Without doubt the most significant recent contribution to conservative thought in the English speaking world has come from the philosopher Roger Scruton, and this is in addition to his contributions to our understanding of both the aesthetics of music and architecture. Over the last 30 years or so he had written a series of books that demonstrate the enduring qualities of the conservative disposition. I believe that his most important contribution is one of his most recent books, Green Philosophy, published in 2012. In this book Scruton seeks to make the conservative case for conservatism and the preservation of the natural environment. But in doing so, he raises many of the issues he has discussed in his earlier work, such that we can see Green Philosophy as Scruton’s magnum opus, where he is able to lay out his conservative philosophy it all its detail.
In all of his works Scruton has shown the importance of our local roots. He has discussed in several of his books the importance of England to him and how the laws, customs and traditions of the country are drawn from the soil. Indeed, it is this link to the local that I take to be Scruton’s most important contribution to conservative thought, namely, that conservatism is literally the love of home.
However, Scruton does not help himself here in developing this crucial idea. This is because he chose to give it the rather unfortunate name of oikophilia. It is unfortunate because we live in age that is largely ignorant of the classical languages and so the meaning of the term is not readily apparent to many. Indeed, it is all too easy to link the term to something completely different as the term appears to be referring to a love of ‘oiks’ and also might actually appear to be a celebration of the rude and uppity.
This is unfortunate because this idea is fundamental to understanding the nature of conservatism. In fact I would go so far as to suggest that we could define conservatism as the love of home. We place great store on the local and the familiar, on what we know and consequently have developed a great affection for. We are prepared to die for our home and this is precisely because it gives us a purpose for living. It shows that what is important to us is the here and now, those palpable and ever present things that give our lives meaning.
We are beings that dwelling: we need to be settled and relish the permanence of our connection with our home. It gives us security and allows us the complacency we need in order to fulfill our chosen ends free from the concerns of subsistence and survival. Without a home we cannot function as individuals or as a society. It is what gives us a focus; home identifies us for what we are and locates us. This is the key conservative insight: that we are located beings who have a naturally affinity to what we already know. From this flows all that we know and understand about the conservative disposition: the love for the past, the ties to the land, the affection for a particular community of people and its institutions, a love of our culture and the desire to maintain and protect it. This is what makes conservatism so uniquely appealing. It is also what both annoys and frightens the progressives, who see this as a direct challenge to their desire for change and belief in human perfectibility. Conservatism has to be opposed and denigrated at all costs because it is a standing example of the wrongheadedness of progress and modernism.
This is why we need to state clearly and precisely what it is that we are seeking to preserve. We cannot afford to obscure the idea by attaching a misleading label. We have to show plainly that what we are considered with and what matters to us is simply the love of home.