“Roger Scruton’s figure is dear to me personally because he had a good nature of a quiet, light-hearted, amazingly knowledgeable and well-informed man, friend and master. I met him in 1988, in Oxford, the place that is a hallmark of intellectual quality, but he had pragmatic political projects up in his sleeves as well for Central Europe. So, he lived his choice of intellectual trend as well – he deeply identified with conservatism.”
TRIBUTE TO SIR ROGER VERNON SCRUTON1
SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH2
Diverse pictures have flashed through my mind since Sir Roger Scruton’s death. I am fighting one picture which pops into my mind from a British fiction that starts with the dolphins disappearing from Planet Earth leaving a message to humans: “So long and thanks for all the fish.” This picture frightens me a little because after the dolphins disappear the novel continues with another thing disappearing: our well-known world, our home Planet Earth and then begins a new era of galactic hitchhiking in a shoreless universe, a quest with little hope …
BREXIT – A PARTING FOR US
We agreed with Roger Scruton on most things. Most of all on protecting our home, Europe, on defending the family, on immigration, on the role of nations, we agreed on evaluating political trends, parties and politicians and not least wines as well. We did not agree on Brexit: I wanted the Brits to stay – stay with us in the EU, but Roger did not want to stay and he, actually, exited … just a few days before Britain.
However, we did accept his reasons. Moreover, we deeply understood his reasons to leave, and each official Hungarian statement confirmed and acknowledged the decision of the British people who have the sovereign right to decide about the status of their homeland. And I must confess, I like this sturdy British attitude by which they showed the world: “Hey, this is how to be a nation, this is how to conserve our home if there is no other way.” Even if we are ridiculed by the whole world! More or less, this is how I read and summarise the British message for myself, because we also agreed with Roger that this issue was not about money, and not about transitionary phenomena, like migration.
PROTECTING OUR HOME
The fundamental human quest is about finding our common home. Just like the Transylvanian lad, Abel in the novel of Aron Tamasi who concludes his miseries in the sentence: “We are here on this world to find home somewhere in it.” And, I think, there are millions of people who owe a debt of gratitude to Roger Scruton for what he accomplished in the field of protecting our home. Because Roger Scruton helped us to get to know and understand our home in depth, and so to recognise how fragile this home is in this present world. Identity in Europe – in everyday language: home – has become a central issue nowadays due to the present political and intellectual trends in the EU.
For us, Hungarians, it has not become easier since the British left the club, for we were stronger together in Europe.
THE CONSERVATIVE REVOLUTIONARY
In 1968, volunteering for the flag-bearer position of the conservative camp was the coolest thing to do in Europe. When everybody was a rebel, going against the tide of rebellion was to be the rebel of rebels! That is why the expression “conservative revolutionary” always came into my mind about Roger Scruton.
Going against the liberal mainstream was also a lifetime choice of role which branded his entire career – he became the eternal opposition leader and often an outcast for the rest of his life. Partly for defending his homeland and by that our homeland, too. Especially in the last ten years when the debate about the “Future of Europe” broke out.
By defending the homeland, he also created us a home. Because by telling how homey Europe was and what made it liveable and even charming he consolidated the foundations of our home. And the basis of it was the community formed by the nations, “the community of communities”. And by describing and making us understand the significance of it he conserved it too, and made it possible to maintain it for the coming generations. With his neo-conservative fellows as a modern Burke he laid the foundations of a liveable and sustainable future Europe as well.
His stature, as it was, was the denial of the false picture of the conservative described by a liberal caricature as a mouldy old man settling in his antique armchair. For one thing, he stayed juvenile, second, he was the role model of the free man in my eyes. He was free of the ruling mainstream sentiment, progressive liberalism, and, as a conservative, he was quite free of social expectations as long as it did not hurt any circles. He was a rebel but not an anarchist punk – though he cared much less for his hairdo than a punk – because he believed in the living, thriving, organic society, the nation and community.
Of course, he was afraid of losing the home around us. He feared to be an eyewitness of the familiar world disappearing from our neighbourhood. That is why he was attracted to Central Europe, and Hungary, which is a small, homey and stable place. But this fear inspired him to show that conservatism is not at all a stale nostalgia, in other words, it is not about crying over a sunken world, but conservatism is an energetic, active, sometimes combatant and a way forward concept. A sustainable concept of the society and the world. The fact that conservatism is conquering today is due to this attitude. Roger Scruton showed what conservatism really was. He showed us to ourselves, the reality and the perspectives.
