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Dr. Larry Arnn’s Introduction Into Churchill’s Trials

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HH: It’s not the last radio of the week. It’s the last hour of the first radio day of the week. It’s Hugh Hewitt from the MGM Grand, but it is a special edition of the Hillsdale Dialogue. All of the Hillsdale Dialogues in the past on Friday afternoon are available at We’re going to do two this week, one today and one on Friday, because we skipped out on Friday. There’s this pesky thing called Hillsdale College, which Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, is obliged to run. And Friday was parent’s day, and so people get mad at me when he actually discharges his duty as the president of Hillsdale College and they don’t get their Hillsdale Dialogues. So Dr. Arnn, I’d like you to explain to people why does parent’s day come in front of their radio listening?

LA: Because I have their children, and I’m not afraid to use it. And they want me to be there to tell them their children are okay. And this year, we had over 900 of them come.

HH: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh, that’s a lot of handshaking.

LA: It is, yeah.

HH: That’s a lot of smiling and talking to people, Dr. Larry Arnn. And so did it go well? Was is a good weekend of weather over at…

LA: OH, yeah, every, the reason so many come is if you send your kid to Hillsdale, you get 10 minutes with every professor your kids got on the Saturday morning of parent’s weekend. And those are 10 minute lovefests. I had two mothers cry during my parent conferences…

HH: Oh, my gosh.

LA: …because I said something about their kids, and they were both good things, and they bawled like babies. It’s wonderful.

HH: Oh, it is so true. Again, Hillsdale College, you can find out everything about it at, but I’m not going to waste all my time doing a great big love advertisement for Hillsdale. You have to earn that by going to and listening to these Dialogues. I’ve got to talk about the fact that tomorrow, Dr. Arnn’s brand new book, Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill And the Salvation Of Free Government, which I hold in my sweaty hand here at the MGM Grand, debuts in bookstores everywhere, and you’ve got to order it. We’re going to cover the introduction today, but before I go there, I sent you a piece I wrote for today’s Washington Examiner demanding that Paul Ryan run for the Speaker of the House and encouraging him to hold a retreat at which you, among others, would speak. What did you make of the idea that Ryan ought to be the Speaker, and how I would suggest he lay down his terms?

LA: Great idea, and your piece is good. And I was wondering who wrote it for you. It was very good. And so what’s going on there is that the House has no agenda right now, and it needs one. That’s what you called for. And if it had one, then the second step is it would have to cooperate toward that agenda. And its discipline is breaking down. The House of Representatives is controlled by a bunch of committees and by a Speaker and a Whip and a Leader. And they, the negotiations that are going on, some of them are demands that they give up some of their power. But you actually want them to have that power if they will pursue the right agenda, so that then they could do what the House does. So I propose this. I propose that they do five things. I propose that Paul Ryan, or whoever they pick, should say here’s our agenda. We’re going to have authorizations and a budget and appropriations, and we’re going to pass those in regular order. Then we’re going to use that as the base, that is, this is the second, to oversee the executive branch next year. We’re going to call them in and ask them what they’re doing and threaten their budgets if they’re doing bad. That’s the second. Then we’re going to provide for the national security of the nation. That’s the third. Then we’re going to address ourselves to the two main changes that have happened to the American government, and the fourth is the entitlement state, which Paul Ryan has the best plans in the Congress about. And the fifth is the regulatory state. Our representatives should make the laws under which we live, and not independent agencies that also enforce the laws that they make. And so they should have those five things. They should say we’re going to do those five things. Elect me Speaker, and the hierarchy of the House of Representatives will address itself to moving those five things along like the Contract With America of Newt Gingrich, but more pointed to the political crisis of the day. That’s what I think they should do, and that’s fully compatible with what you wrote, which is actually better than what I just said.

HH: Exactly. It would have the impact of articulating what it is they are about as opposed to procedural changes about which I don’t think the American people much care, Dr. Arnn.

