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Dr. Larry Arnn Continues In His Study Of Leadership And Winston Churchill

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HH: It’s the favorite hour of the week for many people. It’s the time for the Hillsdale Dialogue, my weekly conversation with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, or one of his colleagues on some great work or person of the Western Civilization that has fallen perhaps a little bit out of focus that we need to bring back to the table. The last couple of weeks, and for the next couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about Winston Spencer Churchill, because it is now crucial that leaders step forward in the mold of Churchill, and try and accomplish what he did, which is to change the course of events from where they were headed otherwise. Dr. Larry Arnn, always a pleasure, thank you for joining me.

LA: Great to be here.

HH: Everyone can get every single Hillsdale Dialogue at, or they can go to, or there’s a button at that says Hillsdale Dialogues. And there are scores of them now, and you can build your home schooling curriculum around them, or you can simply enjoy them. And I hope you had a chance to meet some of those students that were up on your campus this past week, Larry Arnn. I saw one coming out of the airport in Phoenix on Sunday night, beaming at the week that you had put together for them.

LA: Well, we were swarming with them, and they’re smart and good-looking, and they giggle when you talk to them.

HH: And they giggle. Why? Are they just nervous at the idea that you might ask them to quote The Ethics to me in Greek or something?

LA: That’s it. That’s it. You know, today, the Marine Corps is on campus today in force. They recruit here, and they tell me that without regard to size, of the 70 schools that they have in this district, they get six from Hillsdale for every one they get from every other.

HH: Wow.

LA: And they said…so today, just…these two recruiters, and they said these kids, they stand up straight, and they look you in the eye, and I don’t just mean the ones that are interested in the Marine Corps. He says, how does that happen? And I said you know, they just show up here, I don’t know.

HH: Speaking of just showing up there, this week, I met a fellow who I want you to investigate. His website,, he is reintroducing Bach, whom he calls the greatest composer to the world. He conducted the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Alabama Symphony, and now he’s based on the West Coast, reintroducing people to Bach, the greatest musician and the greatest composer of all time, he alleges, because Bach is himself a great Christian artist whose work has been eclipsed by the modern culture. And it occurred to me, I want to know, does Hillsdale spend much time on classical music?

LA: Well, a third of our student body is involved in music somehow or another, and that’s a big number. And the orchestra has got 80 pieces, and they mostly play classical and a lot of Bach.

HH: See, I didn’t know this about Bach, that his music was about angels, demons, faith and victory, that he was a deeply devout man, and that he was relatively underappreciated for a hundred years. It’s got a lot to say about genius. We’ll have to cover that in the future at some point.

LA: Yeah, Bach said that every piece that he had ever composed was for the glory of Jesus Christ.

HH: And that’s why he goes, the Pacific Bach Project performs at various places, and I am going to continue to push it. But go look at it, Now Dr. Arnn, last week, when we left off on our Churchill study, Ted Cruz had not begun his filibuster. And this filibuster is interesting in American parliamentary history. It is associated with bad things, and Ted Cruz was trying to do a good thing. But did the British Parliament allow for such things?

LA: No, but we’re talking about Churchill. Churchill and the greatest of the British believed that the heart of the British Constitution was the activity in the House of Commons. And Churchill always protested whenever that was truncated. Full debate – get as much out as possible, and he followed that rule when he was prime minister.

HH: He begins this amazing Parliamentary career in 1901, and if you could, explain to the audience how closely the British public cared about those debates, and how they were, Dickens got his start transcribing them and putting them out, and it is not uncommon even for an illiterate man to understand what was going on in the House.

LA: Well, you know, and Churchill writes that the British people used to follow politics the way, the same way they followed the sports pages. And the form of the parliamentarians was known to them, and they would be greeted on the street with heckles or cheers about things they had said on the floor of the House of Commons. And the British people are today an unusually great newspaper-reading public. And back in those days, the majors, the four big London dailies, would print detailed accounts of the debates in the House of Commons every day.

HH: You know, in a shameful episode not long ago, the great general, David Petraeus, was chased by a group of just rowdy, you know, the Occupy movement types, at NYU. How were the British parliamentarians, in a time not of labor strife, because I understand that when labor strife broke out, Great Britain was as pugilistic and dangerous as any, and the suffragettes used to harry Winston Churchill. But generally speaking, when Churchill would move about the streets after a great debate, were they cordially received? Or were they catcalled?

