Dr. Larry Arnn Concludes His Ten Week Series On Winston Churchill
HH: It’s the end of the week. That means the Hillsdale Dialogue is here, my weekly conversation with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. www.hillsdale.edu for all of the offerings of the college, both the Hillsdale Dialogues are on there, as are all the free courses offered on the founding of the country, the Constitution, the progressivists’ assault on the Constitution, a great introductory course on economics and many more things. You can sign up for the free speech digest, the Imprimus that comes monthly. All of this is for free, because Hillsdale’s mission is to renew and reestablish Constitutional order in the United States. And Larry Arnn and his colleagues make that a joy to participate in. All of my dialogues as well with Dr. Arnn and his colleagues available at www.hughforhillsdale.com. The past nine weeks, we have focused on Winston Churchill. We jumped ahead by about 1,500 years in order to do so, given our present domestic and international political crisis. We conclude that series today with Hitler having been defeated, and Churchill standing for election in Great Britain in the summer of 1945 and losing by a landslide to the Socialists. And Dr. Arnn, it is with no little irony that we are talking about this right now, because the fight against domestic socialism, and I use that word advisedly, is underway in the United States right now, though people do not use the term. And Churchill first had to decide whether to quit or whether to fight on in the aftermath of his epic, enormous defeat in the summer of 1945. How long did it take him to make the decision that all was not lost?
LA: Well, you know, the answer is he never thought, I guess, you know, sometime when he reached the age of majority. He was not given to that kind of thinking. Remind me, we should end with his last words in a major speech in the House of Commons.
HH: All right.
LA: Yeah, he thought that was all very bad, and it was distressing to him. And on the other hand, something went with it, and that is they were in power now, and they were doing all that stuff. And he’d been talking about what it was going to be like. And now, he could point at what it was like. And that’s a very important thing for people to remember if they don’t like the trend of the government today, you know, one can see it now. And there’s no use pining for the past. We’ve got what we’ve got today, and we’re still free to talk about it, and so we should.
HH: Did he give thought to resigning? Did his colleagues want to push him aside? Because he was at an advanced age, and he was worn out, and the war killed a lot of people. I mean, it just wore out to the point of death many of his colleagues.
LA: Well, he did, you know, when the war was over, let’s see, what was it, Churchill was 70, over 70 years old. He died when he was 90. He retired when he was 80 in 1955. And he was slower, very much. And yeah, he thought from time to time about resigning. But he led the opposition. And there are complaints that he wasn’t active enough in doing that. But if you just put his speeches together from that time, they’re very vigorous, you know, and he makes a lot of the fact that there’s continued rationing. And one of his arguments was they’ve appointed more than half a million officials to run the country now, and we have to pay for that. And half a million is larger than any army we’ve ever kept in peacetime. And he evolved the argument into a sharp point over this six year period that the theme is socialism is the enemy of the people. It wishes to control them. And there was a guy named Douglas Jay, and he said, he’s a historian who just wrote an exculpatory article about this thing. But Douglas Jay was a minister in the Labour government, and he said roughly the housewives in Britain have not really done the research to know what’s best for their children to eat. The gentlemen in Whitehall, Whitehall is the place where the British government is located, the gentlemen in Whitehall know better. And Churchill turned that into a catch phrase, and he just range the changes on that. And look at the contempt they have on you. And that was, by the way, a favorite expression of Margaret Thatcher’s. The gentlemen in Whitehall know better. And people were insulted by that, and in ’51, and he kept up, and you know, about the Gestapo thing, Churchill said several times in the ’50 and ’51 election cycles, that he said that socialism has to turn into communism, see, and in Churchill’s opinion, which he stated many times, communism and national socialism are actually the same phenomenon. And so he never took that point back about the Gestapo. Instead, he repeated it, and he won a victory. Now in ’50, he lost the popular vote narrowly and the Labour majority was greatly cut back. And in ’51, he won a majority of seats, and a slight, two or three hundred thousand, lost the popular vote. But that was his first election