Revealed Wisdom on the Campus: Churchill was a White Supremacist

Revealed Wisdom on the Campus: Churchill was a White Supremacist

why­Be­gin­ning ten years ago with a flawed account of the 1943 Ben­gal Famine, and fanned by a small cadre of influ­en­tial writ­ers, Churchill has been slan­dered with the label of white suprema­cist. A col­league to whom I often turn for wis­dom has a thought­ful judg­ment on this and oth­er dubi­ous accu­sa­tions. “In a con­tro­ver­sial time, an under­stand­ing of Churchill is very dif­fi­cult to achieve. That is because the life of Churchill is an impor­tant thing. And every impor­tant thing is high­ly con­tro­ver­sial today.”

Excerpt­ed from an arti­cle for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the com­plete text, click here.

1. Western Reserve University

A read­er writes: “I’m inter­est­ed in your response to this quote from a piece in the Wash­ing­ton Post”: The author was a West­ern Reserve Uni­ver­si­ty his­to­ry professor:

In my World War II class recent­ly, I had my stu­dents pore through the speech­es and let­ters of British Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill from the years around the war’s start in 1939, search­ing for his basis for oppos­ing the Nazis. They found Churchill want­ed to stand up to the Nazis’ expan­sion­ism, fight their anti-democ­ra­cy pos­ture and resist what he called (but large­ly left unde­fined) their anti-Chris­tian­i­ty. What he did not do, how­ev­er, was call for the destruc­tion of the essence of Nazism: race suprema­cy…. [Like Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt,] he nev­er framed his oppo­si­tion to Ger­many as a rejec­tion of race hier­ar­chy or race nation­al­ism…. The Allied lead­er­ship did not fight the war over fas­cist race-nation­al­ism…. What if that prin­ci­ple was, through the great­est glob­al strug­gle of humankind, woven into our social DNA?

Sev­er­al things are wrong with this state­ment. The first is the implied sin of omis­sion: Churchill didn’t attack white suprema­cy (not a com­mon term in 1939). Ergo, he must have shared Hitler’s racial atti­tudes. But the state­ment is wrong on its face. Churchill con­stant­ly referred to Nazi race hier­ar­chy or race nation­al­ism, from the ear­ly 1930s through his war mem­oirs in 1948-54.

Churchill on Nazi racism

West­ern Reserve stu­dents researched “the years around the war’s start in 1939”—a very nar­row cor­ri­dor. Churchill had exco­ri­at­ed Hitler and his creed since 1930. So brief a period—dominated as it was by bat­tle, defeat, and the threat of nation­al extinction—is unlike­ly to pro­duce learned appraisals of Nazi “race supe­ri­or­i­ty” from the Prime Minister.

More­over, the assign­ment sug­gests  a nar­row under­stand­ing of Nazism. Far worse than white suprema­cy, Hitler preached the mas­tery of the her­ren­volk over everybody—including most whites liv­ing in Europe. One has only to read Mein Kampf to com­pre­hend that.

In 1938 Churchill said Britain could nev­er be friends with a regime “which cheers its onward course by a bar­barous pagan­ism, which vaunts the spir­it of aggres­sion and con­quest, which derives strength and per­vert­ed plea­sure from persecution…”

“Christian civilization”

Con­trary again to the professor’s state­ment, Churchill did not leave anti-Chris­tian­i­ty unde­fined. He often referred to the ene­mies of “Chris­t­ian civ­i­liza­tion.” By that he did not mean to exclude Jews, Hin­dus, Bud­dhists or Mus­lims. He meant those words in a much broad­er sense. They stood, he believed, for uni­ver­sal prin­ci­ples. They are embod­ied in the Ten Com­mand­ments, the Ser­mon on the Mount, the Gold­en Rule, char­i­ty, for­give­ness, magnanimity.

Today, of course, if one refers to “Chris­t­ian civ­i­liza­tion,” a thou­sand Thought Police will pro­claim his excom­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Church of the Polit­i­cal­ly Cor­rect. Sure­ly Churchill would be mys­ti­fied by this—as indeed would the Jews, Hin­dus, Bud­dhists and Mus­lims of his time, who whole­heart­ed­ly endorsed what he said, and fought the war with him. Over 2.5 mil­lion Indi­an vol­un­teers fought with the Allies, and Churchill acknowl­edged their sacrifice.

Churchill, a curious racist

Those who call Churchill a racist will have to explain to me why he harangued his Boer cap­tors in 1899 defend­ing equal rights for native Africans. His jail­er asked: “…is it right that a dirty Kaf­fir should walk on the pave­ment?… That’s what they do in your British Colonies.”

Churchill called this the root of Boer dis­con­tent: “British gov­ern­ment is asso­ci­at­ed in the Boer farmer’s mind with vio­lent social rev­o­lu­tion. Black is to be pro­claimed the same as white…. nor is a tigress robbed of her cubs more furi­ous than is the Boer at this prospect.”

