An eminent philosopher has faced a backlash over his appointment as a housing tsar after accusations that he has made Islamophobic and homophobic comments in the past.
Professor Sir Roger Scruton, a well-known conservative thinker, has been appointed chairman of a new public body that will ‘champion beautiful buildings’.
But the Government has faced calls to sack him after it emerged that in the past he has described homosexuality as ‘not normal’ and said Islamophobia was a ‘propaganda word’.
However, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government rejected calls to fire the professor and issued a statement in support of him.
Sir Roger Scruton, English philosopher, portrait at Aldeburgh Literary Festival, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
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Sir Roger, 74, said he was ‘offended and hurt’ by suggestions that he was Islamophobic and said ‘nothing could be further from the truth’. He added: ‘My statements on Islamic states points only to the failure of these states, which is a fact.’ After his appointment as chairman of the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, controversial comments he has made in interviews, books and articles were highlighted by the website BuzzFeed News.
Among them was a 2007 article for The Sunday Telegraph, in which he wrote: ‘Every now and then, however, we wake up to the fact that, although homosexuality has been normalised, it is not normal.’
On BBC Radio 4’s A Point of View in October 2015 he said: ‘The orthodox liberal view is that homosexuality is innate and guiltless. Like the Islamists, the advocates of this view have invented a phobia with which to denounce their opponents. Deviate in the smallest matter from the orthodoxy, and you will be accused of homophobia…’
Professor Sir Roger Scruton with his wife Sophie and children Sam and Lucy Investitures at Buckingham Palace
In his 2017 book Conservatism: Ideas in Profile, he wrote: ‘There has been in official circles a deliberate silencing of discussion, a refusal to describe things by their proper names, and the adoption of the propaganda word “Islamophobia” to create a wholly imaginary enemy.’
Labour MP Wes Streeting said: ‘With every passing hour it becomes clear that Roger Scruton has a history of making offensive comments. It beggars belief that he passed a vetting process. The Prime Minister should sack him immediately.’
But a spokesman for the housing ministry said: ‘Professor Sir Roger Scruton, as a long-standing public intellectual, has strong views on a number of issues.
‘His commitment to driving quality in the built environment is well known and he has published extensively on architecture and place, which makes him an excellent candidate for the unpaid chairmanship of the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission.’
Almost before the public announcement that the conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton had been made head of a new public body to champion beautiful buildings, the Left were on manoeuvres.
They began digging into his background and into his pronouncements over the years to try to unearth embarrassing material to block him from getting the job.
The Left’s ‘archaeological dig’ in search of material that they could potentially label as offensive has echoes of the witch-hunt against another Right-winger who was appointed to a government post.
Educationalist Toby Young, who founded the West London Free School, was forced to quit as a board member of the Government’s university regulator, the Office for Students, after his tasteless tweets about women made years earlier were unearthed by his detractors.
Scruton, 74, has been a thorn in the Left’s side for a great deal longer than Young. The high priest of the libertarian Right, he’s written 50 books and relishes controversy.
Labour MPs and the Left’s lynch mob are therefore only too eager to denounce him after scouring the internet for his most controversial comments. They have claimed he is both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic as well as homophobic, citing as evidence selected quotes from his past writings that have been taken out of context.
For what it’s worth, as a gay man, I am not offended by his comment – made back in 2007 before gay marriage was introduced – that homosexuality was ‘not normal’. More importantly, though, I can’t see why it should disqualify him from opining on whether a building looks good or bad.
For the best part of 40 years Scruton, an accomplished musician and composer, has been a leading authority on aesthetics – which is why it is, in fact, a clever appointment. Now 74, he was brought up in Milton Keynes where his childhood was dominated by his father Jack’s depressive moods.
Jack was a school teacher and ardent socialist as well as a harsh man who would not allow Roger or his two sisters to read Beatrix Potter books because they ‘polluted the image of the countryside with cosy bourgeois sentiment’.
When Roger got into High Wycombe Royal Grammar School, Jack disapproved because of his aversion to affectations of privilege.
His mother Beryl died of cancer when he was a teenager, but he won a place at Cambridge and eventually became estranged from his father, of whom he now says: ‘Funnily enough he looked very like Jeremy Corbyn. And his worldview was pretty similar too.’
Like so many of his generation, the 1968 Paris riots – in which student protests against capitalism almost brought the entire country to a halt – were the defining political moment of Scruton’s life.
He was in the Latin Quarter of Paris when students tore up cobblestones to hurl at riot police. His friends overturned cars to build barricades. As he watched from his apartment window, Scruton had a Damascene conversion. ‘I suddenly realised that I was on the other side,’ he says. ‘What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they were they trying to achieve, all I got back was ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted. That’s when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down.’
Following a brief marriage to Paris student Danielle Laffitte, the wild-haired tweed-coated professor of philosophy and aesthetics at London’s Birkbeck College joined a chain of Western academics secretly teaching behind the Iron Curtain. He provided covert classes in Prague leading to university degrees for dissidents and was detained and expelled by the communist government.
In the mid-1980s Scruton published a volume of prescient essays, Thinkers of the New Left, attacking the grip of Marxists in universities. Vice-chancellors were outraged and his publishers, under pressure of a boycott from their more profitable academic writers, remaindered the book.
Driven from academia he started a new life in a farmhouse in Wiltshire, with 100 acres of land, which he calls ‘Scrutopia’. In his timbered rural idyll he churns out books on architecture, music, religion and politics. He has a string of hunting horses (another reason the Left hate him) and met his second wife Sophie, 30 years his junior, when they were riding. They have two children.
Never far from controversy, Scruton was damaged by the revelation in 2002 that he was taking money from tobacco companies while criticising the World Health Organisation campaign against smoking.
In 2016 he was knighted for ‘services to philosophy, teaching and public education’. But to this day he is despised by an education establishment which instinctively distrusts Right-wing academics.
As Scruton himself said last year: ‘Once you are identified as Right-wing, you are beyond the pale of argument… You are not an opponent to be argued with, but a disease to be shunned.’
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