Rethinking Churchill, Part 1

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by
Ralph Raico

Churchill
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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 hyper-trophic
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.

To
gain any understanding of Churchill, we must go beyond the heroic
images propagated for over half a century. The conventional picture
of Churchill, especially of his role in World War II, was first
of all the work of Churchill himself, through the distorted histories
he composed and rushed into print as soon as the war was over. In
more recent decades, the Churchill legend has been adopted by an
internationalist establishment for which it furnishes the perfect
symbol and an inexhaustible vein of high-toned blather. Churchill
has become, in Christopher Hitchens’s phrase, a “totem” of the American
establishment, not only the scions of the New Deal, but the neo-conservative
apparatus as well politicians like Newt Gingrich and Dan Quayle,
corporate “knights” and other denizens of the Reagan and Bush Cabinets,
the editors and writers of the Wall Street Journal, and a
legion of “conservative” columnists led by William Safire and William
Buckley. Churchill was, as Hitchens writes, “the human bridge across
which the transition was made” between a noninterventionist and
a globalist America. In the next century, it is not impossible that
his bulldog likeness will feature in the logo of the New World Order.

Let
it be freely conceded that in 1940 Churchill played his role superbly.
As the military historian, Major-General J.F.C. Fuller, a sharp
critic of Churchill’s wartime policies, wrote: “Churchill was a
man cast in the heroic mould, a berserker ever ready to lead a forlorn
hope or storm a breach, and at his best when things were at their
worst. His glamorous rhetoric, his pugnacity, and his insistence
on annihilating the enemy appealed to human instincts, and made
him an outstanding war leader.” History outdid herself when she
cast Churchill as the adversary in the duel with Hitler. It matters
not at all that in his most famous speech “we shall fight them on
the beaches . . . we shall fight them in the fields and in the streets”
he plagiarized Clemenceau at the time of the Ludendorff offensive
that there was little real threat of a German invasion or, that,
perhaps, there was no reason for the duel to have occurred in the
first place. For a few months in 1940, Churchill played his part
magnificently and unforgettably.

Opportunism
and Rhetoric

Yet
before 1940, the word most closely associated with Churchill was
“opportunist.” He had twice changed his party affiliation from Conservative
to Liberal, and then back again. His move to the Liberals was allegedly
on the issue of free trade. But in 1930, he sold out on free trade
as well, even tariffs on food, and proclaimed that he had cast off
“Cobdenism” forever. As head of the Board of Trade before World
War I, he opposed increased armaments; after he became First Lord
of the Admiralty in 1911, he pushed for bigger and bigger budgets,
spreading wild rumors of the growing strength of the German Navy,
just as he did in the 1930s about the buildup of the German Air
Force. He attacked socialism before and after World War I, while
during the War he promoted war-socialism, calling for nationalization
of the railroads, and declaring in a speech: “Our whole nation must
be organized, must be socialized if you like the word.” Churchill’s
opportunism continued to the end. In the 1945 election, he briefly
latched on to Hayek’s Road
to Serfdom
, and tried to paint the Labour Party as totalitarian,
while it was Churchill himself who, in 1943, had accepted the Beveridge
plans for the post-war welfare state and Keynesian management of
the economy. Throughout his career his one guiding rule was to climb
to power and stay there.

There
were two principles that for a long while seemed dear to
Churchill’s heart. One was anti-Communism: he was an early and fervent
opponent of Bolshevism. For years, he very correctly decried the
“bloody baboons” and “foul murderers of Moscow.” His deep early
admiration of Benito Mussolini was rooted in his shrewd appreciation
of what Mussolini had accomplished (or so he thought). In an Italy
teetering on the brink of Leninist revolution, Il Duce had discovered
the one formula that could counteract the Leninist appeal: hyper-nationalism
with a social slant. Churchill lauded “Fascismo’s triumphant struggle
against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism,” claiming
that “it proved the necessary antidote to the Communist poison.”

