Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Churchill's Trial by Larry Arnn
My goal this year is to focus on books that are 100 years old or older. BUT, I also have a bunch of books that I own, that I want to read as well. For Christmas, Tim bought me Churchill’s Trial by Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale. I’ve been wanting to learn more about Churchill AND he would be over 100 today, so… it kinda counts.
What exactly IS Churchill’s trial. Well, Arnn defines it as War, Empire, and Peace. In each of these environments, Churchill faced a trial, a trial we can learn from. “There are practical reasons, then, to know the story of Churchill. There are lessons to be learned, both positive and negative, that can help us live our lives, cope with our problems, and serve the cause of our country as it appears today.” (p. xv) “Churchill believed that powerful trends at home and abroad were running against him. His trial was to face them and prevent the evils he believed that portended.” (p. xxxiii) The purpose of Arnn’s book is to show the reader how and why Churchill stood up to existential threats.
Churchill knew what war was. He covered the Boer War in South Africa as a journalist and saw up close what war looked like. He was traveling on a train that was ambushed and derailed. After delivering many to safety, he was eventually captured and held prisoner. He strongly believed in the mission of the British, which was to alleviate the suffering of the natives at the hands of the Dutch. Through this experience, he learned there are things worth fighting for.
Earlier in his life, Churchill had fought as a soldier in an obscure battle in the Sudan called The Battle of Omdurman. He saw the horrific carnage a superior force could wreak on backward group of people. Churchill began to worry “about the character of modern war, the immense destructiveness it implies, and the moral problem it presents. He understood this moral problem beyond the common way most of us see it: a very large number of people can die. Churchill hated that aspect of it, but worse than this deadly arithmetic is the severance of the moral virtues, particularly courage, from the achievement of victory.” (p. 26) He feared that “a European war cannot be anything but a cruel, heart-rending struggle, which, if we are ever to enjoy the bitter fruits of victory, must demand, perhaps for several years, the whole manhood of the nation, the entire suspension of peaceful industries, and the concentrating to one end of every bill energy in the community.” (p. 33) In short, Churchill foresaw total war. Man’s capacity to kill was beginning to exceed his wisdom.
“War being so terrible, it stands to reason that it takes special qualities to manage it. Churchill had a lot to say about the kind of person capable of this, the qualities he possesses, and the station that he occupies.” (p. 51) Churchill definitely saw himself in this kind of a role. According to Churchill, a good statesman could help guide his country through “reflection and choice” rather than “accident and force.” He knew the stakes were too high and catastrophe would result in countries “ill-directed or mis-directed by rulers.” (p. 53) Churchill held the statesman to a high calling. “The statesman is the guardian of things that supply the end of all action. Those principles cannot protect themselves against the likes of Hitler, unless someone as strong and fierce as he fights on their behalf.” (p. 68)
Therefore, Churchill knew he must also be a strategist if he was to avoid the catastrophe of war he saw looming on the horizon. For Churchill, strategy, politics, and economy all went hand in hand. The best strategy protects the political needs because it is done economically. “In protecting the ground of economic strength, [good strategies] protect the foundation of free politics and also the ability to fight wars with strength.” (p. 72)
But even the best statesman and strategist is limited when it comes to areas outside his control. What to do then? Proclaim freedom. “We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.” (p. 85-86) It was up to the free nations to spread their gospel and protect what they could from tyranny. “The free nations must understand, value, proclaim, and practice their freedom. They must bind together to constitute overwhelming force. They must keep the most potent weapons to themselves as far as they are able.” (p. 93) They must fight the battles they can win, and continue to spread their values.
When it came to the Empire, Churchill was an unashamed Empiricist. He believed that the values the British brought with them to countries all around the world were so superior, that it was in the best interest of the colonies to be a subjugated part of the empire until such a time as they could claim the values as their own and self-govern. This decidedly non-politically correct opinion definitely garnered him opprobrium, even in his lifetime, but he stuck to his principles. He saw the Empire as a way, not only to give Western values to non-Western peoples, but also to spread those values all over the globe. This, he felt, would lead to more peace and stability and help to avoid the total war he dreaded. While his opinion seems to us moderns to be chauvinistic, in reality, Churchill saw himself as a statesman, dealing with reality as it was, preaching and imposing the values of freedom, in an effort to avoid tremendous bloodshed.
The time of Peace brought Churchill a new trial to navigate. After World War I, Churchill had to contend with the Socialists and the Fabians. They believed that History and God were on their side in their efforts to remake society. As such, they worshipped at the altar of “change.” They believed in unlimited experiments, thinking that even failure would only get them closer to their goal of an egalitarian society. Churchill feared this kind of program, claiming that eventually, the Socialist would have to turn to a secret police in order to remake society in their image. He saw them growing the government bigger and bigger with each failure.
