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Churchill as Man of the State

There’s been a lot of Churchill lately. I’ve been watching The Crown on Netflix and of course post-WWII Churchill is a key character. There’s also the new film Darkest Hour, which is about the heroism of early Churchill, during the Hitler years. In preparation for going to see the latter movie, I’ve opened the great Pat Buchanan book to refresh my mind of the context. And I just read the late Ralph Raico’s dissident take on the man, who he described as follows:

When, in a very few years, the pundits start to pontificate on the great question: “Who was the Man of the Century?” there is little doubt that they will reach virtually instant consensus. Inevitably, the answer will be: Winston Churchill. Indeed, Professor Harry Jaffa has already informed us that Churchill was not only the Man of the Twentieth Century, but the Man of Many Centuries.

In a way, Churchill as Man of the Century will be appropriate. This has been the century of the State — of the rise and hypertrophic growth of the welfare-warfare state — and Churchill was from first to last a Man of the State, of the welfare state and of the warfare state. War, of course, was his lifelong passion; and, as an admiring historian has written: “Among his other claims to fame, Winston Churchill ranks as one of the founders of the welfare state.” Thus, while Churchill never had a principle he did not in the end betray, this does not mean that there was no slant to his actions, no systematic bias. There was, and that bias was towards lowering the barriers to state power.

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Yet, in truth, Churchill never cared a great deal about domestic affairs, even welfarism, except as a means of attaining and keeping office. What he loved was power, and the opportunities power provided to live a life of drama and struggle and endless war.

There is a way of looking at Winston Churchill that is very tempting: that he was a deeply flawed creature, who was summoned at a critical moment to do battle with a uniquely appalling evil, and whose very flaws contributed to a glorious victory — in a way, like Merlin, in C.S. Lewis’s great Christian novel, That Hideous Strength.169 Such a judgment would, I believe, be superficial. A candid examination of his career, I suggest, yields a different conclusion: that, when all is said and done, Winston Churchill was a Man of Blood and a politico without principle, whose apotheosis serves to corrupt every standard of honesty and morality in politics and history.

Published in C.Jay Engel

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