DEMOCRACY OR THE RULE OF LAW?
SCRUTON ON DEMOCRACY

How do democracy and the rule of law relate to each other? This is a very important and interesting question both from a political and a theoretical perspective, and the recently deceased Sir Roger Scruton’s work offers crucial insights into this dilemma.

Scruton wrote on a great number of important topics but none of his major works was expressly dedicated to the analysis of democracy. This is not to say, of course, that he did not express his views on democracy; it merely means that his thoughts can only be reconstructed from his basic works on conservatism and Western civilization in general. This study wishes to present a rough survey of Roger Scruton’s views on the issues of democracy, representative government, and the rule of law—and the intricate relationship among them.11 The present study is the edited and expanded version of my lecture at the international conference
on Roger Scruton organized by MMA MMKI in April 2022.

A CONDITIONAL DEFENCE OF DEMOCRACY

We start from the assumption that Scruton’s position on democracy can be characterized by its markedly restricted defence. We mean by this that—in keeping with time tested conservative tradition—on the one hand he was far from being a committed devotee of democracy, but on the other hand, he was a staunch defender of the rule of law, sharply separating the two concepts. He was willing to support democracy, saying that we can sympathize with it because ‘democracies do not, in general, go to war with each other and do not in general experience civil war within their borders’.22 Roger Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, https://roger-scruton.com/articles/274-isdemocracy-overrated, 1. However, he pointed out that democracy is made possible only by some deeply hidden institutions, and these institutions provide, among other things, for the protection of human rights and personal freedoms which cannot be equated with democracy: it is only under certain specific historical conditions that they coincide. In other words, Scruton alleges that democracy, freedom, and the defence of human rights are ‘three things, not one’. He acknowledges that ‘the championship of democracy has […] become a settled feature of Western foreign policy’, but warns that the idea according to which ‘there is a single, one-size-fits-all solution to social and political conflict around the world and that democracy is the name of it’ is not correct.33 Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, 1.

How does he support his thesis? Before going into detail, we should stress at the beginning that Scruton’s highly critical attitude to democracy cannot be traced to any defence of some form of authoritarian rule. On the contrary, he is anxious to shield conservative institutions, including those that serve the rule of law, from the workings of both autocracy and democracy.

THE FOUNDATIONS: AUTHORITY, ALLEGIANCE, AND TRADITION

His starting point is that democracy is a heavily disputed concept, and in fact, nobody knows what it really stands for. But his scepticism toward democracy goes even further: in his view, the essence of democracy lies in nothing more than periodic collective choice. Thus we can conclude that he interprets democracy primarily in electoral terms—similarly to the approach of Joseph Schumpeter, who in his extremely influential book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) defined democracy in ‘minimalist terms’, alleging that democracy is simply a method by which people elect representatives. (Democracy as a process, ‘Demokratie als Verfahren’.)44 Joseph Alois Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (third ed., New York: Harper, 1962). In Scruton’s view, people are inclined to appreciate democracy because they attribute certain political virtues to it and do not perceive that these same virtues already existed prior to the establishment of democracy. So why should we be impressed by democracy? He poses the eloquent question: ‘For what is so estimable in the fact that the ignorant majority every now and then chooses to be guided by a new party toward goals that it understands no better than it understood the goals of the previous one?5’5 Roger Scruton, ‘How to Be a Non-liberal, Anti-Socialist Conservative?’, The Intercollegiate Review
(Spring 1993), 17–23, 21.

Now what kind of society can sustain the political virtues associated with democracy? Before examining these virtues, let us turn our attention to their social preconditions. For Scruton the conservative view of society is based on three key concepts: authority, allegiance, and tradition.

Regarding authority, Scruton’s conviction is that it is distinct from power, although it does create power and—in favourable circumstances—also arises from it. It is a remarkable fact, says Scruton, that people recognize authority in persons and social arrangements, including the state, and ‘this authority can command their allegiance’. We can say that in his approach, authority means the right to exercise power; or to be more precise, it primarily means recognized legitimate power.66 Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism (third ed., London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2001), 18. Power lacking authority is ‘unhappy power’, and he notes that it breeds only violence without generating respect.

