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Dr. Larry Arnn Begins His Series On Churchill’s Trials

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HH: On the Friday after the big presidential debate, I am so pleased to welcome back Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College, my friend and colleague here on the radio dial. Every last hour of the Hugh Hewitt Show every week is the Hillsdale Dialogue. All of them collected at Because of the uniqueness of this week in my life, we pretaped this one before the debate actually happens. And so it may be ironic in some respects afterwards because of the subject matter we’re talking about, which is Winston Churchill. Dr. Arnn, how are you?

LA: I’m very well, and just think of this. You’ve had a huge performance after we’re talking, so I can say unreservedly you did great.

HH: There you go (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: That might be the only compliment I have after that performance. I’m going to treasure that, actually. But I’ll tell you, it was a very, I’m just going to play that in an endless loop no matter what happens on Wednesday night. You did great. You did great. It’s going to be like a Vine. Dr. Arnn and I have been doing the Hillsdale Dialogues, and we spent some time in Churchill last year. It was phenomenally popular. And then Dr. Arnn went off and wrote a book about it. It took him forever to get it done, but it’s coming out at the right time. It’s called Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill And The Salvation Of Free Government. Now here’s my setup, Larry Arnn. I was driving from the Reagan Library, where I was doing rehearsal on Sunday, to the Hoover Institution at Stanford, where I am today when I’m talking to you, before driving back down to the Simi Library thinking about the urgent need of the press right now as to help the public identify who best to lead a country in a crisis. Would you agree with that?

LA: Yes.

HH: And so I was thinking what better time to talk about Churchill than right now, and for the audience to go out and get Churchill’s Trial, because I think we need another Reagan-Churchill-Thatcher-Lincoln, name it, great leader. And identifying them is not easy.

LA: No, it was, you know, if you were alive at the time they were alive, it would be hard to tell. What you’d notice about Churchill, if you were alive at the time he was alive, here’s a guy who was eloquent. Everybody believed that. And also, he wrote 50 books. In addition, he was in the newspaper. He wrote thousands of newspaper articles, and that means you could read him writing things in the press all the time. And almost always, and he wrote 8,000 big, long, huge, single-spaced pages of speeches. And there’s one speech in there that I know of that he didn’t write, and he wrote almost all of the newspaper articles except some of the cheesier ones were drafted for him, but a minority of them.

HH: In fact, when I was reading the introduction to Churchill’s Trial, I was staggered by how much a Churchill scholar must confront. When you started talking about the 8,000 pages of speeches, and those are just the speeches, and then every night at dinner, he would hold forth. And these, this, what did you call it, an endless flow of articles and infinite amount of articles?

LA: Yeah, well, it looks like he wrote six million words.

HH: Isn’t that something?

LA: Yeah.

HH: So we don’t have, we right away, we can look at those 16 people on the Republican side, and four on the Democratic side, and none of them are prolific writers, though some of them have written books, and that’s a good tell, isn’t it?

LA: Yeah, and you know, it’s a distinction from Lincoln and Washington, because Washington was not, he wasn’t, words, he’s the only really great statesman I know of where the key thing about him was not what he said. And that’s, you know, he had a lot of eloquent people around him, and he himself said some really beautiful things at significant times. But compare him to Lincoln and Churchill, they’re both famous for beautiful things they said and wrote.

HH: I’ve got to ask you, can I pause here for a second? I read to my students at Colorado Christian last week Washington’s letter to the Congregation at Newport, the Hebrew Congregation at Newport. Do you think he drafted that himself, because it’s beautiful?

LA: I do think he did. Yeah, I think he did. I think his first inaugural, for example, a very beautiful thing, is known to have been drafted by James Madison.

HH: That’s a good speechwriter.

LA: So you know, in all fairness, you know, there was talent around at the time. And I think he drafted that himself. And yeah, and there are, and see, the quantity of Lincoln’s work is much smaller than the quantity of Churchill’s. And so that’s both good and bad if you’re going to study Churchill, because one thing people have to understand is that statesmen are like us in this. This is where we human beings live our lives. We have necessity we face. We have to eat. We have to take care of ourselves and our families. We have to work. We have to get money. We have to rest. We have to get better when we get sick, right, just like animals, just exactly like animals. And yet, on the other hand, there’s lots of things we do that make us embarrassed, and that means something stands outside even our own necessity and sits in judgment about what we do. Did we do the right thing? And we’re the only beings on Earth that ask that question. And so statesmen are like that, too. They have to do things, you know. They exercise powers of life and death. And their powers are consequential not just for themselves and those they know. They’re consequential for everybody in the United States. The American statesmen are consequential for everybody in the world. And so this interplay of principle of what you ought to do and what you must do is where all of us humans live. And Churchill and Aristotle both write that estimating the details rightly in light of the light that comes from principles is where you find this happening. And that means to understand the statesman, it’s very helpful to know what they were thinking and to understand the details that confronted them. And that’s why it’s handy that Churchill wrote so much, because Lord help us, did he not leave an extremely rich record.

