Essays Philosophy

Richard Wagner According to Sir Roger Scruton

In celebration for Richard Wagner’s birthday (May 22) and the first year after the passing of Sir Roger Scruton (my former philosophy professor), here is my 5800-word essay examining Wagner from Scruton’s point of view in his trilogy of Wagner books: Death-Devoted Heart, The Ring of Truth, and Wagner’s Parsifal. In this essay, I explore Roger’s use of Kant, Hegel, and the philosophy of love to understand Wagner’s operatic maturation from Tristan and Isolde to The Ring of the Nibelung to Parsifal.

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“Wagner was an artist with an agenda, and this agenda was nothing less than the redemption of humankind,” writes Sir Roger Scruton. I consider it a great blessing of my life that I had the opportunity to study with Scruton at the University of Buckingham just prior to his death. I entered my studies intending to write on musical aesthetics, Schubert, to be specific but instead ended up writing on the political aesthetics of Edmund Burke. There was still an aesthetic connection to the switch. Despite Scruton’s public reputation as a political theorist of conservatism, his grander works—and the works so lauded and loved by his many students—were on art, aesthetics, and music, and he openly said his greatest loves were art, music, and literature.

Scruton loved Wagner. The two were a match made in heaven, or hell, depending on your perspective and appreciation of irony. Before his death, Scruton was working on a manuscript on Wagner’s Parsifal. It was published in the summer of 2020 and completed a de facto trilogy of Wagner’s great works by the eminent bard of aesthetics: Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, The Ring of Truth: The Wisdom of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, and Wagner’s Parsifal: The Music of Redemption. In examining Wagner through the eyes of Scruton, we must ask ourselves: Is there a link between Wagner’s great operas and, if so, what is the message that has been lost in the politicization and bastardization of Wagner’s artistic agenda?

Read the full essay here, as part of my usual arts and culture contribution to Merion West: Sir Roger Scruton’s Wagner (25 May 2021).

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