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News from News from Somewhere: On Settling: On Settling Paperback – 5 Jan 2006
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'Written in an avuncular, mellifluous style, given to great detail about the workings of country folk, the intricacies of the land, the plethora of wild and domesticated critters, his memoir conflates, in story, history, philosophy, and theology, the depth and meaning of community and place.... The reader will find Scruton's memoir both charming and interesting. It is a layered and nuanced apologetic, brilliantly rendered, for a class of people who hover on the verge of extinction. And, while he writes of the intimate relationship among the farmer, his land, and stock his theme concerns the philosophical question of how we should live.' --Robert C. Cheeks, "The University Bookman, "Volume 44 Number 4
For a number of years, Roger Scruton has contributed a weekly article to the "Financial Times" on country matters. Always beautifully written, one of these pieces ("Vegetables") won the 2002 prize from The Queen's English Society for the best piece of prose writing of the year. These are not sentimental bucolic rambles. Scruton's prose is devoid of sentimentality and soggy nostalgia. Whatever he writes about, he always writes with serious purpose. He speaks up for the country dweller, who sees his or her world eroded by the wishy-washy liberal commands of Blairite do-gooders, who sit on their backsides in North West London pontificating about the needs of country people. Nature being red in tooth and claw is something that these people only know about from sitting in a classroom. Farming issues are equally important in this book. The devastations of the foot and mouth crisis showed graphically how great is the divide between town and country dwellers. And when the fate of people in the countryside is decided by bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg, their feeling of alienation is even greater.These are the causes that Professor Scruton espouses and he has become their most intelligent, articulate and clear-thinking advocate. See all Product description
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Sir Roger Scruton’s News from Somewhere, elaborated, refined over time and eventually published in 2004, is still very relevant today as many of those ideas have reappeared, summarised in Where We Are Where We Are, concerning the dangers in Britain since Brexit, and in particular in the debate the country being split between those who have firm roots and feel for “Somewhere”, and those who claim to be modern, internationalists, and feel confident “Anywhere”. The experts in the media proven wrong by the result of the Referendum, and as “Remoaners” unwilling to accept the voice of the people, hit back to blacken the image of the former as “Nowheremen”, meaning has-beens, but to balance the debate Prime Minister Theresa May threw her hat into the ring accusing the latter as being more citizens of “Nowhere”, far away from these island shores. Meaning? They were considered unsuited, unwanted, or worse traitors?
As a towny and a professor Scruton is forced fall back on using the tools of his academic trade: he presents in clear high brow expressive and passionate analysis, visions and feelings taken from the best of poetry, music and landscape painting, so that outsiders like himself, foreigners, the blind, even unpopular loud self opinionated townies with second homes in the country who never associate with the indigenous plebs, become enriched with unfamiliar knowledge and pleasures of Southern England. As an outsider to the rural countryside he first shows it through facts; but by choosing to move, reside in the Wiltshire claylands, and then settling down at Sunday Hill Farm, complete with a local farming wife and two children (Sam and Lucy), choosing to become truly involved in the community through music playing and choir in the parish church, and debating with his readers and local farmers if he can be accepted as part of the community by families with ancestors going back centuries, his work becomes a mission of self discovery, of integration, and reunion. In his vivid and full close life with the locals, the soil, the animals, distinct and separate from the nearest village Malmesbury and the town of Swindon, his stories come alive and breathe air where the poetry, the art, even the photographic descriptions alone might represent partial or incomplete fading snaps of a past dying or museum-type environment.
Fusing together descriptive narrative with explanation and criticism the author has produced a work comparable to Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier, penned amidst the gravest slump of the last century, another product by a sympathetic and understanding outsider, but highly critical of his contemporaries, and in particular those so-called peers who for fortune put ideology over the interests and needs of the very people they claimed to represent and speak for The Road to Wigan Pier (Penguin Modern Classics).
Similarly just before another deep international depression, in 2007, this outsider highlights numerous plights in a period of booming expectations which pushed many young people to take to the bottle, become addicted to tranquilisers, but sadly taking the one road out, and selling their livelihoods. His first lament, as was Orwell’s, was in a post-modern world greeted by a leader of a government who proclaimed the essential ingredient for the nation’s future development as “knowledge”, Struton attacks that very society, the industries and the specialists which it depends upon as a complete sham; for being the means to propagate mass dis-education, and “dumbing down” of ignorance, half-truths, and lies, as well as promoting new suspect productively useless, parasitic media and restauranteers role models whose interest is solely immediate self-aggrandizement. But despite the vastness of material coming onto the market via the internet, or those who divulge, not sufficient space was given to stress this important view. The general public may seem to accept the consensus, when in reality they remain passive to respond actively as independent free-thinking individuals, because teachers have failed to instruct them in being critical selective with the ready available materials.
