Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
Picture the scene.
A group of shaven-headed, inarticulate, tattooed, vulgar young men ride their motorbikes recklessly through the city, occasionally falling spectacularly. The bike the leader rides carries a pair of speakers from which blares the bass-heavy call of the chase. The gang follows a pack of Dobermans that track the scent of their prey, a stray dog, a pest, the vermin of this traditional urban British landscape. When the pack of dogs catch the stray the animal is ripped to pieces. The gore of the dismembered mongrel is smeared on the face of a twelve-year old initiate into this culture.
Philosophers of the streets write defences of the hunt, lionising the bravery of these men. Naturalists of urban wildlife write letters offering an evolutionary defence of the hunt, in between arguments that describe the hunt as the most humane and the most efficient method of keeping the population of stray dogs under control. They ignore the labours of the hunt gangs who create artificial environments encouraging the vermin to breed.
If a foxhunter bites the bullet and supports this practice, then you have found an outright barbarian. If a foxhunter fails to support this idea then it is the hunter who is the class warrior, defending privileges incompatible with a democratic society.
Roger Scruton is a philosopher, an apologist of class privilege. He is also highly respected. He argues that foxhunters display the virtue of bravery. Absolute rubbish. Ascribing the virtue of bravery to a person requires that they perform actions that present a (high) degree of risk. This risk could be physical, psychological, financial or professional. I will concede that foxhunters risk physical harm as the gallop across an unplanned course. But this is not enough.
Are joyriders brave? Would Roger Scruton write philosophy defending the virtues of joyriding? I doubt that he would. And I agree, joyriders do not display the virtue of bravery. It is not because they put the lives of others at risk. No, as we have no problem describing soldiers as brave. Is it that they risk the lives of innocents? No, that can not be it. Bomber pilots who flew the notorious missions over Dresden displayed the virtue of bravery.
No, joyriding does not display the virtue of bravery because there is no ‘cause’ behind it. The motivation is behind the risk involved is nothing other than pleasure and enjoyment.
The key to deciding whether a risky actions demonstrates the virtue of bravery is motivation, which we will describe here as a ‘cause’. If this were not the key then we would be bound to describing a soldier who kills to save his comrades as being as brave as a soldier who kills for pleasure. We would be forced to describe a teacher who risks his career for his principles as being brave in the just the same way as one who risks his career for a lust-driven fling with a pupil.
These actions are not equally brave, but they carry the same risk. It is in their motivations, their ‘cause’ that they differ. The ‘cause’ that motivates an individual to commit a risky action that we can describe as brave need not be one that we agree with. We do not find it difficult to describe soldiers fighting for the other side in a war as brave. Their cause is different, possibly mind-boggling alien to our values, but within their own ideological framework it is a cause nobler than simple lusts, thrills or base pleasures.
Foxhunters have no noble ‘cause’ within their ideology. They enjoy the kill, and that is their motivation. They are not brave. When they tumble from their horses it is the result of recklessness, not their virtuous character.
Perhaps a defence of a foxhunter rests of the idea that they ride out to defend their privileged position in British life. In which case, yes, it is a class issue. And rightly so.
Incidentally, the evolutionary justifications of foxhunting are fundamentally flawed. Such justifications demonstrate either an absolutely outdated understanding of the philosophy of evolution, or the deployment of persuasive arguments that the author does not agree with. The first is excusable, but should be exposed. The second is damagingly dishonest, and needs to be exposed.
This is a task for another time, however.