The recent interest here in Roger Scruton (who I'd really only known due to his Kant scholarship)
...He rejects the western assumption that while freedom makes us vulnerable to terrorist attack, it ultimately gives us the strength to triumph. “You can’t build civilisation on freedom alone, it’s just a welcome by-product. If you just have freedom it degenerates into mob rule, which abolishes freedom. Freedom has to be within the framework of institutions that demand obedience. There has to be a culture, therefore, that encourages obedience.”
Liberals argue that successful societies don’t need rigid Christian rule books: it is up to capitalists, artists et al to make of a country what they will. But Scruton contends that our institutions, built on Christianity, are collapsing because they now have no guiding principles.
Though he's advocating religion, he's against fundamentalism:
“It’s dangerous to say this these days, but religion requires the erosion of the original sentiment by the friction of society,” he says. The problem with Islam is nobody dares check its religious fervour unlike, say, the Church of England, that has so brilliantly educated us to understand that God doesn’t really exist. “Once you get the fundamentalist, who thinks only the Koran is the authority, you have problems. And all Islam is fundamentalist.”
So much like Hitchens, Scruton is reacting to 9/11 and to "my religion is right" militancy, and he even claims that "any religious text is a bundle of contradictions," but instead of wanting to do away with the whole business, he lays the blame on our having "lost touch with Christian roots, which have been usurped by our worship of celebrity" which led "the West to 'propagate its achievements and temptations around the world, seducing people away from pious ways, offering a merely materialist substitute."
Overall the article is rather rambling and merely lets out a provocative quote to rouse the reader then moves on to something else before it can be explained, so I left this with no real sense of what Scruton's philosophy is about, i.e. what makes it philosophical as opposed to that held by many a political hack. The exception is what appears to be his ambivalence towards religious influence in politics: religion is instrumental for keeping people in line but perhaps needs to be tempered by a power struggle with other social elements. In other words, institutions are vital, but distributed power keeps any one institution from messing things up.
Daniel Horne says
I’m more troubled by Scruton’s antipathy toward Islam than Hitchens’. Hitchens’ argument is internally consistent: All religion is all bad all the time. Scruton instead claims that Christianity is more compatible with western democracy than is Islam. That seems to me, to put it politely, unsupported by any fair historical review. To pick one of a hundred examples, it was not so long ago that American Protestants were hostile to American Catholics, precisely on the question of whether Catholicism was inherently anti-democratic:
Anyway, if it will help determine whether Scruton’s arguments are any better founded than, say, Pat Buchanan’s, this interview may be enlightening:
Mark Linsenmayer says
Yeah, actually Harris might be a better example than Hitchens: a blanket condemnation of Islam in particular out of the fear of terrorism. The fact that this has been mistaken as having anything to do with “philosophy” bewilders me.
Daniel Horne says
Sure, although to Hitchens’ “credit” (for consistency, at any rate), he was dissing Islam before it was cool:
Tom McDonald says
Daniel: I’m perplexed when you say of Scruton’s claim that “Christianity is more compatible with western democracy than is Islam” that his claim is “unsupported by any fair historical review”. It seems to me rather that your judgment here of what constitutes a “fair historical view” can only derive from the orthodox Enlightenment stance (or put less politely, ideological dogma, in my view) that Western modernity was the discovery of naturalistic principals purer and deeper than the distorting and polluting influence of historical Christianity. In contrast to this standard 18th-century doctrine fallen back on again and again by those who believe science is a cure-all, it seems rather that any sober assessment of Western history from a humanities perspective could not fail to see Western humanism and individualism and democracy arising from the (Christian) Protestant reformation.
Daniel Horne says
Reading your comment, I’m not sure exactly where our disagreement lies. I certainly don’t think democracy spread through Europe via “discovery” of cultural, scientific, or philosophical principles.
By “fair historical review,” I mean that history provides several dozen examples of Christian cultures being just as hostile toward democracy as Islam, and of non-Christian cultures adopting democratic norms. And I make no claim to being sober while assessing Western history! Also, by “fair historical review,” I mean “any historical review that I endorse,” so let’s be clear on our terms!
Anyway, there’s nothing inherent in Christianity qua religion to make it more accepting of democracy than Islam qua religion. Much of what we think of as democratic institutions (secret balloting, a republican Senate, trial by jury) arose in pagan Greece, Rome, and Scandinavia. Modern Japan adopted democracy while rejecting Christianity. As did Islamic Turkey. Conversely, many parts of the Christian world abandoned democratic principles while continuing to embrace Christianity as a dominant social norm. (See, e.g., most of 20th C. Spain and Latin America, including the Philippines.)
I agree there was a resurgence of democratic principles through certain parts of Europe (not the Catholic ones) spread at about the same as the Protestant reformation (though wouldn’t a more traditional account trace it back to the Magna Carta?)
But you get into a chicken-and-egg problem as to which caused what, or even if one caused the other. Both Protestantism and rising European democratic norms (for the landed class, anyway) could be described as historical byproducts of rising economic prosperity — isn’t that a standard Marxist account? Marxist or not, I lean more to the idea that societal institutions and economic conditions better account for the rise (and fall) of democracy than do cultural norms. I think the religious/cultural norms follow the economics, they don’t lead.
The cash difference between my approach and Scruton’s (as I understand it) is that I won’t write off whole cultures (or sub-cultures) as being opposed to democracy due to the religious colors they claim.