Artillery Row

Roger Scruton finally makes his mark on Oxford

Niall Ferguson opens Roger Scruton memorial lecture series

Oxford’s Sheldonian theatre is expecting a near capacity audience this Monday evening for the first annual Roger Scruton Memorial Lecture. The lecture series, which commemorates the life and thought of Britain’s leading modern conservative philosopher, will commence with a lecture by the historian, Professor Niall Ferguson, on the future of the Anglosphere. He will be introduced by the housing and communities secretary, Michael Gove, who will moderate the event.

By Monday morning, well over 600 tickets had been booked for Ferguson’s lecture, the first of four to be delivered at the Sheldonian this October on the overarching theme of “nation and civilisation.” The other three lectures in this year’s series — for which there is similarly high demand for tickets — will be delivered by the historian, Tom Holland, whose books include Dominion: the Making of the Western Mind on the theme of puritanism and iconoclasm (20 October; moderated by Professor Nigel Biggar), the Syrian architect and writer, Marwa Al-Sabouni, on beauty and home (25 October; moderated by Douglas Murray) and concluding on 27 October with the historian and former member of the supreme court, Jonathan Sumption, who will lecture on democracy (moderated by Charles Moore).

Orr is hopeful that the memorial lectures will help sustain Scruton’s memory

For many years a lecturer and professor in aesthetics at Birkbeck College, London, before taking up a succession of visiting academic positions, Roger Scruton, who died age 75 in January 2020, was a philosopher whose wide range encompassed books on the meaning of conservatism, beauty, sexual ethics, human and animal rights, religion, music and wine. He had also been an outspoken champion of freedom from communist censorship and persecution in Eastern Europe when this was a brave and unpopular position to take.

The idea that his legacy should live on in an annual memorial lecture series was proposed by James Orr, a friend and lecturer in the philosophy of religion at Cambridge University.  “We’ve got to do something” Orr suggested to a group of Scruton’s friends and admirers which included Toby Young, Dr Patrick Nash and Professor Nigel Biggar. “There was a sense of shock and mourning. We went to his funeral and pretty soon after that we had our first meeting.” Originally envisaged for the autumn of 2020, Covid forced a postponement until this October.

“The aim is to showcase the best of conservative thought” says Dr Orr, adding, “very much small “c” conservatism because Roger was not a party man.”

Although the lectures are being organised entirely independently from Oxford University, the choice of Oxford as their venue was deliberate. “We felt we it was appropriate to commemorate him permanently in some way that reflected his calibre as an intellectual and his prestige by having it in the most iconic lecture theatre in the land and embedded at the beginning of the Oxford academic calendar and to do it in a place that had not honoured him in his life as much as it should have done.” Despite international recognition as the pre-eminent conservative philosopher of his generation, the small Dominican institution of Blackfriars Hall was the only Oxford or Cambridge college to confer an honorary fellowship upon him.  Scruton had graduated with a double first from Cambridge in 1965 and completed his PhD there.

Orr is hopeful that the memorial lectures will help sustain Scruton’s memory and introduce his philosophical legacy to future generations. “The lectures are going to catalyse all sorts of little coalitions within the university and beyond. We’ve got lots of diplomats, high ranking politicians and journalists coming. There is a sense of excitement.” Orr adds that the lecture series “is also coming at a time of intense national reflection and debate on the crisis of ideological group think within universities. It’s a time when parliamentarians are for the first time in decades advancing legislation that is going to have a direct impact on the intellectual climate in universities.”

With funding in place for the next two years, there is the hope that a permanent endowment can be created to see the lectures continue thereafter. “It should be welcomed by all sides,” concludes Orr, “because Scruton is a thinker who has as much to offer Red Wall Tories as left-leaning intelligentsia who appreciate our culture and history.”

Admission to the lectures is free but seats can be reserved via the Eventbrite or Sheldonian websites

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