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Thread: Churchill: The Greatest Criminal of the 20th Century: in four parts

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    Post Churchill: The Greatest Criminal of the 20th Century: in five parts

    This is a nice little introduction to the real Churchill. I also strongly recommend John Charmley's biography: Churchill the End of Glory: A Political Biography. See

    A definitive debunking of the Churchill myth in five parts , by our greatest historian of liberty, from The Costs of War . . . .

    Rethinking Churchill, Part 1
    by Ralph Raico

    Part 2 Part 3
    Part 4 Part 5

    Churchill as Icon
    When, in a very few years, the pundits start to pontificate on the great question: "Who was the Man of the Century?" there is little doubt that they will reach virtually instant consensus. Inevitably, the answer will be: Winston Churchill. Indeed, Professor Harry Jaffa has already informed us that Churchill was not only the Man of the Twentieth Century, but the Man of Many Centuries.

    In a way, Churchill as Man of the Century will be appropriate. This has been the century of the State of the rise and hyper-trophic growth of the welfare warfare state and Churchill was from first to last a Man of the State, of the welfare state and of the warfare state. War, of course, was his lifelong passion; and, as an admiring historian has written: "Among his other claims to fame, Winston Churchill ranks as one of the founders of the welfare state." Thus, while Churchill never had a principle he did not in the end betray, this does not mean that there was no slant to his actions, no systematic bias. There was, and that bias was towards lowering the barriers to state power.

    To gain any understanding of Churchill, we must go beyond the heroic images propagated for over half a century. The conventional picture of Churchill, especially of his role in World War II, was first of all the work of Churchill himself, through the distorted histories he composed and rushed into print as soon as the war was over. In more recent decades, the Churchill legend has been adopted by an internationalist establishment for which it furnishes the perfect symbol and an inexhaustible vein of high-toned blather. Churchill has become, in Christopher Hitchens's phrase, a "totem" of the American establishment, not only the scions of the New Deal, but the neo-conservative apparatus as well politicians like Newt Gingrich and Dan Quayle, corporate "knights" and other denizens of the Reagan and Bush Cabinets, the editors and writers of the Wall Street Journal, and a legion of "conservative" columnists led by William Safire and William Buckley. Churchill was, as Hitchens writes, "the human bridge across which the transition was made" between a noninterventionist and a globalist America. In the next century, it is not impossible that his bulldog likeness will feature in the logo of the New World Order.

    Let it be freely conceded that in 1940 Churchill played his role superbly. As the military historian, Major-General J.F.C. Fuller, a sharp critic of Churchill's wartime policies, wrote: "Churchill was a man cast in the heroic mould, a berserker ever ready to lead a forlorn hope or storm a breach, and at his best when things were at their worst. His glamorous rhetoric, his pugnacity, and his insistence on annihilating the enemy appealed to human instincts, and made him an outstanding war leader." History outdid herself when she cast Churchill as the adversary in the duel with Hitler. It matters not at all that in his most famous speech "we shall fight them on the beaches . . . we shall fight them in the fields and in the streets" he plagiarized Clemenceau at the time of the Ludendorff offensive that there was little real threat of a German invasion or, that, perhaps, there was no reason for the duel to have occurred in the first place. For a few months in 1940, Churchill played his part magnificently and unforgettably.

    Opportunism and Rhetoric
    Yet before 1940, the word most closely associated with Churchill was "opportunist." He had twice changed his party affiliation from Conservative to Liberal, and then back again. His move to the Liberals was allegedly on the issue of free trade. But in 1930, he sold out on free trade as well, even tariffs on food, and proclaimed that he had cast off "Cobdenism" forever. As head of the Board of Trade before World War I, he opposed increased armaments; after he became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, he pushed for bigger and bigger budgets, spreading wild rumors of the growing strength of the German Navy, just as he did in the 1930s about the buildup of the German Air Force. He attacked socialism before and after World War I, while during the War he promoted war-socialism, calling for nationalization of the railroads, and declaring in a speech: "Our whole nation must be organized, must be socialized if you like the word." Churchill's opportunism continued to the end. In the 1945 election, he briefly latched on to Hayek's Road to Serfdom, and tried to paint the Labour Party as totalitarian, while it was Churchill himself who, in 1943, had accepted the Beveridge plans for the post-war welfare state and Keynesian management of the economy. Throughout his career his one guiding rule was to climb to power and stay there.

