Foreword to a Review of “The Racial Consequences of Mr. Churchill”

Foreword to a Review of “The Racial Consequences of Mr. Churchill”

The Racial Con­se­quences of Mr. Churchill: A Review

The fol­low­ing is my fore­word only to an analy­sis of the recent Churchill Col­lege pan­el, by Zewdi­tu Gebrey­ohanes and Andrew Roberts. They fol­lowed a max­im of Ran­dolph Churchill in the offi­cial biog­ra­phy: “I am inter­est­ed only in the truth.” Every Churchill schol­ar is in their debt.

Foreword

Eighty-eight years ago Hitler became Chan­cel­lor of Ger­many and the Oxford Union passed a res­o­lu­tion: “That this House refus­es in any cir­cum­stances to fight for King and Coun­try.” A week lat­er Win­ston Churchill said: “We have all seen with a sense of nau­sea the abject, squalid, shame­less avow­al made in the Oxford Union. We are told that we ought not to treat it seri­ous­ly. The Times talked of ‘the Children’s Hour.’ I dis­agree. It is a very dis­qui­et­ing and dis­gust­ing symptom.”

Eight decades lat­er Churchill him­self is the tar­get of dis­qui­et­ing and dis­gust­ing symp­toms. Last year the Oxford Union resolved: “This House believes the British Empire is a nation­al disgrace.”Three speak­ers argued the affir­ma­tive. The lone aber­rant was the his­to­ri­an Zareer Masani. “I sin­gle-hand­ed­ly con­test­ed a bla­tant­ly par­ti­san motion and was con­stant­ly heck­led,” he writes, “with no attempt by the chair or sec­re­tary to main­tain order.” (Dr. Masani’s doughty riposte can be seen here.)

This year on 11 Feb­ru­ary, Cam­bridge, Oxford’s some­time rival, chimed in with a pan­el, “The Racial Con­se­quences of Mr. Churchill.” The title spins off John May­nard Keynes’s 1925 cri­tique, The Eco­nom­ic Con­se­quences of Mr. Churchill. The dif­fer­ence was that Keynes, a schol­ar, offered a seri­ous intel­lec­tu­al argument.

The racial imaginarium

Unlike Oxford, Cam­bridge, didn’t both­er to hold an alleged debate. No pan­elists were his­to­ri­ans. One con­fused Ernest Bevin with Aneurin Bevan. All three, and the mod­er­a­tor, agreed. Sir Win­ston was a racist bask­ing in the wartime leg­end he cre­at­ed. The British Empire was worse than the Third Reich.

Here­with two fas­tid­i­ous seek­ers of truth, Andrew Roberts and Zewdi­tu Gebrey­ohanes, respond to the Cam­bridge pan­el, point by point.

racial
“The Glo­ri­ous Dead”: The Ceno­taph, Lon­don. (Andrew Shi­va, Cre­ative Commons)

As in 1933, there are those who tell us not to take this seri­ous­ly. Trim­mers who pro­fess admi­ra­tion for Churchill excuse it by say­ing that, after all, it’s only free speech. A bet­ter descrip­tion would be fla­grant injus­tice. We can argue all day about the pros and cons of Win­ston Churchill or the British Empire or the Amer­i­can Found­ing. If we do it seri­ous­ly, with respect and intel­lec­tu­al curios­i­ty, we advance our abil­i­ty to draw our own conclusions.

But “a seat of learn­ing,” as Charles Moore wrote in the Dai­ly Tele­graph, “must uphold learn­ing.” To salt a pan­el with prej­u­diced speak­ers, pre­sent­ing only the neg­a­tives, allow­ing no con­trary opin­ion, is not seri­ous aca­d­e­m­ic enquiry. It is blind­ness by those who nev­er hear the oth­er side, don’t want to hear it, and don’t want oth­ers to hear. It’s char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tion. Or at least, con­fes­sion of the weak­ness of the argument.

“If all you have is a hammer…”

The reac­tion to Roberts/Gebreyohanes was not long in com­ing. Instead of engag­ing on any sin­gle one of their points, it con­sist­ed of pejo­ra­tives. They pro­duced “a dis­hon­est and racist paper.” They want “aca­d­e­mics of colour who chal­lenge the Empire shut down.” In oth­er words: dis­agree with us and you’re a racist.

An old say­ing pro­vides the answer to that: If all you have is a ham­mer, every­thing looks like a nail.

Click here to read Roberts/Gebreyohanes.

One thought on “Foreword to a Review of “The Racial Consequences of Mr. Churchill”

  1. Thank you for recall­ing to our minds the Oxford Union’s infa­mous episode, not well known among those who ought to know about it. I didn’t know where Churchill had reproached & spo­ken about it. Leo Strauss spoke of it in his lec­ture on Ger­man Nihilism, which is where I first learned about it. The par­al­lels must be com­pared and con­trast­ed. British man­hood had then with­in a liv­ing mem­o­ry expe­ri­ence of the Great War. Virtue was still in lav­ish sup­ply, hid­den in untapped resources, which Churchill’s ora­tor­i­cal pow­er mined relent­less­ly. We are not so for­tu­nate today. too many rea­sons that would try your patience out to mention.

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