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What Conservatism Really Means - Roger Scruton in Conversation with Hamza Yusuf

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Event Name: What Conservatism Really Means - Roger Scruton in Conversation with Hamza Yusuf
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 3/29/2019 8:41:10 PM
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mean a language that is almost

impossible to understand without

knowledge of grammar like Arabic because

it's inflected and because it the verbs

are conjugated and so if you don't have

some understanding of that it becomes

very difficult but david moore roy makes

this argument that in the 1960s early

60s in the u.s. there was actually a

movement to stop teaching grammar and

they saw it as very abusive to children

and but but what's interesting he has

he has something that I've replicated in

several classes I on average I'll take

50 students I give him the opening

sentence to the Declaration of

Independence when in the course of human

events it becomes necessary to the end

of that sentence it's it's it's a

sentence that has several subordinate

clauses and I all I ask the students is

identify the main point of this sentence

now these are college students on

average out of 50 students I'll get two

or three that actually can identify the

main clause and and so there's a type of

higher illiteracy that that the fact

that grammar has been removed and I

think a restoration of language is the

only thing for me the the salvation of

the civilization has to be predicated on

the resurrection of the corruption of

this language well I think you've

actually touched on what the real

essence of conservatism is there you

know that that there are things that the

conservation of which is actually

fundamental to understanding the world

as it is and if you lose those things

like the rules of grammar the habits of

good speech or good manners the sense of

what a legal solution

as opposed to a mere bullying solution

to a conflict might be all those things

we we used to be taught to us as part of

becoming an adult if you lose those

things you're at sea in the world and I

think that's one of the things that that

most worries me about modern education

you refer to the this movement in our

schools to abolish grammar as elitist

it's absolutely true that a grammar is

elitist because it makes a distinction

between the people who know it and the

people who don't and that's the kind of

distinction that we all need if we're to

survive not only as a civilization but

as individuals too so this is where are

the real arguments for conservatism in

my view should be based not in their

economic sphere at all but in these

fundamental cultural inheritances and

yeah I couldn't agree with you more

and I think it's very one of the things

that really troubles me we had recently

a professor I think down in Southern

California at a major university who was

considered racist because he was

demanding that the students use proper

grammar and so the minority students

objected to that because they felt that

it was discriminatory and and and one of

the things about in our culture and I

and I think the the poor white people in

this culture are also disenfranchised

from a type of normative or conventional

language and I and I think it's very

disempowering to do that

of course when I was at school grammar

school I was I came from a poor

background right you know and we were

our teachers as their first instinct

when they found that you were in some

way handicapped by your the the language

that you'd learn from your parents was

to take you in hand give you the

advantage which were family had not so

that you could catch up with the others

right and I think that's that idea of

teaching that you that you're actually

lifting people up so as to be able to

receive their inheritance that idea has

gone to a great extent it's much more

now that the teacher comes down to the

level of the students exactly and this

is and this big male Ian's a good

example of that because because Shaw in

Shaw's Pygmalion and and it obviously

there's a lot of irony and sarcasm in

that but the idea of the flower girl who

speaks non-standard English wanting to

speak like a lady to speak proper as a

way of upward mobility yes and and and

one of the things that Toynbee points

out is that a civilization on its way

out

inverts that so there's a vulgar ization

of the patrician class where they begin

to speak in vanities in profanity and

and become unfortunately that is so yeah

but yeah I think we mustn't be too

pessimistic about everything okay I mean

you all roll that

you are someone who's found in Islam

something which gives him the foundation

that he needs in order to confront this

gradual degeneration of things all

around and I respect that you want if

one can find that foundation one can

then start building again - to recapture

those things which are jeopardized by

the laxness of our of modern society and

I think you've got to be optimistic