Why as Colo­nial Under­sec­re­tary in 1906 did Churchill earn Gandhi’s praise for sup­port­ing equal­i­ty for the Indi­an minor­i­ty in South Africa? Why in 1935, host­ing Gandhi’s friend Ghan­shyam Das Bir­la, did he say, “Mr. Gand­hi has gone very high in my esteem since he stood up for the Untouch­ables.”

And why in 1943 did he say this to India’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the War Cab­i­net?: “The old idea that the Indi­an was in any way infe­ri­or to the white man must go. We must all be pals togeth­er. I want to see a great shin­ing India, of which we can be as proud as we are of a great Cana­da or a great Australia.”

These are not the remarks of a white suprema­cist, but a man who exalt­ed above all, despite a Vic­to­ri­an impe­ri­al­ist upbring­ing, the rule of law under a just constitution—inspired in India’s case by Britain’s.

In 1939…

…oppos­ing the fla­grant­ly anti-Semit­ic Pales­tine White Paper, Churchill said: “We are now asked to submit—and this is what ran­kles most with me—to an agi­ta­tion which is fed with for­eign mon­ey and cease­less­ly inflamed by Nazi and by Fas­cist propaganda….

None has suf­fered more cru­el­ly than the Jew the unspeak­able evils wrought on the bod­ies and spir­its of men by Hitler and his vile regime. The Jew bore the brunt of the Nazis’ first onslaught upon the citadels of free­dom and human dig­ni­ty. He has borne and con­tin­ued to bear a bur­den that might have seemed to be beyond endurance. He has not allowed it to break his spir­it; [and has] nev­er lost the will to resist. Assured­ly in the day of vic­to­ry the Jew’s suf­fer­ings and his part in the strug­gle will not be for­got­ten. Once again, at the appoint­ed time, he will see vin­di­cat­ed those prin­ci­ples of right­eous­ness which it was the glo­ry of his fathers to pro­claim to the world.

Giv­en Churchill’s record, does any­one believe he did not com­pre­hend and oppose Hitler’s “race-nation­al­ism”?

2) Trinity College

Trin­i­ty Col­lege in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut is a small lib­er­al arts insti­tu­tion found­ed in 1822. Recent events there seem a lit­tle odd for a col­lege named Trin­i­ty. Brit­tany Slaugh­ter of Lib­er­ty Uni­ver­si­ty reports in The Col­lege Fix:

…the stu­dent gov­ern­ment at Trin­i­ty Col­lege recent­ly reject­ed a request for offi­cial recog­ni­tion from the stu­dents’ Churchill Club to sup­port dis­cus­sions on themes under­pin­ning West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion. The club is named after Win­ston Churchill…. sup­port­ers declare the Churchill Club’s exis­tence mar­gin­al­izes them and makes them feel unsafe and that it sup­ports white suprema­cy and ethnocentricity.

Forty fac­ul­ty mem­bers endorsed the stu­dent gov­ern­ment, but Trin­i­ty Pres­i­dent Joanne Berg­er-Sweeney declined to act. Not out of any declared love of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion or Win­ston Churchill. She mere­ly said the Club met with approval by the Office of Stu­dent Activ­i­ties, Involve­ment and Leadership.

On April 29th, fifty stu­dents stormed the admin­is­tra­tion build­ing, shout­ing that allow­ing a Churchill Club con­dones white suprema­cy. Pres­i­dent Berg­er-Sweeney issued a state­ment: “I denounce white suprema­cy, and all that it rep­re­sents in soci­ety today. I denounce racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion against his­tor­i­cal­ly and tra­di­tion­al­ly mar­gin­al­ized groups… I offer those mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ty my strongest sup­port, recog­ni­tion, and affir­ma­tion.” Just declare that you agree with every­body. Safe words. Who would argue with them?

“Everybody was a racist then”

It is insuf­fi­cient to defend Churchill’s iso­lat­ed remarks deemed racist today by say­ing every­body thought that way then. Of course, on occa­sion, Churchill said such things. He also expressed quite oppo­site ideas, as in the quotes above. I referred this ques­tion to a Churchill schol­ar deeply schooled in Churchill’s thought: was WSC just typ­i­cal of his time? To say that, he replied, is to miss the sin­gu­lar feature….

You can quote Abra­ham Lin­coln, and most of America’s founders, in the same sense. That is not the remark­able thing. The remark­able thing is not that any of them, or Churchill, had the stan­dard view of ques­tions like race. The remark­able thing is that Lin­coln, for the slaves, and Churchill, for the Empire, believed that peo­ple of all col­ors should enjoy the same rights, and that it was the mis­sion of their coun­try to pro­tect those rights.

We spend a lot of time argu­ing that Churchill was remark­able. Then when some­thing comes along that we do not like, we excuse it as typ­i­cal of the age. I do not think Churchill was typ­i­cal of the age on this question.

The abject igno­rance that gov­erns knee-jerk dis­par­age­ment of respect­ed fig­ures of the past is very rou­tine nowa­days. The stu­dents and teach­ers at these two insti­tu­tions need to think more deeply. Why do we still broad­ly admire such fig­ures? There is a reason.

