Like Diogenes in his tub, Roger Scruton has stripped himself of his professorship of aesthetics to rail, ungowned, against the age in which fate has deposited him. Scruton's opposition to the times has two current manifestations: one is his lyrical advocacy of the feudal harmonies of the fox-hunt; the other is his hatred of 'yoof' culture. In An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture he defines culture three ways. 'Common culture' - what anthropologists study - is based in social life and examines how we use our knives and forks. What he calls 'high culture' is a quasi-religious superstructure conceived in the Renaissance, and refined in the Enlightenment and Romantic periods. Scruton has evidently been impressed by Matthew Arnold's declaration that 'the future of poetry is immense,' and by Arnold's confidence that high art can fill the vacancy left by the slow death of God: 'there is,' Scruton mystically claims, 'a making whole, a rejoining of the self to its rightful congregation that come through art and literature.' He believes that, like hunting, reading Jane Austen is a binding social ritual. TV adaptations don't count.
LRB 18 February 1999 | PDF Download