about that you've got to think that you

can recapture these things otherwise you

know what what are you doing as a

teacher you know that's yeah it depends

on what day it is okay they yeah the

Arabs have a famous story about a king

who had a positive day and a negative

day William what that so I mean some

days I look out there and it's so

overwhelming you know that what's

happened I think you I mean we're old

enough you're a little ahead of me but

we're both old enough to know how

different the world that we grew up in

is today and it's quite devastating in a

lot of ways my mother who was 96 when

she passed I said to her she she when

she was born there was an ottoman Calif

in 1921 right and and and I asked her

and she was extremely liberal and and I

was raised with with a lot of liberal

sensibilities my father was very

conservative but so I got both sides and

it was very interesting to see those

those two views and and how powerful

each one is in its own way but when I

asked her once just what what do you

think is the worst thing about what's

happening that she said manners yes just

manners and and one of the there's a

French I can't remember his name but

there was a French ethicist who wrote a

book on virtues about 15 years ago is

that yeah yeah compt I think it was

called the book of virtues that's right

and the first virtue he had in there was

courtesy yes and and one of the

foundational virtues of the Islamic

civilization is EDA and

and which means comportment it means

decorum

it means courtesy but it also means

literature exactly so the idea is is is

a the edebe is somebody who has absorbed

the humanities yes well that the habits

of proper dialogue and I mean that

that's all that is very interesting of

course you living here in Berkeley

you know only you only have to look out

of the window to see how far things can

be Klein you know I look out of my

window onto the English countryside

right and mostly horses whose whose

manners remained constant from

generation to generation but go ahead

yeah but you know Berkeley is famous for

being the pioneer in degeneracy but

whatever form and maybe one should you

know the very fact that you can plant

your institution here and still not only

recruit people but also create this kind

of atmosphere of of peace and and

goodwill in the middle of all this and

suggest that you know that that Berkeley

style degeneracy is perhaps not more

than skin-deep and yeah well can I say

something in defense of Berkeley yeah

yeah of being here

I found the the the people here are

they're very welcoming people in and and

there's there and this is where I really

try to avoid and maybe it's my mother

and my father's influence on me have

just seen both sides I really try to

avoid Manichean type of worldviews and

and I think you know that this Dionysian

impulse that that's clearly there in us

as a species and the Apollonian this

idea of order as opposed to this kind of

chaotic ex ecstatic type of being and I

think one of the things in our tradition

in the Islamic tradition was very

interesting to me is they have this

concept of what they call the mush dupes

Alec who's the the the the goal you know

in the spiritual tradition of Islam is

be inwardly in a state of ecstasy but

outwardly in a state of sobriety and so

there's this this very interesting

Dionysian Apollonian balance that's it

that's actually taking place and I think

one of the things that happens in a

culture that that loses the ability to

experience internal ecstasy like to you

know where this mean comes from the soul

I mean I'll give you an example there

there's a there's a a I recently I've

been reading a book called video

accuracy which is about viral videos

online and and there was a video that

went viral by this guy named bear

Vasquez and it was him seeing a double

rainbow outside of his house and he's

just in a state of just awe and then he

starts crying he breaks down and just

starts crying and and he's asking what

does this mean and and there's something

very powerful about that is such an

appropriate response to a double rainbow

and I think whatever happened it

resonated in a lot of people what he was

seeing I think we our culture no longer

gives people vehicles for the experience

of joy now that's a really important

point pleasure has driven out joy

exactly yeah because Roy is essentially

something comes in or deep social nature

from your need for others and you'll

need to give to others yes and I think

that I've often you know the problem is

we're agreeing about too much but I see

this in the change in patterns of

dancing the dancing that that I love

like Scottish country dancing and you

know formation dancing I had to do Greek

dancing exactly that they are full of

joy because they are ways of relating to

others forgetting about your in your

appetites just being with whereas modern

you know head bashes it's some of Cystic

its own sister narcissistic and

narcissism is joyless it because it

concentrates only on what can be

received and not often be good well the

