What Can Limit Desire?

Scruton says that the liberal arts education is obsessively instilling the idea that all cultures are great and equally valuable and should be judged on their own terms. Except, of course, the Western civilization, which is uniquely evil and has to be constantly denounced. I’m in higher education and I confirm that this is exactly what it’s like.

However, Scruton says, you can’t build community on renunciation. Constantly denouncing the evilness of your culture and groveling at the feet of other (often bizarre and barbaric) cultures doesn’t help bind isolated individuals together and can’t put any limit on their endless desires.

If there’s no religion, no nation, and no culture to create any sort of boundary for the endless desires of alienated individuals, what’s left?

The response to this conundrum has been to foster identity attachments. That hasn’t worked. At the root of identity there’s nothing but the mythology of shared grievance. Grievance by its nature can’t limit desire because it’s all about unsatisfied desire.

9 thoughts on “What Can Limit Desire?”

  1. Is he a good writer? Which book of his would you recommend to check?

    I read “The Age of Entitlement”, but it obviously cannot be compared to Philip Bobbitt or Bauman. Have you found some truly great (conservative or liberal) analysis?


        1. Yes. Scruton is the kind of conservative who is deeply into environmentalism and very worried by the destruction of the environment by free market capitalism. His views on the environmental catastrophe are exactly what mine are.


  2. “…identity attachments. That hasn’t worked. At the root of identity there’s nothing but the mythology of shared grievance.”

    This doesn’t seem true. What does he mean by identity attachment? There are all sorts of non national cultures, and identities, that are very rich. African-American culture. Pan-African and African diaspora culture(s). Various gay/lesbian cultures. And so on. Sure, they were created as a result of oppression and part of what they are doing is resisting. But it seems more than a little ignorant to say these are isolated, alienated individuals just nursing mythologies of shared grievance, made of unsatisfied desire. I must be misunderstanding.

    Also, I would LOVE it if people in English/French/German would stop saying they were the only smart people and start recognizing that others might have some form of civilization. So far they only seem to think others provide raw materials and primitive art, that they can then study. Somebody in English here just told their only African-American faculty member that if you study African-American literature you don’t have to do theory, because the work isn’t complex enough for that.


    1. Loving your own culture doesn’t mean hating others. You can treasure the West while also acknowledging and learning about the great contributions the rest of the world has made to art, philosophy, literature, etc. Also, in the context of America, treasuring your own culture means treasuring the contributions of black Americans to our culture, just as we treasure the contributions of white Americans. If there is an “American literary canon,” black writers like Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Maya Angelou are undeniably part of it. Derision towards African American literature is unpatriotic.


      1. In part it is the monolithic nature of this argument that bothers me. Sure, “treasure” some things that fall under the category of West, criticize/dislike others. I don’t find that criticism means “hating the West” but many seem to feel it is.

        If you look at most history departments in the US, to give an example, most positions are for US and European historians. That doesn’t seem to me like “hating the West.”


      2. Can you imagine a situation where somebody argues at a major scholarly conference that women marrying into conservative evangelical sects, severing all ties with their families, putting on long dresses and repudiating their cultures was a hugely liberating, feminist act? Probably not.

        But it’s perfectly ok to make that argument about Western women who adopt Islam. The argument gets massively applauded as I witnessed myself last month.

        This is what I’m talking about.


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