Roger Scruton & The Dorchester Review

C.P. Champion

I FIRST HEARD the name of Roger Scruton in 1992 when, on a Cambridge restaurant patio, Alexander Rose introduced me to his new friend Graham Stewart, adding, “who looks like Roger Scruton.” He did: curly red hair, glasses, prominent cheekbones, and, I suppose, sceptical or learned air. About that time, I attended a medium-size gathering at King’s to hear and meet Enoch Powell. There was Graham, behind a table, signing us up to SAFE (Students Against a Federal Europe): I’m pretty sure I still have the membership card, secreted in one of my books.

  Scruton in 1989.

But that can’t have been the first time I’d heard of Scruton. From about 1986 my father used to bring home the Sunday Telegraph every week from the newsagent’s in Park Royal; Dad was one of three local expats who reserved copies of that magnificent paper, then in a heyday under the editorial genius of Peregrine Worsthorne. So I must have made my first acquaintance with Scruton in high school, along with Brussels correspondent Boris Johnson, “Will This Do?” columnist Auberon Waugh, and others. We subscribed to The Spectator, too, which offered a whole way of looking at the world, culturally, politically, contrarianly; witty and mordant, refreshingly un-Canadian.

Much later I did get to meet Scruton once, briefly, at the Civitas meeting in Vancouver in 2013, when he spoke to an audience of 100 or more packed aboard the M.V. Native, a paddle-wheeler brilliantly hired by then-president John von Heyking, while cruising around the sunny harbour. Though the moment was short, I showed him a copy of The Dorchester Review, assuring him (not very modestly) that it was “the Canadian version” of The Salisbury Review, the British magazine he had edited for 18 years. Twice afterwards I nearly commissioned an article from him — and I regret to say that I found his fee too high! Still, that sort of prudence is how The Dorchester Review has stayed afloat. He can be read everywhere after all.

 

ROGER SCRUTON died on January 12. Nearly forty years ago in 1982 he was recruited by the Salisbury Group, “a loose group of reactionaries” who claimed a smart lineage in Lord Salisbury, the 3rd Marquess, Tory grandee and Prime Minister from 1895 to 1902, an intellectual in power, “who kept everything so well in place that nothing is now known about him,” Scruton wrote. Growing partly out of the “Peterhouse Right,” colleagues and admirers of Maurice Cowling at Cambridge, it was an intellectual journal of the New Right in the broadest sense: inclusive of reactionaries, and of dissent from Thatcherite neo-liberalism.

Professor Scruton in 1982 was “confident that there were at least 600 intellectual conservatives in Britain, most of whom would welcome a journal dedicated to expressing, examining and exploring their endangered worldview.” Cowling, a mentor, doubted that it would work and told Scruton he was kidding himself if he believed that “conservative politics could be given a philosophical backing sufficient to put it on a par with socialism, liberalism, nationalism and all the other isms that conservatism isn’t.”(1) Conservatism is not an ideology, he said, but is about “political practice,” based on “a long tradition of pragmatic decision-making and high-toned contempt for human folly,” with a “bag of tricks” to educate the voter. “To try to encapsulate it in a philosophy,” Cowling warned, “was the kind of naive project that Americans might undertake.”

Not the Canadians, though. In the pragmatism of Disraeli and Salisbury (and now Boris), Blue Tories this side of the pond can see mirrored the practical, constitutionalist, Burkean tradition of the incomparable Sir John A. Macdonald and his successors, and by anticipation, Sir Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester (of whom more below).

The Salisbury Review mobilized a cultural traditionalism that was alert to the threat to Western civilization emanating from within its own centres of higher learning; to the intellectual rot in its own pollyannish and blithely semi-educated elites dominating state-subsidized arts, media, education, and government: in short, the type of person who unthinkingly chants the mantras of tolerance, equality, and diversity but who is actually intolerant of dissent from his or her own clueless and rigid utopianism. Persons who had never heard of Solzhenitsyn and who mistook Václav Havel (of “The Power of the Powerless” and “Living in Truth”) for one of themselves. But on the contrary it was not the work of pinkish fellow-travellers that was eagerly disseminated as samizdat in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, etc. but Scruton’s.