he won to become prime minister, and he had a majority of 17, if memory serves. And then he set about with two main objects. And one was to denationalize the economy, most of it, and the other was to get a summit meeting with Eisenhower, who was elected president in ’52, and Stalin. And then Stalin died in ’53, and then Stalin’s successors, and he never got that done. And he thought if we talked to them, we would make two points. And Eisenhower, and he was understood, he was thought by many Americans and somewhat by Eisenhower to be soft on the Soviet Union. But what he thought was we were going to say two things to them. One is we’re just going to outgrow you, effectively, the reverse of Khrushchev’s speech at the United Nations that we’re going to bury you. He wanted to tell them we were going to bury them. But also in the meantime, we were going to have overpowering military, and it’s no use you having 60,000 tanks on the edge of Western Europe. You can’t take it. We’ll blow you away. And we’re going to have troops there, too. So his ending is very much like his career. Churchill, and this is very important for people to understand. Churchill was one of the inventors of the social safety net. And I’ll just try to give a quick picture as I understand it of his views, and I think they’re continuous through his life. Churchill thought that people who were very poor, had misfortune, orphans, widows, that there should be comprehensive national systems of insurance into which people should pay, and it would keep them from falling below the line of sustenance. He also though that was right. And you know, in industrial revolution Britain, the poor were very poor. And if somebody got sick in the family, they would lose their children and face hunger. And he didn’t like that. And he thought it’s only right that something be done about that. It’s a point of justice. And I comment that we’ve always had welfare in the United States of America from colonial times forward. So that’s the first point. And the second point is you have to do that, because there’s a legacy of aristocracy in Britain, and the people, he wrote early in his career, will set their face like flint against the money power unless they are given a road up. So he also thought it was necessary. And of course, through Churchill’s life, the fastest growing party was the Socialist Party over the course of the 50 years he was in politics, 55. And he feared that and thought it incompatible with civilization. So how do you keep that from getting out of hand? And what Churchill thought was the British Constitution was central. And the way the Constitution worked is that, I’ve said this before about the American, the activity of talking in the House of Commons, an elected body, that people observe and have their own conversations, too, so it is the center of a national conversation, is how we work things out. And the government can’t do more than can be discussed in this activity of talking. And so Parliament is about great pieces of legislation that are debated through, and everybody talks about them, and there are always elections. And the activity of talking in the House of Commons is often talking about and calling into question what’s done in the executive branch. And he understood that to be a separate thing, the executive government. And he said the executive power is never to dominate Parliament. And you see, that sets a limit on the size of the government, because it can’t do more than we can all talk about.
HH: And this is clearly preceding the rise of the administrative state and the unleashing of independent agencies upon the people.
LA: Churchill was a great enemy of bureaucracy. And so when he was in power, he was always trying to cut the budget, including the military budget. He was always cutting the military budget, and making them mad.
HH: Wow. We’ll be back to talk about that and about his return to power.
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HH: Larry Arnn, the last two weeks have seen the American people watching the terrible devastation in the Philippines. And of course, we rushed aide there in the form of the U.S.S. George Washington and a flotilla of ships, and our sailors have been sending back pictures, and the media’s been there with Anderson Cooper, and it’s terribly devastating, and everyone’s moved, and the generosity has been remarkable. As Churchill surveyed post-war Europe, the ruin was much greater. England was bombed out. Nothing worked. He’s turned out of power. And yet, he had to make an argument for six long years against socialists who were promising to help people. He did have the advantage of a unified media, which is gone today, meaning he could command attention, and his pen would command space in newspapers. And I’m not sure how he dealt with television when it arose. Perhaps you can tell us that. But I don’t know that anyone can make the same kind of arguments now, because they lack the ability to gather an audience.