The recognition of authority leads us to recognize the need for allegiance. In Scruton’s view it is allegiance that ‘constitutes society as something greater than the “aggregate of individuals” that the liberal mind perceives’. Individuals can act in an autonomous way only because they identify themselves as members of something greater—as members of a society, of a state or nation, ‘which they instinctively recognize as home’.77 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 24. This generates the bond of allegiance, and according to Scruton, the primary object of this allegiance is the above-outlined authority. He mentions patriotism as a crucial example of allegiance, declaring that it has been the main obstacle to civil war, ‘the worst of human misfortunes’. He also adds that patriotism as a form of allegiance must not be confused with nationalism which is not a form of loyalty but ‘an ideology and a call to arms on behalf of it’.88 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 25–26.

The third key concept is tradition. Scruton makes it clear that tradition ‘makes history into reason, and therefore the past into a present aim’. Tradition reflects an intention that is directed not towards the future but towards the past. In other words, a real tradition is not an invention—as is often claimed by liberal and leftist thinkers—but it is the unintended by-product of invention.99 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 31. Scruton is characterized as a ‘traditionalist’ conservative
by the noted writers of the book on post-war British conservative thinkers: Mark Garnett and Kevin
Hickson, Conservative Thinkers. The Key Contributors to the Political Thought of the Modern Conservative
Party (Manchester University Press, 2009), 113–115.
A tradition is not, emphasizes Scruton, some kind of custom or religious ritual, but a form of social knowledge. To strengthen the argument he quotes Edmund Burke, who stressed that the stock of knowledge of each man is small, and ‘the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages’.1010 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973), 183.

Property rights also constitute an institution which must at all costs be defended by conservatives. However, the question of ownership gains its importance not from the fact that conservatism is defined by it. According to Scruton, its role is based on the connection between private property and self-realization: ‘ownership is the primary relation through which man and nature come together’.1111 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 92. It follows from this that the defence of private property must be one of the main priorities of conservatives.

LEGITIMACY AND THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

Can democracy provide legitimacy? Is there legitimacy in democracy?

Scruton’s response is quite sophisticated. He concedes that democracy’s supposed legitimacy enjoys ‘a permanent and vivid appeal’. In searching for the roots of this appeal, he points out that the popular commitment to democracy rests on the assumption that in the electoral process parties give promises to the people and their election success represents a contractual undertaking which has to be honoured. However, from a conservative point of view this cannot be accepted: considering electoral success as the creation of a quasi-contractual obligation is nonsense, says Scruton.1212 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 46–47. In the third edition of The Meaning of Conservatism, he illustrates this mistaken belief with the example of the artificial transformation of the House of Lords. As is well known, Tony Blair’s Labour Party reformed the House of Lords in 1999, alleging that its composition was the result of an undemocratic process. The underlying idea was that legitimacy could be provided only by contractual or quasi-contractual agreements. It would follow from this that a government could only be considered legitimate if it were ‘chosen’ by the people. However, this standpoint would necessarily lead, says Scruton, to the subversion of practically any institution—even schools and hospitals. The endless democratization of authority will inevitably transfer power to those who can evade responsibility. As a consequence, those who hold this view forget about an important aspect of democratic choice, namely that it ‘presupposes in its turn that the citizens should recognize some prior legitimacy in that they do not and cannot choose’.1313 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 47. The citizens’ obligations to the state, like their obligations to their families, do not arise from a free commitment, but from a slow process: ‘we acquire obligations long before we can freely answer to their claim on us’.1414 Roger Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, in Conservative Texts. An Anthology, edited with an
introduction by Roger Scruton (London: Macmillan, 1991), 10.

In ‘What Is Conservatism?’ Scruton expressly states that democratic election is ‘neither necessary nor sufficient for representation’. Representation is—in his words—‘a property of institutions and requires a background of stable authority if it is to achieve its political purpose’.1515 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 14. Consequently, the democratic process must depend on a continuity that it cannot itself generate. Scruton’s conclusion is that ‘democracy requires a constitution, and a constitution must be set beyond the reach of democratic change’.1616 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 14. In other words, even electoral victories do not make it possible for the parties to change to their liking a genuine constitution. Jacob Burckhardt, the famous Swiss conservative historian, called the idea that a constitution can be made ‘a great modern fallacy’. Scruton considers it an even greater fallacy to think that ‘a constitution can be endlessly and in every particular reformed’.1717 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 38. Adjusting constitutional precepts according to the wishes of the current majority can be extremely counterproductive: in such a case democracy may become a threat to human rights instead of being a framework for protecting them. In an article on conservatism and mass democracy, the present writer insisted on the requirement that conservatives can only accept a democracy which is not predicated on the principle of outright majority but on the principle of a majority limited by guarantees for minorities.1818 Gergely Egedy, ‘Conservatism and Mass Democracy’, Hungarian Conservative, 1/2 (2021), 61.