And the academic left punished him for it, boycotting his public lectures, trying to get him fired, blocking his career, refusing to take his serious books seriously, excommunicating him from “acceptable” academe. But the attacks on Scruton and the Salisbury Review generated the publicity that garnered its first 600 subscriptions and afterwards thousands. Requiescat in Pace.

 

THE REACTION in Canada to The Dorchester Review, in keeping with our tone, has been lower-key, with at least a small coterie of activist/postmodernist/gender-morphing/Marxist/politically-homogenous group-think Canadian academics encouraging each other to “ignore” The D.R. and “never quote it,” to deny it oxygen so that potential readers would not hear about it; to get libraries to drop it or not subscribe, and so on. Still, we’ve found that many open-minded scholars who refuse to be pigeonholed are quite happy both to write for us and to subscribe. A steady stream of citations appears in journals and books each year. Ten years later, we’re still getting stronger with each new 100-page issue.

There were many influences behind The Dorchester Review’s founding in 2010-11. One of the strands was captured by Dr. Scruton in Gentle Regrets:

… I remain what I have been since [the Paris riots of] May 1968 — a conservative intellectual, who not only loves the high culture of Europe, but believes it to be a source of consolation and the repository of what we Europeans should know. It is, to put it bluntly, our best hope ... Such a hope animated de Gaulle; it enabled him to save his country from destruction not once but twice. And … it offers a guarantee of national survival. That, to me, is the lesson of conservative politics, and it is one that will never be understood by those who place their hopes solely in the future, and without faith in the past.

 

Our longtime readers know that Lord Dorchester cuts an even grander figure from England’s Augustan Age. As Governor and Captain-General in 1768-1778 and 1785-1795, he sponsored the Quebec Act, turned back the American invasion (for which he was knighted), and brought to safety in Nova Scotia and Quebec many Loyalists including escaped slaves. He laid the conservative foundations of security and ordered liberty that blossomed into the Canadian federation of 1867.

  Dorchester, in the Chateau Ramezay, Quebec. 

Although it appeared under the guise at first of an editorial collective, The D.R. was actually very much a personal initiative. In 2010 I half-seriously floated the idea of “defiantly” naming this magazine “The Colborne Review,” after Sir John Colborne, one of Wellington’s generals who later, as Lieutenant-Governor, suppressed the 1837 rebellion in Lower Canada. I was quickly disabused of this notion by a consensus among friends, especially on the Quebec side, who dissuaded me from honouring the “Old Firebrand” whose avenging forces bombarded St-Eustache and put St-Benoît to flames. Thus Dorchester was “meant to be.” Afterwards we got a cheer from Conrad Black, who called it “a brilliant name.”

Even more encouraging was the response of no less a figure than George Jonas, whose 2005 memoir, Beethoven’s Mask, is a must-read for anyone who enjoys The D.R. Jonas said we had published “the best first issue of any comparable periodical I have seen, here or elsewhere.”

Mr. Jonas helped us get started financially too. Over lunch at the Toronto Club in 2011, Kenneth Whyte introduced me to him and Allan Gotlieb, who  offered small grants from the Donner and Aurea Foundations to help us get off the ground. That year David Frum promoted The D.R. in two decisive National Post columns; the subscriptions poured in: hundreds in a matter of days, and we knew we could make it work. Later the Murray Frum Foundation also gave financial support. For our June 28, 2011 launch in Ottawa’s Bytown Museum, Tim Powers and Lisa Samson donated cheese and wine. Jaime Watt gave us a princely Toronto launch that year followed up by John Pepall in 2018. About 100 readers donated between $25 and $1,000 in 2014, which got us over an early hump. We also got some exposure at two Churchill dinners in Toronto. Barbara Kay wrote a column in 2016 that attracted many new subscribers. In recent years, we have had generous help from a few donors, especially the Ritchie Foundation and Don Cranston, topping up respectable subscriber revenue. We’ve never asked a cent from any level of Government. We could always use more help with the development and marketing side, including sprucing up the website. We have kept our expenses down whilst our quality in print remains high. With dedication it can be done.

