Winston Churchill’s Tests of Freedom: Then and Now

Winston Churchill’s Tests of Freedom: Then and Now

A famous speech offer­ing sev­en tests of free­dom reminds us of Churchill’s eter­nal rel­e­vance. He spent most of August 1944 on the con­ti­nent, observ­ing the fight­ing in France and Italy. In the House of Com­mons on the 28th, a Mem­ber asked how to judge the new Ital­ian gov­ern­ment, suc­ceed­ing that of Mus­soli­ni. Was it a true democ­ra­cy? Churchill replied: “What is free­dom?” The answers to a few ques­tions deter­mine if a nation is free. (Updat­ed from 2012.)

The seven tests

Is there the right to free expres­sion of opin­ion and of oppo­si­tion and crit­i­cism of the Gov­ern­ment of the day?

Have the peo­ple the right to turn out a Gov­ern­ment of which they dis­ap­prove, and are con­sti­tu­tion­al means pro­vid­ed by which they can make their will apparent?

Are there courts of jus­tice free from vio­lence by the Exec­u­tive and from threats of mob vio­lence, and free from all asso­ci­a­tion with par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal Parties?

Will these courts admin­is­ter open and well-estab­lished laws which are asso­ci­at­ed in the human mind with the broad prin­ci­ples of decen­cy and justice?

Will there be fair play for poor as well as for rich, for pri­vate per­sons as well as Gov­ern­ment officials?

[And] will the rights of the indi­vid­ual, sub­ject to his duties to the State, be main­tained and assert­ed and exalted?

Is the ordi­nary peas­ant or work­man, who is earn­ing a liv­ing by dai­ly toil and striv­ing to bring up a fam­i­ly free from the fear that some grim police orga­ni­za­tion under the con­trol of a sin­gle par­ty, like the Gestapo, start­ed by the Nazi and Fas­cist par­ties, will tap him on the shoul­der and pack him off with­out fair or open tri­al to bondage or ill-treatment?

“These simple, practical tests,”

Churchill con­tin­ued, must be “the title-deeds” of a new Italy.

Think of the years of expe­ri­ence, thought, and hard polit­i­cal lessons that went into those basic tenets. How Churchill expressed them in only 200 words, most­ly of one or two syl­la­bles. How lit­tle we con­sid­er them today, when we rail over “threats to democracy”—whether from one side or the oth­er. Or, con­verse­ly, when we blithe­ly sup­pose cer­tain nations to be free. How rarely we apply those ques­tions in our own times.

Churchill’s Tests of Free­dom remain ever­green. Sad­ly, in what seems to be a grow­ing num­ber of places, they answer themselves.

Related articles

“Churchill on Duty: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Peo­ple Please Note,” 2023.

“A Life Devot­ed to Con­sti­tu­tion­al Lib­er­ty,” 2021.

“Antithe­sis of Democ­ra­cy (Or: Win­ston Churchill and Port­land),” 2020.

“When Pres­i­dents and Prime Min­is­ters Would Walk Among Us,” 2018.

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