IS UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE NECESSARY?

Now, in connection with Scruton’s view on the House of Lords, a question arises which we cannot avoid: should the mere accident of birth confer a right to take part in political decision-making? There can be no doubt that this question is justified. But we could equally ask: why should democratic election provide a right to legislate? Scruton’s answer reflects his deeply conservative way of thinking when he points out that in fact there is simply no adequate answer to this question because there is no ab ovo given right to legislate: ‘Legislation is not a right but a privilege, conferred differently under different political systems.’1919 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 50. This approach is manifestly not compatible with the modern liberal view, adopted even by most present-day conservative parties. Of course, the privilege to be able to actively influence political decisions can be, and often is, abused. One of the main reasons why we may appreciate democracy is that its framework offers the possibility to correct such abuses.

How does Scruton view universal suffrage, i.e. the right of all adult citizens to vote in an election? When answering this question he reminds us that when Burke wanted to locate the basis of the constitution, he did not consider the general franchise as a necessary element; in his view, it did not contribute at all to the legitimacy of rule.2020 Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 141–142. Scruton adopts Burke’s opinion, and calls attention to the fact that when Benjamin Disraeli, the great nineteenth-century Tory statesman, secured passage of the electoral reform of 1867, he did not consider universal suffrage as a conservative principle: he only wished to outpace the Liberals and snatch from them the banner of political reform. Scruton even adds the provocative statement which is repudiated by most modern political scientists, but which is not far from the view of the present writer: ‘It is quite possible that even now the constitutional essence of our country would remain unaffected were the franchise to be confined to people of position, education, wealth or power […].21’21 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 46.

DEMOCRACY AND THE ‘PRIMEVAL CONTRACT’

In his major work, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke speaks of the ‘primeval contract’ among the living, the dead, and the unborn—the ‘eternal society’. According to the conservative writer Stephen Wolfe, Scruton ‘has made this the cornerstone of his political philosophy’, attempting to ground this concept philosophically.2222 Stephen Wolfe, ‘Edmund Burke’s Eternal Society: A Philosophical Reflection’, The Imaginative
Conservative (December 2016), https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/12/edmund-burkeeternal-society-stephen-wolfe.html
Wolfe is right that this Burkean concept of intergenerational solidarity is crucial for Scruton. He perceives in it a very cogent reason for having doubts about the merits of the democratic process. Why? The main problem is, in his own words, that democratic elections ‘will always give precedence to the needs and desires of those who are choosing now, regardless of the needs and desires of those who are not yet with us and those who are already dead’.2323 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 47. To put it shortly, the workings of democracy privilege the living and their interests over the generations of the past and the future. Owing to this fact, democracy may directly threaten the cohesion of the long-term community, primarily of the nation. Scruton is convinced that an institution like the pre-Blair House of Lords, representing the ‘hereditary principle’, ‘consisted largely of people whose interests were not the short-term interests of a living human being but the long-term interests of a family’.2424 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 49. The most significant of these interests is ‘a deep-seated desire for social and political continuity’. The ‘hereditary principle’, strengthening the solidarity among generations, is a strong brake on the democratic process.

Scruton also calls attention to the fact that respect for the dead has always formed the basis of institution building. Schools, universities, hospitals, and churches were originally private foundations which were dependent on property bequeathed by the deceased. By honouring the dead, Scruton says, the living are safeguarding the interests of their successors. The operation of ‘unmoderated’ democracy undermines this very process.2525 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 48.

DEMOCRACY AS THE SOCIETY OF STRANGERS

A recurring idea in Scruton’s writings is that democracy is necessarily a society of strangers. As citizens of the same country, we accept a common obedience which binds strangers in a web of rights and duties. Good citizens recognize obligations, writes Scruton, towards people who are not known to them. ‘Citizenship involves the disposition to recognize and act upon obligations to those whom we do not know.’2626 Roger Scruton, The West and the Rest. Globalization and the Terrorist Threat (London: Continuum, 2002), 53. Therefore, the idea of citizenship is crucial for democracy. A successful democracy requires that strangers should be included in the web of obligations. He goes on to explain that it was not Western democracies that created the virtue of citizenship; on the contrary, they were created by it. To illustrate his point he reminds his readers that the American Federalist pointed out: democratic elections in themselves do not suffice. The Constitution of the United States has proved to be successful because its creators wanted to deliberately found such a political community ‘in which the obligation to strangers would find concrete embodiment’; ‘in which factions would have only social, rather than political power’.2727 Scruton, The West and the Rest, 54.

