Fiona Schouten: First of all, just now in the debate there seemed to be a sort of par­ti­tion, you being sort of the real­ist against the ide­al­ism of Alain Badiou. 

Roger Scruton: Yes.

Schouten: Don’t you think the world needs a bit of idealism?

Scruton: No, I think it needs a bit less ide­al­ism. The 20th cen­tu­ry was cre­at­ed by ide­al­ism. Communism and fas­cism and Nazism are all based on ide­al­ized sys­tems, what the world should be ide­al­ly, and how it isn’t what it should be, and there­fore we’re enti­tled to change it rad­i­cal­ly and take con­trol of it in order to do so. And the imme­di­ate result is geno­cides, as we see. I think ide­al­ism of Badiou’s kind is extreme­ly dan­ger­ous. I was there in 1968 in Paris at the time when he was in the streets shout­ing out his ideals, and it was enough to con­vert me to the oth­er side.

Schouten: Really.

Scruton: Yeah.

Schouten: It was that bad?

Scruton: It was that bad see­ing these arro­gant young peo­ple pre­tend­ing that they rep­re­sent­ed the work­ers, where­as in fact they were wealthy byprod­ucts of the mid­dle class, want­i­ng to dic­tate to every­body the sys­tem of pol­i­tics which they had con­ceived from their half-educated read­ing. And it stayed in that class of French intel­lec­tu­als ever since. And I think peo­ple like me have a duty to be real­ist in oppo­si­tion and say, Look, this uni­ty between the intel­lec­tu­als and the work­ers, who was actu­al­ly cre­at­ing it? It was you intel­lec­tu­als. How many work­ers were involved? Very few. Only those that you could con­trol through trade unions.” And let’s get rid of all those illu­sions and treat peo­ple as they are.

Schouten: Alright. I won’t use the word cri­sis,” but sure­ly you must think that there are things in the world today that are wrong and that should be changed.

Scruton: Yes. Of course. There are lots of things that are wrong and should be changed. But the ques­tion is how. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary way of address­ing this ques­tion is to form togeth­er a small con­spir­a­cy of the elite to craft a solu­tion and then impose it from above on the mass of mankind. I take the oth­er view, which is the clas­si­cal English view. Which is that peo­ple should be giv­en the free­dom to under­stand their prob­lems and address them from their own exist­ing reper­toire of social and polit­i­cal ges­tures, and grad­u­al­ly come to some con­sen­sus. And that is a very dif­fer­ent approach.

Schouten: So it is. Absolutely. You’re not say­ing, though, that we need a new aristocracy?

Scruton: No. Things of course would be bet­ter if I had more of a voice than I do. But there’s no way in which that can hap­pen. But I’m lucky that the Nexus Institute allows me to speak. But in my book on green phi­los­o­phy I do describe what I think of as an alter­na­tive to these top-down solu­tions to the big prob­lems of the envi­ron­ment, and how my alter­na­tive is to make the space for ordi­nary motives of ordi­nary peo­ple to take charge of the problem. 

Schouten: Alright. And how would they then take charge of the problem?

Scruton: Well, the prob­lem first of all has to be local. This is one thing I agree with about what Badiou said in his lec­ture, which is that the great points of tran­si­tion in com­mu­ni­ties and also in indi­vid­u­als are local. That they involve some prob­lem that you are liv­ing through and which also makes you rec­og­nize your depen­dence upon oth­er peo­ple, how you need them to join with you in order to solve this problem. 

And the Dutch did this very well in the 17th cen­tu­ry. They had a huge envi­ron­men­tal prob­lem, after all, and they built the dikes to solve it. It is one of the great achieve­ments. It was not done by some com­mit­tee of rev­o­lu­tion­ary van­guard impos­ing upon the ordi­nary Dutch peo­ple a solu­tion they did­n’t want. It was ordi­nary peo­ple local­ly get­ting togeth­er to build their own dike. And grad­u­al­ly the coun­try solved its prob­lem. And I think many of our envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems today can be con­front­ed in that way, as long as you keep those intel­lec­tu­als out of them. 

Schouten: Finally, you men­tioned that you think the sacred should return to our soci­ety. Explain that [inaudi­ble].

Scruton: Yes. I think human beings are incom­plete with­out a con­cept of the sacred. They must have a sense that this world in which they live has moments, places, events, peo­ple, etc. which are in some sense stand­ing out­side the ordi­nary course of events. They’re not just things to be bar­gained with, things to be bought and sold, but as it were stand in judge­ment on us. And all of us have that sense when we’re chil­dren, because that is instinc­tive in us. But it’s wiped away by mate­ri­al­ism and by the ease of sat­is­fy­ing our wants and so on. And the result is that we are in a cer­tain mea­sure bereft. Bereft of some­thing that is need­ed for our hap­pi­ness, which is the sense that we are in good rela­tions with sacred things.

Further Reference

How to Change the World?, the 2012 Nexus Conference event page