LA: Well, Churchill was, so there’s a whole bundle of things in the middle of that, that require big thought. Let me first make a, I want to underscore, because it helps answer those questions you just asked, this point about the Constitution. Just remember that if you’re going to have a whole great nation of people involved in self-government, the only vehicle by which it can be done is a constitution, because there has to be some form in which they can cooperate to reach decisions. And right now, we really have the opposite of constitutional government, because the people who passed Obamacare, I’m not going to mention the party, the people who passed Obamacare did it on weekends late at night, and by their party alone. And now, polls, we don’t talk. We answer polls. And then the President makes adjustments of his own volition as the polls indicate. And that’s, you know, that’s plebiscite government after the fashion that Woodrow Wilson wanted. And it’s not debate and the reaching of a decision, which debates are regularly connected to elections. So Churchill was for that. Now Churchill, by the way, about television, and even radio, Churchill loved to go on the radio. He didn’t like television very much, although he did it a few times. And the word was he wasn’t very good at it, although he was old by then, so we don’t really know what he would have been if it had been a big thing all along. What Churchill didn’t like to do was reread the speeches that he gave in the House of Commons on the radio, because he thought the House of Commons was the main scene of action. He thought that is what we do, right? And then people can read it. And Churchill proposed in the 1930s, and he meant it, he proposed, he thought that once Britain had universal suffrage, which it got in the late 20s, finally, and it had very wide suffrage after about 1900, and you know, that means men and women all over 21 could vote in Britain. He proposed, he thought that participation declines, because it isn’t a privilege anymore, and so he proposed a system where you would be fined if you didn’t vote, and also, a system in which anybody who had enough property, which is a tiny amount, to pay rates, that is to say property taxes, another place he said anybody who earned any money, who had an income, they would get two votes. And then it would be a privilege again, a privilege to be earned. And then, people would pay attention again, because he wanted them to. He pined for the days when the political news was like the sports pages – who did a good job yesterday. And you know, he was often lampooned in the press, and he even liked that.
HH: We’ve got a touch of that today. There is a very vigorous online debate often full of venom and invective, but nevertheless entertaining as can be. But it isn’t unified in the that a dozen newspapers can make the weather in London and the outlying areas.
LA: That’s right, and also, you don’t, and see, in a liberal society, and I mean that word, liberal means free, limited government, in a liberal society, you know, one of the advantages of representative government is people can get on with their lives, right? And so this is, Churchill is describing a way in which we can all be active, but we can also get on with our lives. And it’s true in every free country that has any long history, and ours for sure, that it’s only in times of great crisis that people pay intense attention to politics constantly, right? You know, nobody would have gone to the Lincoln-Douglas debates if they’d been held in 1815.
LA: And nobody would have read the Federalist Papers if they had been written in 1815.
LA: People weren’t doing things like that. And so now is a very unusual time. I mean, politics are so intense right now, and the stakes are so high, that goodness, Hugh, people are listening to the Hillsdale Dialogues in part for the purpose of getting background. And they’re willing to go back to Homer.
HH: And to understand how to argue. Then that takes me to that question I mentioned earlier. He was willing to do this against the backdrop of utter ruin, the kind of ruin that we see in a part of the Philippines, which was widespread. I think we kind of take it for granted. It must have been, or take enormous courage to argue against socialism when everything is leveled.
LA: And you know, they were censorious, you know, the way the government can be today. If you speak a wrong word, if you have an unfashionable opinion, you’ve got to be really careful. And you know, the establishment can turn against you because it is driven by pressure, which can rise up on these blogs and discredit you. And you know, they, you know, make yourself unpopular with MoveOn.org and see if they won’t take some of your time.
HH: Yeah, yeah.
LA: And so, Churchill faced all that. And you know, he was very hurt by watching his country fall apart. Everything is scuttled, he would say. Scuttling the Empire, scuttling the economy, scuttling the greatness of Britain, and he would mutter that to people in private sometimes. It was wounding to him to watch.
HH: But he never, ever, he did not flag or fail. He kept deciding to lead, and it must have driven Anthony Eden crazy, because after the break, we have to talk about preparing people to follow you. But he never intended other than to stand for election again.
LA: Right, that’s right. Yeah, he meant to win one. And on his arguments, because wouldn’t it be an unsatisfactory career if, and you know, he very much regarded as so, is if the only opportunity you got was in the middle of a disastrous war, because war, peace is not for war. War is for peace, right? And Churchill very much thought that, right? So he regarded his career as incomplete, his service incomplete, unless he could establish the things he advocated as policy.
HH: Even as he gave the Fulton Speech about the Iron Curtain descending across Europe, he did great service during his out years. But he wanted back in.