LA: Both, of course, and you know, at his best, and the House of Commons is not what it used to be, because we live in the bureaucratic age, and so much in government takes place outside the popular branches, a crisis, in my opinion. They tended to abuse each other a lot, but eloquently. And so it was much more agreeable. Like Churchill’s father gave a great speech about the great Gladstone, who was in the paper, had invited some guys over, some working men, to watch him chop down a tree, which was his habit, his exercise. And he felled this mighty tree, and he gave the men, the newspaper article said, chips from the tree that he had felled. And so Lord Randolph Churchill turns this into a famous and really, you can look it up on the internet, called the Chips Speech, and it goes like this. He says, and this is, remember, what the great Gladstone has to offer the British working man – chips. And then he just, the theme, it just goes on and on and on, right? Well, that was…and you know, and the Irish home rule debate in 1886, I think it was, Churchill’s father took part, and the great Joe Chamberlain, father of Neville Chamberlain took part. And Gladstone’s government was broken. And Churchill trained himself for the House of Commons by memorizing many of those speeches, and then writing his own, and walking up and down and giving it.

HH: Wow. Now he takes his seat in 1901, and there is a tradition, the maiden speech. On what did he orate?

LA: Well, he was a hero from the South African war, because he had escaped and saved an armored train, and he spoke about the war. And in the speech, he said this phrase, which caused a stir. The war was still going on, and he said, “It I were a Boer fighting in the field, and if I were a Boer, I should be fighting in the field,” and then he goes on. And he’s calling for a policy of winning the war and then being generous, which was a theme with him all his life. And of course, that raised a firestorm, but it was a very successful speech, and they’re always answered by a senior politician. And several of the leaders of the House stood up and said good words about him and about his father, although many of them had opposed his father with great vigor and effect when his father was alive.

HH: You know, Dr. Arnn, to pause and come forward to the events of this week, and Ted Cruz’ filibuster, it is interesting whether or not people like your speeches, if your speeches matter, then you matter.

LA: Yeah.

HH: It is a good thing to be controversial.

LA: And there’s a great film made by Ridley Scott called The Gathering Storm about Churchill, and it shows with great effect, it’s an hour and twenty minutes long and everybody should watch it, and it shows Churchill in the 30s, which I guess we’re going to talk about next week, and there was a time in Churchill’s life, and it was really the only time when people didn’t crowd in when they knew he was going to speak. And then they began to gather again, and he gained power because he started getting information, and opinion started turning his way. And people would flood in. And maybe I told this story last week, but I’ll tell it again. And then when he finished, they would flood out. And the speaker right after him, in one of his great speeches about Baldwin and rearmament and the air power in Germany, they were flowing out, and this man’s accusing Churchill of pronouncing a Jeremiad, that is a dark speech about the future. And he said so ends the last chapter of the last book of Jeremiah. And then somebody called out followed, oddly enough, by Exodus.

HH: (laughing) You did tell it, but it’s worth twice. Now we’re going to cover then, today, 1901 through his exile from the last government in which he was a minister until he returned as first lord the admiralty, which is what, ’32-‘33?

LA: Well, he returned in ’39. And the government, the last government of which he was part broke up in April of 1929.

HH: ’29, and so it’s, we’ve got to cover 28 years. Would you give the overview in, well, let’s not. Let’s come back. In 1901, which party is he a member of?

LA: He’s a member of the Conservative Party.

HH: And so the Conservative Party represents the great landed interests. His father was a great Conservative, Disraeli was the great Conservative, and Winston Churchill begins his career, but it does not always, and he ends his career as a Conservative. But in between, when we come back, we’ll talk about what happens.

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HH: If you go to, you can also sign up for Imprimus, the speech digest heard round the world. How many people are now receiving a free copy of Imprimus each month, Larry Arnn?

LA: North of 2.7 million, plus, then, another discreet three hundred and some thousand, no, it’s more than that. It might be six hundred and some thousand. Well, there’s two million that get it by email. But if you eliminate the overlap, you get something over three million.

HH: That is remarkable. And also, a new Hillsdale course on economics has launched. I think you gave the first lecture on that as well, also available at You’re flooding the zone with content.

LA: Yeah, well, people need to know, and it’s fun to know, and so why not learn?

HH: Do your trustees ever say to you why are you giving it all away?