LA: Yeah, they don’t, and see, every human institution, people can cooperate in an institution if they share goals. And so that’s what they should do. They should name, just like Newt Gingrich did in an act of genius in 1994, they should name what they’re going to do. And if they would do that, they could capture momentum again, and also, cooperation with one another. And it’s too bad that they don’t have that.

HH: Now part of that is because of a failure to articulate and a failure to communicate, and God bless John Boehner, he’s tried his best, but he’s not gifted with some things. And you write about, in fact, in the introduction to Churchill’s Trial, Winston Churchill was incredibly gifted in a lot of different ways. And some of those ways are lacking in the House, and I think Paul Ryan presents the opportunity to add them to House leadership, which is, I like Kevin McCarthy a lot, too. You like Kevin McCarthy. But I would say that Paul Ryan is a more gifted communicator. So it might work out with Ryan on top and McCarthy in two that we’ve got the ideal situation, if they do not destroy it by intraparty fighting beforehand. And I am curious about Winston Churchill’s attitude towards party, because a lot of people now hate party. You see this GOPE or you say different kinds of derogatory people who are party people. I’m a party guy. I’ve always been a party guy, and I make no bones about it, because Disraeli said those who rise by party should not be ashamed to support, and I think Churchill was a party man as well.

LA: Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but not too much. He changed parties twice.

HH: Well, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a party man. It’s just that he was flexible.

LA: Yeah, yeah, he always joined a party. He was often in his life, so Churchill, about party, Churchill thought, parties are necessary. Churchill often tried to found a party of the center in order to exclude the extreme, as he regarded it, of socialism from even being an effective opposition. So that is the particular way in which Churchill compromised party. He also had his wars with his own Conservative Party, especially when he was out of it, because he thought that party was introducing class politics, and he wanted to overcome those politics. He thought that was the crisis of Britain of his time.

HH: I also noted in the introduction, you went to great pains to point out he was loathe to engage in personal attacks. In fact, on XXXI, you write, “Of the Roosevelt administration, not significantly of Franklin Roosevelt directly, Churchill wrote that it featured efforts to exalt the power of central government, and to limit the rights of individuals, and to mobilize behind this reversal of the American tradition,” noting, I think, along the way that he was loathe to go after individuals, but very eager to go after ideas.

LA: He was not a rancorous man, of course, he’s a brilliant talker and he could denounce people. And there are famous denunciations of people. I’ll give you my favorite example. So the first socialist prime minister was Ramsay MacDonald. And Churchill said that when he was a boy, his dad would take him to the circus, and he’d see all kinds of macabre and odd things. But the one thing so ugly that he was never allowed to look at it, and I’ve become a grown man, and for the first time, I cast my eyes sitting there on the treasury bench at the boneless wonder.

HH: Oh, that’s so harsh. Oh, it is pretty harsh.

LA: So he said that, and many things like that. But Churchill, only in regard to two people do I know of, that Churchill held personal rancor over time. And one of them was Stanley Baldwin, and one of them was Admiral de Robeck at the Dardanelles.

HH: Now both of which richly deserved that enmity. You write again on XXXII, Churchill said of Clement Attlee, the Labour prime minister at the time, that he was, “an honorable and gallant gentleman and a servant of the nation, even though he didn’t care a whit for anything that Attlee believed in, and had some very harsh, you know, retorts about him over his time, right?

LA: Oh, yeah, and there are forms of address in the House of Commons. So you’re a right honorable friend or an honorable friend, or you’re an honorable member opposite, or a right honorable member opposite. Right honorable means you’re in the government, or have been, and gallant means you’ve been in the military and served. And…

HH: Oh.

LA: You use those forms of address.

HH: Oh, and those forms of address are good for a country, aren’t they?

LA: Oh, yes. Well, it’s supposed to be fierce, and it’s supposed to be civil. And Churchill was very good at both of those things.

HH: Fierce and civil. We have fierce right now. We lack civility, partly because of the age in which we live. I wonder at Hillsdale College, and we’ll be right back with Dr. Arnn, the occasion of this conversation is Churchill’s Trial releases tomorrow. You can order it at You can, of course, get it at bookstores around the country, and you ought to read it with us. We’re going to come back and talk about the rest of the introduction when we do that. But I wonder at Hillsdale College, do you patrol the social media of the students? Or do you allow them to dictate for themselves the level of civility they will adopt?

