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Scruton’s Modern Culture (1998) includes this book in his bibliography, labelling it “neo-Marxist debunking of the aesthetic — the last gasp of the Sixties”. Scruton’s incisive survey of “strata in the modern consciousness”, which concludes that we are in a “spiritual limbo” where public life is “moronised”, also calls urgently for a new departure, and (almost in desperation) commends the secular-minded Confucius to us. Writing Beauty though (2009), he finds a new direction — declaring that “God is beautiful”, he claims that “as Plato and Kant both saw, the feeling for beauty is proximate to the religious frame of mind, arising from a humble sense of living with imperfections, while aspiring towards the highest unity with the transcendental”. This profound and delightfully idiosyncratic little book is one of his responses to Eagleton’s Ideology, and if one were to search all Eagleton’s writing looking for evidence of an equal love of artistic beauty, one would probably search in vain.

In 2011, as if to hammer home the fact that he is no mere aesthete, Eagleton published Why Marx Was Right, a refreshingly brisk treatise which declares that, amongst other virtues, Marx was “even more hostile to the state than right-wing conservatives”, that “his model of the good life was based on the idea of artistic self-expression”, he “lavished praise on the middle class”, and that “there has been no more staunch champion of women’s emancipation and world peace”. He is determined to distance Marx from the Soviet nightmare. The reader, wondering if this splendidly enlightened figure was merely naive, might well feel prompted to go and read some of the mighty prophet for himself.

In 2012, the debating forum Intelligence Squared arranged for the two to discuss their favourite topic. They agreed, in impeccably civilised tones, on some important things — that culture has become regrettably commodified; that universities succumbed to the market in setting up too many courses in business studies, etc; that high culture was not necessarily elitist; and that such things as the literary canon were not fixed entities. Eagleton did not respond to Scruton’s point that Marxists should grasp basic truths of human nature; but then Scruton was disingenuous when, asked if there could be a conservative ideology of culture, he said that it would not involve any Marx-like analysis of economic power — which left his opponent the easy retort that while conservatives certainly have an ideology, they often preferred not to articulate it. Overall, a draw in terms of performance, though Scruton was the wittier.

Now, each produces a book a year, trying as honestly and searchingly as they can to get to the bottom, or the edge, of things.  Each has a publisher in the United States — Princeton for Scruton, Yale for Eagleton. And their relationship has become more complex: both have changed without being false to their past; and for both this has meant a turn towards religious thought. In 2009, Eagleton (who describes his Irish Catholic education amusingly in The Gatekeeper), produced Reason, Faith and Revolution — Reflections on the God Debate, in which he attacked the hard atheism personified in “Ditchkens” (Dawkins and Hitchens), and was hailed by James Wood as “its most vigorous critic”. Though “God does not ‘exist’ as an entity in the world”, he said, there is a less definite kind of faith which is “not primarily a belief that someone or something exists, but a commitment and allegiance — faith in something”.

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David Gerhard
July 8th, 2017
5:07 PM
Just to be clear, by the comment ‘above’, I meant the one by Winston Salem (who seems to be named after a city in North Carolina), which I now see is below. And I agree with Martin Adamson – Foucault was a real revolutionary, and said, for example, that ‘when the proletariat triumphs, it will exert a power which is violent, dictatorial and even bloody over the class it has supplanted. I don’t know what objection one can make against this’. Somewhat scary.

David Gerhard
July 7th, 2017
9:07 AM
For a much fairer, more temperate and appreciative comment than the sour one above, see this link to a post by New Criterion critic Andrew Shea: https://www.newcriterion.com/print/post/8735

Martin Adamson
July 4th, 2017
9:07 AM
Certainly as far as Foucault is concerned, once I found out that his preferred model of justice was the September Massacres, I rather lost interest. Hard to believe that it is worth spending much time engaging with someone whose ideal is that criminals should be punished by being chopped into pieces by an angry mob, and then having their body parts paraded through the streets of Paris stuck on a pike.

Winston Salem
July 1st, 2017
12:07 PM
"He saves us, if we need saving, from wading through Althusser, Habermas and Foucault." Well, you kept up a facade of intellectual engagement for as long as possible, but then it slipped. Let's leave aside the complicated question of Althusser for the moment, and ask: are you really so self-satisfied and blinkered as to believe that Habermas's immense synthesis of streams of ideas, and his reconstruction of social liberalism has nothing to teach you? That Foucault's inquiries into the transformation of social modes - sexuality, law, selfhood - are of no interest in comprehending the contemporary world? Pathetic and wearying, and one clue as to why the Right are so rudderless at the moment - their intellectual bases have become so narrow and self-flattering that the whole thing is toppling over.

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