LA: No, we always have believed that learning is free in this sense. Nobody can do it for you. And the ideas that we know, and the things that we know, they don’t belong to us. We just happen to be engaged in the activity of knowing them. And so we’re glad to share them. And people who want to learn them really intensely, that costs a lot of money, because we have to pay our faculty, and people have got to eat while they’re here and stuff like that. And although we keep it cheap compared to our peers, the people who want to come here and have attention of very learned people in classes of 15-25, they pay, but we give them all the scholarships we can afford.

HH: You know, Larry, as I was coming out of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, and I met the young man who had gone to the Phoenix Jesuit High School, and he was with his mother and father, and I talked with him for a while, because I had met him a week before just by coincidence. I saw him and debriefed him on his trip, and his mother, whom I’d not met, stopped and said it is such a wonderful place, it is so inspiring. And I wonder if you sense that you are in some kind of a liftoff stage at Hillsdale?

LA: Well, we’ve grown a lot, and you know, right now, we’re busy remaking our conference center and hotel, because we get, I think it’s north of 6,000 visitors in this little place a year, and we’d have more if we had more room. So yeah, and you know, there’s a crisis in the nation, and the college studies things that lead you to understand that crisis better and more deeply, and people want to know that, and they’re just flocking to the place.

HH: You need a chapel.

LA: Well, that’s right. And there’s, thank you, and there’s interest in that from somebody. And if anybody wants to help that somebody, that somebody hasn’t promised, yet, but we do very much need a chapel, and we mean to build one.

HH: How will you design a chapel? Who would design a chapel? That would be quite the difficult undertaking. I mean, you have a beautiful campus, and people who haven’t been there ought to just go out of their way to see it. But it would be an interesting thing.

LA: Yeah, well, we’re looking for, we’re talking to a fellow, famous sacred building designer, and we’re going to, we’re going to get up three or four others, and we’re getting ready to do some drawings.

HH: Can I push along your would-be donor of the chapel? Is there any way, you want me to talk to him or her and push them along?

LA: Well, by the way, I may. They don’t need any, they came to us.

HH: Oh, good, good.

LA: You know, mostly, that’s what happens. People love, right? I do what I do because I love it. You do what you do because you love it. People who love the same thing kind of come along. Thank God for it, and them. And this person is not needing pushing right now, but the time may come. And this person happens to know who you are, Hugh.

HH: Well, because they need a chapel. They absolutely need a chapel. Then they need that chair of rhetoric in which to cabin and imprison Dr. Arnn. It’s sort of like a time out zone for President Arnn when he’s mean to his host. All right, back to Churchill. Very quickly, because I get confused, and I’ve read all the biographies, from 1901 to 1929, he crosses and recrosses the line. Would you explain to people what that means, and how portentous it is for a career?

LA: Well, the House of Commons, you come into court, you come down an aisleway, and in front of you is the speaker. And on the left is the majority, the government party, and on the right is the opposition. And there’s just two choices. And you come in and you bow, and you turn one way or the other. And there isn’t any place to sit in the middle. So in 1904, Churchill crossed over to the liberals, and then in 1924, effectively, in the middle of the year, but he began in ’22, he crossed back to the conservatives, because the liberals made their first affiliation with the Labour or Socialist party, and he would not serve with them.

HH: Now these are events which would have a parallel with a Republican becoming a Democrat, or a Democrat become a Republican. But you might be able to get away with that. For example, the great senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, did that, was a Democrat and became a Republican.

LA: Yeah.

HH: …and a respected Republican.

LA: Yeah, that’s right.

HH: But he couldn’t go back to being a Democrat. That’s hard.

LA: Yeah, Phil Gramm, and that’s hard, and it’s harder in Britain, because you have to be welcomed by the other party, because there is a fair amount of central control, and it’s not complete, of who gets a seat. And constituencies are pressed to adopt this person or that. And so if they want to take your seat away, and Stanley Baldwin in ’36 and ’37 and ’38 tried to take Churchill’s seat away, then they can hurt you. And so there’s a fair amount of party discipline there. And so it’s, as Churchill said once, it’s very difficult to rat, but I’ve managed also to rerat.

HH: Now is it an admirable thing that he did?