    There were two principles that for a long while seemed dear to Churchill's heart. One was anti-Communism: he was an early and fervent opponent of Bolshevism. For years, he very correctly decried the "bloody baboons" and "foul murderers of Moscow." His deep early admiration of Benito Mussolini was rooted in his shrewd appreciation of what Mussolini had accomplished (or so he thought). In an Italy teetering on the brink of Leninist revolution, Il Duce had discovered the one formula that could counteract the Leninist appeal: hyper-nationalism with a social slant. Churchill lauded "Fascismo's triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism," claiming that "it proved the necessary antidote to the Communist poison."

    Yet the time came when Churchill made his peace with Communism. In 1941, he gave unconditional support to Stalin, welcomed him as an ally, embraced him as a friend. Churchill, as well as Roosevelt, used the affectionate nickname, "Uncle Joe"; as late as the Potsdam conference, he repeatedly announced, of Stalin: "I like that man." In suppressing the evidence that the Polish officers at Katyn had been murdered by the Soviets, he remarked: "There is no use prowling round the three year old graves of Smolensk." Obsessed not only with defeating Hitler, but with destroying Germany, Churchill was oblivious to the danger of a Soviet inundation of Europe until it was far too late. The climax of his infatuation came at the November, 1943, Tehran conference, when Churchill presented Stalin with a Crusader's sword. Those who are concerned to define the word "obscenity" may wish to ponder that episode.

    Finally, there was what appeared to be the abiding love of his life, the British Empire. If Churchill stood for anything at all, it was the Empire; he famously said that he had not become Prime Minister in order to preside over its liquidation. But that, of course, is precisely what he did, selling out the Empire and everything else for the sake of total victory over Germany.

    Besides his opportunism, Churchill was noted for his remarkable rhetorical skill. This talent helped him wield power over men, but it pointed to a fateful failing as well. Throughout his life, many who observed Churchill closely noted a peculiar trait. In 1917, Lord Esher described it in this way:

    He handles great subjects in rhythmical language, and becomes quickly enslaved to his own phrases. He deceives himself into the belief that he takes broad views, when his mind is fixed upon one comparatively small aspect of the question.

    During World War II, Robert Menzies, who was the Prime Minister of Australia, said of Churchill: "His real tyrant is the glittering phrase so attractive to his mind that awkward facts have to give way." Another associate wrote: "He is . . . the slave of the words which his mind forms about ideas. . . . And he can convince himself of almost every truth if it is once allowed thus to start on its wild career through his rhetorical machinery."

    But while Winston had no principles, there was one constant in his life: the love of war. It began early. As a child, he had a huge collection of toy soldiers, 1500 of them, and he played with them for many years after most boys turn to other things. They were "all British," he tells us, and he fought battles with his brother Jack, who "was only allowed to have colored troops; and they were not allowed to have artillery." He attended Sandhurst, the military academy, instead of the universities, and "from the moment that Churchill left Sandhurst . . . he did his utmost to get into a fight, wherever a war was going on." All his life he was most excited on the evidence, only really excited by war. He loved war as few modern men ever have he even "loved the bangs," as he called them, and he was very brave under fire.

    In 1925, Churchill wrote: "The story of the human race is war." This, however, is untrue; potentially, it is disastrously untrue. Churchill lacked any grasp of the fundamentals of the social philosophy of classical liberalism. In particular, he never understood that, as Ludwig von Mises explained, the true story of the human race is the extension of social cooperation and the division of labor. Peace, not war, is the father of all things. For Churchill, the years without war offered nothing to him but "the bland skies of peace and platitude." This was a man, as we shall see, who wished for more wars than actually happened.

