Thinkers of the New Left

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Thinkers of the New Left
Thinkers of the New Left.jpg
Cover
Author Roger Scruton
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject New Left
Publisher Longman
Publication date
1985
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 227
ISBN 0-582-90273-8

Thinkers of the New Left is a 1985 book by the English philosopher Roger Scruton, in which the author analyses and criticizes the New Left. Scruton concentrates on 14 authors he considers representatives of the movement: E. P. Thompson, Ronald Dworkin, Michel Foucault, R. D. Laing, Raymond Williams, Rudolf Bahro, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, Immanuel Wallerstein, Jürgen Habermas, Perry Anderson, György Lukács, John Kenneth Galbraith and Jean-Paul Sartre. Thinkers of the New Left proved controversial because of Scruton's attacks on the British Left, and according to Scruton himself, its reception damaged his career. Some of the material in Thinkers of the New Left appeared in reworked form in a 2015 book titled Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.

Background[edit]

According to Scruton, he was motivated to write Thinkers of the New Left by his experiences in Czechoslovakia under the communist regime, where he worked with the Jan Hus Educational Foundation and attempted to smuggle forbidden literature into the country. Scruton was angered by what he saw as "excuses for the Gulag" made by scholars such as the historian Eric Hobsbawm.[1]

The book's chapters had previously appeared as separate essays in the British conservative magazine The Salisbury Review.[2]

Summary[edit]

Scruton critically evaluates the work of E. P. Thompson, Ronald Dworkin, Michel Foucault, R. D. Laing, Raymond Williams, Rudolf Bahro, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, Immanuel Wallerstein, Jürgen Habermas, Perry Anderson, György Lukács, John Kenneth Galbraith and Jean-Paul Sartre. He also provides a general overview of left-wing thought and its social and political significance. Scruton argues that during the 1960s and 1970s, the thinkers he discusses helped to create an "oppositional consensus", and that due to its influence "it ceased to be respectable to defend the customs, institutions, and policy of western states". Scruton sees the New Left as the most recent expression of a force that has been prominent in politics since the beginning of the French Revolution. According to him, left-wing movements are often led by fanatics, whose rhetoric he compares to that of Maximilien Robespierre.[3]

According to Scruton, while the theories of Karl Marx "have been essentially refuted" by authors such as the sociologist Max Weber, the economists Eugen Böhm von Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek, and the philosopher Karl Popper, the New Left has failed to respond to Marx's critics with "anything more persuasive than a sneer", even though the major New Left thinkers depend on the central claims of Marxism. In Scruton's view, this demonstrates that the New Left does not have "a system of rationally held beliefs", and is dependent on never questioned assumptions. Scruton praises the philosopher Leszek Kołakowski's Main Currents of Marxism (1976-1978).[4]

Publication history[edit]

Thinkers of the New Left was published by Longman in 1985.[5]

Reception[edit]

Thinkers of the New Left was reviewed by John Dunn in The Times Literary Supplement,[6] Colin Crouch in The Political Quarterly,[7] and Dennis O'Keeffe in Modern Age.[8]

Looking back on Thinkers of the New Left in 2015, Scruton wrote that because the book was published while Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Great Britain and he, then teaching at a university, was known as a prominent opponent of the British Left, it was "greeted with derision and outrage", and its publication marked "the beginning of the end" for his university career and led to attacks on his character and on all of his works, regardless of whether they dealt with politics. According to Scruton, an academic philosopher wrote to Longman, the book's publisher, that Longman had been "tarnished by association" with Scruton's work, and one of Longman's best-selling educational writers threatened to "take his products elsewhere if the book stayed in print". Scruton writes that copies of Thinkers of the New Left were removed from bookshops as a result.[9]

The journalist Tim Adams writes that underground copies of Thinkers of the New Left were distributed in the former Czechoslovakia after the book's withdrawal in Britain,[1] while according to Scruton, "samizdat editions" of the book appeared in both Czech and Polish, and it was subsequently translated into Chinese, Korean and Portuguese.[9] Adams describes Thinkers of the New Left as "a closely argued attack on what Scruton saw as the prevailing fundamentalism of his world, the grip of Marxist and post-Marxist thinking within Britain’s universities."[1] Some of the book's chapters were reworked by Scruton and included in a new book titled Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left (2015). However, Scruton excluded the chapters on Laing and Bahro from his new book, believing that the thinkers they are about "have nothing to say to us today".[9]

Some reviews of Fools, Frauds and Firebrands described the book as a new edition of Thinkers of the New Left.[10][11][12]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Adams 2015.
  2. ^ Scruton 1985, p. vii.
  3. ^ Scruton 1985, pp. 1–3, 10–176.
  4. ^ Scruton 1985, pp. 5–6.
  5. ^ Scruton 1985, p. iv.
  6. ^ Dunn 1986, pp. 347–348.
  7. ^ Crouch 1986, pp. 453–455.
  8. ^ O'Keeffe 1988, pp. 75–78.
  9. ^ a b c Scruton 2016, pp. vii–viii.
  10. ^ Publishers Weekly 2015, p. 45.
  11. ^ Poole 2015, pp. vii–viii.
  12. ^ Jacobs 2016, pp. 44–46.

Bibliography[edit]

Books
Journals
  • Crouch, Colin (1986). "Thinkers of the New Left (Book Review)". The Political Quarterly. 57.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Dunn, John (1986). "Restoration and reversal". The Times Literary Supplement (4331).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Jacobs, Alan (2016). "Roger Scruton vs. the New Left". The American Conservative. 15 (2).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • O'Keeffe, Dennis (1988). "On the Socialist Fantasy". Modern Age. 32 (1).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • "Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left". Publishers Weekly. 262 (31). 2015.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
Online articles

External links[edit]