4 thoughts on “Revealed Wisdom on the Campus: Churchill was a White Supremacist

  1. In my read­ing expe­ri­ence of Churchill (which I admit is lim­it­ed) I find that when he speaks of “race” he almost always means a “peo­ple” or a “nation” with a long polit­i­cal his­to­ry, cus­toms, beliefs, ideas, mores, pecu­liar cul­ti­va­tions of the arts sci­ences, and oth­er con­di­tions. His way of think­ing has noth­ing in com­mon with sim­plis­tic ideas of “racial suprema­cy”, to say noth­ing of base and sim­ple-mind­ed mate­ri­al­is­tic notions. Churchill often acknowl­edges the exis­tence of one “human race” with peaks of “civ­i­liza­tions” and depths of “bar­barism.”

  2. One could eas­i­ly denounce George Wash­ing­ton for ‘ret­ro­grade’ White Suprema­cist views. Sim­i­lar­ly, Lin­coln lived in a world in which “uni­ver­sal suf­frage” meant white male uni­ver­sal suf­frage. Like Wash­ing­ton, Lincoln’s views evolved yet were always based on the nat­ur­al rights doc­trine of equal­i­ty found in the Dec­la­ra­tion. In 1859 Lin­coln wrote, “the prin­ci­ples of Jef­fer­son are the def­i­n­i­tions of a free soci­ety. And yet they are denied, and evad­ed with no small show of suc­cess.” Lin­coln reject­ed White Suprema­cy and said, “those who deny free­dom to oth­ers deserve it not for them­selves, and under a just God can not long retain it.” Robert Sherwood’s dra­ma “Abe Lin­coln in Illi­nois” (1938) had Lin­coln say should we read the Dec­la­ra­tion as “all men are cre­at­ed equal, except negroes, for­eign­ers, Catholics and Jews.” I have stud­ied Churchill’s life and writ­ings for over fifty years. Nev­er did Churchill express admi­ra­tion for dic­ta­tor­ship, arbi­trary gov­ern­ment, or extreme author­i­tar­i­an­ism. Wash­ing­ton and Lin­coln lived in slave-own­ing soci­eties, yet pro­gressed beyond the prej­u­dices of their time. Churchill was an aris­to­crat by birth and edu­ca­tion, yet the rea­son he is socom­pelling is that he pro­gressed beyond the Social Dar­win­ism and Lais­sez Faire of his time to embrace a more lib­er­al, prag­mat­ic social pol­i­cy, includ­ing female suf­frage. We should make a grave error if we slip into pre­sen­tism and obses­sion with polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Churchill must be judged by the entire­ty of his life and thought, not by quib­bles over his use of what seem to us old-fash­ioned terms like “Chris­t­ian Civ­i­liza­tion.” Churchill was, as Andrew Roberts has demon­strat­ed, the great­est defend­er of lib­er­ty, nat­ur­al rights, rule of law and due process in mod­ern times. It is not too much to say Churchill was the sav­ior not only of his nation but of lib­er­ty itself. He put fas­cism, anti-Semi­tism and racial suprema­cy to the sword. All hon­or to him for that.

  3. Well tak­en. But Churchill didn’t indulge with what we now call “ver­bal dog whis­tles,” and wouldn’t have under­stood the term. He said what he thought, and what he felt the peo­ple should hear. Bal­anced his­to­ri­ans have valid crit­i­cisms of what he said on cer­tain occa­sions. True, he was more judi­cious on race than Lin­coln. Of course he was born six­ty-five years later—and forty years after Britain had abol­ished slav­ery. The U.S. had abol­ished slav­ery in two-thirds of the Union by the time Lin­coln was born. It fell to him to con­front the remnant.

    I was going to refer you to a scholar’s jux­ta­po­si­tion of Lin­coln and Churchill, “Churchill and Racisim: Think a Lit­tle Deep­er.” But I see I have quot­ed that schol­ar above.

  4. I enjoy this read­ing, and believe that many his­tor­i­cal fig­ures enjoy scruti­ny that fails to place ques­tions in the prop­er con­text before com­ing up with an answer. How­ev­er, it seems a lit­tle small-mind­ed to talk about excom­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Church of the Polit­i­cal­ly Cor­rect, when it seems obvi­ous that Churchill how lan­guage can be co-opt­ed with ver­bal dog whis­tles send­ing cod­ed mes­sages to ‘like-mind­ed folk.’ I also won­der about the com­par­i­son to Lin­coln, who in his own pri­vate let­ters laid his racial argu­ments bare. Lin­coln real­ized that the racial ques­tion had to be answered, that either blacks could have no rights any­where in Amer­i­ca or they had to have all rights every­where in Amer­i­ca, and he went with the option that he thought had the great­est abil­i­ty to pre­serve the Union in the long run. It was as much of a polit­i­cal deci­sion as it was a moral one, Prob­a­bly more so. It seems to me that Churchill might have been a lit­tle more judi­cious than Lin­coln in his thoughts on race.

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