“We are shaping the world faster than we can change ourselves, and we are applying to the present the habits of the past.” (W. Churchill)
To warrant a citation as one of the most influential or the most influential man in our century, entails a convincing description of a long term devotion and impact on the direction of society and history. This author submits that in the 20th century the intractable flow of events has been towards the liberation of people, both in spiritual and material terms, and that the defining principles of some type of Liberal Democracy now hold true in many regions of the globe – many more than at the start of the century. Let us not underestimate this fact. For the first time in human history, more people have control over their own lives as a % of the population than ever before. It is too be expected that this shall continue, but of course such a trend is not certain.
There are people enough who would like to derange the liberation of the mass, and pass us back to the days of centralised or oligarchic control. However in toto there is no intellectual or economic challenger to the Liberal Democratic model at this time. One of the great new situations and driving forces of our world today is international economic interdependence. Further world-wide integration is unstoppable. There will be fits, regressions, complaining and pauses, questions, arguments, harangues, and resolutions, but always over time a forward movement towards what may be termed unshackled and fair trade and cross border integration will proceed. What needs to be addressed is how can we fairly develop the markets and the economic strength of less developed nations whilst still maintaining the economic growth and market access of more developed nations. The balancing act will be marvellous to behold. Adam Smith infused with both Galbraith and Greenpeace.
In this regard and given that the values and concepts of Liberal – Democratic society are subtle and complex, we need then to go back and ask ourselves, “How did we get here and why.” Thus the perspective of history is necessary. If we look at how this century evolved it can be determined that very few leaders have had such a imposing and sincere belief in Liberal Democracy and the accumulated spoils produced by such a society: freedom, self determination, security and a healthy standard of life, as did Churchill. He was not a corrupt politician interested in the pursuit of power for its own sake, but a statesman interested in power for its intelligent application to better the lot of the common citizen.
The program that Churchill followed in his life, and I speak here of his Liberal-Democratic program, was, with the exception of 1 occurrence (the independence of India, which will be discussed later), remarkably consistent with the theme of expanding Liberal Democratic principles. This is due in large part to his upbringing in the Liberal Aristocracy of the British Empire; due in part to his political father’s Liberal ideals and his American mother’s robust (and extremely adulterous) New World energy; and due in part to his experiences across the world as a young man, where he witnessed the power and relative success of the Liberalised (though not really democratic) British Empire, in comparison with other orders that lacked the discipline to generate and project wealth and power. As a prophet of Liberal Democracy, there could have been no better trained or indoctrinated messiah than Churchill. The man whose family history had been formed around the development of British Parliamentary, and Liberal Orthodox supremacy.
Again as with other outstanding humans he still achieved much more, than his contemporaries; many of whom were as intelligent, dedicated and immersed in the achievement of moral and political prestige as Churchill. This is where then Churchill’s story becomes interesting. What set him apart from the others ? Chance, money, dumb luck, patronage ? In human destiny all of these play a role. But to climb a pinnacle these are not enough. I would submit that Churchill provides illumination and support to many of Bennis’ leadership notions. Or how else could he have scaled the heights ? He had definite views on how a society should be structured and shaped. The love of a tempered democracy, the creation of a system to ensure proper leadership and guidance, the development of systems to allow prosperity, peace and support, occupied the mind of this man throughout his whole life. Churchill was obsessed with improving the lot of mankind and consumed by the proper use of power and leadership. And like Bennis he believed in a set of management and leadership principles that propelled him to greatness.
For those who write, think and practice true leadership, Churchill possessed radical views. Not of the immoderate, intolerable type. But those of classical, orthodox, Liberalism. Churchill believed in the need for the State to take an active part, both by legislation and finance to ensure that minimum standards of life, labour and social well-being for all citizens were maintained in an atmosphere conducive to fair trade and entrepreneurialism. Among the areas where Churchill during his varied career, took an active part were; prison reform, unemployment insurance, state-aided pensions for widows and orphans, permanent arbitration for labour disputes, state assistance for the unemployed, shorter hours of work, improved retail shop conditions, a National Health Service, wider access to education, taxation of excess profits and employee profit-sharing. Quite a list from a man who was supposedly one dimensional – the World War II embodiment of victorious unconquerable Britannia.
Other great men and women could be analysed and presented. But Churchill, one of the most complex, energetic and effective of history’s leaders, stands as an unparalleled example of leading and dealing with crisis, while defending, developing or discerning the limitations, values and concepts of political leadership and importantly freedom and democracy. He was unique. His style, mode of governance, deeply rooted and strongly held system of beliefs, and importantly his gaping weaknesses, should serve as a serious model upon which to reconstruct the training and choosing of our political leaders and governmental workers. It is not a perfect model. But certainly it is better than the ad-hoc, clandestine, shaded political leadership system we have today. Let’s then take a cursory look at Churchill’s skills according to the framework laid out in the last chapter. A fuller explanation of his skills will follow in Chapter Four when we discuss his actions during World War Two.