LA: No, well, once in a while, you know, we don’t patrol them, but once in a while, they do something bad and somebody tells us about it, and then we bring it to their attention.

HH: Bring it to their attention.

LA: (laughing)

HH: (laughing) On Parent’s weekend, did you discuss that in any of your, no mom or dad’s going to like hearing about that, I imagine.

LA: Yeah, I know. Well, you know, we have an honor code here, right? I meant what I said. We hardly ever discipline the students.

HH: I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, author of Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill And The Salvation Of Free Government. Stay tuned. It is the Hillsdale Dialogue on Monday before the Democratic debate.

— – – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn’s brand new book, Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill And The Salvation Of Free Government, begins this way. “This book is about Winston Churchill and the trail that he faced throughout his career as a statesman. He thought this trial inherent in modern politics, having special features in Britain and the other liberal democracies in the 20th Century. He thought that war had always been a problem, but in modern times, it was a different problem, and worse. He thought that certain problems in peace and domestic politics had always been present. But in modern times, these two were different and worse. He thought that the same factors made the problems of war and the problems of peace worse. He regarded these factors as unavoidable, but necessary to mitigate and control. To him, the tools of mitigation were chiefly three – popular rule, statesmanship of a certain kind and quality, and constitutionalism of a certain kind and quality.” That is an elegant first paragraph, Dr. Larry Arnn.

LA: Thank you.

HH: Now, but there is a lot there about which we’re going to have to unpack slowly for the Steelers fans and people from Michigan, but I want to begin with the very next sentence first. “Winston Churchill was a democrat with a small d.” Would you explain to people what you mean by that?

LA: Churchill thought that people had the right to govern themselves, and that no government was legitimate to which they had not consented. And that’s a controversial thing, because in the recent memory, in Britain, his country, members of the hereditary aristocracy had controlled one of the houses of Parliament, and had very extensive influence over the other. And Churchill believed that the people should pick the government and have the constitutional authority to do that.

HH: Now you write about statesmen, though. And he believed that the most excellent levels of statesmanship, you write, “depended upon natural gifts that could not be taught, but he thought that they could be armed.” And I want you to explain that as well, because that explains why we’re going to spend so much time on Churchill. We’re trying to arm people, aren’t we?

LA: Yeah, that’s right. Churchill thought that, like Aristotle and like the classics, Churchill thought that to, that statesmanship is like what we all do, that we all have to make choices in life, and we all have principles, but we all face necessities. And making the right choice in the face of the contradictory claims of those two is the art of life and how you build your character. And he, and Aristotle points to the statesman as the best exemplars of this ability that we all need. And Aristotle says this is very difficult, hard for them to do it. That means not very many people are really good at it. And so with Churchill, you find somebody who does it for a very long time in huge world crises that are like the ones we face today, and that made a big, rich record about it. So you can read what he thought and what he did and why he did it, and all the circumstances he did it in. So there’s a great chance to learn in there.

HH: But even though he was a statesman and he admired statesmanship, maybe the key line in this introduction. “One can see why Churchill or any statesman would find constitutions inconvenient. They are fixed and hard to change. The law obstructs the will in constitutions. The grandest of laws obstruct the will most grandly.” So even though he enjoyed being a statesman and was good at it, and aware of his greatness at it, he nevertheless understood that constitutions were necessary to limit the genius of statesmen, and they did not have one in Germany. And that was the problem.

LA: That’s right. And you know, think of today, right? So today, we live in the age where government’s got to get on. It can’t be impeded by separation of powers and checks and balances. And statesmen, I mean, I think I recall, some recent president who said if Congress won’t act on immigration, I’m not going to wait for them.

HH: Yup.

