Where We Are by Roger Scruton, Bloomsbury, 237pp, £16.99
In his overview of where Britain finds itself in the wake of the Brexit vote, Roger Scruton sets out to answer what will unify the country, “as a single people subject to a single law”, now that it has disenthralled itself from the European Union. Consequently, it is with questions of identity and sovereignty that he is most engaged.
While he concedes that the British left the European Union because they were convinced that laws imposed from Brussels violated not only British sovereignty but also British identity, he makes a number of assertions about the British understanding of sovereignty and identity that are rather dubious.
For example, Scruton may acknowledge that British identity has something to do with Christianity, but he sees that Christianity in such attenuated terms as to be essentially unreal and, what is even more arresting, he claims that British sovereignty somehow demanded that the British adopt an unreal Christianity.
In other words, the British were right to acquiesce in the pinchbeck Christianity imposed on them by the Tudors because to have done otherwise would have been a violation of their sovereignty. Moreover, for Scruton, British identity always preferred the pinchbeck to the genuine article when it came to Christianity because the British never saw the point of what he calls “the old nonsense” with regard to transubstantiation.
For the philosopher in Scruton, it is enough that Anglicans “profess their belief in ‘the Holy Catholic Church’ and ‘the Communion of Saints’,” since their understanding of the Eucharist “is more or less identical with the Roman Catholic version, distinguished largely by a metaphysical commentary that ridicules the old nonsense in new nonsense of its own”.
The problem with this flippant misrepresentation of the differences between Anglicanism and the Church of Rome is that it is emblematic of Scruton’s fundamental misunderstanding of the bossy, supranational elites that threaten all European sovereignty and identity. Pace Scruton, these elites are not opposed to “national” identity simply because they believe that supranational identity is more efficient. To argue, for example, as Scruton argues, that Germany is committed to the EU because it is uncomfortable with “national” identity is rather like saying that Himmler was committed to the SS because he was uncomfortable with people who were not blond and blue-eyed.
In their contempt for the family, their ardent promotion of contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion, and their seemingly illimitable willingness to appease the jihadists in our midst, the Germans and their EU cohorts are opposed not only to “national” but also to human identity. It is only by taking the sacrifice of the Mass seriously – and, of necessity, the Eucharist – that one can begin to understand what our now gravely embattled humanity is all about.
Like many of my fellow Americans, I rejoiced to see Britain leaving the EU. In voting out the Democratic Party in our presidential election we voted out our own version of the EU, one which would have continued to impose Supreme Court laws on us to which the country had never assented, especially those legalising abortion and redefining marriage.
Scruton’s lamentable ignorance of the ancient faith of the British notwithstanding, he does make a persuasive case for the wisdom of the Brexiteers. For anyone with family or friends still fond of the EU, this is the book to give them to disabuse them of their illusions.
Since Scruton’s book is a contribution to the “Condition of England” genre initiated by Thomas Carlyle in response to the popular discontent of the Chartists, and since it was, above all else, working class discontent that sealed the Brexit vote, it might be useful to look back at Carlyle’s 1840 essay, “Chartism”. In it, the historian posed lively questions that still apply to our own fraught circumstances: “What means this bitter discontent of the Working Classes? Whence comes it, whither goes it?”
The discontent that led to Brexit is not unlike the popular discontent of the Chartists, since its roots are not only economic but also religious, even though now, as in the past, the religious sources of the discontent go largely unacknowledged.
In reminding his readers of Our Lord’s profound, yet eminently practical summons, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” Scruton at least recognises that until the British people get to the real religious root of their discontent, their sovereignty and identity will continue to erode.
Edward Short’s latest book is Newman and History (Gracewing)