Roger Scruton: Wagner says don’t look to politics for salvation

Roger Scruton: Wagner says don’t look to politics for salvation


norman lebrecht

July 23, 2016

In an essay publicising his new book, the rightwing philosopher has some disturbing thoughts to about the Ring. Blithely dismissing Wagner’s powerful racism and its influence on Nazism, Scruton continues to regard the Ring as a model for our times, perhaps as a model for the death of democracy.

That is why the Ring Cycle is of ever-increasing importance to music-lovers in our times. Its theme is the death of the gods, and what the gods have bequeathed to us, namely, the knowledge of, and longing for, the sacred. Until we recognise sacred moments, Wagner implies in this monumental work, we cannot live fully as free beings. These moments are the foundation of all our attempts to endow human life with significance. Despite the controversies that have surrounded this great work—its vast length, its dubious later associations with Nazi thought—it constantly grows on the collective imagination. It is not the answer to life in a post-religious world, but it asks the real questions, and shows us one fruitful way of confronting them.

Read the full essay here.

bayreuth ring

And furthermore: So Wagner has a reply to Feuerbach, and to Feuerbach’s other great disciple, Karl Marx, namely: stop looking to politics for your salvation…



  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    Richard Scruton? What have they done with Roger?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Richard is Roger’s brother who always lived, resentlfully, in Roger’s shadow – he is also a philosopher but not as good as Roger.

  • Una says:

    Norman, it’s Roger – perhaps you’d like to change it before you bombarded for the slip!!!

    Roger’s work is always interesting to read, and he was on Radio 4 a little while back when Opera North were doing their Ring.

    • Ravi Narasimhan says:

      The lack of a correction makes me think it is intentional. A sly invitation to pronounce the name as a German one and invite the comparison between philosophers and philosophies.

      If so, well played…

  • Paul Davis says:

    Was the forename not thoroly Scrutonised before posting?

  • John Borstlap says:

    Maybe Richard is rightwing, but Roger Scruton isn’t rightwing at all in the careless sense of the word: he is a philosopher with roots in the conservative thought of philosophers like Edmund Burke. Labelling Scruton ‘conservative’ or ‘rightwing’ does not justice to the wide range of his thought, which also covers musicology, art history and analysis, and burning contemporary questions like the protection of the natural environment and green farming.

    It is well-known that Norman prefers Verdi to Wagner, a perfectly understandable and, in a musical sense, entirely defensible position, since Verdi wanted to be an opera composer, and Wagner an opera composer plus cultural philosopher plus political agitator plus founder of a new religion: ‘Kunstreligion’, centered around his own works which – as in Christianity – focus upon redemption. (R. Strauss: ‘I don’t understand where I should have to be redeemed from’.)

    If you read some of the bulk of what has been written about W’s antisemitism, then it becomes clear that it is NOT the straight-forward, stupid, primitive hatred towards ‘other races’, in this case: ‘the Jews’, but a cultural critique against the damages that the industrial revolution caused in society and the disruption of culture resulting from wild capitalism and increasing materialism. There was much intensity in W’s hatred towards the forces that were wrecking European culture, and thus in his antisemitism, but there always was much intensity in ANY feeling he happened to be burdened with, as can be heard in the music.

    Since many people in the elites who drove 19C society: science, culture, finance, industry and the media forwards into modern times, were of Jewish descent, W thought (as many other people at the time) that it was their ‘Jewishness’, called Judaism in the sense of a paradigm, that was the origin and cause of their supposedly negative influence in the world. It is a conclusion on the level of: ‘I see many communists with red hair, which means that red hair causes communism.’ Since the opening-up of the ghettos at the beginning of the 19th century, many Jews spread through society, left their orthodox religion behind but carried with them the mental training it had provided, which gave them a great advantage in the social struggle – hence their heightened profile. Ironically, many people who supported Wagner’s works and even ideas, were of Jewish descent, they apparently did not think his antisemitism was meant for them, they were ‘assimilated’. Later-on, the addition of biological elements to antisemitism in general, injected by a misconceived Darwinism, turned antisemitism into a much more poisonous abberation.

    Wagner absorbed many different strands of 19C thinking but never synthesized them into a comprehensive whole, hence the many contradictory interpretations of the Ring, because really, the plot and multi-narrative has too many vague elements and different levels of possible meaning, to offer a clear ‘message’. The same is true of Tristan and Parsifal, which have stimulated a comparable range of mutually-exclusive interpretations.

    Scruton has many interesting and meaningful things to say about the Ring, and I think on the point of its depiction of moral and spiritual matters in a post-religious world – i.e. our modern world – he hits upon a fundamental truth. In his analyses of details, attempting to connect rather loose patterns which are suggested in the work itself, there is more Scruton in them than Wagner, but given the subject that is an enrichment: the Ring stimulates further thought along a couple of its axes.

    People often forget or don’t spot the insecurity which is at the root of W’s art. Hence the verbal and musical repetitions, lest there would be one audience member left who would not quite understand what the composer had meant, and thereby blurring any meaning all the more. Wagner never had an academic training and was entirely autodidact in religion, philosophy, and politics….. only in music he had some training by the Leipzig organist of the Thomas church. Which means that often his intuition in these non-musical fields was right but the clarification and objectification very clumsy. Real academics with the knife sharp intelligence of a Scruton can pick-up some threads and spin them further.

  • Sue says:

    Aren’t they both inScrutable?

  • ALBERT LANDA says:

    Thanks John Borstlap. That is utterly brilliant!. I intend to read and re-read your wonderful observations.