LA: I’m just going to go ahead. They’ve got a deadline, and I’ll do it on my own if they don’t act. Well, that’s not exactly a constitutional spirit. And you can see why a statesman, and their job is to adapt to circumstances, wouldn’t like these rules that involve, that check what they do. And so when you see somebody like Churchill, who did talk about constitutions all the time and tried to build them up, then you see a kind of a contradiction that’s interesting and tells you something.

HH: And so those are the three things you need for freedom. You need popular rule to be a democrat. You need statesmen for periods of crises. And you need constitutions to limit the statesmen.

LA: That’s right.

HH: Did he, was he fully aware of that early in his career? Or did that come to him only as the first crisis of the first war came and went, and the second crisis approached?

LA: Well, Churchill learned a lot. He was a very brilliant man, and he was in politics for so long. So he was elected to Parliament in 1900, and he retired from cabinet office in 1955. And he actually served in the House of Commons until 1962.

HH: Wow.

LA: So he had a long career, but it’s amazing how much he knew, and my argument is all the main things, by the time he was 25 to 28 years old. And he had written books that displayed his knowledge of those things by then. And so this affection for the constitution and understanding of its urgency was a feature of his politics early on. And this devotion to popular rule, being a small d democrat was apparent from the get-go. And Churchill was very interested, even as a young man, in what it takes to be great at managing the state. And he tried to achieve that.

HH: We’re not coming up with easy excuses for young people that are sometimes offered today about late maturity and growing into adulthood, and postponing adulthood because of economics. Churchill would have none of that. He was fully formed and ready to ride as a soldier by the time he’s 22, and then fully formed and ready to enter Parliament, what did you say, at 25?

LA: He was 26 when he was elected to Parliament.

HH: 26, wow.

LA: And by then, he had fought in three wars and observed another as a spy, and written bestselling books about two of the ward. And then he got elected to Parliament at age 26.

HH: Does obvious genius excuse young people? Do you run into this question in your seminars that Churchill can’t apply to me because he’s a genius?

LA: Well, genius matters, sure, but all of us have some capacity. And all of us need to make choices. And so we should all try to make them as well as we can. And if we work as hard as we can, we’ll do better.

HH: So we can all be armed, to use your phrase?

LA: That’s right. And that, his argument was, he’s writing about generals. The difference between taught and armed is a distinction that he makes explicit in Marlborough: His Life And Times, one of his best books. And he’s describing the first duke of Marlborough, and how awesome he was, and how he won all his battles, and how he destroyed the armies of Louis XIV, and nobody else could have done, could do it in that age. And he says you can’t do that unless you have a genius like him. But on the other hand, anybody who’s got that genius could do with some instruction. And he, Marlborough, benefited from some. And Aristotle’s argument, and also Churchill’s argument…

HH: What kind of instruction?

LA: …is the rest of us all have some capacity, some very extensive capacity, it’s innate in the human soul, to choose our way well. And we should study how to do that.

HH: I’ll be right back…

LA: And remember, your audience is an audience of citizens who are mainly concerned about the state of the country. And Churchill was very instructive about that, because he lived in a time when this kind of government was growing up.

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

— – — –

HH: But in the introduction, I want to make sure I at least line this for people out there. You write that Churchill grew up with modern Germany. And I just got done teaching my undergraduates about Bismarck and his 1860-1891 project, which brought about the furious might of Germany. But it grew up with a flaw, Dr. Arnn. It did not have a British constitution to guide it. It just had Bismarck.

LA: Yeah. Well, that, Churchill thought that, so Churchill was a great admirer of Bismarck, and welcomed, and was glad that there was a strong, united Germany. And under Bismarck, and under William I, the first Kaiser, his boss, they were a great force for stability in Europe, Churchill thought. But you’re right. In the second generation, they were like the spoiled, rich kids, in my description, because they took a lot of risks that Bismarck didn’t take. And Bismarck, Germany had its position in the middle of Europe, and so Bismarck made treaties with France and with Russia, the two great powers on either side of Germany, and worked hard to get along with them. And they, that broke down in the next generation.