HH: You know what else is helpful, Dr. Arnn? I heard today, it was off the record, but I can refer to the fact that General Mattis addressed a bunch of us at Hoover today, maybe 30 journalists, and General James Mattis is an amazing four star hero. And I can say this, because it was part of a written record that he had published. People have stepped across the line of departure from which they may not return that day, are different from people who haven’t, meaning warriors who go across a line into a battle at which their life is at risk, become different from people that have never done that. Churchill did that repeatedly.

LA: Right.

HH: So not only does he have this rich work and this fascinating career, he was often a soldier.

LA: Yeah, he was, by the time he was 26 years old, he fought in three wars and observed a fourth. He’d written bestselling books about two of those wars, articles that were very prominently read about all of the wars, and then he got elected to Parliament. And then he was a soldier again, first of all, a senior, he was the head of the British Navy during the opening of the First World War, and then he went and fought personally in the trenches in command of a regiment. And then in the Second World War, he was first again in charge of the British Navy and then prime minister, the supreme war leader in the greatest war in history So he knew a lot about war.

HH: He also, and again, back to Victor Davis Hanson, General James Mattis, military leaders bring war’s grim realities to the table.

LA: That’s right.

HH: They are able, they tell us things that other people cannot, that purely political leaders do not know.

LA: And Churchill’s understanding, his deep understanding of the movement of modern times, which is something we’ll talk about, and it’s a very important thing in understanding Churchill, Churchill thought that we, that is to say Winston Churchill and us, who are talking now, listening and talking now, live in a unique time in human history. And it’s uniquely opportune and uniquely dangerous. And Churchill’s understanding of nature is that opportunities and dangers have a way of going together. And so we face promise of well-being and peace and plenty like no people in all of human history. And we face destruction and despotism like no people in all of history. And so Churchill learned that to begin with, on the battlefield. But for some remarkable reason, he could see that that had to be the case also in politics in peace. And so that means he was a man of brilliant imagination and insight, in my opinion.

HH: And so for the next many…

LA: And all of this when he was very young.

HH: And for the next many weeks, we’re going to be diving into this. And I want to encourage everyone who’s listening to go to and put in Arnn, two N’s, Larry Arnn, and order Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill And The Salvation Of Free Government, and also to go over to, because there is going to be a special link at to the six part lectures on Churchill which Dr. Arnn has already recorded, and which will be released in the next Hillsdale course. The first is Why Study Churchill. The second is The Problem Of Modern War. The third is The Strategy For Modern War. The fourth is The Problem Of Modern Politics. The fifth is Churchill’s Plan For Freedom, and the sixth is What Churchill Teaches Us About Our Time. We will not necessarily follow that same order or in that exact precision, because we will be reading the book together, and that means we might tarry a bit here or there. And when we come back from break, we begin to look at the introduction, because it’s going to take next week as well. But since there are three segments left, we’ll talk about the triple challenge that Winston Churchill faced in his extraordinary life. Churchill’s Trial by Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, now available for preorder at, and I urge you to go and get it and start reading so you can get as much from these next few weeks as possible.

— – – – –

HH: Larry, I thought we would start by talking about this triple challenge that the book is broadly about. He had to face the Nazis, he had to face the communists, he had to face the domestic left, or the Western left. I guess I’m going to make it larger than the domestic left, because it’s larger than Great Britain. But I begin by noting that we are doing the first of these a week after the Labour Party, if which he was a great opponent except in war, has elected Jeremy Corbin to lead it, who may be the most radical person ever. Is he more radical than Bevin?

LA: Yeah, well, they were all, you know, back in those days, in the beginning, they were all going to nationalize all the big industries, and that’s what they did when they got in, in 1945. And to go back to that now, after all that history, after Churchill beat them back some, after Margaret Thatcher beat them back more, after Tony Blair moved the party toward the center, and it prospered after that, to go back to all of that after all of this, that’s amazing.

HH: Well, but that is at the end of ours. Let’s start with, your book has the three big challenges – Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia and the left in the West. But even before that, he had to face the challenge of not being the first son of the, he wasn’t the duke. He didn’t inherit anything, did he?