Yet
the time came when Churchill made his peace with Communism. In 1941,
he gave unconditional support to Stalin, welcomed him as an ally,
embraced him as a friend. Churchill, as well as Roosevelt, used
the affectionate nickname, “Uncle Joe”; as late as the Potsdam conference,
he repeatedly announced, of Stalin: “I like that man.” In suppressing
the evidence that the Polish officers at Katyn had been murdered
by the Soviets, he remarked: “There is no use prowling round the
three year old graves of Smolensk.” Obsessed not only with defeating
Hitler, but with destroying Germany, Churchill was oblivious to
the danger of a Soviet inundation of Europe until it was far too
late. The climax of his infatuation came at the November, 1943,
Tehran conference, when Churchill presented Stalin with a Crusader’s
sword. Those who are concerned to define the word “obscenity” may
wish to ponder that episode.

Finally,
there was what appeared to be the abiding love of his life, the
British Empire. If Churchill stood for anything at all, it
was the Empire; he famously said that he had not become Prime Minister
in order to preside over its liquidation. But that, of course, is
precisely what he did, selling out the Empire and everything else
for the sake of total victory over Germany.

Besides
his opportunism, Churchill was noted for his remarkable rhetorical
skill. This talent helped him wield power over men, but it pointed
to a fateful failing as well. Throughout his life, many who observed
Churchill closely noted a peculiar trait. In 1917, Lord Esher described
it in this way:

He handles great subjects in rhythmical language, and becomes quickly
enslaved to his own phrases. He deceives himself into the belief
that he takes broad views, when his mind is fixed upon one comparatively
small aspect of the question.

During
World War II, Robert Menzies, who was the Prime Minister of Australia,
said of Churchill: “His real tyrant is the glittering phrase so
attractive to his mind that awkward facts have to give way.” Another
associate wrote: “He is . . . the slave of the words which his mind
forms about ideas. . . . And he can convince himself of almost every
truth if it is once allowed thus to start on its wild career through
his rhetorical machinery.”

But
while Winston had no principles, there was one constant in
his life: the love of war. It began early. As a child, he had a
huge collection of toy soldiers, 1500 of them, and he played with
them for many years after most boys turn to other things. They were
“all British,” he tells us, and he fought battles with his brother
Jack, who “was only allowed to have colored troops; and they were
not allowed to have artillery.” He attended Sandhurst, the military
academy, instead of the universities, and “from the moment that
Churchill left Sandhurst . . . he did his utmost to get into a fight,
wherever a war was going on.” All his life he was most excited on
the evidence, only really excited by war. He loved war as few modern
men ever have he even “loved the bangs,” as he called them, and
he was very brave under fire.

In
1925, Churchill wrote: “The story of the human race is war.” This,
however, is untrue; potentially, it is disastrously untrue. Churchill
lacked any grasp of the fundamentals of the social philosophy of
classical liberalism. In particular, he never understood that, as
Ludwig von Mises explained, the true story of the human race is
the extension of social cooperation and the division of labor. Peace,
not war, is the father of all things. For Churchill, the years without
war offered nothing to him but “the bland skies of peace and platitude.”
This was a man, as we shall see, who wished for more wars than actually
happened.

When
he was posted to India and began to read avidly, to make up for
lost time, Churchill was profoundly impressed by Darwinism. He lost
whatever religious faith he may have had through reading Gibbon,
he said and took a particular dislike, for some reason, to the Catholic
Church, as well as Christian missions. He became, in his own words,
“a materialist to the tips of my fingers,” and he fervently upheld
the worldview that human life is a struggle for existence, with
the outcome the survival of the fittest. This philosophy of life
and history Churchill expressed in his one novel, Savrola.
That Churchill was a racist goes without saying, yet his racism
went deeper than with most of his contemporaries. It is curious
how, with his stark Darwinian outlook, his elevation of war to the
central place in human history, and his racism, as well as his fixation
on “great leaders,” Churchill’s worldview resembled that of his
antagonist, Hitler.