In this process, democracy came to be adopted as a means to this end, but Scruton warns that the success of this political framework depends upon maintaining the public spirit of the citizens. Otherwise, this system would degenerate into a constant struggle among particular interests. He draws the unavoidable conclusion: in our time, people regularly commit the mistake of identifying the virtue of citizenship with the spirit of democracy. This error creates the impression that the right attitude of the citizen is to put all kinds of questions to the vote. However, says Scruton, the reality is the opposite: the good citizen knows ‘when voting is the wrong way to decide a question, as well as when voting is the right way’.2828 Scruton, The West and the Rest, 54. This is where ‘public spirit’ comes into play. According to Scruton, this feature of citizenship is especially characteristic of Anglo-Saxon societies where public-spirited people readily give time and energy for the benefit of others.2929 Scruton, The West and the Rest, 56. Consequently, the good citizen knows that his or her obligations to strangers are often violated when majority voting alone decides the issue. This may lead to the tyranny of the majority, an unwanted but debilitating consequence highlighted by Tocqueville. The conclusion from this train of thought is that the genuine conservative constitution is not built on the idea of democracy, but on that of representation. Conflicts can be managed only if the interests of the citizens are duly represented before the state; ‘the political process must be permeable to representation through parliamentary institutions, administrative courts, and rights of appeal’.3030 Scruton: ‘What is Conservatism?’, 13.

NATION AND DEMOCRACY

A surprisingly large number of studies do not take into consideration the connection between democracy and the attachment to a nation. In Scruton’s approach, this relationship is given a marked emphasis. In his book England and the Need for Nations, he underlines that ‘democracies owe their existence to national loyalties’.3131 Roger Scruton, England and the Need for Nations (London: The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 2004), 1. We are ready to make sacrifices for strangers only if we have a strong sense of who we are, so the first-person plural is the precondition of democratic politics. Losing this precondition unavoidably leads to complete social disintegration, leaving no place for democracy.

Scruton expounds in detail that nationality is not the only kind of social membership, but it is the only form that has proved able to sustain a democratic system and the rule of law. People need to identify themselves ‘through a first person plural if they are to accept the sacrifices required by society’.3232 Scruton, England and the Need for Nations, 16. In contrast with other—tribal or religious—forms of membership, it is only the nation that is tolerant of differences. Thus the ‘clash of civilizations’ lies, in Scruton’s view, in the conflict between the two most important kinds of membership—the national which can tolerate differences and the religious which abhors differences. Nations are defined not by religion or tribal kinship, but by a homeland. Nationalism, of course, must be separated from this type of attachment: in his words ‘it is not a national loyalty but a religious loyalty dressed up in territorial clothes’.3333 Scruton, England and the Need for Nations, 17.

LIMITED GOVERNMENT AND JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

We have mentioned above that there are crucial political virtues which can—in Scruton’s view—exist also without democracy. Let us take a closer look at them. In his famous essay ‘How to Be a Non-Liberal Anti-Socialist Conservative?’, Scruton mentions six basic values that can be created elsewhere without the assistance of democracy. They are the following:
1) limited power;
2) constitutional government;
3) justification by consent;
4) autonomous institutions;
5) rule of law;
6) legitimate opposition, including the right to publish opinions opposing the government.3434 Scruton, ‘How to Be a Non-liberal, Anti-Socialist Conservative?’, 21. See also Roger Scruton,
‘Limits to Democracy’ (January 2006), The New Criterion, 40/9 (May 2022), https://newcriterion.
com/issues/2006/1/limits-to-democracy.

The central message is that no one is allowed to exercise unlimited power. A real constitution limits the power of the government ‘in definite and predictable ways’. If it cannot do this, if it can be overridden by so-called ‘necessities’, then it is not a genuine constitution at all, but only—using Scruton’s own expression—‘a sham’. Conservatives are interested in both limiting the power of the state and in upholding unified sovereignty.

