Was Churchill a Closet Socialist?

Was Churchill a Closet Socialist?

After I post­ed “Churchill on the Stim­u­lus Pack­age” last Spring, I was asked if Churchill, who said he opposed social­ism, was in fact more of a social­ist than he cared to admit. For exam­ple, he was one of the archi­tects of the British Wel­fare State ear­ly in the 20th cen­tu­ry.

To the many appre­ci­a­tions of Churchill’s career let us add that he was (which is not often rec­og­nized) a seri­ous polit­i­cal the­o­rist, who learned from expe­ri­ence and, as William Man­ches­ter wrote, “usu­al­ly improved as he went along.” I asked Pres­i­dent Lar­ry Arnn of Hills­dale Col­lege to respond to this ques­tion:

Churchill was a polit­i­cal thinker. He under­stood that the first divi­sion in pol­i­tics is between the few rich and the many poor. He looked for a way to ame­lio­rate that divi­sion, and to make the soci­ety sta­ble. The Unit­ed States pro­vid­ed a mod­el for much of this.

Churchill was then pur­su­ing jus­tice, the arrange­ment of goods, offices, and hon­ors accord­ing to the mer­it of those receiv­ing them, and the inter­est of the State. He was pro­found­ly for a lib­er­al soci­ety, in which the econ­o­my is dri­ven by pri­vate enter­prise, and in which mon­ey is allowed to fruc­ti­fy, as he quot­ed John Mor­ley, in the pock­ets of the peo­ple. The mod­ern world, the world that requires free­dom of reli­gion and lim­it­ed gov­ern­ment, can abide no oth­er kind of pol­i­tics. But this kind of pol­i­tics is demon­stra­bly vul­ner­a­ble to war. It is also vul­ner­a­ble domes­ti­cal­ly.

If a dis­af­fect­ed major­i­ty, nec­es­sar­i­ly made up of the many who are poor, or rel­a­tive­ly poor, expro­pri­ate the wealth of the few, it is a tragedy that will destroy jus­tice in the state—even if the poor have a griev­ance against the rich. Churchill was try­ing to pre­vent that. How? There one must under­stand what he meant by “Con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism.” For Churchill, this is a very rich sub­ject, rather like the writ­ings of James Madi­son.

He saw the prob­lem of bureau­cra­cy, and of excess by the major­i­ty, very clear­ly from an ear­ly day. The prob­lem is more mature now than it was in his time. That is why it is easy for some of Churchill’s solu­tions to look left­ish from our mod­ern van­tage point.

The answer, then is that no, he was not a “clos­et social­ist.” He thought social­ism, a far milder form than what we know today, incom­pat­i­ble with human lib­er­ty and an obsc­truc­tion to human progress. The care­ful study of his com­plex views will show that above all he regard­ed lib­er­ty as the most impor­tant char­ac­ter­is­tic of a just soci­ety.

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