 

IF THE D.R. has a stylistic (or perhaps journalistic) lineage, add to those strands of Scruton and Cowling recounted above the Anglo-Iraqi historian Elie Kedourie; prolific popularizer Paul Johnson, David Pryce-Jones, Alan Clark M.P.,(2) Taki, John Lukacs the self-described “reactionary,” and the dissident hero, Havel, discovered, by me at least, at UBC in 1990 in a class taught by the Polish poet and professor, Bogdan Czaykowski (1932-2007). Of course Churchill looms in the background. And later Waugh, Belloc, Dawson, etc. Other, shall we say, institutional models were the transatlantic liberal anti-Communist magazine Encounter (which ceased publication in 1991) for design and appearance; and its sparkling Australian analogue Quadrant. Obviously National Review, which I began reading at 17. And a bit later, Commentary and its film critic, Richard Grenier. A certain debt to Ted and Link Byfield’s Alberta Report (where I laboured 1994-97), and a nod to Black, Whyte, and John O’Sullivan’s inspirational National Post of 1998-99. And importantly that Conservative Party element identified with Jason Kenney,(3) who in 1994 introduced me to First Things, and whose fast-moving coattails I caught hold of (thinking of the Bismarck quotation) in 1997, postponing my doctorate for the third time to dabble in politics and serve as a policy advisor, which led to some of the adventures recalled in “Tory History & Its Critics” and “Red Ensign Blues.” The Party was neither reactionary nor creative enough in power, for my taste: they were accused of much while accomplishing too little. I must include also Dr. Hereward Senior (1918-2013) at McGill, who in 2003-05 first made me aware of the “Canadian Ideology”: the wider legacy of that peculiar purblind Canadianism of Sir Sam Hughes and the Ross Rifle; and by extension the arrogance of those in politics and the Laurentian chattering classes who thought they were “saving” Canada whilst actually throwing federalism into jeopardy.

Outstanding writers, too numerous to name, have filled our 19 issues to date. We can be especially proud of having brought to the attention of English-speaking readers members of Quebec’s “new historical sensibility” such as Xavier Gélinas, Damien-Claude Bélanger, Frédéric Bastien, Charles-Philippe Courtois, François Charbonneau, and Michel Ducharme (and there will be more), both in original essays in English and by translating their work into English for the first time. This was part of our founding raison d’être.

Our content has ranged widely from popular to scholarly. We have strangely been accused of “not being an academic journal” but we have never pretended or wanted to be that; there are plenty around. We are a semi-academic, semi-popular journal of history and, uniquely, historical commentary: a general interest magazine. We’ve also done our best to refrain from precipitate interventions on raging controversies, preferring to let the news ripen a little before commenting. That we have loyal subscribers in every Province, in the USA, and all over the world, a few as far afield as Vienna, Tasmania, Hong Kong, and Japan, attests to our potential to grow dramatically. Fingers crossed!

Everyone needs a little help from their friends. We have had outstanding support from our contributing editors, Michael Bonner, James Bowden, the late David Twiston Davies,(4) Philip Marchand, John Pepall, Phyllis Reeve, John Robson, and Alastair Sweeny;  also in the first years Randy Boyagoda and Randall Hansen; our chairman, Benjamin A. Mackenzie, and advisory board, Maj.-Gen. Jean-Robert Bernier (Ret.), Gary Caldwell, Xavier Gélinas, Stuart Iversen, and Kenneth Whyte; and our Foundation board which includes Bernier, Iversen, Mackenzie, Ms. Renata Brum, and Ken Bradley; and finally we thank our honorary patron, Toby Buchan, The Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield.

The Dorchester Review is fortunate in its friends. As we enter our tenth year of publication next spring, and this autumn/winter produce our 20th edition, we thank you, the loyal reader, and look forward to bringing to you much more and even better engagement with history and ideas, and inspiration for years to come.

--- Published in Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2020, pp. 11-14.

 

Notes

1. Gentle Regrets: How I Became a Conservative, p. 51.

2. In The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State 1922-1997 as well as the three volumes of Diaries.

3. Crawford Kilian in “Can’t Call Canada’s Conservatives Overeducated,” The Tyee, Dec. 13, 2012, completely misses the intellectual significance of the Harper party; too busy snuffling at MPs for not holding degrees, he makes no mention of staff, and omits one of the Tories’ brightest lights, Scott Reid MP, who has an MA and has written two books and co-edited a third.

4. A tribute to Mr. Davies will appear in the next issue.


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