Fools, Frauds and Firebrands

Thinkers of the New Left

[Amazon Link]

Roger Scruton recently passed away, and I must have seen a reference to this work in one of the encomiums that sprouted as a result. For some reason, I looked at Portsmouth Public Library, and yes, it was there, so…

Not exactly what I was expecting, and not what I should have expected. This is very much a book I "read" in the sense that I looked at every page. Scruton was a philosopher, and this is a very high level discussion of the philosophy of various modern left-wing thinkers. It's an updated (2015) version of a book (Thinkers of the New Left) originally published in 1985. For the new version, he dumped a few thinkers, and added a few. But the result is the same: the thinkers examined all fail his rigorous analysis. Despite occasional praise for writing style, insight, and originality, leftist thought is largely a failed enterprise. Often lapsing into incoherence and nonsense. And indefensible apologies for left-wing regimes, before and (sometimes) after they've been revealed as massive engines of misery, terror, and death.

Here's the problem: to grasp Scruton's points in detail, you have to expend a lot of effort in cooperation, working with him in trying to dig out what the New Left folks are saying. But that's in parallel with Scruton pointing out that what they're saying is mostly hot garbage. So: a lot of work for not a lot of net payoff. There are probably some academics who could profit if this area is part of their life's work, but it ain't me, babe.

There are some bits I was able to appreciate, here and there. Scruton describes the reaction to the 1985 version of the book, and it shouldn't be any surprise that cancel culture was alive and well in academia back then: Scruton says the book's publication "was the beginning of the end for my university career". His original publisher was pressured into withdrawing the book from stores, and remaining copies "transferred to [his] garden shed."

Near the end, Scruton muses on the persistent popularity of leftist philosophy, despite its theoretical failures, and the resulting disasters whenever its political tentacles manage to latch onto power. And a worthwhile essay on why Scruton thinks conservative political philosophy deserves, but doesn't receive, more respect.