HH: I love being able to ask an author questions that I make margin notes about, and here’s my first one. You, I wanted to know why you included this in a book on Churchill. You write that, Wilhelm I was now Emperor Wilhelm I of the German empire. This is a grand title. But it was less grand than the title emperor of Germany. The princes agreed that he was emperor over an empire, but not over Germany. More importantly, they agreed he was sovereign over one nation, a nation born in war, its story to be dominated by war for three-quarters of a century.” Why did you think it important to include that very interesting distinction about being the German empire, but not being the German emperor?

LA: So I wanted to show two things. One was Germany, modern Germany, was the thing that came to be during Churchill’s lifetime. And you know, his life is dominated by a struggle with modern Germany in the first and second world wars. So first, that, but second, that there were checks on the power as it was formed that Hitler eventually swept completely away. And I go into that later, right? So Hitler does not become chancellor of Germany except on a promise that all the parties and President Hindenburg, the World War I general hero, would agree to a law that said that Hitler’s cabinet could pass on its own authority any law that it wanted regardless what the constitution said. So Bismarck’s Germany doesn’t have power concentrated like that. Hitler’s Germany does.

HH: And in the introduction, you also give a brief, but coherent overview of the First Great War. And you conclude, “Though they suffered terribly, the German people had not felt the weight of the fighting as dreadfully as the nations in whose midst the war was prosecuted.” You also write the arrival of two million Americans shift the balance. Why is it important again for people to understand that Germany had not felt, my question mark? Why did Larry Arnn include that?

LA: Well, because they were, because you have to answer, you have to ask yourself, because remember, Churchill saw, what I’m trying to describe in the beginning, or describing, I guess, is Churchill saw the invention of a new kind of regime or government, something that had never existed before, the modern scientific mass tyranny, the totalitarian state. And you know, we have versions of that growing in the world today. The idea that every speech of every citizen across a vast country that also possesses enormous military power can be controlled, and Churchill watched those things created for the first time in world history, and fought two world wars against them. And that’s a new phenomenon in the world. Nobody had ever seen anything like Nazi Germany or Bolshevik Russia.

HH: And those same tools, I’m thinking of North Korea now, and of Donald Trump, who has called this out many times on this show and other places. North Korea has not perfected those tools of oppression. It’s a giant prison camp.

LA: Yeah, well look, that’s right. It’s a giant, and you know, modern China is not like that, and there are good reasons to be thinking that modern China may be going in a good direction. But on the other hand, Apple Computer has taken off its new news app in China, because the news is censored in China. And Google has had huge trouble with them, because Churchill said of Hitler’s regime during the Second World War, what are they afraid of? Words frighten them. You see?

HH: Yeah.

LA: And so this idea that we are going to control our people with scientific administrations is a new idea, and it dominates Churchill’s lifetime.

HH: I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn for the last segment of this Monday special edition of the Hillsdale Dialogue on the eve of the Democratic presidential debate from the MGM Grand Hotel.

— – – – – –

HH: You can read everything that Hillsdale puts out at, including a brand new course on Churchill, which I believe debuts this week as well at And Dr. Arnn’s wit and his occasional barb directed at yours truly always available at The third great challenge in Churchill’s Trial, we mentioned Germany and we’ll be back to Germany. We talked about the domestic tilt going to the left. But the rise of the Soviet Union, and I think it’s important that you explain to people why you spent time, at least explained to me, and gave a short, brief history of why Bolshevism is Bolshevism, and how Lenin miscarried, how he had hoped it would actually turn into a, he left a testament, which I didn’t even know, Larry, until I read your book.

LA: Yeah, well, these guys, see, so you can go to St. Petersburg, and you can go to, a city on the Baltic in the Soviet Union, in Russia today, and you can go to the ballerina’s house, who was the mistress of Czar Nicholas, and that’s where the Bolsheviks gathered to plan their revolution in 1916. And what they did was sat in chairs and made lists of people to go out and murder. And that happened in Churchill’s lifetime during the First World War. They were actually put in the country by German agents. Churchill said injected in a sealed train like a poison basilisk into Russia. And so they founded this second great totalitarian state. And I’ll just zoom ahead and tell you that Churchill believed that the Socialist Party in Britain would eventually have to develop that kind of government in Britain, like the Bolshevik or like the Nazi, in order to get what it was after, because what it was after was unnatural.

