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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/6/18

What Scruton Doesn't Get About American Conservatives

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Roger Scruton speaking about his book 'Green Philosophy'
Roger Scruton speaking about his book 'Green Philosophy'
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 6, 2018: In my view, Donald J. Trump (born in 1946) is a contrarian rabble-rouser opportunist who loves to hear the roar of the crowd. For the purposes of campaigning in the Republican primaries in 2016, and subsequently in the general election in 2016, as the Republican Party's presidential candidate Trump claimed to be anti-abortion -- a conservative position that many conservatives Republican hold. In addition, he campaigned as the opponent of so-called "political correctness" -- the "political correctness" associated with so-called second wave feminists such as former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton (born in 1947), the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential candidate. Thanks to the votes of many non-college-educated whites scattered in various places across the country, Trump won a decisive victory in the electoral college.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, the American Catholic bishops and certain priest have fomented anti-abortion zealotry -- and many white Protestant Evangelicals have also fomented anti-abortion zealotry. For single-issue anti-abortion zealots, Trump's promise to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who might overthrow Roe v. Wade was decisive.

As president, Trump has continued to love the roar of approval from the crowd. In his typical contrarian spirit, he has repeatedly reversed executive orders and administrative regulations of President Barack Obama. Nevertheless, much of what Trump says and does appears to be ad hoc. In short, he does not appear to be guided by a coherent conservative political philosophy.

Now, Roger Scruton (born in 1944), the British author of the new book Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition (St. Martin's Press/ Macmillan, 2018), expatiates in detail about how Trump does not represent movement conservatism in his op-ed commentary titled "What Trump Doesn't Get About Conservatism" in the New York Times (dated July 4, 2018):

But I want to call attention here to what Scruton doesn't get about conservatism in the United States. Here are the authors Scruton mentions as representative of so-called liberalism and so-called conservatism: John Locke (1632-1704), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Edmund Burke (1729-1797; Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Richard Weaver (1910-1963; Ideas Have Consequences, 1948), and Adam Smith (1723-1790; The Wealth of Nations, 1776).

Now, in the subtitle of his new book, Scruton refers favorably to a supposedly "Great Tradition" of conservatism.

Now, at least since the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church has referred favorably to its tradition of thought and practice -- which tradition tends to be conservative. As spokesmen for the Roman Catholic tradition of thought and practice, popes tended not to like new-fangled experiments such as our American experiment in representative democratic government. However, in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church officially tempered certain strongly conservative tendencies expressed earlier by various popes. Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that many contemporary American Catholics tend to be conservative -- and not just in their anti-abortion zealotry.

The conservative tendency in Roman Catholic thought is built into the practice of Roman Catholic theology -- in which official church positions taken once upon a time historically are supposed to be honored and serve as points of departure for subsequent theological interpretations that aspire to be considered to be orthodox Roman Catholic theology. In American jurisprudence, the principle known as stare decisis serves a comparable function to militate against overturning a prior decision -- such as the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973. In plain English, Roman Catholic theology tends to be massively conservative in spirit.

Next, I want to make a distinction between the theory of movement conservatism that Scruton celebrates in his new book, on the one hand, and, on the other, the practice of conservatism among various American conservatives, including American Catholic conservatives who are known for their anti-abortion zealotry.

Scruton is so lost in his own conceptual construction of conservatism that he does not even mention Trump's campaign pledges to overturn Roe v. Wade -- or anti-abortion zealotry in the United States.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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