Churchill, Canada and the Perspective of History (Part 3)

Churchill, Canada and the Perspective of History (Part 3)

PerspectivePer­spec­tive of His­to­ry: Address to the Churchill Soci­ety of Ottawa, Ontario, Cana­da, on Sir Winston’s 144th birth­day, 30 Novem­ber 2018 (Part 3). We were kind­ly host­ed at Earn­scliffe by the British High Com­mis­sion­er, Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque.

Perspective, 144 Years On

Con­clud­ed from Part 2…. “The great move­ments that under­lie history—the devel­op­ment of sci­ence, indus­try, cul­ture, social and polit­i­cal structures—are pow­er­ful, almost deter­mi­nant,” wrote Charles Krautham­mer.

Yet every once in a while, a sin­gle per­son aris­es with­out whom every­thing would be dif­fer­ent. In recent times, only Churchill car­ries that absolute­ly required cri­te­ri­on: indis­pens­abil­i­ty… Take away Churchill in 1940 [and] Hitler would have achieved what no oth­er tyrant, not even Napoleon, had ever achieved: mas­tery of Europe. Civ­i­liza­tion would have descend­ed into a dark­ness the likes of which it had nev­er known.

Churchill was, of course, not suf­fi­cient in bring­ing vic­to­ry over Nazi bar­barism, but he was unique­ly nec­es­sary He then imme­di­ate­ly rose to warn prophet­i­cal­ly against its sis­ter bar­barism, Sovi­et com­mu­nism. Churchill is now dis­par­aged for not shar­ing our mul­ti­cul­tur­al mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties. His dis­re­spect for the suf­frage move­ment, his dis­dain for Gand­hi, his resis­tance to decol­o­niza­tion are undeniable.

But that kind of per­spec­tive is akin to dethron­ing Lin­coln as the great­est of 19th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­cans because he shared many of his era’s appalling prej­u­dices. In essence, the rap on Churchill is that he was a 19th cen­tu­ry man para­chut­ed into the 20th. But is that not pre­cise­ly to the point? It took a 19th cen­tu­ry man—traditional in habit, ratio­nal in thought, con­ser­v­a­tive in temper—to save the 20th cen­tu­ry from itself.

* * *

The orig­i­nal­i­ty of the past cen­tu­ry lay in its pol­i­tics. It invent­ed the police state and the com­mand econ­o­my, mass mobi­liza­tion and mass pro­pa­gan­da, mech­a­nized mur­der and rou­tinized terror—a breath­tak­ing cat­a­log of polit­i­cal cre­ativ­i­ty. And who is the hero of that sto­ry? Who slew the drag­on? Yes, it was the ordi­nary per­son, the tax­pay­er, the grunt who fought and won the wars. Yes, it was the great lead­ers: Roo­sevelt, Macken­zie King, de Gaulle, Tru­man, John Paul II, Rea­gan, Thatch­er. But above all, vic­to­ry required one man with­out whom the fight would have been lost at the beginning.

And we have his words, dig­i­tal and in print: 20 mil­lion of them, once The Churchill Doc­u­ments are com­plete, span­ning an age from the cav­al­ry charge at Omdur­man to astro­nauts on the moon. Remem­ber, when Neil Arm­strong stepped off his lunar lan­der, Churchill’s books were still being pub­lished posthu­mous­ly. As they are still.

“The roar when we pronounce his name…”

William F. Buck­ley Jr. spoke about those words to us in Boston—is it possible?—almost a quar­ter cen­tu­ry ago. “It was not,” he said,

the sig­nif­i­cance of vic­to­ry, mighty and glo­ri­ous though it was, that caus­es the name of Churchill to make the blood run a lit­tle faster. It is the roar that we hear when we pro­nounce his name. It is sim­ply mis­tak­en that bat­tles are nec­es­sar­i­ly more impor­tant than the words that sum­mon us to arms…. The Bat­tle of Agin­court was long for­got­ten as a geopo­lit­i­cal event, but the words of Hen­ry V, with Shake­speare to recall them, are imper­ish­able in the mind, even as which side won the Bat­tle of Get­tys­burg will dim from the mem­o­ry of men and women who will nev­er for­get the words spo­ken about that bat­tle by Abra­ham Lin­coln. The genius of Churchill was his union of affini­ties of the heart and mind; the total fusion of ani­mal and spir­i­tu­al energy.

Churchill’s words were indis­pens­able to that hour, Britain’s finest, what­ev­er the glo­ries or dis­ap­point­ments that came after. And so today the per­spec­tive of his­to­ry on Win­ston Churchill is unchanged from half a cen­tu­ry ago.