THE ELEGANCE OF THE LAST HUSSAR ASSAULT
And now I do not only mean that he showed the liberals what conservatism really is, but also us – he showed us too what conservatism really is! Because we needed an enthusiastic cavalryman flying the flag we can follow.
The last hussar assault in history happened in 1941 and was carried out by Hungarians, of course. At Nikolaev, our charge was already pushed back four times in open field from behind a railway embankment by the desperate Russians. However, the battalion commander had to take the city by all means. That was the moment when a golden tabbed hussar captain stepped up with his idea. First, everybody thought he was joking. Then, they thought he was mad.
But then slim, suntanned, brown lads, grown to the saddle charged with flashing sabres and expelled the Russian muzhiks dressed in military uniform from behind the embankment because the dread of the Cossack assaults was still alive in their memories and the psychosis forced them to run. A mad and successful assault in the midst of the industrialised war machinery of the Second World War where slim cavalrymen on elegant, delicate horses with traditional morale expelled the internationalist soldiers of the Bolshevik empire with blazing sabres with burning wheat-fields in the background. I see Roger on horseback as a flying hussar-captain.
Conservatism is, thus, a way forward concept, it is not about our past but about our future – and we can be grateful for that to Roger Scruton. Raising this flag in the midst of the Paris student rebellion and later the federalist, progressive liberalism of the EU was the greatest flash then and probably since then. What an elegant rebel!
OXFORD AND CONSERVATISM
Roger Scruton’s figure is dear to me personally because he had a good nature of a quiet, light-hearted, amazingly knowledgeable and well-informed man, friend and master. I met him in 1988, in Oxford, the place that is a hallmark of intellectual quality, but he had pragmatic political projects up in his sleeves as well for Central Europe. So, he lived his choice of intellectual trend as well – he deeply identified with conservatism. This self-identity was important – especially for a student – because it sealed what he represented intellectually. He felt comfortable in his chosen self. I would like to see a Europe full of such people.
SUPPORTING CENTRAL EUROPEAN OPPOSITION BEFORE THE CHANGES OF REGIME
Scruton showed up in Central Europe before the regime changes, before 1989, and brought us something that we were bereft of: books, knowledge and a clear set of values, namely CONSERVATISM. He spread his ideas in underground lectures, he organised a net of underground universities especially in Czechoslovakia from where he was dutifully expelled by the state authorities. With conservatism, he was the odd one out. Almost all of the foreign political interest came from the liberal side before ’89 which also determined the future parties’ orientation. Except him, and Otto von Habsburg and the Bavarian CSU. They were the eccentric minority among the foreign opposition supporters. Roger Scruton brought the criticism of victorious liberalism anticipating his age in our eyes that were bemused by the freedom of the West. We learnt from him the strong criticism of liberalism that was already going strong in Britain and Western Europe in the late 20th century.
AN ECCENTRIC WITH STRONG IDENTITY
One can only allow oneself to be eccentric if he or she has a strong identity. Roger Scruton was so strong in his self-identity, his social instinct of self-preservation commanded him so strongly to proclaim that survival is provided by conservatism that he could calmly stay a steady eccentric in a liberal sea. He started to reform Europe with a strong British or English identity and he went quite far with his crusade.
I can only imagine a sustainable, homey world as he described: in a community provided by the nations of Europe. If Europe does not listen to him, Europe will collapse!
WE PICK UP THE FLAG
Roger Scruton recruited quite a company. Now, we adjust and close our ranks, we pick up the flag to continue our campaign in this early 21st century and turn Roger’s vision into reality.
THE ULTIMATE HOME
I wish and hope that Roger Scruton, who passed through a painful passion since Easter 2019 and later physical pain, seemed to find a home in his countryside Anglican church, where he took the organist’s job, found his final home when he stepped out of this world of politics and physicality. Thank you, Roger, for everything. May you rest in peace!
1 Mourning oration pronounced at the National University of Public Service, 11 February 2020.
2 “So long, and thanks for all the fish” is the title of the fourth part of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a comedy science fiction series created by Douglas Adams in 1978.