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HH: Dr. Arnn, in all the ten weeks we’ve been talking about Churchill, we’ve often mentioned people like Beaverbrook, the great press baron, Brendan Bracken, his young protégé. We’ve talked about his doctor, we’ve talked about his children. I don’t think we’ve mentioned Anthony Eden three times.
HH: And it’s curious that the man that he had been grooming to take over for him, and did take over for him when he did eventually retire after he won his election in ’51 is so little remarked upon us in our planning.
LA: Well, Eden was a heck of a guy. Also, Anthony Eden, by the way, was very beautiful. He’s a very handsome man, and good on TV, and those photographs of him just were riveting. And so he was better equipped to be a modern media politician and little, stubby Winston Churchill ever was. You know, Winston Churchill was so short, he was exactly my height.
HH: He was? Okay.
LA: So yeah, he, and Eden was a fine human being, and in some important senses, a great man. But they had tough relations, because Eden was always hectoring Churchill, when are you going to let me do it, when, when, when, when, when. And Churchill kept putting it off. And he kept putting it off hoping he was going to get a summit with Stalin and Ike, and then Malenkov and Ike, and yeah, so their relations were strained during the second premiership. Eden was ill a lot and didn’t last very long as prime minister after he became prime minister. McMillan, a protégé of Churchill much more than Eden ever was, McMillan did last a long time.
HH: Did he do a good job in raising up young people to be future leaders?
LA: Well, that’s a very complex question, because Aristotle says power shows the man. So it’s hard to know who they were. But McMillan is an example. He was a colleague of Churchill from very early in McMillan’s career and for decades, and was good at politics and admired Churchill very much, and Eden, too, although Eden had a more independent standing. But there was a bunch of young men, and they were very loyal to Churchill, and they were members of Parliament, and they helped him make his trouble in the 1930s, and most of them, he put in office when he got into power. And they did become the new Conservative Party.
HH: And that Conservative Party, when he took over, what was its goal? The dismantling of socialism? And did he get it done?
LA: Mostly, yeah. Mostly. And you know, the Socialists soon abandoned nationalization as their main technique, although in the Wilson administration in the mid-60s, they did nationalize steel. And they didn’t renationalize most of the industries that Churchill denationalized. And you know, he broke them. And in my book, soon finished, I go into some of the, in 1952, the year after Churchill was reelected, they published the new Fabian essays. And there, there’s a lot of rethinking of socialism. And there are actual fears of bureaucracy and its power, which Churchill had used to such good effect in bringing down the Socialists, the Labour Party. And so he compelled, as Margaret Thatcher later compelled, a lot of rethinking on them, and did a service for them and for the country by doing so.
HH: Nixon was very proud that he got to meet Churchill and spoke of it often, because while vice president, he greeted him in the United States during his last premiership. Did Thatcher ever?
LA: I don’t think so. But you know, I’m not sure about that. If she did, it was only fleeting. After 1962, Churchill was weak. He died in January of ’65. And so you know, in ’55, she was a young girl, and that’s when he retired. And then he had, really, six or seven pretty healthy years after that. So how old would she have been in ’62? She would have been, you know, getting on for 20, something like that.
HH: Yeah, highly unlikely then.
LA: Yeah, not likely.
HH: And when Kennedy was shot, as we approach the 50th anniversary of that, is any reaction recorded from Chartwell?
LA: Yes, he knew, but he was weak by then. He did watch on television Kennedy making him an honorary citizen, but he was too weak to travel.
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HH: But Dr. Arnn, you mentioned his last words in a major speech, and so that we do not short them, tell us about that setting and what he used that occasion to talk about.
