A year ago one of the most brilliant minds of our time, Sir Roger Scruton, left this world. Prolific writer, didactic aesthete, anti-Soviet activist, typical Englishman, not the emaciated wheelchair hero, not the hairless one; not that one. Let us remember the professor for what he was: one of the greatest guardians of beauty and liberty.
Let us remember Professor Scruton as he was seen by the Czech dissident Bronislava Müllerová as he crossed between the border posts of then Czechoslovakia and Austria: brave in the face of barbarism.
The professor was more than a philosopher. In his multiplicity of intellectual skills, my favorite was aesthetics. Scruton believed that beauty was as important as truth and goodness. These cardinal Scrutonian virtues are what constitute the question of his documentary Why Beauty Matters. The question, in a Socratic way, raises the wonders of beauty, its importance and its value.
Why Beauty Matters, Scruton shows us the garden of “Scrutopia”
In a beautiful journey from Plato to Kant, full of images and the characteristic soothing voice of Sir Scruton, we are presented with several reflections: modernism fundamentally negates love, the most shocking being for me. In the face of the denial of love, the response has been resentment transformed – almost always – into selfishness. Without love, there is no salvation from the pains, the horrors of the world, and the wounds that life will inevitably cause. “Beauty is salvation,” I thought, thanks to the professor, and my whole life changed.
Sir Roger taught us how beauty is to the soul what a mother’s lap is to a child. In both, we console our tragedies. It is not love itself that soothes; it is the warmth that silently reveals to us that the pain will pass. Beauty in art acts in the same way: there was a perfect place to show tragedies, horror, and misery; but the beauty with which they were painted offered a consolation as philosophy offered it in the Antiquity, by helping men to live and die well.
Modern art, as Scruton believed, in its tantrums and nihilistic nostalgia showed the reality as it was with its irremediable and immovable destiny. The “unsalvation” of aesthetic modernism was the mortalis of what its faithful wished to worship: “there is no Salvation… and that is magnificent”, they cried out in tears. In this aesthetic, theological and existential neurosis, modern art dedicated itself to disturbing and confronting what it considered “taboo” that oppressed the individual.
Becoming small in the face of feats that surpassed time means more than mere lasting qualities; doing so means paying tribute to the giants who carry us on their shoulders to admire the landscape. Scruton, therefore, makes tradition in architecture, in art, in education, in politics, an organizing factor.
Beauty and the nation
Scruton takes from Plato the divine order from which beauty comes and from Kant when he teaches us that by putting our particular interests aside and not intending to use things to satisfy us, then we can really experience beauty. We can extrapolate this reflection to what the Nation is.
The nation is based on leaving satisfaction aside as the mere and only north that should interest us in our lives. The nation is the historical identity and the loyalty to the political body. That political body gives us the opportunity to lead decent lives, guaranteed by laws over which we pour virtues that help to deepen the trust of the parties who make and update an infinite number of contracts.
The need of the nation resides in the same need of beauty: in both we find a protection superior to the one we can achieve ourselves. It is in the neighbor, in the community, where there is an agreement of mutual protection equal to that of the family; the nation is nourished by this familiarity and expands it through history, laws and a common language.
The beauty of sharing great moments after the terrible ones with those same people, perhaps fellow citizens, perhaps nationals, because there was a political body and a loyalty that could bring that great Ark afloat after the flood, is what essentially defines a nation. This is a great lesson from Sir Scruton.
From great moments come epics; from bad ones come tragedies. But it is these myths that give meaning to the brutal course of history and provoke a pride and an attachment to the loyalty that binds people together. “Was our body capable of it,” they ask. Yes,” answers the Nation – which is nothing more than themselves.
Scruton traveled through Poland, through Hungary, through Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic), as a true articulator in favor of freedom in Europe that suffered the Soviet iron yoke, remembering the old days of the Christians catacombs. The dark places, the iron predatory order of freedom, the uniformity that facilitated Moscow’s aggressive vigilance, all this was a work of ugliness, terribly modern, that numbed the sensations and truncated the soul.
Yet the professor, standing in the midst of barbarism like the day the Soviets arrested him, taught us to always be brave and never to give up beauty, the reason for the greatest things and the foundation of the best homes.
May God bless Roger Scruton.