Roger Scruton, the influential British philosopher, music and architecture critic, and essayist, died last month at the age of seventy-five. Mark Gottlieb reminisces about coming to know Scruton, whom he hired five years ago to teach a seminar to a group of Orthodox yeshiva students. By and large, the students did not possess advanced university degrees but did possess advanced training in Jewish law:
From the first hour, a deep mutual admiration developed between teacher and students. For the yeshiva men, it was hard not to be impressed by Sir Roger’s sweeping intellect, his masterful reign over fields as disparate as aesthetics, sociology, political philosophy, philosophy of science, oenology, and theology. For Sir Roger, these nimble young rabbinic scholars could parry and thrust with the best of his university students. He seemed at once bemused and impressed by the students’ energy and fierce, no holds-barred intelligence.
During the seminar, special attention was paid to the singular contributions of Judaism to Western culture, not as a form of flattery to his audience but as a sober recognition that the Jewish people have always been the canary in the coal mine of Western culture, the intellectual dissidents in a sometimes decadent or barren intellectual world.
Last year, Scruton was subject to an all-too-familiar brand of character assassination, which resulted in his removal from a government commission under baseless and scurrilous accusations of anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. All were subsequently retracted and apologized for. Gottlieb wrote to Scruton during his ordeal to offer moral support, and quotes here from the philosopher’s reply:
I do believe that these trials come to us also from God, and that we are schooled by them to re-examine our life, and to acknowledge the ways in which, and the extent to which, we have misused our love. I have been greatly encouraged to discover the extent of the friendship that has been offered to me as a result of this trial, and it has taught me to look with gratitude on the gifts that I have received.