Philosopher and author

Born, February 27, 1944;

Died. January 12, 2020.

SIR Roger Scruton, who has died of lung cancer at the age of 75, was one of Britain’s most prominent philosophers and public intellectuals. He wrote over fifty books of considerable style, covering subjects such as beauty and music, architecture and sexual desire, fox-hunting, religion and aesthetics. He captured in his writings his interest in off-beat subjects and stimulated much original thought.

His free-thinking evolved from his time in Paris in 1968 during the student uprisings, which forced him to consider the structure of society. With typical candour he labelled the students who occupied many public buildings as “self-indulgent middle-class hooligans.”

In his 2014 book, How to Be a Conservative, he revisited those Paris riots and wrote that the students were out to destroy freedom, cloaked in their idyllic interpretation of Marxism. Scruton was, for certain, a controversial but charismatic character.

In 2019 he was interviewed by the New Statesman and made some remarks about fundamentalism and about the Chinese who were, he said, “creating robots of their own people”. The remarks were judged to be racist and, amidst an outcry, Scruton was sacked as honorary chairman of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful commission. Three months later, however, he was reappointed after the magazine apologised and conceded that his views had been misrepresented. Boris Johnson became involved and proclaimed that Scruton had been the victim of a witch-hunt.

Scruton delighted in creating animated discussion. He did not mince his words at the Edinburgh Book Fairs in 2014 and 2016. At the former his subject was no minor issue - “Rediscovering the world’s soul” - and he argued that greater prominence ought to be given to the sacred when the western world was continuing to turn to atheism.

Roger Vernon Scruton was born in 1944 near Lincoln, the son of a teacher and attended the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, where his ability to cause controversy was first witnessed. He was found travelling on the Underground without a ticket and when the case came to court, he gave a false name. Then he was expelled for putting on a play that contained a dubious final scene. This did not stop him winning an open scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he read philosophy. He gained a double first in 1965, and, in 1973, a PhD in aesthetics.

The 1968 experience in Paris made him realise that he wanted to conserve society. He returned to Cambridge the following year and was offered a research fellowship at Peterhouse. In 1971 he became a lecturer in philosophy at Birkbeck College, London, becoming professor of aesthetics. He taught only in the evenings; it was a position he held until 1992.

Scruton was always considered an economist/philosopher who supported the Conservative Party. He, certainly, followed the doctrine of traditional conservatism: preserving the rule of law in a stable society. He was never a radical and in the 1970s he had co-founded the Conservative Philosophy Group that held meetings – attended on several occasions by Margaret Thatcher – to encourage fresh thinking in the party. It made little impact, however. As he said, “I’ve spent a quarter of a century trying to influence the Conservative Party, I suppose I have to admit defeat.”

Scruton was a lucid thinker who provoked an audience or students to think of subjects in a new light. He was, however, never a follower of Thatcher’s free-market policies.

During the 1980s Scruton edited the ultra-Conservative Salisbury Review, wrote widely in various newspapers (his views expressed in the Review and in his Times columns earned him the loathing of those on the left), and also wrote a novel, and an opera (The Minister) which was produced in the Czech Republic and in Oxford. In 2005 he wrote another opera, Violet, which was performed twice at the Guildhall School of Music. His interest in music – especially the operas of Wagner - was prodigious. He wrote a finely researched book on The Ring Cycle, and one of his last lectures was devoted to Wagner’s Parsifal.

He was widely acclaimed for his books. His philosophy publications included Art and Imagination (1974) and Animal Rights and Wrongs (2000) while his political and social books included The Meaning of Conservatism (1980) and Conservative Texts (1992). One of his most stimulating publications was Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England (2013), in which he argued for the vital importance of the church in the 21st century.

Scruton was knighted in 2016, for services to philosophy, teaching and public education. He was a philosopher who made the complex subject of philosophy understandable, and removed, for the lay reader, many of its intricacies. He was never afraid to say what he thought and expressed himself eloquently and with great clarity.

His first marriage in 1973 was dissolved. In 1996 he married Sophie Jeffreys. She and their two children survive him.