“The global economy,” he says, “depends on heavily subsidized things like roads, and planning exemptions for warehouses in the middle of nowhere, and all the things the supermarkets use, like packaging. The global economy packages everything, and as we know, most of the packaging ends up in the Pacific. So it’s completely unsustainable. Something will have to be done.”
Thus Roger Scruton is quoted by Dominic Green in a splendid essay in The Weekly Standard concerning one of the last true public intellectuals in the West.
In this particular line of reasoning, conservatism is effectively localism — a sort of Chestertonian existence where local modes of production and ownership are picked up and mass consumerism is left off. It’s an idyllic world, one in which Scruton seems to aspire to yet not truly live in. After all, his home in southern England — lovingly dubbed “Scrutopia” — isn’t exactly self-sufficient based on its livestock and agrarian production.
Instead, Scruton lives a positively Churchillian experience rather than a Chestertonian one, where his writings and work as a lecturer subsidize the whole. Chesterton as well was much more fond of the ideal rather than the active work of running a farm.
More interesting to me, of course, his Scruton’s admiration for the American willingness to start something new:
Two weeks after the Apple Festival, I see Scruton again in Washington, D.C., where he is beginning a short lecture tour. Afterwards, I walk past the think tanks and the buildings owned by every lobbying group imaginable and remember what Scruton had said in his study at Sunday Hill. We had been discussing the leftist uniformity of the American university, and he had praised the creation of a counter-infrastructure of conservative think tanks and magazines. “The natural American response to these things,” he said, “is to start something else.”
Of course, this is in the context of a new spirit of localism. Yet one suspects that a return to the soil (something Americans tried in the 1970s) isn’t the only resolution for the Burkean project. Something else — Kirk’s regeneration of the soul, Chesterton’s distributist ethic, MacIntyre’s virtue ethics — needs to be added into the mix for it to be something more than a fad or a retreat from the world.
Scruton’s insights into the failures and opportunities of the conservative project remain invaluable. Conservationists enjoy many strengths beyond our environmentalist counterparts, if for no other reason than the small farmers and hunters of the world are the ones that participate in its care most directly.
Still, viability matters… and for that, Scrutopia remains an entirely subsidized dream rather than the ideal.