Consummate Conservative (an obituary for Sir Roger Scruton)

This article is from the Autumn 2020 edition of the IPA Review

Sir Roger Scruton, philosopher and conservative, died on 12 January at the age of 75 after a six-month battle with cancer. Over his career, Scruton published more than 50 works of philosophy, polemic, fiction, and memoir. His speciality was aesthetics and the philosophy of mind, and he published works on art, architecture, and music. But he was best known for his political philosophy and his willingness to engage in popular debate.

Sir Roger—whom the IPA brought to Australia in 2014 to deliver the keynote address at the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Symposium (which can be found at the IPA’s YouTube channel)—articulated and defended conservatism as a political philosophy as substantial as any of its rivals. For this, he became a polarising figure: feted by conservatives as the best of us, loathed by the left for much the same reason. By the time of his death, however, he had the begrudging respect of even his fiercest opponents in the academy, had been knighted and widely acclaimed, and, as I have written in these pages previously (‘Eaton Alive’, IPA Review, August 2019) his reputation withstood one last idiotic attempt to take him down.

Scruton was perhaps conservatism’s most important theorist, and to illustrate his significance let’s highlight a key aspect of his project: the connection he draws between the individual and society, which is at the foundation of his world view. Since, however, a man’s life and work are not easily separated, it is worthwhile to recount a few facts that seem—to me at least, and without wanting to psychologise too much—somewhat salient in the interpretation of Scruton’s conservatism.

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Australian values save the day – IPA Keeping in Touch – 6 May 2020

This is the full text of an email I sent the IPA’s members early on in the COVID lockdown.

Dear IPA Members

Since I joined the IPA in 2016, my main responsibility has been leading our criminal justice research. Our project takes its inspiration from the successful, conservative-led movement in the United States to improve community safety with common sense reforms that increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our society’s punishment and prevention of crime. 

In that capacity, I have met with MPs across the country and I am in regular contact with other researchers in the field. When I have these meetings, I am always struck by two things: First, that if it were not for the IPA a conservative perspective on criminal justice reform simply would not be heard by those in power or by the public; and secondly, that no matter which parties or ministers were in government, the voices they would listen to on this issue would be the same, and so in effect would be their options. 

Simply put, you can vote to change governments, but you do not get to vote on who advises governments. So some ideas never seem to die, while others never seem to get a look in, no matter what the public might support at elections or in polling. This is what I would like to talk to you about today.

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Stop The World, We Want To Change It!


Throughout the coronavirus pandemic we have been repeatedly told that the only moral position is to defeat the virus at all costs. Any suggestion that the economic effects of keeping everyone in their homes and shutting down the country warrant our consideration is considered crass or obscene. If you venture that a bankrupt country is unlikely to be a healthy country, you are liable to be charged with attempted murder. Instead, the common, or at least loud and angry, refrain is that we must secure public health first, and only then can we worry about the future.

The antagonism proposed here is between those who are (earnestly, righteously) concerned with the lives at stake right now and those who are (selfishly, inhumanely) concerned with how society and the economy that sustains it will look after the shutdown. If we look more closely, though, we can see who is really exploiting this crisis.

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Like Trump, Australia Must Focus On Reoffending To Make Communities Safer

This is is the media release for my research report First Step Australia: 10 ideas for reducing reoffending.

“The single most effective criminal justice reform would be to reduce reoffending,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.

The Institute of Public Affairs today released its latest research report from the IPA Criminal Justice Project, First Step Australia: 10 ideas for reducing reoffending. The report explores the evidence for 10 policy options for improving the rehabilitative aspect of our criminal justice systems.

The report takes its name and inspiration from successful United States reforms signed into law by President Donald Trump.

“President Trump’s reforms signal a powerful shift in the politics of community safety,” said Mr Bushnell.

“The important message from the First Step Act is that new approaches to criminal justice are needed, and that the focus of reform efforts should be on reoffending, meaning the number of offenders who return to crime after passing through the system.”

Like the United States, but not yet at the same scale, Australia has seen a recent rapid increase in incarceration, driven in part by high rates of reoffending.

“The facts of Australia’s underperforming criminal justice systems are stark and becoming well-known. Over the past decade, the incarceration rate is up 30 percent, meaning there are now 43,000 people in Australian prisons on any given day, and prisons cost taxpayers more than $4 billion annually on operational costs alone,” said Mr Bushnell.

“Less well-known is the fact that 58 percent of prisoners have been in prison before, and that 45 percent of prisoners return to prison within two years of their release.”

The report considers ideas ranging from large scale reforms like increasing the use of community service and diversion programs through to more targeted interventions like expanding education and mentoring services, and providing tax credits and insurance for business taking on ex-offenders.

“All Australians will benefit from a corrections system that is actually corrective. The point is not to replace punishment with rehabilitation, but to make sure our punishments do not make rehabilitation impossible.” said Mr Bushnell.

Download the report here.

Closer to Home

This article from the Summer 2019 edition of the IPA Review is by Director of Research Daniel Wild and IPA Research Fellows Zachary Gorman and Andrew Bushnell. It is an edited extract from ‘Australian Values and The Enduring Importance of the Nation-State’, a research report prepared for the Senate Inquiry.

If Donald Trump has achieved nothing else, he has at least made the terms of politics more honest. In calling for a wall to be built on the United States’ southern border, and in adopting an aggressive America First foreign and trade policy, Trump has exposed a widening rift between those who benefit from globalisation and those who do not. For one group, the nation-state is nothing more than a barrier to progress and justice; for the other, the nation-state is a home and a source of meaning. The two visions are irreconcilable.

The dispute, of course, is bigger than Trump. All the countries of the developed world, and a few more besides, have been affected in some way by the question of how much global integration is too much. The British vote to leave the European Union (‘Brexit’) is often paired with the election of Trump. While these two events were landmarks, it is not true that politics suddenly changed in 2016 when they both happened.

To put these events in context, the surrounding years saw: the establishment of non-liberal governments in European Union member states Hungary (since 2010), Poland (since 2015), and as part of a coalition, until recently, in Group of Seven member state Italy; the greater assertiveness of Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (in office since 2012); and the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. This environment also helped our centre-right government hold onto power this year, and the same factors will determine whether Scott Morrison succeeds or fails.

What unites these events is a growing realisation that global governance, supranational entities, and large trading blocs sit uncomfortably with the traditional understanding of national identity and its expression in the sovereign state.

Though it would have been unthinkable even a generation ago—amid the flag-waving for Ronald Reagan’s Cold War victory, German reunification, and, here at home, the celebration of Australia’s bicentenary— global politics is now centred on the question of whether the nation-state can or should survive. This has become the signature issue of our time. It goes by various names: populism, nationalism, polarisation. It is present in every political debate, from congested roads to economic competitiveness and red tape to education policy and, naturally, immigration. If we are to address these issues, we need to first remind ourselves of the value of the nation-state, how Australia came to be the nation-state that it is, and the shared national values that have made our country great.

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