After World War II, Churchill continued to sound the alarm, even when it was extremely unpopular. “I declare to you, from the bottom of my heart, that no Socialist system can be established without a political police. Many of those who are advocating Socialism or voting Socialist today will be horrified at they idea. That is because they are short-sighted, that is because they do not see where their theories are leading them.” (p. 137) Churchill lost that election in a landslide to the Socialists, but did not stop decrying their ultimate destination.
Churchill understood the Socialists' chimeric search for equality as not just misguided, but dangerous. It went against human nature and the facts of human society. People are inherently unequal, whether because of the circumstances of their birth or their talents. Churchill “thought this pursuit of complete or perfect equality, even of opportunity, would produce not equality but inequality, not justice but injustice, not freedom but grinding tyranny.” (p. 143) Churchill believed that essential human rights like the right of speech, prayer, assembly, and voting could not help but be violated under the Socialist’s program. “He thought that the equality for which socialism aimed was unnatural. He thought that it could not be achieved except by suppressing nature, including human nature, which would require the suppression of humans.” (p. 150)
Churchill believed the Socialists would usurp the bureaucracy in order to further their ends, thereby creating civil servants with are neither “civil” nor “servants.” He stated, “It was a principle of our Constitution not to employ experts, whether business men or military men, in the highest affairs of State.” (p. 170) Government was to rely on the will of the people in order to govern. He feared an army of experts establishing their programs in areas over which the elected statesmen were supposed to be presiding. The administrative state, staffed with so-called “experts” diminished the humanity of the citizens to mere cogs in the machine. In addition, he believed “the Socialist bureaucracy would become an aristocracy, but without the limits inherent in the old aristocracy, defined by birth or lineage and necessarily small in number. The course of action open to the new aristocracy would be unbounded: how many industries were to be nationalized, how perfectly incomes were to be equalized, how extensive were to be regulations on private life — all of that was to be decided along the way.” (p. 177) While he never abandoned hope, he worried about what was to come as the Socialists gained power.
Churchill’s plan to stave off the allure of the Socialists was various social insurance programs which people would pay into. He definitely felt for the poor working family that was playing by the rules, yet could be devastated with one unfortunate event. He saw the need for a social safety net. Yet he did not want to undermine the free market which he believed the greatest source of prosperity for the most people. He saw insurance programs, that people paid into while working and drew from when tough times hit, as an answer to the problem of wealth redistribution. He wanted to encourage work and discourage idleness, even among the rich. He saw the debilitating results of a hand-out to the incentive to work, so he wanted to reward hard workers by providing a minimum below which they could not fall.
“The difference between Churchill’s social reform and socialism was of both kind and degree. Of kind, it was a difference in understanding of human nature, and this involved a difference about the purpose and operation of government. Churchill regarded this difference as fundamental. He thought it would reduce ultimately to the difference between just and unjust government, between freedom and tyranny.” (p. 204) He knew his program could still lead to dependency, but he was willing to trade that for the insidiousness he predicted with a Socialist win.
Churchill was a strong believer in both the British and the American Constitution. He saw the advantages and disadvantages of both Britain's own unwritten Constitution and the American written one. He held strongly to the belief that a free market and limited government were essential to human flourishing. Churchill regarded a Constitution as just if it enabled the citizen to speak, think, and act freely under well-established, well-known laws. If the citizen could criticize the government, sue the State and know the processes for changing the law, it met his standard. Churchill believed the administrative state a direct threat to a Constitutional republic. “It could not debate and decide the endless details that administrative government regulated an decided. Only cursory oversight would be possible. As we have seen, Churchill thought the sheer numbers of regulations alone would destroy respect for law.” (p. 229)
Churchill had some core beliefs we can learn from today. He believed war is increasingly dangerous. He trusted the people to ultimately do the right thing, and he believed them to be courageous when faced with an existential threat. He believed in free markets and the constitutional rule of law. He felt the administrative bureaucracy infringed upon the constitutional activity of debate in the legislature. He believed in powerful statesmen who must work within constitutional limits. These constitutional limits are the guarantee of civilization itself. And in the face of extreme opposition, Churchill repeatedly made the case “that people are not to be regarded or used as instruments or merely as factors of production. He taught that the discipline, self-restrain, courage, and charity that make a nation civilized and strong must be located in the people and if the people have these things, they can and will care for themselves and for their nation, including their fellow citizens who suffer misfortune and privation.” (p. 252)
Arnn finalizes his book with, “Churchill’s trial is also our trial. We have a better chance to meet it because we had in him a statesman.” (p. 255) He certainly makes the case that Churchill is a thoughtful man to be emulated and listened to.