Writing about country life has been a national pastime since the 18th century, and there is no sign that the reading public has lost interest in it. Roger Scruton has described the life around our farm in News from Somewhere, and continues to supply articles on rural matters to our national newspapers. It was probably the keeping of animals on the farm that started him exploring our duties to both animals and their environment. His book On Hunting is a classic description of one of the most eccentric and controversial aspects of the British rural economy. Also his pamphlet on Animal Rights and Wrongs starts to articulate a philosophy towards managing the countryside for the benefit of wild animals. But more recently he has turned his attention to the deeper questions of environmental management. Green Philosophy offers a comprehensive answer to the question how to maintain equilibrium between the human and the natural world. It is perhaps the first attempt by a philosopher to explore the environmental problem in all its aspects, and is having a growing influence in Britain and America. It has been translated into Dutch, German and Polish, and a Hungarian translation is currently in preparation.
Roger continues to write at his desk overlooking our fields, and his recent book for Princeton University Press, The Soul of the World , expresses some of the meditative tranquillity that can still be gleaned from grass, provided you take the trouble to look after it.
Then there is the famous Scruton brand of wine criticism, which brought amazement and joy to the readers of The New Statesman over a seven year period, and which culminated in the publication, in 2009, of I Drink Therefore I Am. This is a ground-breaking book of philosophical criticism, bringing together judgments culled from both Scrutons and from Sam, their bibulous horse, in a profound meditation on the grape and its meaning. Translated into 14 languages I Drink Therefore I Am contains as many ideas per blade of grass as any other Horsell’s Farm product.
Extract from a review by Simon Jenkins of Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet in The Sunday Times (January, 2012)
Green Philosophy ‘takes even the most unphilosophical reader on a whirling tour of green politics, through ethics, climate science, risk management, international law, social anthropology and applied economics . . . The second half of Scruton’s book is aimed at resolution, at “solving environmental problems not by appointing someone to take charge of them but by creating the incentives that will lead people to solve them for themselves.” Synthesis lie in directing concern for the environment back onto individuals, fusing it with affection for home and family, for place and community, present and future income. The psychological roots of conservatism must fuse with conservation in “a desire to live among things that endure”.
This plea to stimulate the conservationist juices of people as consumers and as residents is attractive.’
Reviews of News from Somewhere
“ Written in an avuncular, mellifluous style, given to great detail about the workings of country folk, the intricacies of the land, the plethora of wild and domesticated critters, his memoir conflates, in story, history, philosophy, and theology, the depth and meaning of community and place.... The reader will find Scruton's memoir both charming and interesting. It is a layered and nuanced apologetic, brilliantly rendered, for a class of people who hover on the verge of extinction. And, while he writes of the intimate relationship among the farmer, his land, and stock his theme concerns the philosophical question of how we should live."- Robert C. Cheeks, The University Bookman, Volume 44 Number 4 ”
“ 'he exudes . . . a longing for belonging, a love of ponds more than rivers, a belief that the diminished colours in the winter landscape are what bind us to it . . . '” – The Independent
Interview in Philosophy Now on the subject of Animal Rights and Wrongs
Roger Scruton talked with Anja Steinbauer
AS: Before we talk about the philosophical issues involved in the discussion of animal welfare, may I ask you whether you had any personal experiences relating to animals which have motivated you to write this book or informed your judgement, or is this purely the distanced work of an ethical theorist?
RS: A loaded question! I hunt, which is the thing that first made me take an interest in all this; obviously there is an argument about hunting which has put these issues into the public domain.
RS:I think it’s a general principle that your obligations even in the human sphere depend upon the relations with the recipient. For instance you have a duty to look after your children which is different from any duty you have towards other people’s children, because they are yours. And the structure of this relationship of dependency determines the kind of duties involved. Until we are clear about our spheres of responsibility, we have no conception of what our duties are. And the same is true with animals. I have a responsibility to my pet dog, which I don’t have to some starving dog in India. Or to take a more obvious example, my pet rabbit. I could feed that rabbit to the hungry fox in the field. But that would be doing a very great wrong, because that rabbit is entirely dependent on me for its well-being. But it is not a great wrong to allow other, wild, rabbits to breed in my field and be eaten by the fox. These are commonsense observations but it is very important to be clear about them and keep to the distinctions also clear. Otherwise we end up thinking of wild animals in the way that we do of our pets, as many people do, and this is not, I argue, beneficial to the wild animals themselves.
AS: Finally, let me say how much I enjoyed reading your book as a rigorous philosophical work concerning a current problem of humanity. I was, however, surprised to read a short internet review of your book which concluded with the following statement: “…the book is, more subtly, an English philosopher’s patriotic contribution to the current debate about Englishness.”
RS: Yes, I was surprised by that too. I think it has nothing to do with Englishness. But I did write another little book – a personal memoir on hunting – which is about Englishness as well, so perhaps they confused the two. And maybe the underlying point is this. Our country, more than any other country in Europe, identifies itself through the countryside. Indeed the English countryside is the only icon of national identity which is publicly acknowledged and permitted. The common law, Parliament and the monarchy are controversial. But the countryside stands at a higher level and is untouchable. In that sense the book is well timed. Our countryside is threatened by a lack of understanding of the relations between those who maintain it and the animals among which they live. Episodes like the BSE crisis show that people have not understood the nature of cattle farming, or its vital connection to the rural community and therefore to the landscape. Landscapes are man-made. Ours was made by mixed farming and field sports, and both are threatened by the pressure for ‘animal rights’.
AS: So does this mean that being English and being in the situation that you are, you are just better equipped to identify the problems, or does it perhaps mean to a degree that the ethical statements that we make about animal welfare may be culturally relative?
RS: They are certainly culturally influenced. The English are famous for their kindness towards animals on the whole, in comparison with other European nations. To that extent this kind of argument is more likely to interest people in England than it would in Spain or Italy. I’m not a cultural relativist, nevertheless. I think that in the end moral truths are truths for everyone.