Sir Roger Scruton is a political philosopher, university lecturer, public commentator, opera composer, wine critic and all-round good egg who likes to write two books every year. Scrutonia is his ‘world of farmers and philosophers, of Wagner and wine, of animals and Aristotle.’ He identifies as a ‘man of letters’.
Where we are is Scruton’s ‘personal response to the Brexit decision’ (p.1). Beyond all those tangled economic and geopolitical arguments, Scruton maintains there is a greater issue at stake, ‘namely the question of identity: who are we, where are we, and what holds us together in a shared political order?’ (p.2). He believes that Western democracies are suffering from this crisis of identity. ‘There can be no democracy without a demos, a ‘we’, united by a shared sense of belonging’ (p.7). The definition and significance of this ‘we’ is the book’s underlying theme.
For Scruton, British identity is special. Shaped by history, Christianity, the Establishment and neighbourliness, we have a ‘reluctance to be governed by those whose attachments lie elsewhere’ (p.8). The Brexit vote highlighted this trait.
He explores how leavers and remainers can be reconciled. He has some fascinating analyses and answers. Patriotism rather than nationalism will be required. It will be the sovereignty of the people mediated by Parliament and the Common Law. This is because, he argues, Britons have a strong sense of place and community — ‘who we are is where we are’ (p.23) — our country and its customs is our home.
This is oikophilia: the love of home and hearth. Using David Goodhart’s nomenclature, we are either ‘anywheres’ or ‘somewheres’. The former live, move and have their being in metropolitan and cyberspace networks, whereas the latter are more settled, less politically regarded and consequently voted ‘Leave’. Thus the EU, as an ‘anywhere’ oikophobic project, was rejected.
All this is a refreshing examination of who and where we are. But what of the future? Scruton does not duck that question. He outlines several serious obstacles, such as racism, the Common Agricultural Policy and radical Islam. He says that the proper application of adaptive British law is the key, rather than the federal administration of the EU with its inflexible treaties. For example, it was the intransigent Treaty of Maastricht (1992), with its redefinition of the ‘free movement of labour’ and its citizens’ right to reside anywhere in the EU, that created the current immigration catastrophe.
And what about the Christian response? Scruton treats this only indirectly. His religion is fogeyish Anglicanism — he plays the organ at his local church. Yet he recognises and rehearses some of the country-shaping influences brought about by biblical Christianity. Regrettably, there are no simple answers to these huge post-Brexit problems. But that should not prevent us thinking and searching for them.
Where We Are is not an easy or a Christian read, but it is a far-reaching, thought-provoking book. At times I wish I could have cross-examined Scruton directly — his home telephone number would have been a useful addendum.
John R. Ling