kenneth galbraith and ronald dworkin, for god's sake? like, wrong context. habermas too, in a way. these are really not marxiists of any stripe, and yet they get kind of wrapped into that history here. at any rate, there are too many and too various figures treated too quickly. also, i would say that scruton's treatments are often incompatible with the screechingly condemnatory title. he has great respect for foucault as both a writer and a thinker, for example; the same is true for a number of the figures discussed, e.p. thompson, for example.
all in all, the assessments, though presented quickly, are thoughtful and informed and relatively fair. if you just put the pictures of derrida, foucault, said, sartre on the cover of a book over the words 'fools' and 'frauds' you sound like a pretty primitive culture warrior, and whatever those people were, they were not fools. also, scruton does not end up treating them as fools either. he is a relatively careful and thoughtful interpreter, but also hits too much too fast. his sideswipe insults can be wonderful, though. chapter title: 'tedium in germany: downhill to habermas.'
also, i feel that 'roger scruton' is an excellent name for a philosopher.