LA: Well, I think so. I mean, this period we’re talking about divided into three. In the first decade Churchill was in Parliament, he’s worried about the classes. And he’s for, and you know, he believes that the aristocracy has used its political power in the 19th Century to transfer wealth from the poor to themselves. And that time is coming to an end. He calls himself a Tory Democrat in the beginning, and then a liberal. And he favors the social welfare state of a kind. And he fights for that. He’s a radical. And then in 1911, he gets worried about war. He finds out things about what the Germans are doing. And so he becomes first lord of the admiralty, and he gets the admiralty ready for the war. Then in 1914, the great war comes. He devises, with others, an innovative strategy to go around the trenches to save slaughter. In this time, he also invents the tank, or starts the experiments that invented it. And that goes to naught, and is a disaster, and Churchill bears the blame for it. Then for about a year, he goes to the trenches and fights as a major. Sorry, he’s a major. Then he comes back, and he’s minister of munitions. That is the period after the war. He’s secretary of state for war, and then secretary of state for the colonies. Then in 1922, the liberal government falls. They join with the Socialists. Churchill leaves them, and in surprise, Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative prime minister, asked Churchill to be the chancellor of the exchequer, which is the second most important job in Britain. And it’s more than being secretary of the Treasury over here. And he did that for five years in the 20s. And he did a lot of things. And no one in British history has ever been chancellor long enough to give five annual budgets without being, becoming prime minister. Churchill looked like he was going to be the exception, but then when he was 65 years old, he became prime minister.

— – – – –

HH: For a moment, let’s go to Gallipoli and the fiasco that was the Dardanelles, because this is something even some American children will remember, because it’s fall…and though World War I is not much known, but if they know anything, they’ll know that Churchill screwed up the Dardanelles, and that’s not really fair.

LA: Well, I don’t think so. Churchill believed that modern weapons were making war terrible in a way that threatened civilization itself. A logical problem. He thought we are the same kind of creature we’ve always been, but now we’ve got this immense power. And so when the trenches formed, Churchill hated them, and began to look for a way around, or through, and that’s why he got to work on the tank. And there were two ways, because the trenches basically took up Western Europe. And there wasn’t any way to make a flanking maneuver. And so what Churchill did was that you could go north and east through the Baltic, and to an island off Germany called Borkum. That was one plan. He liked that the best. Or you could go south and through the Mediterranean all the way to Istanbul and to through the Straits of Marmara flanked on the left hand or westward side by the Dardanelles Peninsula, and then into the Black Sea to make open communication with Russia and get behind the Germans. And so this plan was adopted. And it was not carried through. Effectively, what they managed to do was create a whole new set of trenches, this time, several thousand miles away. And many people died, and they never got the navy through, and they never took the Dardanelles Peninsula. And Churchill bore the blame for that. Now, and my argument is, and it’s an argument, there are people who disagree, is that Churchill himself said that he made a mistake. And the mistake he made, which he corrected when he became prime minister in 1940, was that he took responsibility for it, but he didn’t have the authority to see it through. He commanded as first lord of the admiralty, one more day of naval attack, and the admiral refused, and he went to the prime minister, Asquith, and said order him. And the prime minister refused. And we now know, Churchill couldn’t have known this at the time, that the Turks were basically out of shells. Another day would likely have been successful. And then Lord Kitchener, the head of the army, kept promising soldiers, and they kept coming too late. And there’s a story that they arrived at a place called Suvla Bay, and they spent the day bathing. There are photographs of the troops in the sea and on the beach. And some scouts had gone up and said we’d better get up those heights, because we’ll never take them if we don’t take them now, when they’re unoccupied. And he decided to do it the next day, and then a forced march Turkish troops, with Kemal Ataturk, the great Ataturk, the great founder of modern Turkey, was there and in authority. And they occupied those heights, and the British, and the Australians and the New Zealanders never took it. And many people died trying. Churchill bore the blame for that. And there are two main lessons I draw from it. One was you have to understand why he was advocating it, because my wife’s grandfather fought in all three battles of Ypres, you know, in the Somme, and that’s just about as brutal and terrible a form of warfare as there has ever been. And months and months, and years of living in squalor, and the British lost almost a million dead.

HH: Wow.

LA: And he was never the same man after that. And Churchill thought that is crippling to a liberal society. You have to find a way to fight your wars so that doesn’t happen. And I believe the United States is weaker now relatively to the threats, and we should be making a strategy. And it should be leveraged. We should do the few things that give us the maximum leverage, and therefore punish our enemies while we get stronger. And we have a way of chasing about the world because we think we have infinite power. Churchill was very against that kind of thing.

— – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, I don’t think I told you this, but in the two plus years I worked with Richard Nixon in ’78, ’79, and ’80 as a young editorial assistant ghost writer, we never talked about Watergate, except once in his fully square office. He began to say something about it. He said you know, about Watergate, I have always, and then he stopped, and he said never mind, and we looked forward. And I noted he just wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t look backwards at his great failing, his great crippling failing. But I get the sense that Churchill did not attempt to even the score on the Dardanelles throughout his long career. Am I wrong about that?