LA: Well, so his father was the second son of a duke. And that meant his father got a courtesy title. He was called Lord Randolph Churchill. And there were, and so Churchill got nothing. Churchill was the eldest son of Lord Randolph Churchill, so the grandson of a duke was Churchill, and duke is the highest peerage outside the royal family. But he didn’t get any title. And then unfortunately, he was not born the grandson of the Duke of Westminster, who was richer than Croesus, and so he could make all his collaterals and descendants rich. The Duke of Marlborough has never been rich like that, not rich like that today. So Churchill didn’t get title or money. What he got was connection. He was from a famous family. His, the original Duke of Marlborough was a commoner by the name of John Churchill, who more than any other person, led the forces that compromised Louis XIV and kept him from dominating Europe. He was a great general, maybe the greatest. If he wasn’t the greatest, then the Duke of Wellington was the greatest. And he won his dukedom by destroying large French armies repeatedly.

HH: And I believe you told me once that Churchill’s best book was the biography of Marlborough? Is that true?

LA: It’s my favorite, and there are two that are my favorites, and a third that’s close, among all the 50. But the two that are my favorites, one is Marlborough: His Life And Times, and the other is the World Crisis. And those are multivolume works, see? So wouldn’t it be great if my favorite two books were both 300 pages long?

HH: Yeah, they’re not. I actually had Marlborough in one volume. Was it combined eventually into one volume?

LA: Well, alas, Henry Steele Commager abridged the volume. He’s a famous historian, right? And he’s got the keenest eye I have ever seen. He took out all of the most beautiful passages. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) So anyway, going back, then, he starts from a position, and his parents aren’t exactly the gift of the world, though he is half-American as well.

LA: Yeah, well, his parents were, his father was a tremendous man, and Churchill wrote a biography of his father, and adored his father, although he was not close to either of them. And they were, he wrote of his mother that she shone for him as the evening star – beautiful and distant. She was a lovely woman, and his father died young from a mysterious disease, some think syphilis. But his father was like, he had a political career like a bottle rocket. He took off, and he was, he had a glorious advance. And in a Torey government, and see, now his father is the son of the duke, right, the second son of the duke. His father grew up in Blenheim Palace. Churchill never lived there, Winston Churchill, although he did happen to be born there. He was premature. But his father grew up in Blenheim Palace, and so he comes into politics as the son of a duke. And he became a Torey Democrat, and he was brilliant, and he was, there’s a wonderful speech. He was the scourge of William Gladstone. And you know, people don’t, probably don’t know who these people are, but on any list of the greatest members of legislative assemblies in human history, Gladstone is going to be in the top ten, right?

HH: With Disraeli, right, along with Disraeli.

LA: With Disraeli and with, you know, so of Churchill. And he was just a liberal, and you know, by crackie, if we could have that Liberal Party today, I would be a member of it.

HH: Yes, yes.

LA: And in a heartbeat. And Gladstone one time, so I’ll just give you a flavor of Churchill’s daddy, so and it may be his most famous speech. It is called the Chips Speech. And Gladstone was a very famous man and a great man, and you know, a senior man forever. And his hobby was chopping down trees with an axe. And so first of all, different world back then, huh? And he felled a tree with the newspapers there, and gave chips, wood chips from the exercise to the working men who were visiting him. And he was talking to them, and they watched him chop down this tree. And so Lord Randolph turns that into the Chips Speech, and the refrain is and what has the great Gladstone to offer the working man of Britain? Dry, cold, dead chips. You know, he was very good. And he helped to break, it’s a very funny thing, in 1888, is that right? I think that’s the date. Gladstone brought forth a bill to give home rule to the Irish. And a man named Joseph Chamberlain, Neville Chamberlain’s father, was a liberal in Gladstone’s party, and he led a group who came over to the conservatives in protest against this. Lord Randolph Churchill, Churchill’s father, was the man who received him and did the negotiations, and brought them into the Conservative party. And they broke the Gladstone government and defeated Irish home rule. And that’s interesting, because Neville Chamberlain’s father and Winston Churchill’s father made that union, but then Winston Churchill later took the lead in negotiating home rule for Ireland, and of course, he had a famous fight in the 1930s with Neville Chamberlain over appeasement.

HH: Moreover when we come back, we’re just setting the table for weeks of this. Winston Churchill not only did that, he also drew the map of the modern Middle East. You might now know that, America, but you’ll find out if you continue to listen to the Hillsdale Dialogue as we go about picking a president. You might want to pick up Larry Arnn’s brand new book, Churchill’s Trial, and go to to sign up for the lecture. Stay tuned.

