Writer and academic Sir Roger Scruton’s latest book, Where We Are – The State of Britain Now, takes a thoughtful and erudite look at why Britain is the country it is, what unites us as a nation and why seismic political events such as Brexit have occurred.
Where We Are is a book about identity, and such titles are needed at the moment, with the UK becoming more bitterly divided than ever. As the UK leaves behind its Christian history and becomes increasingly multicultural, Scruton assesses what this means for our traditions and the implications it has for our shared future.
A bifurcated political system where both sides see the other as nefarious if not outright immoral, and a growing movement for Scottish independence (which divides opinion north and south of the border), plus an acrimonious divorce from the EU that has led to acrimonious divorces within families and the termination of lifelong friendships over opposing views on Brexit means that books about British cultural identity are more necessary and timely than ever.
Scruton’s fellow contributor to the Spectator – Douglas Murray – recently penned the international bestseller The Strange Death of Europe, to critical acclaim, including on EF. Yet Scruton’s Where We Are, although thematically similarly to Murray’s earlier tome on the dangers of surrendering our identity and values, is not a polemic (he is too polite, for example, to rail against the left-wing bias in the education system, even though he covers it). Put simply, Scruton is far too mild-mannered to be provocative – yet there will undoubtedly be passages in the book that will offend some. But since we live in a culture that rewards perennial moral outrage and raises victimhood to the highest social status, this simply means that Scruton says some things in the book, however well-argued and reasonably, that others would disagree with or rather he hadn’t said.
If you appreciate robust debate and honesty, Where We Are will thrill your intellectual curiosity, even where you may disagree (possibly profoundly – as Brexit divorces prove) with what the author says.
Is it really so provocative? Not to a non-ideologue. Scruton separates his book into six long chapters. There’s a good chance you may agree with some but not with others, such is the range of a relatively short title (227 pages of text).
Current British Prime Minister Theresa May (and who know how quickly that text will become dated?) famously stated, “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” While that statement isn’t explicitly extrapolated upon, and May isn’t attributed to it, Scruton traces it back to David Goodhart’s dichotomy between the “somewheres” and the “nowheres” when it comes to the question of citizenship. Scruton’s term, which reoccurs in the book, is “oikophobia” – an aversion to one’s home surroundings. He uses it to explain those who seek to portray patriotism and a sense of national belonging negatively.
The most ire that will be directed towards the book will undoubtedly be in the final chapters, when Scruton tackles Islam and how it fits within what can be defined, however loosely, as British society. It is a sensible look at how scrutinising a set of religious ideas that lead to certain beliefs and behaviours has nothing to do with racism, but may ultimately simply be about a clash between irreconcilable value systems. Stating such ideas has become as toxic as declaring that sovereignty – deciding our laws and values for ourselves and valuing freedom – matter.
Ultimately, books like Where We Are are long overdue, and have arrived now that the horse has not only bolted but died of old age in the knacker’s yard. There isn’t a sense of futility from Scruton, but it’s hard to find too many positives from his assessment. Having said that, there is succour to be sought in the most dire prognoses, especially when it’s so beautifully argued. Scruton is charming and considered company, whether or not you agree with him.
There is no reconciling the two sides of this debate. It eats away at the heart of British society. But an attempt to at least have a conversation about it has to be welcomed. Where We Are is a great starting point for anyone who remains on the fence, should such a person be found.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Books Release Date: 16th November 2017