“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.
“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.
“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.