— – – —

HH: And we need quite a lot of runway to get this plane off. I was thinking about that during the break, Larry Arnn, that you can’t just walk in and start talking about Churchill and Hitler, because you need all this runway. You need the runway of Lord Randolph Churchill. You need the runway of Joseph Chamberlain and the imperialists. And I thought to myself you even need the runway of Salisbury, because I’m sure Andrew Roberts must be a friend of yours, or you’ve talked with him.

LA: Oh, sure, yeah, yeah, a good friend, yeah.

HH: And magnificent biography of Salisbury, which I’ve read three or four times, because it’s so great. And Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father, is in there as resigning in a huff, thinking that Salisbury had nowhere to go but to him, and finding that he had forgotten there was somebody else around who could be chancellor of the exchequer.

LA: Yeah, yeah, his career ended like that. So that’s right, and so it was like a bottle rocket, right? It went up really fast, and it exploded really bright, and then it was over and fell to Earth. And he just miscalculated something terrible.

HH: And that must have had an impact on Winston Churchill, don’t you think?

LA: Churchill, Winston Churchill thought he was going to die young, as his father did, and you know, Churchill became prime minister at long last when he was 65 years old. And he died when he was 90 years old. That was a surprise to him. And then if you figure the number of times he exposed himself to gunfire, which his father never did, then wow. So yeah, let me state a principle, by the way, so that people can look for this. You want to talk about how we pick a leader. I think there are two things, and they’re exactly parallel to the two things we always do. The first thing we need is we need a president who is extremely good at getting America’s way in the world in the circumstances we face. We need somebody. Churchill’s wife wrote to Stanley Baldwin one time. Only Winston has the deadliness to fight the Germans, right? Deadliness. Wow. I mean, I wish my wife would write like that about me.

HH: No, Clementine knew her man, didn’t she?

LA: Didn’t she, though, see? And that quality, see, that’s not just in war. That’s somebody extremely good at getting his way. We need that, right? It, you know, all of us, right, we all get called sometimes to stand in a place where we have to assert ourselves and get our way, or else some damage will be done. And you know, pray God we get that right.

HH: Right. It’s called standing in the gap in the Old Testament, right? Stand in the gap.

LA: We need somebody who’s got the deadliness, right? People think Trump may have that, by the way. That’s one reason he’s prospering right now. The second thing is we need somebody who understands that none of this is personal. And what I mean by that, the same thing I mean about every one of us. We are required to do the right thing, somehow. And just serving our interest is not enough, although we have to do that. We have to find a way to make our interest conform to what is right. And if you’re a statesman, it’s even harder than for us, because the consequences are so big, and the problems so big. So think of this. A statesman who’s good at coping with details and getting the right thing done in his way, who also serves the Constitution, which is the law written more than 200 years ago, somebody who can do both those things, right? And that somebody is rare, and I argue that Churchill and Lincoln and Washington were such somebodies, also Margaret Thatcher.

HH: And that’s why we study them, right?

LA: That’s right.

HH: Right now, we need to study them very closely, because we are in a crisis.

LA: That’s right. I think that the forces of lawlessness of just will, of just doing what I want, I mean, goodness, they’re negotiating a treaty right now, they haven’t negotiated a treaty, and it looks like they’ve got it in, but it’s supposed to take two-thirds of the Senate to confirm such a thing. And they’ve managed to twist it around so that it only requires one-third to approve it. And that’s just lawlessness.

HH: It is. It is setting aside the Constitution for the purposes of pure will as an expedient.

LA: And see, you’ve got to not just beat people. You’ve got to not just not do that, I mean to say. You’ve got to follow and reestablish and reaffirm the forms of the law that everyone should have to obey, and at the same time, you have to beat people who are willing to forego those forms.

HH: I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn.

— – – —

HH: Larry Arnn, as I drove up the coast, I was listening to a book, not your book, I’m reading your book. I was listening to The Boys In The Boat, which is about the 1936 University of Washington Crew team. And it’s set in the course of the Depression where these boys learned to row in a rigorous world where the Depression is horrible. But it’s also a parallel quick study of the rise of Hitler. And it struck me Hitler had such a head start on Churchill. He gets elected in ’33, and he has complete control of the government, and he can martial all the resources of Germany, and he gets his way without any democratic opposition, and he gets a six year head start on Churchill. It’s remarkable that Churchill pulled this off.

