“Antithesis of Democracy” (Or: Winston Churchill & Portland)
Churchill’s stunning relevancy
It is remarkable how we still encounter in Churchill words of astounding currency. A friend in Portland, Oregon asked for verification of a Churchill quotation: “A love for tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril….” (“The Tasks which Lie Before Us,” House of Commons, 29 November 1944.) A good, solid maxim, but not out of the ordinary.
One must have some respect for democracy, and not use the word too lightly. The last thing which resembles democracy is mob law, with bands of gangsters, armed with deadly weapons, forcing their way into great cities, seizing the police stations and key points of Government, endeavouring to introduce a totalitarian regime with an iron hand, and clamouring, as they can nowadays if they get the power….
Here occurred an “interruption.” In the genteel tones of Hansard, that is how one refers to an uproar.
Willie Gallacher (West Fife), Parliament’s only Communist member, leapt to his feet. “That is unfair,” he shouted. Pandemonium reigned. The Speaker restored order with difficulty. After it subsided, Churchill resumed:
I am sorry to be causing so much distress. I have plenty of time, and if any outcries are wrung from hon. Members opposite I can always take a little longer over what I have to say, though I should regret to do so. I say that the last thing that represents democracy is mob law and the attempt to introduce a totalitarian regime and clamours to shoot everyone—there are lots of opportunities at the present time—who is politically inconvenient… Do not let us rate democracy so low, do not let us rate democracy as if it were merely grabbing power and shooting those who do not agree with you. That is the antithesis of democracy.
The hon. Member [Mr. Gallacher] should not get so excited, because he is going to have much the worse of the argument and much the worse of the Division [vote on the motion]. I was eleven years a fairly solitary figure in this House and pursued my way in patience, and so there may be hope for the hon. Member.
“No harlot to be picked up in the street”
Democracy, I say, is not based on violence or terrorism, but on reason, on fair play, on freedom, on respecting other people’s rights as well as their ambitions. Democracy is no harlot to be picked up in the street by a man with a tommy gun. I trust the people, the mass of the people, in almost any country. But I like to make sure that it is the people and not a gang of bandits from the mountains or from the countryside who think that by violence they can overturn constituted authority, in some cases ancient Parliaments, Governments and States.
Mr. Gallacher did get the worst of it. The motion was defeated, 279-30.