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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