When
Churchill was not actually engaged in war, he was reporting on it.
He early made a reputation for himself as a war correspondent, in
Kitchener’s campaign in the Sudan and in the Boer War. In December,
1900, a dinner was given at the Waldorf-Astoria in honor of the
young journalist, recently returned from his well-publicized adventures
in South Africa. Mark Twain, who introduced him, had already, it
seems, caught on to Churchill. In a brief satirical speech, Twain
slyly suggested that, with his English father and American mother,
Churchill was the perfect representative of Anglo-American cant.

Churchill
and the “New Liberalism”

In
1900 Churchill began the career he was evidently fated for. His
background the grandson of a duke and son of a famous Tory politician
got him into the House of Commons as a Conservative. At first he
seemed to be distinguished only by his restless ambition, remarkable
even in parliamentary ranks. But in 1904, he crossed the floor to
the Liberals, supposedly on account of his free-trade convictions.
However, Robert Rhodes James, one of Churchill’s admirers, wrote:
“It was believed [at the time], probably rightly, that if Arthur
Balfour had given him office in 1902, Churchill would not have developed
such a burning interest in free trade and joined the Liberals.”
Clive Ponting notes that: “as he had already admitted to Rosebery,
he was looking for an excuse to defect from a party that seemed
reluctant to recognise his talents,” and the Liberals would not
accept a protectionist.

Tossed
by the tides of faddish opinion, with no principles of his own and
hungry for power, Churchill soon became an adherent of the “New
Liberalism,” an updated version of his father’s “Tory Democracy.”
The “new” liberalism differed from the “old” only in the small matter
of substituting incessant state activism for laissez-faire.

Although
his conservative idolators seem blithely unaware of the fact for
them it is always 1940 Churchill was one of the chief architects
of the welfare state in Britain. The modern welfare state, successor
to the welfare state of 18th-century absolutism, began in the 1880s
in Germany, under Bismarck. In England, the legislative turning
point came when Asquith succeeded Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister
in 1908; his reorganized cabinet included David Lloyd George at
the Exchequer and Churchill at the Board of Trade.

Of
course, “the electoral dimension of social policy was well to the
fore in Churchill’s thinking,” writes a sympathetic historian meaning
that Churchill understood it as the way to win votes. He wrote to
a friend:

No legislation at present in view interests the democracy. All their
minds are turning more and more to the social and economic issue.
This revolution is irresistible. They will not tolerate the existing
system by which wealth is acquired, shared and employed. . . . They
will set their faces like flint against the money power heir of
all other powers and tyrannies overthrown and its obvious injustices.
And this theoretical repulsion will ultimately extend to any party
associated in maintaining the status quo. . . . Minimum standards
of wages and comfort, insurance in some effective form or other
against sickness, unemployment, old age, these are the questions
and the only questions by which parties are going to live in the
future. Woe to Liberalism, if they slip through its fingers.

Churchill
“had already announced his conversion to a collectivist social policy”
before his move to the Board of Trade. His constant theme became
“the just precedence” of public over private interests. He took
up the fashionable social-engineering clichu201As of the time, asserting
that: “Science, physical and political alike, revolts at the disorganisation
which glares at us in so many aspects of modern life,” and that
“the nation demands the application of drastic corrective and curative
processes.” The state was to acquire canals and railroads, develop
certain national industries, provide vastly augmented education,
introduce the eight-hour work day, levy progressive taxes, and guarantee
a national minimum living standard. It is no wonder that Beatrice
Webb noted that Churchill was “definitely casting in his lot with
the constructive state action.”

Following
a visit to Germany, Lloyd George and Churchill were both converted
to the Bismarckian model of social insurance schemes. As Churchill
told his constituents: “My heart was filled with admiration of the
patient genius which had added these social bulwarks to the many
glories of the German race.” He set out, in his words, to “thrust
a big slice of Bismarckianism over the whole underside of our industrial
system.” In 1908, Churchill announced in a speech in Dundee: “I
am on the side of those who think that a greater collective sentiment
should be introduced into the State and the municipalities. I should
like to see the State undertaking new functions.” Still, individualism
must be respected: “No man can be a collectivist alone or an individualist
alone. He must be both an individualist and a collectivist. The
nature of man is a dual nature. The character of the organisation
of human society is dual.” This, by the way, is a good sample of
Churchill as political philosopher: it never gets much better.