The real focal point of criticism is national and European government with too many laws to standardize a large continent, which do not allow its citizens at the grass roots to grow, much less to feel confident as adults. In addition, due to the black forces of “globalization” – a term repeated but never properly explained like the child’s “bogeyman”, governments in league with large supermarket chains have managed to “rationalize”, meaning to squeeze or destroy the lives of small farmers by obliging their milk and meat products to be paid either at rock bottom, or even below cost prices and ruin. Worst, what is more, the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 became the icing of misery, with British civil servants in their comfy offices in London reacting thoughtlessly as neutered neutrals and Europeans and not as living Britons overseeing the existing structures which fellow Britons had to use.
The destruction of livestock was not simply a meaningless five minute issue on the news, or a debateable intellectual existential phenomena, but a very personal pragmatic life /death matter which the national government chose to ignore until it was much too late, and only because it was becoming a potentially serious electoral calamity.
The author does not say as Orwell might have that for the last 25 years British governments had been filled by persons who had never worked outside politics, or had a proper job, so could not know the general needs of normal citizens; moreover, since 1997 that government had a blinkered ideological belief that the countryside meant old, tradition, and the decadent past (while they were urban: new, progressive, anti-historical, and “cool”), that belonged to landowners, who represented their political enemy and their lackeys, and with such bitter class hatred, it was now payback time for socialists, or their new branded version as New Labour, to effect painful revenge on all those allies of the previous spineless Tory class enemy, and in particular their evil leader, the devil-incarnate, and witch, Margaret Thatcher.
In reality, ideology of a Neo-Liberalist kind, normally not a vital requirement of traditional Conservatives had been at fault for the Iron Lady in not protecting agriculture, or the fishing industry to Spanish trawlers with their large nets. Labour’s new young smiling chief, Tony, felt the common touch, and presentation, would suffice and be acceptable to wash away divisions and hardships for all, in his brave utopian cool world. But it was not; for the arrogance of the expert did not allow him to learn, or be told from the injured, that though he was not that wicked woman, he was equally wrong, and doing immense harm.
The author sees the traditional rural bodies, the RSPCA, taken over by small groups of Guardian reading urbanites with their own political agendas, no longer voicing the demands of animal lovers of the country; and efficiency and economy forcing the disappearance of the friendly familiar local bobby, with the distant police forces unable to defend the old and weak in small isolated farms – indeed, should they take the law into their hands to protect their properties from criminals they would discover to their unjustly horror, as in R v Martin, the forces of order turning cartwheels with the full weight of the law directly against the aggrieved victim in favour of the selfish wrongdoers, the thieves, supported by aggressive well-paid mobsters, known as human right lawyers from the Capital.
Scruton could have fallen into Orwell’s trap of going on and on, of listing hurt, and sounding boring, repetitive, only to find himself lambasted as another angry has-been, and then being ignored; he could not and so did not. Like another optimist, the interwar historian Sir Arthur Bryant, in the preface to English Saga, the author may have remembered English Saga, 1840-1940: “The key to a nation’s future lies in her past. A nation that loses it has no future. ...To understand the temperament of a people, a statesman has to know its history”, an unacceptable assessment, and red-rag to the historically illiterate and uncaring Blair. Instead, Scruton saw it as a step forward; in part the answer to his own personal unsolved question if he was accepted by the locals, and concluded that to survive men must adapt. That at first sight sounded more comprehensible and British than the words of a foreigner, the conservative Sicilian Prince, Tomasi de Lampedusa, who came to the same conclusion but expressed it oddly: Only by permitting revolution to occur can society evolve naturally without fear that resistance will finish up destroying it completely The Leopard: Revised and with new material (Vintage Classics).
The countryside, the heart of a nation and of “Somewhere”, can progress by adapting new methods to past ways by new faces including people without a long background with the land. Scruton was came to welcomed and not considered the “enemy within”, because he accepted their valuable proven inherited experiences of the land which he lacked, and they the wealth of his knowledge in a new happy lasting marriage. In simple Biblical and common sense terms it is due to the idea “You reap what you sow”
Remainers, and Remoaners, consequently, should now work together in harmony with Leavers for the nation, for the common good. Failure to do so, and there is no nation, a Nowhere, filled with a collection of unhappy dysfunctional and belligerent no-hopers, so very different from creative individuals all working towards a common hopeful future. Orwell would have called it a New Jerusalem; Theresa May should not be afraid to repeat it.
Re-reading the book today is both enlightening and refreshing. It says something of the short-term ill-thought half measures of Blair, too, but he was no sower. Begin with the last chapter, on the Future, where one sees where the author aims to arrive, and then return to the start, working through and enjoying the remaining ones in the same gradual way as Roger Scruton slowly experienced, witnessing and understanding the rounded beauties and complexities of the land, the people, and the community around him. Wonderfully well written.
