“Fascists of the future will call themselves Anti-Fascists” Churchill’s words?

“Fascists of the future will call themselves Anti-Fascists” Churchill’s words?

“Fas­cists of the future” appears unabridged in the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project, July 2020. For the com­plete text, please click here. Sub­scribe free to the Churchill Project and join our 60,000  read­ers. Reg­u­lar notices of new posts appear as they are pub­lished. Sim­ply click here,  scroll to bot­tom, and fill in your email in the box enti­tled “Stay in touch with us.” Your email is nev­er shared with any­one.

Question

“Is this quo­ta­tion is attrib­uted to Win­ston Churchill?: ‘The fas­cists of the future will call them­selves anti-fas­cists.’ There does not seem to be cred­i­ble infor­ma­tion on the inter­net link­ing those words to him, but I would appre­ci­ate your input.”

A case of Churchillian Drift

Man­u­fac­tur­ing Churchill quotes is a par­lor game. Nigel Rees, host of the BBC pro­gram Quote…Unquote, described what he called “Churchillian Drift.” It’s a process where­by a quote’s orig­i­na­tor “is elbowed to one side and replaced by some­one more famous. So to Churchill or Napoleon would be ascribed what, actu­al­ly, a less­er-known polit­i­cal fig­ure said.” Lin­coln, Gand­hi, Mar­tin Luther King Jr.—they are all vic­tims.

Churchill nev­er said any­thing like this, accord­ing to the Churchill Project’s dig­i­tal resource of 80 mil­lion pub­lished words by and about him. Churchill accounts for about 20 mil­lion (books, arti­cles, speech­es, let­ters, papers), includ­ing  The Churchill Doc­u­ments. We also track 60 mil­lion words of biog­ra­phy, spe­cial­ized stud­ies, relat­ed works and mem­oirs by Churchill’s asso­ciates.

The fas­cists quo­ta­tion is cer­tain­ly in vogue. It’s a pop­u­lar impulse to call some­one with author­i­tar­i­an ten­den­cies a fas­cist. Attach­ing it to Churchill gives it cred­i­bil­i­ty. Some Churchill quo­ta­tion books and web­sites con­tain it—but nev­er with sol­id attri­bu­tion. Near­ly 150 fic­ti­tious quotes are list­ed on this blogsite—with notes as to their ori­gins.

Fascists and anti-fascists

Aside from the dig­i­tal evi­dence, such a remark would be entire­ly out of char­ac­ter. Churchill didn’t use “fas­cist” in the gener­ic sense—or as a pejo­ra­tive against polit­i­cal oppo­nents. When he did use the word, he referred to spe­cif­ic fas­cist move­ments. Exam­ples: the pre-World War II Yugoslav Anti-fas­cist Coali­tion, or the post­war Ital­ian Anti-fas­cist Coun­cil.

For Churchill to label a polit­i­cal oppo­nent a fas­cist would be incon­ceiv­able. Some might think he would have said it about Clement Attlee, his social­ist oppo­site and suc­ces­sor as Prime Min­is­ter in 1945. But Churchill would nev­er think of it.

One of the strik­ing things about The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol­ume 22 (1945-51) is the civil­i­ty of dis­course. In debate, Churchill crit­i­cized Attlee fierce­ly and often, and these crit­i­cisms are in the vol­ume. Sev­er­al times in the House of Com­mons, he called Attlee’s com­pe­tence into ques­tion. Yet they worked to keep chan­nels open with each oth­er, espe­cial­ly con­cern­ing the nation’s inter­est. Churchill would brook no gener­ic crit­i­cism of Attlee, despite Attlee’s author­i­tar­i­an impuls­es. On the floor they went at it ham­mers and tongs. Off the floor there was mutu­al respect.

“The Creeds of the Devil”

There is a third rea­son why Churchill would not have said this pop­u­lar phrase. To speak in sweep­ing terms about “fas­cists” doesn’t even sound like him. It’s too pat, too sim­ple; unnat­ur­al, unre­al­is­tic. Churchill’s views on tyran­ni­cal gov­ern­ment were spe­cif­ic. They occur in a beau­ti­ful 1937 essay, “The Infer­nal Twins.” In it he com­pares Nazism with Com­mu­nism, then takes pains to dis­tin­guish Ital­ian fas­cism.

Nazism and Com­mu­nism imag­ine them­selves as exact oppo­sites. They are at each other’s throats wher­ev­er they exist all over the world. They actu­al­ly breed each oth­er; for the reac­tion against Com­mu­nism is Nazism, and beneath Nazism or Fas­cism Com­mu­nism stirs con­vul­sive­ly.

Yet they are sim­i­lar in all essen­tials. First of all, their sim­plic­i­ty is remark­able. You leave out God and put in the Dev­il; you leave out love and put in hate; and every­thing there­after works quite straight­for­ward­ly and log­i­cal­ly.

I am remind­ed of the North Pole and South Pole. They are at oppo­site ends of the earth, but if you woke up at either Pole tomor­row morn­ing you could not tell which one it was. Per­haps there might be more pen­guins at one, or more Polar bears at the oth­er; but all around would be ice and snow and the blast of a bit­ing wind.

“Fertile fields of freedom”

Extend­ing his geo­graph­ic analo­gies, Churchill con­trasts these total­i­tar­i­an forms of gov­ern­ment with his own and those of the great democ­ra­cies:

I have made up my mind, how­ev­er far I may trav­el, what­ev­er coun­tries I may see, I will not go to the Arc­tic or to the Antarc­tic regions. Give me Lon­don, give me Paris, give me New York, give me some of the beau­ti­ful cap­i­tals of the British Domin­ions.

Let us go some­where where our breath is not frozen on our lips because of the Secret Police…somewhere where there are green pas­tures and the shade of ven­er­a­ble trees. Let us not wan­der away from the broad fer­tile fields of free­dom into these gaunt, grim, dim, gloomy abstrac­tions of mor­bid and ster­ile thought.

Next Churchill explains spe­cif­ic dif­fer­ences, apply­ing the word “fas­cist” only to Mus­soli­ni:

There are, of course, dif­fer­ences between the dic­ta­tor­ships. Yet they are large­ly dis­count­ed by one sig­nif­i­cant fact. It is easy to imag­ine Mus­soli­ni or Hitler as head of a Com­mu­nist State or Stal­in as Fas­cist Duce or Führer. Noth­ing in Com­mu­nism or Fas­cism, as we know them, or in the char­ac­ters and records of these three men, makes such a sit­u­a­tion incred­i­ble.”

It is fair to con­clude Churchill took pains not to use the gener­ic term “fas­cists” as an off­hand dis­missal of those with total­i­tar­i­an ideas. He always care­ful­ly spec­i­fied which fas­cists he meant. Of he regard­ed both those of the Left and the Right as equal­ly repug­nant in their denial of lib­er­ty.

Further reading

“The Creeds of the Dev­il” appeared in The Sun­day Chron­i­cle, Lon­don, 27 June 1937, fol­lowed by a sequel, “A Bet­ter Way,” on 4 July. The two essays com­bined as “The Infer­nal Twins” in Collier’s (USA) on 3 July 1937. Repub­lished in Michael Wolff, ed., The Col­lect­ed Essays of Sir Win­ston Churchill, 4 vols., (Lon­don: Library of Impe­r­i­al His­to­ry, 1975), II, 394-97. At the moment, only “The Creeds of the Dev­il” is avail­able in dig­i­tal form. Please con­tact me for a copy.

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