Scruton recalls that Locke and Montesquieu suggested a very effective method to limit power: the often-mentioned separation of powers. Although this tenet is not without internal contradictions, a crucial principle emerged from the past centuries, that of judicial independence. Scruton considers it as a sine qua non of the constitutionality of the state, declaring, ‘without it limited government will never be better than a fiction’. If the judiciary is not independent of the government, it cannot serve as an effective barrier between the state and the citizen. On the other hand, if the judges are independent, they can use ‘the full force of the law on behalf of the citizen against the state’.3535 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 15. It is only in this way that the power of the state can be limited—and Scruton is right in adding that such conditions do not generally prevail in the modern world.

What is the social and historical background of judicial independence? Scruton declares that it is ‘the outcome of a profoundly un-liberal history’, sustained by conventions and traditions which have been ‘cooperatively engendered’. He is convinced that liberal politics is ‘parasitic’ on conservative traditions and institutions.3636 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 15. His crucial conclusion is that judicial independence is ‘a delicate constitutional artefact’ based not only on explicit rules but also on a ‘certain public spirit’ expressed in the German term Rechtsgefühl. 3737 Scruton: What is Conservatism? 15.

THE RULE OF LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Limited government is inseparable from the rule of law. The latter concept, though important, perhaps does not need a detailed explication here. Scruton means by it, in keeping with the mainstream approach, that the connection between the state and the citizens must be mediated by law, and conflicts should always be resolved by adjudication. He adds emphatically that anything less than this ‘is a derogation from the conservative idea of sovereignty’. Of course, one must not forget that it is difficult to separate the actual approach to the rule of law from its historical circumstances.3838 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 16. In any case, Scruton emphasizes that the foundation of Western civilization, the Roman conception of law, is ‘the most important force in the emergence of European forms of sovereignty’.3939 Scruton, The West and the Rest, 22.

The protection of human rights is also a necessary condition for a constitutional state, but much depends on how we define human rights. Scruton explains his own standpoint as follows: ‘For the conservative, the demand for human rights owes its power and precision not to the idea expressed in it, but to the circumstances in which it is made.’4040 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 16. In this vein, the British people, for example, are the fortunate inheritors of a social and political tradition that has provided them with a uniquely large number of rights. In Scruton’s reading, the demand for rights cannot be interpreted as an appeal for abstract justice, but as a demand for the restoration of legitimacy and the rule of law. If we can speak of natural rights at all, he says, the right to adjudication is certainly such a right.

Although Scruton thinks it important to stress that the rights against the state serve to limit the power of the government, he also points out that the constant demands for new rights may easily create a situation which conservatives wish to avoid. Why? These rights can more often than not be satisfied only by increasing the scope of state intervention in the economy and in society. Thus, he concludes that ‘the language which seemed to justify the limitation of the state, now justifies its expansion’.4141 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 17. (The conservative reservations concerning the overly expanded and bureaucratized welfare state find their explanation in this insight.)4242 Peter Dorey, British Conservatism. The Politics and Philosophy of Inequality (London: I. B. Tauris,
2011), 132–133.
It has been a view commonly held by conservatives since Burke that the demand for more and more ‘rights of man’ without accepting the resulting duties can only lead to tyranny. He adds that rights without duties are both politically and morally repugnant.

THE PERSONAL STATE AND THE OPPOSITION

Scruton’s interpretation of democracy cannot be separated from his concept of the ‘personal state’. He is convinced that the state must be viewed as a corporate person—this is why he rates so highly the nineteenth-century German legal scholar and historian, Otto von Gierke, who worked out the idea of corporate persons.4343 Roger Scruton, ‘Corporate Persons’, in Roger Scruton and John Finnis, Corporate Persons. Proceedings
of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 63 (Blackwell Publishing, 1989), 239–266,
www.sci.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~schopra/Persons/ScrutonFinnis.pdf.
But the state is not only a corporate person; it is even ‘endowed with the distinctive virtues of a person’. This property of the state is crucial because it is owing to this that the state can sustain personal relations with its citizens. In contrast to impersonal, bureaucratic dictatorships, the conservative state bears direct responsibility for its subjects. This state presupposes that its subjects willingly accept its authority and that the government, in return, does not want to place itself above the law. Scruton concedes that even the conservative state is far from perfect: ‘it is no more perfect than any other person’.4444 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 18. In his view, the personal state is not a means to an end, but an end in itself—like other persons. Treating the state as an end (instead of as means) is to regard the aims of the state ‘as arising internally, out of its own life’. According to his conviction, the state as means ‘is not one to which citizens can belong in a way that they can belong to a family, a marriage, a regiment or a club’.4545 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 39. In his argumentation, the best realization of the personal state—‘the archetype from which it has developed’—is the constitutional monarchy.

