POSTED: March 3, 2017

The Meanings of ‘home’ | A response to Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton’s paper usefully enlarges the scope of our discussions in CUSP, bringing greater depth and a wider range of concepts to bear on the question of “sustainable prosperity”, crucially including belonging, identity, and attachment. However despite this wide scope, there is inherent in his arguments at the same time a narrowing down, turning them into a philosophical justification for nimbyism.

‘Not in My Back Yard’ – the ‘nimby’ response to proposals to build new roads, houses, airport terminals, nuclear power stations, and so on – has generally been seen as a selfish response, the defence of a small group of people against the interests of the wider society. What this paper achieves is an explanation of why that is so often unfair.

If we each defend our piece of the Earth, its argument implies, and all those acts of protection and conservation are put together, the Earth as a whole will be protected. More than that: there is really no other option, because people are motivated far far more by the desire to protect what feels to them like ‘home’ than by any concern about what is far away and ‘foreign’.

A great deal of good can be achieved with such an approach – neighbours might save a local park, noise from aircraft flying at night could be prevented, many local problems might be resolved in favour of environmentalism. Scruton’s concept of ‘oikophilia’ – love of home – provides the sense of dignity that nimbyism very often deserves.

However although love of home can be entirely positive, it can also easily shade into antagonism towards others who either are outside of ‘home’ or located inside but not seen as belonging. There is no hint of any of that in Roger Scruton’s paper, but in the political atmosphere of 2017 this is a danger it is a high priority to be particularly careful about.

There is also here an averting of attention away from economic forces, so that architects and planners get blamed for urban disasters, but property development companies are not mentioned, and agreements in the market are seen as entirely freely arrived at rather than as largely coerced through enormous disparities in the distribution of wealth.

What ultimately makes this a gloomy philosophy in its implications is not any of that, but the sheer enormously wide gulf between the domestic and local attachments to ‘home’ and the major problems facing the world now, including the sustainability problems, such as what is happening to the global climate. The only type of long-term project which I think offers any hope of responding to this is one which seeks to enlarge the scope of what it is that people identify as ‘home’, so that it becomes as large an area as possible, and ideally the entire world.

Scruton’s paper deals in the concepts we need to imagine that – belonging, identity, and attachment – but stops at square one, offering no means of moving from the little home of current oikophilia to the potentially more ambitious and open-hearted big home oikophilia which is urgently needed.

Of course we can each try to protect our own localities and immediate surroundings. But there is in reality no “invisible hand” that will make all that add up to the global change needed if there is to be any chance of sustainable prosperity coming about.

3 Replies
  • GYULA PAL March 13, 2017 (8:18 pm)

    We are embedded and embodied in this world, and we connect to the larger Humanity via this embodiment and embedment. From global/universal perspective we are individuals who “grow” on the surface of our Planet, but the conditions of this growth can only be understood locally, by the ways people dwell and raise children. It is clear that it is imperative to gradually rise our level of consciousness from local to global level (especially because we have no choice also due to technology), but as many who have studied the phenomenon know, every NEW level builds on the previous level, hence no higher/more global consciousness (hence citizenship) is possible unless we have fully inhabited the more lower/parochial one. Therefore there are no responsible global citizens without responsible local citizens, there is no “gaiaphilia” without “oikophilia”. If we wan’t to climb to Heavens we shouldn’t burn the ladder that leads there.

  • Steve Gwynne March 3, 2017 (8:21 pm)

    The US economist Dani Rodrik describes a “globalisation trilemma”: ‘‘democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full’’. One option is to align democracy with global markets by opting for global federalism. A second is to align the nation state with global markets to pursue global economic integration at the expense of national democracy. Rodrik argues that more globalisation means either less national sovereignty or less democracy.

    Scruton doesnt envisage the love of home in a strictly localised way that negates the nation. For him both interact with each other. Call it conservative patriotism that interwines with a conservative regionalism.

    Jonathon Rutherford takes a similar perspective but from a more conservative socialism perspective that frames regionalism and patriotism within federalism.

    Nimbyism is thus mediated from the regional to the national whether as a federal state or united kingdoms.

    The question that arises is why are you adamant about enlarging grey infrastructure and as such promoting population growth. How does your socio-economic liberal internationalist perspective preserve regional green infrastructure and the associated environmental goods and services. Does your perspective demand that green infrastructure is distributed evenly or unevenly globally. How does your perspective distribute the required goods and services to facilitate a borderless world and freedom of movement bearing in mind Dani Rodriks argument in that expanding globalisation either requires a democratised gobal technocracy to distribute environmental goods and services or requires national technocracies coordinating with each other in order to distribute environmental goods and services. The alternative is to reduce globalisation and as such strengthen democratic national policy sovereignty which of course requires national borders.

    • Victor Anderson March 6, 2017 (4:14 pm)

      There are lots of issues involved here. I agree that global economic integration has caused real problems about democracy, as you suggest. Overall what I’d like to see is less globalisation in the economy, particularly in chaotic international finance, and more internationalism in the culture, particularly to respond to ecological problems and the dangers of ethnic and religious conflict (though definitely not a borderless world). And I am certainly not at all “adamant about enlarging grey infrastructure”.

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