The Book Bag Review

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands - reviewed by Patricia Duffaud for The Book Bag

Thinkers of the New Left first came out in 1985, under Thatcher's government. British left-wing intellectuals gave it savage reviews. The publisher was threatened with a boycott and the book was withdrawn from bookshops. Roger Scruton feels this caused his university career to decline. In the introduction, he says he is reluctant to return to the scene of such a disaster.

However, this is a subject he is clearly passionate about, having worked with underground networks in communist Europe and seen the destructive reality behind the fashionable leftist ways of thinking.

The book is now being reissued, updated with a chapter on Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou and retitled Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.

It is an elegantly written book and Scruton makes his points fairly. He focuses his gaze on one thinker after another, summarizing their ideas and commenting on them. He gives praise, too. Sartre is described as a gifted writer. About Foucault, he says that the synthesizing poetry of his style rises above the murky sludge of left-wing writing like an eagle over mud-flats, which is itself a lively and imaginative comparison.

The main critiques he makes are convincing. In particular, Sartre, Foucault, Habermas and many others show a disgust of the 'bourgeoisie' which feels dated now. Scruton also identifies the Newspeak common to these left-wing thinkers:Many words with respectable origins end up as Newspeak, used to denounce, exhort and condemn without regard for observable realities.

Another interesting comment is that the texts he quotes sound like spells and the ideas of the thinkers assembled here resemble a religion. It is difficult not to conclude, after following Scruton's exposition, that these left-wing ideas are a utopia and would never work as a government.

Fuelling his critique is also the plentiful well of the atrocities committed by communist regimes, and glossed over by thinkers as varied as Sartre and Hobsbawm. More obscure maybe is the tale of Lukàcs, a Hungarian left-wing thinker once in vogue, who denounced 'bourgeois' thinkers as part of a self-righteous witch-hunt. In one moment of casual savagery, Lukàcs is partially responsible for sending Hungarian philosopher Béla Hamvas to work as an unskilled labourer in a power plant. Imagining the hard-hearted single-mindedness required to send a colleague into a life of hardship makes it easier to see where Scruton is coming from. There is danger in following ideas so blindly, while believing one is fully on the side of good, and ending up harming others without a qualm.

Indeed, it would be salutary for students, led to automatically thinking of Marxism as being the only 'fair' way to see a world through the lens of the exploitation of the working class, to be able to step into a different mindset, if only for the space of one book. People who have unthinkingly been on the left of the spectrum may find it alleviating to read a book that pokes at the revered thinkers of the left and their pronouncements.

Scruton's stylish writing and his knowledge and passion for his subject make this an entertaining read.

Latest Articles

Roger Scruton gets his job back - The Spectator, 23rd July 19

Roger Scruton has been reappointed as head of a government housing body after he was sacked in April following a magazine interview in which his views were misrepresented. The letter...

The Telegraph - 20th July 19

The failure to stand up for conservative thinking is leading us into a new cultural dark age. The intellectual scene always used to have room for great minds from the...

Letter from the Secretary of State 9/7/19

This is to report the good news that, in addition to the published apology from the New Statesman, Roger has now received an apology from the Secretary of State, James...

Press Statement from Sir Roger Scruton in response to the apology from The New Statesman 8 Jul 2019

Press Statement from Sir Roger Scruton in response to the apology from The New Statesman 8 July 2019 Statement, Sir Roger Scruton: “I am pleased to have resolved my complaint against...

Recent Books

Souls in the Twilight

Beaufort Books  (October 2018) As the lights that have guided us go out, people begin to wander in the twilight, seeking their place of belonging. In these stories, set in...

Music as an Art

Bloomsbury  (August 2018) Music as an Art begins by examining music through a philosophical lens, engaging in discussions about tonality, music and the moral life, music and cognitive science and German...

Where We Are: The State of Britain Now

Where We Are: The State of Britain Now

Bloomsbury (November 2017) Addressing one of the most politically turbulent periods in modern British history, philosopher Roger Scruton asks how, in these circumstances, we can come to define our identity,...

2019 Events

Wed 31st Jul - Fri 9th Aug - 2019 Scrutopia Summer School

Thur 29th Aug - Sun 1st Sept - Scrutopia Alumni Meeting 

Thurs 19th Sept - ISI Gala for Western Civilization, Philadelphia

Thurs 3rd Oct - University of Buckingham London Programmes - Masters in Philosophy