    When he was posted to India and began to read avidly, to make up for lost time, Churchill was profoundly impressed by Darwinism. He lost whatever religious faith he may have had through reading Gibbon, he said and took a particular dislike, for some reason, to the Catholic Church, as well as Christian missions. He became, in his own words, "a materialist to the tips of my fingers," and he fervently upheld the worldview that human life is a struggle for existence, with the outcome the survival of the fittest. This philosophy of life and history Churchill expressed in his one novel, Savrola. That Churchill was a racist goes without saying, yet his racism went deeper than with most of his contemporaries. It is curious how, with his stark Darwinian outlook, his elevation of war to the central place in human history, and his racism, as well as his fixation on "great leaders," Churchill's worldview resembled that of his antagonist, Hitler.

    When Churchill was not actually engaged in war, he was reporting on it. He early made a reputation for himself as a war correspondent, in Kitchener's campaign in the Sudan and in the Boer War. In December, 1900, a dinner was given at the Waldorf-Astoria in honor of the young journalist, recently returned from his well-publicized adventures in South Africa. Mark Twain, who introduced him, had already, it seems, caught on to Churchill. In a brief satirical speech, Twain slyly suggested that, with his English father and American mother, Churchill was the perfect representative of Anglo-American cant.

    Churchill and the "New Liberalism"
    In 1900 Churchill began the career he was evidently fated for. His background the grandson of a duke and son of a famous Tory politician got him into the House of Commons as a Conservative. At first he seemed to be distinguished only by his restless ambition, remarkable even in parliamentary ranks. But in 1904, he crossed the floor to the Liberals, supposedly on account of his free-trade convictions. However, Robert Rhodes James, one of Churchill's admirers, wrote: "It was believed [at the time], probably rightly, that if Arthur Balfour had given him office in 1902, Churchill would not have developed such a burning interest in free trade and joined the Liberals." Clive Ponting notes that: "as he had already admitted to Rosebery, he was looking for an excuse to defect from a party that seemed reluctant to recognise his talents," and the Liberals would not accept a protectionist.

    Tossed by the tides of faddish opinion, with no principles of his own and hungry for power, Churchill soon became an adherent of the "New Liberalism," an updated version of his father's "Tory Democracy." The "new" liberalism differed from the "old" only in the small matter of substituting incessant state activism for laissez-faire.

    Although his conservative idolators seem blithely unaware of the fact – for them it is always 1940 – Churchill was one of the chief architects of the welfare state in Britain. The modern welfare state, successor to the welfare state of 18th-century absolutism, began in the 1880s in Germany, under Bismarck. In England, the legislative turning point came when Asquith succeeded Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in 1908; his reorganized cabinet included David Lloyd George at the Exchequer and Churchill at the Board of Trade.

    Of course, "the electoral dimension of social policy was well to the fore in Churchill's thinking," writes a sympathetic historian meaning that Churchill understood it as the way to win votes. He wrote to a friend:

    No legislation at present in view interests the democracy. All their minds are turning more and more to the social and economic issue. This revolution is irresistible. They will not tolerate the existing system by which wealth is acquired, shared and employed. . . . They will set their faces like flint against the money power heir of all other powers and tyrannies overthrown and its obvious injustices. And this theoretical repulsion will ultimately extend to any party associated in maintaining the status quo. . . . Minimum standards of wages and comfort, insurance in some effective form or other against sickness, unemployment, old age, these are the questions and the only questions by which parties are going to live in the future. Woe to Liberalism, if they slip through its fingers.

    Churchill "had already announced his conversion to a collectivist social policy" before his move to the Board of Trade. His constant theme became "the just precedence" of public over private interests. He took up the fashionable social-engineering clich‚s of the time, asserting that: "Science, physical and political alike, revolts at the disorganisation which glares at us in so many aspects of modern life," and that "the nation demands the application of drastic corrective and curative processes." The state was to acquire canals and railroads, develop certain national industries, provide vastly augmented education, introduce the eight-hour work day, levy progressive taxes, and guarantee a national minimum living standard. It is no wonder that Beatrice Webb noted that Churchill was "definitely casting in his lot with the constructive state action."