And now we come to yet another basic requirement of a genuinely constitutional state, the role of the (legal) opposition. Scruton declares in no uncertain terms, ‘The personal state cannot exist without legal opposition.’ When the opposition is eliminated, the first component of rational decision-making is destroyed, he says, adding significantly that without an opposition we cannot speak of a personal state, since nothing compels the state to accept responsibility for its crimes. It is not even bound by law, because it may change the law whenever the law offers protection to the opposition.4646 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 19. Scruton, who was well acquainted with the workings of the pre-1989 Eastern and Central European states, rightly recalls that it was not by chance that the greatest casualty of the communist regimes was the elimination of the legitimate opposition.4747 Scruton’s view of totalitarianism is summarized in the following essay: ‘The Totalitarian
Temptation’, in Roger Scruton, A Political Philosophy. Arguments for Conservatism (London–New York:
Continuum, 2006), 146–160.
Rejecting the acceptance of legal opposition is ‘the opposite of civilized government’. In his short essay ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, he reminds his readers that long before the establishment of democracy, the British Parliament ‘divided into government and opposition’. British decision-makers recognized that ‘government without opposition is without any corrective when things go wrong’.4848 Roger Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, 3, https://roger-scruton.com/articles/274-isdemocracy-overrated. What is valuable in democracy, Scruton stresses, is that mistakes can be corrected, and this is impossible without an opposition.

In connection with the role of the opposition, Scruton emphasizes the importance of the freedom of the press. He writes that freedom to express opinion has been regarded since Locke in the seventeenth century as ‘the pre-condition of a political society’. This freedom is taken so much for granted, says Scruton, that it is often regarded as the ‘default position of humanity’. However, his personal experiences of communist Europe convinced him that this view was mistaken: In fact, orthodoxy, conformity, and the persecution of the dissidents define the default position of humankind—and democracies are not so much different in this respect.4949 Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, 2–3.

ARE CONSERVATIVE INSTITUTIONS SEPARABLE FROM DEMOCRACY?

The most cogent criticism aimed at Scruton’s conception of democracy can be summed up in the statement that there is little chance of securing the aforementioned institutions if the political framework of democracy is not secured. Consequently, a society simply cannot have such institutions without democracy. ‘The inseparability runs both ways’, says, for example, Philip Pettit of Princeton University in criticizing the English philosopher’s approach to democracy.5050 Philip Pettit, ‘A Response to Roger Scruton: No, Democracy Is Not Overrated’, Democratic
Audit (23 August 2013), www.democraticaudit.com/2013/08/23/a-response-to-roger-scrutondemocracy-is-anything-but-overrated/.

In proof of his argument, Scruton cites the example of Britain, where, in his words, ‘human rights were protected long before the emergence of anything that we would call democracy’.5151 Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, 1. He contrasts the development of Britain and of the West with those new democracies which were established without any adequate protection of human rights. He calls attention to the fact that in the Middle East one finds parties which regard an electoral victory as an opportunity to crush dissent. How could we then say that democracies safeguard limited government and human rights?5252 Roger Scruton, ‘Democracy and Islamic Law’, www.roger-scruton.com/articles/271-democracyand-islamic-law. The present writer is inclined to accept Scruton’s basic argument: without duly constituted authority and civic allegiance based on public spirit, democracy can be made a tool to serve the opposite of the rule of law. However, this is not to call into question that the counter-arguments may also be well founded. But one thing is certain: we need not more, but better democracy.

