I like Roger Scruton. I don’t always agree with him, but I like him; he writes clearly, and very often insightfully about philosophy, art and society. I think his support for blood sports is completely off the wall, but his introduction to modern philosophy is a little masterpiece for anyone looking for an engaged survey of philosophy since Descartes. A few years ago he wrote an interesting book on the state of play in the “clash of civilisations” entitled The West and the Rest: Globalisation and the Terrorist Threat. In the course of this insightful little book Scruton points out in some detail the difference between representative democracy and the kinds of theocracies which still dominate much of the world, and the problem that people who have known only theocratic forms of life face when they come to countries governed by representative democracy.
I took up my copy of this little book the other day and began desultorily reading it, without any clear purpose, except that I wanted something to read, and happened to plump for this one. In the second chapter, entitled “Enlightenment, Citizenship and Loyalty”, things seemed to be going quite swimmingly, and Scruton was making all sorts of sense, and then, suddenly, I slammed up against a brick wall of misunderstanding.
The point that he was making about representative democracy is that this form of governance was devised chiefly to respond to societies composed largely of strangers, people whom one has not only not met and have no relation to, but people who may be expected to have very different beliefs and preferences to our own. In such a society, the need to govern so that decisions are not made merely on the basis of a majority vote, which would exclude some strangers from the governing consensus, and therefore, effectively, from the society as such, is much more important than the simple democratic ideal of one person one vote and the majority takes all. As Scruton says:
… the good citizen is the one who knows when voting is the wrong way to decide a question, as well as when voting is the right way. For he knows that his obligations to strangers may be violated when majority opinion alone decides their fate. 
And then he goes on immediately to say:
The crucial feature of a republican constitution is not democracy, but representation … 
This, by the way, is why attempts to “export” democracy to countries whose primary understanding of governance is theocratic, and whose primary loyalty is religious, simply do not work, for majorities in such places will still favour, not societies of strangers, but societies of fellow believers, where belief is privileged, and those who share belief form the ruling community.
This is why Roger Scruton’s mistake is so egregious. For, in the midst of his argument about Enlightenment, citizenship and loyalty, he says this:
The citizen, to put the point succinctly, shares his membership with people whom he does not know, and to whom he is bound in a common web of rights and duties. When St. Paul described the early church, he gave voice to a similar idea, saying that “we are members one of another.” But he also implied that this membership might spread across the globe. Such universal membership is the aim of both the Christian and Muslim religions, which derive their authority from a timeless and transcendental God. But it is not the aim of citizenship. [56-57]
Clearly, I have not come to the big mistake yet, but this is bordering on it. What St. Paul says is not similar at all. Paul is not speaking of citizenship, as Scruton recognises. He is speaking of a closed kin community composed of those who have God as father, and who share common beliefs in God’s fatherhood, and people’s membership in a common family. This is completely foreign to the Enlightenment idea of citizenship.
But Scruton goes on from this point to make a similar mistake.
The community of strangers [he says] cannot really be understood without reference to other generations. It is an inherited community. The true citizen inevitably includes among the strangers to whom he is obligated both ancestors and offspring. 
This is Scruton’s big mistake. You can see how serious a mistake it is just by considering the Obama birther controversy:
How could this have become an issue? It could become an issue only where the issue of inheritance is an issue. Obama is not only a stranger in a society of strangers. He is, in the minds of many of his fellow citizens, not a member of the inherited community. And even though birth as an American is a prerequisite for anyone who seeks to be President, membership of the inherited community — which includes here imaginative ideas of cultural relationship and solidarity – is not a condition of citizenship. What is essential is the readiness to throw in one’s lot with others in a delimited population (defined in terms of territoriality), and to strive with them to provide the political means for the good life for all.
Burke, whose conservative ideal of an organic community comprising a partnership of the dead, the living and those yet to be born, Scruton is using as a model for the ideal of Western democracy, has been superseded by much more fluid conceptions of citizenship, able to assimilate, and to provide the rights of citizenship for, those who do not belong to the organic community of the dead, living, and yet to be born.
This is why it is so important to see that Paul and Muhammad had very different kinds of community in mind, and why a religious foundation for representative democracy is not only foreign to the idea of citizenship and representative institutions, but destructive of such institutions. In his book The Closing of the Western Mind, Charles Freeman plots in some detail how the Roman experiment with toleration, imperfect as it was, foundered on the rocks of religious enthusiasm. The Holocaust is an example of what happens when a supposedly organic community endeavours to purify itself in order to function as (in Scruton’s words) an inherited community. And the present question whether Muslims who have settled in countries governed by the principles of representative democracy will be able to shift allegiance from religious community to the community of strangers — as they must, if their presence is not going to be a continuing source of political instability — and thereby become true citizens, is one which is still in search of an answer.
I think Scruton makes his biggest mistake when he imagines that religious communities are, in some sense, similar to the organic, inherited communities that he desiderates as a basis for representative communities. They are nothing of the sort. They are, in fact, and will remain, until religions learn to know the limited place that they may rightly occupy within liberal democratic institutions, a source of division and instability. This is, I believe, one of the most important tasks of the New Atheism, to continue to apply pressure on the idea of secularism, until it becomes clear how marginal religious beliefs must be if we are to maintain the kinds of political and legal conditions that are necessary if freedom is to flourish.