LA: Yeah, and Churchill thought that he would. And the reason is he thought you can actually assemble more power in a free and limited government than you can in a despotism.

HH: That’s counterintuitive. That just doesn’t make, yeah…

LA: He loved, what are they afraid of, he would say? Words. Even whispers frighten them to death. He quotes, you know, and this is, by the way, in 1940, right, the Germans have several hundred divisions, and the British have fewer than a dozen. And the divisions they have, have been hurled off the continent, and they’re back on British shores without their heavy equipment. And the Germans have a bigger air force. And they have, if they get across the Channel, everybody knows the war is over. The first step the British were going to do is give up London. And it’s in those months when that’s going on that Churchill gives his strongest speeches about how weak Germany is. And that was partly to rally people, and it did, but also I think he believed that, very much believed that. And why?

HH: Can I ask you, would you give a physical…

LA: Because we can, what can we do, we Americans, right? We can talk and figure it out and make a decision together and all be part of it.

HH: If we choose it. Now would you give a physical description of Churchill, because I also like to remind people they don’t have to be a towering, imposing figure to lead. He wasn’t.

LA: Well, the best thing about Winston Churchill’s physical appearance is that he was exactly as tall as I am. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) That’s a good, that means I’m taller than Churchill. That’s good.

LA: He was five foot seven, eight, somewhere in there, and he was, he didn’t, he was slender, a little whippet of a kid, kind of weak, and he really only got tubby after he became 50. He was a brilliant fencer, and he was a brilliant polo player. Churchill was quick, right, so Lincoln, the first impression he got of Lincoln, you know, until, and both of these things are qualified by the fact that they both became, during their lifetime, the greatest man in the world, and were thought of that by most people they met. But that took a long time, right? Most of their lives, they weren’t like that at all. So what you thought when you saw Lincoln was, he’s a rube. Gosh, his coat’s dirty, you know, a big, awkward guy, kind of ungainly, a little ugly, right, which…

HH: Squeaky voice, maybe, maybe.

LA: Yeah, what you thought about Churchill was quick, smart, fast, small, self-important, dominates the conversation. Wow, I wish I knew, you know, there’s a joke that was famous about Thomas Babington Macauley, and that is I wish I knew as much about one thing as Lord Macauley knows about everything. People would apply that to Churchill, right? And so Lincoln was much more often underestimated than Churchill was.

HH: I wonder if you can recall the story about Churchill where one of his envious opponents said the fairies got together and they gave all the gifts to Churchill, then they thought they’d given him too much, so they gave him a shaken out judgment.

LA: That was Edward Halifax or Neville Chamberlain, but I’m pretty sure it’s Edward Halifax. And they developed this account of him, right, and the account of him is gracious, listen to that guy. How does he do that, you know? That’s the first thing. You’ve got to start with that. You know, he would, the House of Commons, where he lived his life, and it’s very important for everybody to understand this, because it’s the greatest thing in the world, right. The chamber of the House of Commons, which you can go and see today in the same building as the 17th Century building. Actually on the site, going back to 1100, there have been buildings there. It’s still the same size and shape, and it’s not big enough for all the members of the House of Commons, and that’s because it was bombed out in the Second World War, and Churchill made one of his greatest speeches about how it had to be built back exactly the same. He said there has to be a sense of crowd and urgency here. And see, buildings are just like constitutions. He said we, in the speech, he said we make our buildings, and then they make us. And in the House of Commons, there’s only two sides. And they look at each other. And every day when you walk in and bow to the speaker, you must turn to the left or to the right. And if you turn to the left, you’ve joined the government. And if you turn to the right, you’ve joined the opposition. And then the government and the opposition debate. Parliament – parlay – it means government by talking. And he thrived in there. He loved that place. At the end of his life when he was offered a dukedom of his own now, and they hadn’t made one for a hundred years except inside the royal family, and he said I am a man of the House of Commons. I will stay there, right? And so he, and because it’s not big enough for everybody, anybody who can draw a crowd, or any question that can draw a crowd, it becomes packed. And it’s standing room only. And for most of his life, I mean, with like a four year exception where Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin had beaten him, and he seemed irrelevant, and then his glory, his greatest glory came after that four year period, but for most of his life, if he would stand up, everybody would rush in to hear him.

HH: And that is why we are going to spend many weeks in Winston Churchill. Go and get the book right now. It’s at, Larry Arnn, Churchill’s Trial, are linked at And do not miss any, because it will be so crucial to your helping us choose wisely, us being the country writ large, the next leader. Thank you, Dr. Arnn.

End of interview.


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