  • 1
    1 The present study is the edited and expanded version of my lecture at the international conference
    on Roger Scruton organized by MMA MMKI in April 2022.
  • 2
    2 Roger Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, https://roger-scruton.com/articles/274-isdemocracy-overrated, 1.
  • 3
    3 Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, 1.
  • 4
    4 Joseph Alois Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (third ed., New York: Harper, 1962).
  • 5
    ’5 Roger Scruton, ‘How to Be a Non-liberal, Anti-Socialist Conservative?’, The Intercollegiate Review
    (Spring 1993), 17–23, 21.
  • 6
    6 Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism (third ed., London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2001), 18.
  • 7
    7 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 24.
  • 8
    8 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 25–26.
  • 9
    9 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 31. Scruton is characterized as a ‘traditionalist’ conservative
    by the noted writers of the book on post-war British conservative thinkers: Mark Garnett and Kevin
    Hickson, Conservative Thinkers. The Key Contributors to the Political Thought of the Modern Conservative
    Party (Manchester University Press, 2009), 113–115.
  • 10
    10 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973), 183.
  • 11
    11 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 92.
  • 12
    12 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 46–47.
  • 13
    13 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 47.
  • 14
    14 Roger Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, in Conservative Texts. An Anthology, edited with an
    introduction by Roger Scruton (London: Macmillan, 1991), 10.
  • 15
    15 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 14.
  • 16
    16 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 14.
  • 17
    17 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 38.
  • 18
    18 Gergely Egedy, ‘Conservatism and Mass Democracy’, Hungarian Conservative, 1/2 (2021), 61.
  • 19
    19 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 50.
  • 20
    20 Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 141–142.
  • 21
    ’21 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 46.
  • 22
    22 Stephen Wolfe, ‘Edmund Burke’s Eternal Society: A Philosophical Reflection’, The Imaginative
    Conservative (December 2016), https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/12/edmund-burkeeternal-society-stephen-wolfe.html
  • 23
    23 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 47.
  • 24
    24 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 49.
  • 25
    25 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 48.
  • 26
    26 Roger Scruton, The West and the Rest. Globalization and the Terrorist Threat (London: Continuum, 2002), 53.
  • 27
    27 Scruton, The West and the Rest, 54.
  • 28
    28 Scruton, The West and the Rest, 54.
  • 29
    29 Scruton, The West and the Rest, 56.
  • 30
    30 Scruton: ‘What is Conservatism?’, 13.
  • 31
    31 Roger Scruton, England and the Need for Nations (London: The Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 2004), 1.
  • 32
    32 Scruton, England and the Need for Nations, 16.
  • 33
    33 Scruton, England and the Need for Nations, 17.
  • 34
    34 Scruton, ‘How to Be a Non-liberal, Anti-Socialist Conservative?’, 21. See also Roger Scruton,
    ‘Limits to Democracy’ (January 2006), The New Criterion, 40/9 (May 2022), https://newcriterion.
    com/issues/2006/1/limits-to-democracy.
  • 35
    35 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 15.
  • 36
    36 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 15.
  • 37
    37 Scruton: What is Conservatism? 15.
  • 38
    38 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 16.
  • 39
    39 Scruton, The West and the Rest, 22.
  • 40
    40 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 16.
  • 41
    41 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 17.
  • 42
    42 Peter Dorey, British Conservatism. The Politics and Philosophy of Inequality (London: I. B. Tauris,
    2011), 132–133.
  • 43
    43 Roger Scruton, ‘Corporate Persons’, in Roger Scruton and John Finnis, Corporate Persons. Proceedings
    of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 63 (Blackwell Publishing, 1989), 239–266,
    www.sci.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~schopra/Persons/ScrutonFinnis.pdf.
  • 44
    44 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 18.
  • 45
    45 Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, 39.
  • 46
    46 Scruton, ‘What Is Conservatism?’, 19.
  • 47
    47 Scruton’s view of totalitarianism is summarized in the following essay: ‘The Totalitarian
    Temptation’, in Roger Scruton, A Political Philosophy. Arguments for Conservatism (London–New York:
    Continuum, 2006), 146–160.
  • 48
    48 Roger Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, 3, https://roger-scruton.com/articles/274-isdemocracy-overrated.
  • 49
    49 Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, 2–3.
  • 50
    50 Philip Pettit, ‘A Response to Roger Scruton: No, Democracy Is Not Overrated’, Democratic
    Audit (23 August 2013), www.democraticaudit.com/2013/08/23/a-response-to-roger-scrutondemocracy-is-anything-but-overrated/.
  • 51
    51 Scruton, ‘Is Democracy Overrated?’, 1.
  • 52
    52 Roger Scruton, ‘Democracy and Islamic Law’, www.roger-scruton.com/articles/271-democracyand-islamic-law.

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