Foodosophy – Green Conservatism

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Wednesday April 24 at The Magdalen Arms
Topic: Green Conservatism & Roger Scruton’s ‘Green Philosophy’


The Foodosophy Group meets roughly monthly as way of forcing its members to actually sit down and read the things they’ve been meaning to read, and then come together to discuss them. The remit is around Food and its relationship with philosophy, politics and economics etc. Open to all – see here for more details.

This month’s Foodosophy discussion centred around Roger Scruton’s provocative tome ‘Green Philosophy‘, with additional commentary from Peter Singer in The Monthly and Mike Hannis in the Land Magazine. The write-up is by Chloe:

A fox-hunting opera-loving Conservative may seem an unusual choice of thinker for the Foodphosophy reading group. Those present were largely from a liberal background. Yet Roger Scruton’s Green Philosophy– arguing that conservatism is better suited to tackling environmental problems than liberalism or socialism – was felt to be a useful work. It is important to read out of the liberal echo chamber. It is healthy to examine books (or reviews of books) from different perspectives. And Scruton writes convincing prose.

The first part of the discussion tried to pin down Scruton’s clunky but key concept: Oikophilia. Oikophilia means love of home and for Scruton this is what will change people’s behaviour. This emotion will foster a responsibility for the environment. Local associations, such as the WI, must act as stewards for the land and will serve it far better than NGOs and international committees.

However, the group came up against problems with Scruton’s tract. Indeed, most of the meeting was spent considering these. Firstly, Scruton’s examples felt highly Eurocentric. Though he deploys thinkers in the Western canon with ease (MB approved), this tends to homogenisation. There is scant consideration of Eastern philosophic traditions. Can the immigrant feel oikophila? Scruton’s evocation of the Burkean hereditary principle favours landowners, not the dispossessed – a point made forcefully by Mike Hannis’ review in The Land (Winter 2012-3).

More vexingly, Scruton’s vision seems rooted in another, earlier world. This is particularly true of the sections of Green Philosophy that deal with climate change. JH stated that some of Scruton’s statistics are simply are out of date. Many of Scruton’s idol associations were born in the interwar years. They were built for the early twentieth century, not the globalised twenty-first. Local solutions cannot necessarily solve global problems.

Is it possible, then, to feel oikophilia for the planet? (A question posed by JC). Scruton tries to extend the local to the national (and reclaim patriotism) but cannot stretch one scale further. The entry of MS at this point brought pertinent personal reflections on the early environmental movement. Founding members of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were motivated by big ideas (and arguably a sense of the exotic). Are all-embracing visions still a better bet than tugging on local heartstrings? There is a danger of fetishizing the local. With many of the group part of international networks, are we now guided more of communities of interest? But if communities of place are outdated; why were five Oxford foodosophers gathered in one neighbourhood pub?

Scruton’s stress on homeostasis leaves little for innovation. This was demonstrated by a series of comprehensive diagrams from JH. The discussion closed with attempts to draw up a list of counter-examples – instances of global superseding local – as well as probing a number of Scruton’s smiled-on organisations: the CPRE and the National Trust, more radical than is often assumed. Though the discussion had at times far strayed from food, the meeting ended with the conclusion that the group was not wholly convinced by green conservatism, but hungry.

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