    Following a visit to Germany, Lloyd George and Churchill were both converted to the Bismarckian model of social insurance schemes. As Churchill told his constituents: "My heart was filled with admiration of the patient genius which had added these social bulwarks to the many glories of the German race." He set out, in his words, to "thrust a big slice of Bismarckianism over the whole underside of our industrial system." In 1908, Churchill announced in a speech in Dundee: "I am on the side of those who think that a greater collective sentiment should be introduced into the State and the municipalities. I should like to see the State undertaking new functions." Still, individualism must be respected: "No man can be a collectivist alone or an individualist alone. He must be both an individualist and a collectivist. The nature of man is a dual nature. The character of the organisation of human society is dual." This, by the way, is a good sample of Churchill as political philosopher: it never gets much better.

    But while both "collective organisation" and "individual incentive" must be given their due, Churchill was certain which had gained the upper hand:

    The whole tendency of civilisation is, however, towards the multiplication of the collective functions of society. The ever-growing complications of civilisation create for us new services which have to be undertaken by the State, and create for us an expansion of existing services. . . . There is a pretty steady determination . . . to intercept all future unearned increment which may arise from the increase in the speculative value of the land. There will be an ever-widening area of municipal enterprise.

    The statist trend met with Churchill's complete approval. As he added:

    I go farther; I should like to see the State embark on various novel and adventurous experiments. . . . I am very sorry we have not got the railways of this country in our hands. We may do something better with the canals.

    This grandson of a duke and glorifier of his ancestor, the arch-corruptionist Marlborough, was not above pandering to lower-class resentments. Churchill claimed that "the cause of the Liberal Party is the cause of the left-out millions," while he attacked the Conservatives as "the Party of the rich against the poor, the classes and their dependents against the masses, of the lucky, the wealthy, the happy, and the strong, against the left-out and the shut-out millions of the weak and poor." Churchill became the perfect hustling political entrepreneur, eager to politicize one area of social life after the other. He berated the Conservatives for lacking even a "single plan of social reform or reconstruction," while boasting that he and his associates intended to propose "a wide, comprehensive, interdependent scheme of social organisation," incorporated in "a massive series of legislative proposals and administrative acts."

    At this time, Churchill fell under the influence of Beatrice and Sidney Webb, the leaders of the Fabian Society. At one of her famous strategic dinner parties, Beatrice Webb introduced Churchill to a young prot‚g‚, William later Lord Beveridge. Churchill brought Beveridge into the Board of Trade as his advisor on social questions, thus starting him on his illustrious career. Besides pushing for a variety of social insurance schemes, Churchill created the system of national labor exchanges: he wrote to Prime Minister Asquith of the need to "spread . . . a sort of Germanized network of state intervention and regulation" over the British labor market. But Churchill entertained much more ambitious goals for the Board of Trade. He proposed a plan whereby:

    The Board of Trade was to act as the "intelligence department" of the Government, forecasting trade and employment in the regions so that the Government could allocate contracts to the most deserving areas. At the summit . . . would be a Committee of National Organisation, chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to supervise the economy.

    Finally, well aware of the electoral potential of organized labor, Churchill became a champion of the labor unions. He was a leading supporter, for instance, of the Trades Disputes Act of 1906. This Act reversed the Taff Vale and other judicial decisions, which had held unions responsible for torts and wrongs committed on their behalf by their agents. The Act outraged the great liberal legal historian and theorist of the rule of law, A.V. Dicey, who charged that it

    confers upon a trade union a freedom from civil liability for the commission of even the most heinous wrong by the union or its servants, and in short confers upon every trade union a privilege and protection not possessed by any other person or body of persons, whether corporate or unincorporate, throughout the United Kingdom. . . . It makes a trade union a privileged body exempted from the ordinary law of the land. No such privileged body has ever before been deliberately created by an English Parliament.

    It is ironic that the immense power of the British labor unions, the bˆte noire of Margaret Thatcher, was brought into being with the enthusiastic help of her great hero, Winston Churchill.

    For the rest of the series on the "Greatest Criminal of the 20th Century", please click on the link bellow:

    Part 2 Part 3
    Part 4 Part 5

    Ralph Raico is professor of history at Buffalo State College and a senior scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

    Due to space limitations, the 169 detailed footnotes – which thoroughly document all assertions in Professor Raico's paperRaico's paper – are not included. They are, of course, included in the printed version of the paper, published in The Costs of War, available from the Mises Institute.

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    Last edited by friedrich braun; Monday, November 17th, 2003 at 01:07 PM.

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