other thing was fascinating to about

about

because I thought about duplicate with

Lebanese dancing Syrian dancing which is

very similar to Greek dancing and one of

the things about that type of dancing is

that there's a formalism that's very

rigid but within that formalism once you

master it you're allowed to improvise

and do certain things there's a freedom

that comes and there was something that

my father used to always say about the

liberal arts is that the purpose was

this immense discipline that set you

free that that through that structure

and discipline you actually become free

and I think we this conflation of

freedom with licentiousness and freedom

with do what thou will the the kind of

the thelema you know the abbey of

Thelema this idea that that we can just

simply do what we we want and that's how

we're gonna find happiness yeah you're

absolutely right that there there's a

false idea of freedom which took over

the world in the sixties in a way with

the baby boomers we don't know quite why

but it this idea that freedom means that

the absence of control yeah rather Vader

would say it was a change sorry the

absence of control rather than rather

than an order in the soul right you know

my ideal of freedom is something like

box art of fugue in which every note is

necessary but every note is totally free

you know that that idea that there is a

an order which reveals itself through

free gestures that's really what you are

saying about those old Mediterranean

style of styles of dance yes I think

it's also rhetoric was like that I mean

Shakespeare

Miriam Joseph wrote a dissertation

Shakespeare in the arts of language

where she proved that he had mastered

all of these rhetorical treatises of of

his of his time and and knew over 200

tropes and and and schemes it's amazing

that and and often borrowing from the

very text that he that he had mastered

so the artifice which used to be a kind

of positive term in

in in in the past this idea of craft

yeah of a real craftsmanship and I think

the two areas where we still see it in

our culture to a certain degree I mean

popular music is is is very troubling

and in a lot of ways but I think you

still see it in in music and sports

athletics you see it in jazz

improvisation yes yes

which which doesn't make sense at all

until you've mastered the chord

sequencing right and can hear the hidden

melody in the improvisation yes so in in

in in in sports people go to these

stadiums or they watch on television

what they're waiting for is that magical

moment you know the triple play in

baseball I don't know what they have the

equivalent in cricket is I think

pitching something for six but but

there's a moment where and people look

at each other as if they've just

witnessed a miracle or something but

that that can only happen because of an

immense discipline that occurred and and

and we've lost that we've lost that in

so many other areas of being human but

again we can get it back where we got to

be we have got to be optimistic about

this well we for us for in our tradition

it's it's considered an obligation to be

hopeful yes well of course

likewise for Christians faith open

charity of every fundamental values

meaning by charity love certain kind of

love yes but that's another problem that

that idea of love has become so

corrupted well it's you know it's the

grease and that nice distinction yeah

between agape and eros and all the other

sorts of love to Arabs do that as well

yeah Arabs have ten different types of

love all right the highest been cuddler

right the lowest being ish which is well

actually it's yet desire yeah euros yeah

but is still quite a good it's a

beautiful thing yeah and it's it's

related to this cognitive another word

which is see

mmm that love is something that is

nurtured and and Rose because hub is

seed

yeah and hub is love right yeah you know

one of the things that that that the the

traditional world ICS Lewis talks about

this but one of the things that the

traditional world really understood was

the wheel of fortune which has really

been removed from from our culture this

idea that that there is this cycle yeah

and and you're talking about optimism

when you're down at six o'clock which in

the wheel was traditionally the

corresponding emotion was was despair

yeah right so nine o'clock was hope

right twelve o'clock joy and then three

o'clock was fear yeah but that you know

Bowie theus in that the consolation of

philosophy that second chapter where he

talks about this you know this this

wheel of fortune and and our culture is

you know it doesn't allow for that that

recognize because it doesn't it doesn't

allow for the idea that ultimately we

must be reconciled to things rather

because there's always going to be it's

always going to be someone else's fault

right if you're in trouble and it's

always gonna be the case that that

someone's going to step in and give you

what you need I mean what what brought

my attention to that was there was hope

you know how does because the in in in

