The Virtue Patrol is prowling around on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It hunts down racists, xenophobes, anti-feminists, homophobes and almost every kind of bigot except for bigots within its own ranks. Those bigots are exempt. If the Virtue Patrol were to attack its own kind what a spectacle that would be, but of course it would mean the end of the Virtue Patrol. So, the Patrol looks outward, never inward.
It has been attacking and harassing bigots beyond its ranks for a generation, possibly longer. The problem is that such bigots are increasingly difficult to hunt down. Thus increasingly the Virtue Patrol harasses perfectly decent people. Some months back the Patrolers accosted the Covington Boys while the Boys were visiting the District of Columbia. The Boys from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky were on a field trip. They were accosted by black radicals and one lone Native American who claimed, somewhat dubiously, to be a Vietnam veteran. The Boys, for their part, were perfect gentleman. The media, however, and others members of the Virtue Patrol called them racists and worse. The Boys sued. Good show, Boys.
Yet, as I say, the Virtue Patrol is at work on both sides of the Atlantic, and in London a few weeks ago one of its agents, George Eaton, the deputy editor of the left-wing New Statesman, alighted on Roger Scruton, a friend of mine. He granted Mr. Eaton an interview. Why Mr. Scruton would agree to an interview with Mr. Eaton I have no idea, though he is a renowned philosopher and possibly thought he could have a fair discussion with this champion of Virtue.
No such luck. Before Mr. Eaton’s interview was published the scoundrel tweeted that “the government advisor and philosopher Roger Scruton has made a series of outrageous remarks” and Mr. Eaton included a link to the interview. Mr. Scruton’s supposed offenses were then listed in doctored form with Mr. Eaton’s strongly biased explications. In no time, cowardly MPs from Mr. Scruton’s Conservative Party, eminences from the Virtue Patrol, and others were calling for Mr. Scruton’s head on a platter. Finally, James Brokenshire, who had recently hired Mr. Scruton to lead a quasi-government organization, “Building better, building beautiful,” announced he had been fired. On and on the defaming of an eminent scholar went with editors, columnists, and bystanders piling on.
Yet, what had Mr. Scruton said? As Douglas Murray wrote with the utmost care in London’s Spectator magazine, “No one who called for his resignation tried to find out.” Mr. Murray did try to find out, and with painstaking care in the Spectator he proved that Mr. Scruton had been misquoted, quoted out of context and clearly misconstrued by Mr. Eaton. The Scruton who came up out of Mr. Murray’s article was the Scruton I have always known: Clear thinking, temperate, no bigot and one of the pre-eminent public thinkers of our time.
Now those who called for his resignation are scrambling for cover. Mr. Eaton has apologized. The editor in chief of the New Statesman has said: “The New Statesman takes journalistic good practice seriously. As any responsible media organization would, we are conducting an internal review in light of allegations of misrepresentation.” Mr. Scruton may yet be absolved, and by leading members of the British edition of the Virtue Patrol.
As Mr. Murray concluded, “We need philosophers, thinkers and even politicians of courage to help us find our way through this. We live in the age of character assassination. What we now desperately need is a counter-revolution based on the importance of individuals over mobs, the primacy of truth over offence, and the necessity of free-thought over this bland, dumb and ill-conceived uniformity.”
Mr. Murray calls for “a counter-revolution” presumably against the Virtue Patrol. Actually, I would rather see the Virtue Patrol turn on itself somewhat like the French Revolution turned on itself. What fun!
• R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism,” published by Thomas Nelson Inc.
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