But
while both “collective organisation” and “individual incentive”
must be given their due, Churchill was certain which had gained
the upper hand:

The whole tendency of civilisation is, however, towards the multiplication
of the collective functions of society. The ever-growing complications
of civilisation create for us new services which have to be undertaken
by the State, and create for us an expansion of existing services.
. . . There is a pretty steady determination . . . to intercept
all future unearned increment which may arise from the increase
in the speculative value of the land. There will be an ever-widening
area of municipal enterprise.

The
statist trend met with Churchill’s complete approval. As he added:

I
go farther; I should like to see the State embark on various novel
and adventurous experiments. . . . I am very sorry we have not got
the railways of this country in our hands. We may do something better
with the canals.

This
grandson of a duke and glorifier of his ancestor, the arch-corruptionist
Marlborough, was not above pandering to lower-class resentments.
Churchill claimed that “the cause of the Liberal Party is the cause
of the left-out millions,” while he attacked the Conservatives as
“the Party of the rich against the poor, the classes and their dependents
against the masses, of the lucky, the wealthy, the happy, and the
strong, against the left-out and the shut-out millions of the weak
and poor.” Churchill became the perfect hustling political entrepreneur,
eager to politicize one area of social life after the other. He
berated the Conservatives for lacking even a “single plan of social
reform or reconstruction,” while boasting that he and his associates
intended to propose “a wide, comprehensive, interdependent scheme
of social organisation,” incorporated in “a massive series of legislative
proposals and administrative acts.”

At
this time, Churchill fell under the influence of Beatrice and Sidney
Webb, the leaders of the Fabian Society. At one of her famous strategic
dinner parties, Beatrice Webb introduced Churchill to a young protu201Agu201A,
William later Lord Beveridge. Churchill brought Beveridge into the
Board of Trade as his advisor on social questions, thus starting
him on his illustrious career. Besides pushing for a variety of
social insurance schemes, Churchill created the system of national
labor exchanges: he wrote to Prime Minister Asquith of the need
to “spread . . . a sort of Germanized network of state intervention
and regulation” over the British labor market. But Churchill entertained
much more ambitious goals for the Board of Trade. He proposed a
plan whereby:

The
Board of Trade was to act as the “intelligence department” of the
Government, forecasting trade and employment in the regions so that
the Government could allocate contracts to the most deserving areas.
At the summit . . . would be a Committee of National Organisation,
chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to supervise the economy.

Finally,
well aware of the electoral potential of organized labor, Churchill
became a champion of the labor unions. He was a leading supporter,
for instance, of the Trades Disputes Act of 1906. This Act reversed
the Taff Vale and other judicial decisions, which had held unions
responsible for torts and wrongs committed on their behalf by their
agents. The Act outraged the great liberal legal historian and theorist
of the rule of law, A.V. Dicey, who charged that it

confers
upon a trade union a freedom from civil liability for the commission
of even the most heinous wrong by the union or its servants, and
in short confers upon every trade union a privilege and protection
not possessed by any other person or body of persons, whether corporate
or unincorporate, throughout the United Kingdom. . . . It makes
a trade union a privileged body exempted from the ordinary law of
the land. No such privileged body has ever before been deliberately
created by an English Parliament.

It
is ironic that the immense power of the British labor unions, the
bu02C6te noire of Margaret Thatcher, was brought into being with
the enthusiastic help of her great hero, Winston Churchill.

Ralph
Raico is professor of history at Buffalo State College and a senior
scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Due
to space limitations, the 169 detailed footnotes – which thoroughly
document all assertions in Professor Raico’s paperRaico’s paper
– are not included. They are, of course, included in the printed
version of the paper, published in The Costs of War,
available from the Mises Institute.

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