LA: Well, Churchill wrote a beautiful, very important six volume work about that. And you know, The World Crisis, it’s the first thing I ever read by Winston Churchill, and I love it still today. So Churchill wished to get even on the argument, but Churchill was not a vindictive man in politics. And he always thought, you know, in a free country, right, where you’re not going to kill your opponents, then you should beat them, but then you should also try to make a friendship with them around the things that are essential to the country. He was always seeking to do that.

HH: You know, I think I’m saying the same thing. Nixon wrote RN, his memoir, and he detailed Watergate extensively. But he did not dwell on it, did not obsess on it, and did not try to even the score after it was over. Now let me ask you about the admiralty at the beginning of the war, because it was also famously ready for when the war began.

LA: Yeah, and you know, and it was, Churchill was a hard driver, and they happened to be on maneuver in August, 1914 when the war broke out, and that means everybody was together. And they had plans to get together in a hurry, and those plans were accelerated by the fact that these big maneuvers were going on. And so the fleet was ready, and it was safe. And that mattered so much, because the German army, if it could get ashore in Britain, would simply roll the place up. And so Britain’s fundamental safety depended on that. And the airplane changed that by the Second World War. Now it depended on two things. But what they weren’t able to do, and Churchill was trying desperately to do in the First World War, was make the navy a vital offensive force. And that’s what Nelson had done to Napoleon, see. He broke Napoleon by starving him. And the way the British were the catalyst to defeat Napoleon was they choked him off from large, you know, he went down and conquered Egypt and they couldn’t get back with his stuff, anyway. And then they started a campaign in the Iberian Peninsula in Spain and Portugal where it was hard for Napoleon to get to. And they bled him for a while, and only then did they come over and fight in France. And so that naval strategy, Churchill believed, was native to Britain, and a cheaper way to win a war than slogging it out on land. And they weren’t able to make that work, although if the Dardanelles had worked, that would have been such a thing.

HH: The other amazing thing about these years, both before and after the war, secretary of war, secretary of the colonies, chancellor of the exchequer, vast reaches of the continent, he grew up on a horse in India and the Sudan. He went everywhere, did everything. He was well-equipped to think in strategic terms. Not a lot of people are, Larry Arnn.

LA: Yeah, and I must tell you, it’s just breathtaking the scope of the man. He wrote 50 books. And you know, that’s just crazy. And like his life was such a thing that he was captured in South Africa, and he got the idea because he was somewhere in the vicinity, that he had been captured by a man named Louis Botha, later president of South Africa. And it was later proved that that was not who captured him. But Churchill wouldn’t believe it, because you know, some ordinary person captured me? That can’t be.

HH: Two minutes, though, do tell us about the years as chancellor of the exchequer, because again, as I recall, this was not where his gifts were most pronounced.

LA: Well, I don’t agree with that. But I think Churchill was a tax cutter, and Churchill was a social welfare guy, but with a practical bent. He was interested in security for the poor and the unfortunate, but he didn’t want them to be drones. And so he wanted practical schemes that could be afforded and that were not a disincentive to work. And so you see him doing all that in the 20s, and he was very skillful at it.

HH: Then what was he worst at?

LA: What?

HH: With a minute to go, up until the time he went into exile, what was he least equipped to do?

LA: Sit idle, you know. He was extremely active in administration.

HH: Was he a good man in the trenches? Was he a good commander?

LA: Oh, he was a hoot, and the men loved him. Although he hated trench warfare, he would go out at night in the trenches, and they would criticize him for talking in too loud a voice. Shhhh, you know, and then he would, they would duck, and he would say, and too loudly, no use doing that, the bullet has already gone. And the Germans could hear him. And he was extremely careful for the welfare of his men, and he had incredible nerve in battle. And although they hated him, a politician, when he showed up to command, within a month, they just though wow, what a guy.

HH: Wow, what a guy indeed. When we come back, though, the what a guy had a wilderness ahead of him. And next week, we’re going to talk about the wilderness years, perhaps the most famous period of political exile in modern times for the man who would emerge from it as the greatest leader of the free world that we’ve ever seen. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, thank you, For all of the Hillsdale Dialogues, go to www.hughforhillsdale,com, or right at, there’s a button for them. Listen from the start to the end, you’ll be happy you did.

End of interview.


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