HH: You know, we are going to spend a lot of time on that, but I can’t get out of this segment and close this week without telling people, because we won’t be back to the introduction. Over the next 14 years when Stalin succeeds Lenin, you write he would overcome or destroy every one of his colleagues. And then you would write about how they would execute people. I never knew this before, Larry Arnn.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Explain that to people and the significance. It’s so chilling and ominous.

LA: Well, so all these guys who were in this house in Petersburg, they take a photograph or two of them all, and they’re all lined up in a straight line. And Stalin’s there, and Trotsky’s there, and Beria’s there, and Dzerzhinsky’s there, and Bukharin’s there, and Lenin is there. And they’re all lined up, and they’re starting this revolution. And Lenin dies of natural causes, and Stalin succeeds to be the boss. And Lenin is aware of these struggles that might become deathly between his lieutenants. And his testament is about how they shouldn’t be killing each other, and how Stalin should remain important, but not be the leader. And Stalin eventually does become the boss, the Russian word for boss is his name, his title that everybody called him. And so in the 20s and 30s, late 20s and 30s, he begins to kill off those other senior people. And he does kill every one of them that doesn’t die of natural causes. And all of them, he had them arrested, they were interrogated, and they all confessed to crimes that they hadn’t committed. And they did this in show trials where they, and remember, this is an equal of theirs. And he’s now arrested them, and he’s going to kill them. And they know he’s going to kill them after they confess in public, which they do, to things they hadn’t done. And so then when they’re, they do that, and that’s, you know, those are show trials. The Western press is allowed in to see them confess. One of the most important of them is the last one, and he spends two days in his show trial saying I know that there are charges that these other people weren’t guilty, and they confessed against the truth. But no, they were all guilty, just as I am. Now when they, after they had confessed, they would get a few days in a prison where they would get to live a little better and have cigarettes and walk outside. And then one day, they would knock on the door of their cell, and they would walk down the hall, and the other prisoners would tap on the steel doors, and then they would walk downstairs in the metal stairs into a dungeon, dark, and they would walk along the dungeon floor, hallway, and at some point along the way, they would be shot in the back of the head. And there was no ceremony, and there was no reading of words, and they were obliterated from history. And the question is why would they agree to all that? And if you want to know the answer to that, read the very chilling and fabulous novel by Arthur Koestler called Darkness At Noon, which is about those show trials. And what he explains there is that they are committed, because they have done the same thing to other people. And so now, whatever dignity they can have means they have to submit themselves to the same justice.

HH: You know, when you quote Darkness At Noon in your introduction, I’m reminded I haven’t read it in forever, and I have to go back and reread it. But I’m reminded of David Mamet’s new play about the left. And the left uses words, and it requires people not of the left to expose how they use words. I want to end with a political question about today, Dr. Arnn. Bernie Sanders was asked on Meet the Press yesterday, I was on the stage when they rolled the tape, are you a capitalist, and he said no. I’m a Democratic Socialist. And he joyously grabbed onto that, and he’s drawing 20…tens of thousands and twenties of thousands of people. Are you alarmed by that development?

LA: Well, what Churchill said about that, about the Labour Party was in the end, socialism, which aims for a kind of equality that is impossible, and it does that by seizing the major assets of the society, empowers the government to control people’s livings, and Churchill argued, also, eventually their families, because the family, just like property, is a source of inequality. People love their own kids better than kids they don’t know, and they give them benefits.

HH: Yeah.

LA: Is that right? Don’t we have to stop that? And so what Churchill said is yeah, so you’re going to put the power to control that in the hands of a government, and the government, too, is going to be made up of people. So we selfish types who use our property for our own devices are just like the people in the government, and they will do that, too. And that will lead to despotism.

HH: They will. More on that on Friday on the next edition of the Hillsdale Dialogue. Churchill’s Trial available today in bookstores and at and at Thank you, Dr. Arnn.

End of interview.


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