News from Somewhere: On Settling
Continuum; London, 2004
It is not very often that we have access to an understanding of life from an academic philosopher who has made the transition to country-loving farmer. His previous examination of life, its questions, its problems and some of the answers has contributed to an entropic outpouring of a 21stC Thomas Hardy. Better still his literary contribution is not fiction (except in the anonymising of his fellow people and neighbours) but is a social document that allows his thinking readers to understand where earnest life has meandered to in its transition from simple to complicated.
We all know, or should do, that things are not right in our world today; whether that is local, national or global. What most do not realise is that much of the trouble stems from the individual. We all have our responsibilities and if we spend our time trying to make as much money as we can earn and having as much enjoyment as we can find then these responsibilities tend to disappear in the flush of attainment.
One of the easiest things to go wrong is making parenthood cheap. As long as creating children is as easy as falling off a log and the provision for them is contributed to by government, then people will assume that is the way they should act. Children become `things' that are accumulated and like other things that are easily acquired they become dispensable and responsibility for their upbringing is easily shifted to people who are not related to them by family or by culture.
Their important early life is not grounded in conscience or an understanding of community in the sense of communitas. As Esposito has written, "Community isn't a property, nor is it a territory to be separated and defended against those who do not belong to it. Rather, it is a void, a debt, a gift to the other that also reminds us of our constitutive alterity with respect to ourselves".
Thus, Scruton reminds us of our responsibilities to each other, our culture and to our environment. He shines a bright light on the lives of those who act responsibly even if it is in a way that now seems outmoded. Conscience and responsibility are not things that can be dispensed with at any time or else there is chaos as a result. Unfortunately it is not the chaos-makers who usually suffer but those who follow. I wonder if people will wake-up to Scruton's message before it is too late.
Some of the book's most interesting passages, for this reader, concerned the rearing of children. Scruton doesn't seem to have heard of homeschooling, as it has come to be called in the United States; but, if citizens can do this legally in Britain, that seems to be where Scruton's convictions will lead him. Indeed, he and his wife are obviously already teaching their children, but apparently as a supplement to the pedagogy of a government school or private school. The next step is recognition that mass education, with honorable exceptions, inculcates dispositions of the heart that are unwholesome, and manifestly fails to discipline and nurture the mind as it should. If you seek the monument of modern education, look about you. That's why hundreds of thousands of Americans have undertaken the exodus from the schools; may this freedom spread to other countries. Teach your own (if you can).
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In 'News from Somewhere' Scruton turns his wealth of aesthetic and intellectual learning to the predicament of the rural community of Wiltshire - the ocunty in which he settled in mid-life with his young wife Sophie.
Each page teems with one of Scruton's elegant and thoughtful insights into a whole range of country issues: from the way in which rural ways of life are undermined by government edicts, to the aesthetics of petrol station canopies, to the best way in which to cook a squirrel.
Scruton's gratitude for the way in which the rural community has allowed him to settle, late in life, with a young family is manifest. His brief reflections on the urban London phase of his life suggest that he was a rather lonely, unrooted individual.
But now that he has settled he faces another predicament, which accounts for the agitated tone of much of this book. Scruton comes from the urban university world of culture, argument, verbal pyrotechnics and learning. The farmers come from a very different community. Scruton eulogises the honest trades of the farming folk, contrasting their work with the consultancy based advice of the modern 'knowledge economy'. Yet Scruton cannot farm, and he earns his living exactly in this knowledge form - by critical writing about how other people live (he has even set up his own farming consultancy!). Though he describes some of his own attempts at farming, the reader is never convinced that this man, one of Britain's most learned intellectuals, is truly content with the routine, repetitive manual labour of the typical farmer.
This contrast is exemplified by the image Scruton chooses for the dust jacket (of the hardback) and explains inside: Brueghel's painting of the fall of Icarus showing the flailing legs of Icarus disappearing into the sea as the ploughman on the hill continues with his work unaware of this event.
Scruton resembles Icarus in this respect. He wants to inhabit the life of the solitary ploughman, but he cannot. His learning is far to great for that. Hence he can never properly inhabit the Arcadian Eden he lusts after. For to do that he would have to unravel his years of education. And education, as Scruton well knows, is the one thing that humans can never shed once it is acquired.
Some of the book's most interesting passages, for this reader, concerned the rearing of children. Scruton doesn't seem to have heard of homeschooling, as it has come to be called in the United States; but, if citizens can do this legally in Britain, that seems to be where Scruton's convictions will lead him. Indeed, he and his wife are obviously already teaching their children, but apparently as a supplement to the pedagogy of a government school or private school. The next step is recognition that mass education, with honorable exceptions, inculcates dispositions of the heart that are unwholesome, and manifestly fails to discipline and nurture the mind as it should. If you seek the monument of modern education, look about you. That's why hundreds of thousands of Americans have undertaken the exodus from the schools; may this freedom spread.