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British philosopher Roger Scruton, a figure of conservative thought, is dead

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Roger Scruton. at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2014. Avalon / Starface

From his mansion in Wiltshire, in the south-west of England, he embodied conservatism both in his ideas and in the life he had chosen to lead. Eminent British philosopher Roger Scruton, arguably the most influential of the past 40 years, died Sunday, January 12 at his home in the village of Brinkworth.

Known by the general public for some of his positions which made him a controversial figure across the Channel, he leaves a rich body of work, touching on fields as varied as aesthetics, music, the history of ideas, the environment , the English identity, while venturing on more surprising grounds, such as sexual desire or hunting with fox hounds. Through his theoretical, journalistic or fiction writings, he tried to revive a lost tradition, that of a literary philosophy.

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Born on February 27, 1944 in Buslingthorpe (Lincolnshire, east of England), in a working class family, Roger Scruton developed thanks to his father a taste for architecture and the English countryside. As a teenager, he immersed himself in literature, devouring Kafka, Rilke and T. S. Eliot, his favorite author. It was by following in the footsteps of this Francophile poet that he became interested in French literature. So much so that after studying analytical philosophy at Cambridge, a training course which taught him to identify "The spiel", he leaves for France.

Present in Paris in 1968, he experienced, during the events of May, what he called a "Conversion". He who came from a leftist family and who was still a student, "Suddenly found on the opposite side of the barricades, leaving behind everyone I knew". Faced with an affluent youth who played, according to him, to rebel, he suddenly felt conservative, hardly appreciating the revolutionary discourse, the "Marxist gibberish" students and the eagerness to clear the past.

Cultural conservatism

Back in England, he married his first wife, Danielle Lafitte, a French student met in Pau, where he taught, then finished his thesis on art and imagination. Become professor of philosophy, he takes part in the foundation of the Conservative Philosophy Group, a circle of reflection which will admit within its Enoch Powell, a parliamentarian of dark reputation, herald of the populist right.

At that time, Roger Scruton also crossed paths with Margaret Thatcher, before she was elected prime minister in 1979. He published the following year The Meaning of Conservatism (St. Augustine’s Press, 1980, untranslated). In this work, he distinguishes this current of thought from liberalism by insisting on his attachment to the traditions and allegiances which bind men to each other. Freedom is not worth by itself, he explains, but because it allows everyone to be part of a continuity. This conservatism shares with the "conservative revolution" led by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher the same distrust of the state. Roger Scruton deplores, however, the too great role that the "iron lady" gives to the market. The customs must be able to contain the forces which this one releases, estimates the philosopher, if not, the competition established between the beings diffuses in the society a deleterious instability. It is a cultural conservatism advocated by Roger Scruton.

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