LA: Well, his last great speech was given in March of 1955, and it was about the explosion of the hydrogen bomb. And it’s a good way to explain the kind of, what I see as a unity in Churchill’s career. Churchill thought that war had always been terribly dangerous, and in modern conditions, much worse. All civilization could be wiped out by it. Churchill thought that the problems of peacetime politics had always been terribly, most nations don’t live very well, but in modern times, they were given to utopian scientific thought that made them potentially much worse – socialism at home, national socialism and communism abroad. He thought that this worsening of war and worsening of peace came from the same thing, which was a technical outlook on life that reduces everything, including human beings themselves, to subjects of an engineering project. It’s a rebellion against nature, he thought, that makes us forgetful of the necessities under which we live, and the real goods we can achieve. We look for perfections now while at the same time we deny there’s any standard of perfection. One of Churchill’s first warnings against the Socialists is they will abolish the family and destroy that. And you know, bureaucratic government is no great friend of the family. It tries to replace it. So his last speech was about the hydrogen bomb, which was much more powerful and multiple times more powerful than an atomic bomb. And he said that when it was announced we had entered an epoch most measureless and laden with doom. And then in the speech, he goes on to invent the policy of deterrence that actually kept the West safe until the Soviet Union fell. And it’s a brilliant speech. It contains the phrase safety shall become the twin brother of annihilation, and security the sturdy child of terror. Very clever man. I don’t think I got that quote exactly right, but that’s close to it. And then, he says that deterrence can’t answer all the questions. He said a madman in the mood of Hitler in his bunker could not be deterred. That is a blind. And then in the last two paragraphs of the speech, he very…
HH: So he, I’ve got to pause, he foresaw our problem?
LA: Exactly right.
HH: He foresaw Kim Jung Il…
HH: He foresaw the mullahs, he foresaw it.
LA: That’s right. That’s right. I mean, a man right now has nuclear weapons, whose father or grandfather, I can’t remember which despot it was in North Korea, once kidnapped a couple because he liked their films from Taiwan, and made them live in North Korea for years so they could entertain him.
LA: So what kind of crazy is that?
LA: And so Churchill did foresee that, and in general, Churchill was for getting rid of all nuclear weapons if he could find a way safely to do it. But that would require, everything points back in Churchill to the right understanding of human equality, and to the right form of the constitution. In other words, just like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, especially Madison, just like Abraham Lincoln, the principles of the Declaration and the practices of the American Constitution are the hope for mankind, the last best hope of mankind on Earth. And Churchill himself said similar things even about those two documents many times.
HH: So at the end of his life, as he leaves in ’55, he lives another decade.
HH: Did he grow gloomy or optimistic, because there were, these were periods, he blessedly was not around for the Beatles. I guess he must have seen some of it, but sort of the mod culture sweep Britain. But what was his mood?
LA: Well, he painted, you know, until about 1962, so for, what, seven years, he painted. He went around on the yacht of Aristotle Onassis. He went into horse racing, and he won big. He didn’t talk a lot. He never spoke in the House of Commons, although he served until 1962. He would go and just sit there. He is described often as having a lot of fun. His doctor describes him as a sad, lonely man poking at a fire with a stick. But that was really only after his, a big stroke in ’62 reduced his powers very greatly. There’s a lot of sadness in age, and he had some of that. But he also had a lot of joy, and he was a great man. And he was not given to gloom. In this speech about the hydrogen bomb, he says over time, deterrence may grow, and I’m paraphrasing the speech. And he says we can hope that the tormented generations of this time may march forward together into a more serene and free period. Meanwhile, and these are his last words, never flinch, never weary, never despair.
HH: Great last words on which to conclude ten terrific weeks. The Gilbert papers are all at www.hillsdale.edu, or at least at the college, as is a marvelous statue of Winston Churchill. Who sculpted that, Larry?
LA: Her name is Heather Tritchka, a recent graduate of Hillsdale College at the time that she sculpted it with help from the head of our sculpting here, Tony Frudakis.
HH: I think anyone who travels through Western Michigan should stop if only to see Thatcher and Churchill on the campus of Hillsdale College. Dr. Larry Arnn, thank you. For all of the Hillsdale Dialogues, go to www.hughforhillsdale.com, or go directly to www.hillsdale.edu for all of the free online courses. All of them are worth your while, the last ten weeks especially of the Hillsdale Dialogues on Churchill worth listening to again and again. Next week, we resume where we left off to talk about Churchill with St. Augustine and what was going on when the barbarians were flooding the Roman world. He didn’t despair, either. He did not despair, very similar to Churchill’s last words. There’s a message in that.
End of interview.