the in the Islamic tradition the way to

get out of the wheel was to get into the

hub right yeah you know to to get out of

the yes so you're not spinning you're

not spinning anymore that things around

you can can happen the still pointing

turning world is to said it says yeah

yeah well you know one of the things in

in trying to revive a civilization is

Islam

Toynbee talks about a civilization with

its back up against the wall and and he

says that there's different responses to

that one of them is what he called to

her

in response and and I think you see that

in in places like Malaysia and and other

Muslim cultures where Morocco is a good

example of that of just recognizing

we've lost sovereignty we have to live

in the world and let's do our best but

then he says there's the zealots who

refused to accept it's kind of the

Masada complex where where where instead

of trying to grapple with what's

happening they end up just reacting

against it and and and and fighting it

even to the death so it becomes a kind

of knee allistic response to to a crisis

of civilization but then he talked about

the Pharisees the kind of Benedict

option yeah which is to to try to

preserve getting back to conservation to

try to preserve the best of a

civilization I think what one of the

things that I'm trying to do and that

we're trying to do here at Zaytuna we

have a an extraordinary civilizational

tradition in in both the west and in the

Muslim world and Muslims living in the

West are very often unaware of how

powerful Western civilization and the

idea is that many of them I mean I in a

lot of ways the modern world to me as a

Christian heresy because many of these

extraordinary ideas the rights of man

you know the idea that everybody should

be free you know the use of byproducts

of the Christian life yeah and and and

Locke and Hume all these people they

were informed by Christianity so their

ideas didn't simply come out of some

kind of philosophical vacuum that these

were people that were in societies that

were deeply dyed-in-the-wool Christian

societies but yeah one of the questions

that people we in Europe in particular

have is what happened to Islamic

civilization in the Middle East you know

we you know those of us who study these

things to do recognized that there was

an incredible and inheritance of

philosophy law literature and then

suddenly nothing yeah and now you go to

the Middle East era of course you meet

there

people there very very few and far

between yin and the and nobody seems to

be concerned to teach this and when you

get the radical movements like Isis it's

not the knowledge and beauty of Islam

that appeals to them but rather the the

ease with which it can justify their

murderous rage sure you know and that's

something which I feel not enough is

said about this and in particular we we

need Muslims to speak out about this and

say look you guys Islam is not about

justifying these primitive emotions of

not belonging you have it's about

something else it's about an inheritance

I don't know whether you feel the same

about that well I mean I would say first

of all one at one of the things that

stable Muslim societies despite the the

the the political problems despotism is

certainly a problem in many parts of the

Muslim world but stable Muslim societies

what struck me and I lived in in several

Muslim countries for many years I was

over ten years in the Muslim world what

struck me actually was just the

incredible goodness of so many Muslims I

mean I really I found the generosity the

hospitality the incredible the eccentric

worldview that informs them and the

ability to withstand incredible

suffering I mean I'll give you an

example when I when I was in West Africa

I I was trained as a nurse so when I

when I when I was in and I lived in West

Africa when I was in West Africa

I went with a physician and we would see

patients and one of the things that was

so amazing was people would tell their

symptoms but they would they would

always preface it by saying I'm not

complaining hmm I'm just you asked me

what I'm feeling so I just want I want

you to know I'm not complaining and then

they would just say ahem duty let you

know praise be to God and because they

really were afraid of complaining just

the gratitude was so so powerfully

embedded in a lot of these traditional

cultures ice I literally saw Morocco

when I first went to Morocco in 1977 on

more than one occasion if they saw bread

they would pick it up and put it on

their forehead and then put it in a in a

high place you know and Ezra Pound has a

wonderful statement he says that I he

said I don't know what power exploded in

the seventh century of Arabia that

spread to the libraries of cordoba but I

got a glimpse of it in the way the more

walked in 1913 in Tangier and and and to

me there's I loved so much about the

Muslim world and there's so many things

that I see in the Muslim world that that

when I come back to the west I I really

get a bit depressed yeah what are you

you're talking about piety and its

