Text of my Zoom address to the Chartwell Society of Portland, Oregon on 10 May 2021, 81st anniversary of Churchill taking office as Prime Minister. “In Defense of Liberty” is part of as an iTunes audio file. For a copy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Life Devoted to Constitutional Liberty (continued from Part 2)
Churchill was far more than the hero of 1940. His thinking on concepts like liberty, representative government and the rule of law are as important today as ever. Holding the Anglo-American relationship central, he had a vast appreciation for and understanding of the British and American constitutions, and the pros and cons of each.
Britain’s constitution is unwritten. America wrote it all down. Churchill thought the British alternative rather better because, he thought, the meaning of a written constitution can misrepresented, particularly by unelected judges or bureaucrats.
In 1936 he wrote an article, “What Good’s a Constitution?” He never mentions the USA, but the whole piece contemplates the dangers of misinterpreting America’s founding documents. A constitution, he says, is only a form for what a nation believes in. Misinterpretation will alter that form.
You should read this eloquent article. It appeared only in Collier’s, and the rare volumes of his essays, but I can email it to you. Here you will find all the arguments for and against activist courts. Read it and decide for yourself how relevant Churchill’s thought is today.
On the regulatory state
His 1931 essay, “Mass Effects in Modern Life,” is in his book Thoughts & Adventures. It describes the same regulatory state which occupies our concerns today. In that bureaucracy unelected officials, not representatives of the citizens, make most of the laws. This, Churchill says, removes the difficulties of life which lay the grounds for the achievements of life:
The individual becomes a function. The community is alone of interest: mass thoughts dictated and propagated by the rulers…. Subhuman goals and ideals are set…. The Beehive? No, for there must be no queen and no honey, or at least no honey for others. There is not one single social or economic principle or concept in collectivist philosophy which has not been realized, carried into action, and enshrined in immutable laws a million years ago by the White Ant.
Churchill then offers an uplifting alternative:
But human nature is more intractable than ant nature. The explosive variations of its phenomena disturb the smooth working out of the laws and forces which have subjugated the White Ant. It is at once the safeguard and the glory of mankind that they are easy to lead and hard to drive.
Churchill wrote this with dictatorships ascendant. He always maintained that Hitler could be beaten—long before, and preferably without war. Dr. Arnn offers two reasons why he believed this: “1) He must be beaten. And 2) Hitler’s world is not natural. We won’t like it. Thus also for every government unrepresentative of the people. They pretend to be value-free, but they end up being prey to every petty tyranny that comes along.”
“The central principle of Civilisation”
As Chancellor of Bristol University in 1938, Churchill spoke of the word Civilisation [English spellling]. The words are beautiful. One can read them in ten minutes—posted on our Hillsdale Churchill website.
There are few words which are used more loosely than the word “Civilisation.” What does it mean? It means a society based upon the opinions of civilians. It means that violence, the rule of warriors and despotic chiefs, the conditions of camps and warfare, of riot and tyranny, give place to parliaments where laws are made, and independent courts of justice in which over long periods those laws are maintained.
That is Civilisation—and in its soil grow continually liberty, comfort, and culture. When Civilisation reigns in any country, a wider and less harassed life is afforded to the masses of the people. The traditions of the past are cherished, and the inheritance bequeathed to us by former wise or valiant men becomes a rich estate to be enjoyed and used by all.
The central principle of Civilisation is the subordination of the ruling authority to the settled customs of the people and to their will as expressed through the Constitution. In this Island we have today achieved in a high degree the blessings of Civilisation.
An inheritance always in jeopardy
Professor Dan Mahoney of Assumption University introduces this speech on our website. Civilization, he says, is not a once-and-for-all achievement. Liberty is “an inheritance that is always threatened by the temptations of barbarism and (quoting Churchill in 1940) “by the lights of perverted science.” That means civilization must be defended, by what Churchill sometimes called “Arms and the Covenant.” Mahoney continues:
Peaceful, law-abiding, and liberal nations ought to form larger instruments and organisms of collective security, which would allow international law to be backed by what Thomas Pangle has called “a mighty sword in the hand of legal justice.” In a world of destructive technology and aggressive ideological despotisms, it is no longer enough to rely on the precarious mechanism of a not always reliable balance of power.
In words meant to stir the civic virtue and courage of Western democrats, Churchill wrote:
Civilisation will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a constabulary power before which barbaric and atavistic forces will stand in awe.
The urgent need for confidence
In the absence of a confident western civilization, ready to use not necessarily its power but its influence, the planet goes to hell. For example, Churchill didn’t have great hope for liberty in the Arab states he set up in 1921. His highest hope was in what became Israel. Nevertheless, he thought, the West must do what it could, hoping to use its influence for good. Because that influence is better than some of the other influences that occur from time to time. Suppose the Soviet Union had reorganized the Middle East in 1921?
If Britain ceased to be the leading world power, Churchill saw America as an acceptable substitute. He knew that was the best alternative. Why? Larry Arnn explains:
Churchill informs us that something beautiful developed in the English-Speaking world. Think of what that means for a moment. There are two ways for human beings to get along: talking and fighting, Politics grows from talking. And it’s a profound connection when you speak the same language. Especially if it’s the language of Shakespeare. So what Churchill thinks is that, partly because of the accident of the English Channel, and the primacy of the Navy, and partly because the King could not overwhelm the Parliament, this idea grows. Soon it is on the oceans, spreading to another continent. That is inspiring to Churchill—a wonderful and unrepeatable story, for there are no new worlds left.
The idea is not Anglo-centric. As Churchill asks at Bristol:
Why should not the same principles which have shaped the free, ordered, tolerant Civilization of the British Isles and British Empire be found serviceable in the organization of this anxious world? Why should not other nations establish a rule of law for the benefit of all?
The idea of universal liberty originated in England, Churchill says, yet it may apply to any country. The idea deserves, dare we say it, globalization! Failure to recognize this idea is what makes despots dangerous.
But however things turn out, Churchill tells us, it is irrefutable that constitutional principles, and the greatest documents from Magna Carta to the U.S. Constitution, are in English. That was a thing of pride to Winston Churchill. And it should be to us.
Audience questions and answers in Part 4.
 Winston S. Churchill (hereinafter WSC), “What Good’s a Constitution?,” Colliers, 22 August 1936, 29, 39-40. Reprinted in Michael Wolff, ed., The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill, vol. 2, Churchill and Politics (London: Library of Imperial History, 1975), 386-93. Available upon request via email.
 Noted by Larry P. Arnn in an interview with Mark Steyn, 2 March 2017, Steynonline.com, accessed 2 May 2021.
 WSC, “Mass Effects in Modern Life,” The Strand Magazine, May 1931, 474-85. Reprinted in WSC, Thoughts and Adventures (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1932, many editions since).
 WSC, Thoughts and Adventures (London: Leo Cooper, 1990), 185, emphasis mine.
 Arnn interview, ibid.
 WSC, “Civilisation.” Chancellor’s Address, Bristol University, 2 July 1938, in Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches 1897-1963 (New York: Bowker, 1974), 7 vols., VI, 5991.
 WSC, “Their Finest Hour,” House of Commons, 18 June 1940, in Blood Sweat and Tears (New York: Putnams, 1941), 370.
 Daniel Mahoney, Introduction, “Churchill: What We Mean by ‘Civilization,'” Hillsdale College Churchill Project, 8 February 2019, accessed 1 May 2021.
 WSC, “Civilisation,” Speeches VI, 5991.
 Arnn interview, ibid.
 WSC, “Civilisation,” Speeches VI, 5991.