Prickly and terrifically entertaining skewering of the left’s darling male thinkers—both European and American, from Sartre to Said.
The problem with the socialist “template,” English academic and prolific author Scruton (How to be a Conservative, 2014, etc.) asserts with barbed panache in this reworked set of essays first published in 1985, is the rejection of the tender, malleable human element. Scrupulously delving into the work of these left-wing writers (all male, which is a big weakness in this “revision”), the author aims to prove how the twin liberal orders of “liberation” and “social justice” are empty slogans and collapsible newspeak. Where writers like Michel Foucault rail against “structures of domination,” Scruton sees only “instruments of civil order,” such as common law, property, custom, hierarchy, family, even manners. Marxist intellectuals have had to readjust their utopian visions since the collapse of the Soviet Union—and well before that: since the fall of Stalin and Mao—yet continue to see the world in terms of power and struggle. They demonstrate resentment of those who dominate and a determination to repudiate what “we, the inheritors of Western civilization, have received as our historical bequest.” Scruton takes on the big leftie ideas with relish: class struggle in British authors Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Thompson; disdain for consumerism in American writers John Kenneth Galbraith and Ronald Dworkin; existential, anti-bourgeois malaise in French authors Sartre and Foucault (and later “nonsense” in Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan, and Gilles Deleuze); and the “culture wars” provoked by Antonio Gramsci and Edward Said, among many others. Refreshingly, Scruton does not mince words, exposing the wooden abstractions and frequent absurdities of these untouchables, especially with regard to the manipulation of language.
Caustic, highly recherché, and simply great fun to read for the questing intellectual soul.