widest sense exactly a sense that your

gestures your words your way of being

towards others all fit into a kind of a

pattern which is not just you but also

is informed by courtesy as well as

obedience and I just saw so many

examples of that yeah I'll give I'll

give you just one I was we were on a

trip in the Sahara and our in our car

got stuck and and we had to seek refuge

in a in a Bedouin there was some Bedouin

staying there and it was incredibly

windy night and they literally

sacrificed a lamb for us they cooked it

they fed us and and and these are

incredibly poor people and and then we

went to sleep and and because there was

so much wind the man was holding up the

the central pillar of the tent so they

didn't collapse when we woke up about

four hours later he was still there

holding it and and and I was with an

Englishman who just said to me did he

stay up the whole night do it and I said

yeah he did and and I just saw so many

examples of that and that's of course is

that that Bedouin hospitality that the

sense that the stranger is more

important than you that is something

which is it not only is Lama his part of

the desert way of life

no I agree and I think many traditional

I would say I would argue that if you go

to Mexican villages you're very similar

and it's something about traditional

cultures right this breeze that but I

think Islam definitely inculcates that

in its followers when it's practiced

properly now as to your question what

happened I think the same could be asked

about the West because I mean if I look

at what's happened to family if I look

at at the fact that pornography is is

the main entertainment medium now in in

the West I mean it's quite incredible

the the industry of which you and I are

very familiar with just from that that

what we happened to be a part of it the

Witherspoon but I think two things

happened that that are tragic in the

Islamic tradition one is somebody like

Al Farabi who was ignored or Aveiro is

is another example of that that the the

the influence of a kind of eastern

despotism which was actually very alien

to the Arabs the Arabs were far more

democratic so the prophets Eliza damned

I mean there's a chapter in the Quran

called Shora

chapter 42 which is mutual consultation

and and and so the idea of having a type

of parliamentarian government would have

been very natural to the Arabs because

that's the way they tended to it was

more like a thei nian democracy in a lot

of ways in fact when I took my teacher

share Abdullah bin baya to the

Parliament in England he was very struck

by the House of Lords he really liked

the idea of having what in in in the

Arabic version are called a little

Hollywood happened the people that can

unravel and and put back together again

and these are like notables in a culture

that have a lot of life experience and

so they have a wisdom that they can help

guide a society he was very struck by

that but but he he and this is something

you bring up I mean he felt that a

parliamentarian government would be

perfectly consonant with an Islamic now

way of ruling that there isn't really

any fixed type of Islamic rule and I

think what happened in the Muslim world

is despotism a kind of of an Eastern

despotism became a model and and I think

it really stifled a lot of the

incredible intellectual and spiritual

growth that occurred in the early part

of the song it was also the collapse of

the Ottoman Empire wasn't it the well I

mean that was a huge yeah yeah which led

to the new kind of kind of criminal

apparatus that advanced through the bath

party and things like that take out take

over this ripe fruit and but yes I mean

politically obviously things went

terribly wrong but what was always

concerned me is the cultural aspect

where where is that you know what has

happened to the the great universities

and where do we find a proper articulate

discussions in literary form and all the

things that actually and the Islamic

civilization really needs I mean well

that's what we're trying to do here yes

we and and I think there are people

within the Muslim culture I mean I have

friends in in Turkey that are trying to

do the same thing and I and and they're

there are attempts but again if you if

you look at at the the Muslim world has

been hard hit for several hundred years

I mean there's been a continued there's

an argument now among certain

Orientalist tradition about that there

wasn't a kind of stagnation or

ossification which I think to me is

absurd I mean I can clearly see that

that the the incredible interest in

science and technology in in in early

Islam was amazing and and I mean if

there was a Nobel Prize a thousand years

ago it's been said every name on the

list would have been Muslim so so that's

something that I think we as a as a

religious tradition and Ummah that we

have to think deeply about and

and I think it's very important I mean

we called our journal Renovatio or tis

deed in Arabic which is to make new

again to renovate the idea and this is I

think a very conservative idea the idea