“He sweetened English life”

Why is that? Sev­er­al expla­na­tions. One answer is by the chemist and nov­el­ist C.P. Snow:

A bad thing is the abil­i­ty to sense what every­one else is think­ing and think like them,” Snow said. “This Churchill nev­er had, and would have despised him­self for hav­ing. A good thing is the abil­i­ty to think of many mat­ters at once, their inter­de­pen­dence, their rel­a­tive impor­tance and their con­se­quences…. Not many have such insight. He did. That was why he could keep us going when we were alone. Where it mat­tered most, there he was right.

And Snow reminds of today when he says: “Peo­ple want­ed some­thing to admire that seemed to be slip­ping out of the grit of every­day. What­ev­er could be said against him, he had virtues, graces, style. Courage, mag­na­nim­i­ty, loy­al­ty, wit, gallantry—these are not often held up for admi­ra­tion. He real­ly had them. I believe that it was deep intu­ition which made peo­ple feel that his exis­tence had sweet­ened Eng­lish life.”

“Nothing Surpasses 1940”

Churchill did build his own myth. And he said him­self: “Noth­ing sur­pass­es 1940.” Nine­teen forty dom­i­nates his rep­u­ta­tion: ask any politi­cian who admires him, and they all speak of his finest hour. Regard­less of a career that last­ed half a cen­tu­ry. Despite hold­ing almost every high office, writ­ing fifty books and two-thou­sand speech­es; despite the most imper­ish­able words in Eng­lish since Shakespeare—there stands 1940.

It is a tremen­dous­ly pow­er­ful image. We see him in the shat­tered streets of blacked out London—or sit­ting on a rooftops, defy­ing the Luftwaffe—sometimes seat­ed on a chim­ney, smok­ing out those in offices below. He includ­ed Cana­da when he said those were the great­est days our peo­ples have lived. And there he remains, in a roman­tic cham­ber of the heart, where it is always 1940.


But there is more per­spec­tive to Churchill than that, as we con­stant­ly preach to those who know only 1940. It is his states­man­ship, his devo­tion to lib­er­ty. That’s the per­spec­tive of Hills­dale Col­lege, Andrew Roberts, and so many oth­ers, and should dri­ve soci­eties like this one. 1940 is part of it—but real­ly just a deriva­tion. Here’s Dr. Lar­ry Arnn on Churchill’s thought and states­man­ship. See what you think of it.

What he want­ed to pre­serve was, actu­al­ly, civ­i­liza­tion. If you think about that word it means Rem­brandt and Pla­to and Shake­speare. But before that and first, it is cog­nate with the word for cit­i­zen. It means the rule of civil­ians. In 1938 when Hitler ruled, that’s what Churchill said it meant, in a beau­ti­ful com­mence­ment address. You should all go read it. It’s on our web­site. It’s about this long, and it’s one of the pret­ti­est things he ever said.

And he said, what does it mean, civ­i­liza­tion? It means that con­sent of the gov­erned, the rule of law, is cen­tral every thing that we mean by civ­i­liza­tion. And force—the strongest in the land—does not rule. It means we rule. Ordi­nary folk.

And there is good rea­son to think their com­mon sense is still intact. And you can study the career of Win­ston Churchill—a monar­chist, and an imperialist—and find many places where he said, over and over, that in the end, only the peo­ple are going to get it right. Because they have a right to. Because they are equal souls, and may not be gov­erned except with their con­sent. That’s what I think is at stake. In 2018, as in 1940. That’s what the rule of law means. I think that’s what we could be losing.

Be For That…

On the steps of Par­lia­ment with Macken­zie King after his “Some chick­en, some neck” speech.
A weak attempt at mim­ic­ry, with Bar­bara Lang­worth, 30 Novem­ber 2018.

I think Churchill’s admir­ers today should be for that. And they should adopt what­ev­er are the best means in front of them to get that. I think that should be the main focus of Churchill stud­ies, as he pass­es from the hero of 1940 to the ranks of the great thinkers on statesmanship.

I’ll end with the afore­men­tioned Bill Rush­er, speak­ing to us in Banff. He quot­ed Coven­try Pat­more, a 19th cen­tu­ry poet who, like Churchill, and Gen­er­al Wolfe of Que­bec fame, lived in West­er­ham. Sir Win­ston said: “The Romans have often fore­stalled many of my best ideas by think­ing of them first.” Sim­i­lar­ly, I con­cede my best ideas to oth­ers smarter than me, to Lar­ry Arnn, Bill Rush­er, and Coven­try Patmore.

“As long as human­i­ty admires courage, elo­quence and tenac­i­ty,” Bill Rush­er said, “Churchill will be remem­bered and honored—and these are virtues which will come into fash­ion again, ladies and gen­tle­men. That is why he would enjoy a lit­tle qua­train by Pat­more. I always like to end my talks with it, because it is upbeat, opti­mistic and true.

For want of me the world’s course will not fail.

When all its work is done, the lie shall rot.

The Truth is great and shall prevail,

When none cares whether it pre­vail, or not.

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