In reading any volume about Churchill’s life the most blinding aspect in understanding his success, is the quality, depth and strength of his character. Many other men would long have given up, or perished in their chosen professions, if they had been subject to the same trials as Churchill. In general from studying his life I can safely state that he never took the easy route. He was certainly never offered the easy spoils. Yet he never bowed his knee to opinion polls, party whips, or popular expressions that ran contrary to his own judgement and sense of purpose. In comparing Churchill with other great’s of this century there is no one that had to endure the opprobrium, distrust or number of setbacks as did Churchill. Even the witch hunt instigated against William Clinton, is pretty mild stuff compared with what the press had to say about Churchill during the first half of this century. I am always amazed that Churchill was able not only to survive through it all, but survive with a smile.
This is not to romanticise his or anyone else’s macho strength and egotism. Both in large doses are negative. However, without strength of character change is impossible, adversity cannot be overcome and good never triumphs over evil. In the dawning age of ‘Principle Parties’ as replacements for the outmoded ‘Political Parties’ trained individuals, relishing and brandishing these 3 traits will be needed to cut through the Gordian knot of the insoluble political drift we have today. We must remember the tenets of evolution and that change is not always progressive or better. To advance the human species needs change and conflicting ideas. These are necessary — not lobby groups, supine presidents and empty suits.
Upon the scarred field of politics Churchill stressed strength and magnanimity as the cornerstones of his behaviour. If impatience was his great weakness than offering magnanimity to the defeated – whether a local political opponent or Germany after World War II – casted Churchill as a strong but gallant knight and a man raised above the normal dash and din of political conflict. He fought all battles with limitless reserve and strategy. He offered friend and foe alike illimitable goodwill and respect after the conflict. His ideals imbued with history and coupled with a vision of where his country should be in the world were marked by a sense of fair play. Principles and not parties dictated his actions. For these reasons he is a man to be honoured and acclaimed as a defendant of democratic right and privilege.
To be effective statesmanship must lay on established principles and constraints rather than on emotive impulses and frayed passions. We should not forget that nations have no permanent friends, only semi-permanent interests, a covenant that often offends popular sympathy and belief. For it is these realism’s, that politics is a game of shifting fortunes, relationships and situations, that disgusts the great majority in democratic lands. Politics is like making love– natural, necessary and enjoyable– only if it is done properly. What is discernible about Churchill is his hard-headed realism and practicality in accepting such truths. Consequently he looked ahead a great deal more carefully and cautiously than many of his contemporary observers thought mutating viewpoints and re-evaluating some of his opinions. Of course some cried that he was too fluid and perhaps could not be trusted and other criticasters weary of Churchill’s rhetoric, would delight in emphasising that Churchill was a product of the late 19th century immutable and intractable. Thus from both sides – conservatives and liberals – Churchill received a drubbing, regardless of the integrity of his actions.
Churchill’s bellicosity caused much of the drubbing. One should consider the weight and purity of Churchill’s virtue and charity to all he contacted – friend or foe – even though he received the most acidic and heavily concentrated attacks of any politician in any era. Critics never tired of chopping at the tree of Churchill’s accomplishments. It began when he crossed the floor in 1904 to join the Liberals. It received a great accretion in strength during the winter of 1913-4 when Churchill was the subject of a broad protest by pacifists, economists, and social reformers who thought that as First Lord of the Admiralty he was too profligate and was promoting the arms race. At the root of the discontent and many to follow, was the fact that Churchill was not a good party man. As such the image of the war mongering pirateer was born and created by an aspersive socialist press. Churchill was not a war monger, “his thought has always been, between the wars, upon the means of making peace among the peoples.” For his critics such distractions were carefully ignored. It was during 1913-14 that the apparati to hang Churchill politically was established and raised for action.
What is inestimable is the fortitude and resilience of mind and body to withstand such brutal, crabby treatment that Churchill received at the hands of malcontents and frustrated plotters. His closest friends recognised clearly the political courage of Churchill. On November 11 1922, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), wrote to a friend; “The man is as brave as six, as good-humoured, shrewd, self-confident and considerate as a statesman can be and several times I’ve seen him chuck the statesmanship course and do the honest thing instead.”
The honest thing included enacting proper change. When we view the broad balance of Churchill’s career and factor in the jealousy inherent in the political field and the degree of envy held by many of Churchill’s excessive successes we observe that many of his greatest contributions to the establishment of public welfare and governmental responsibility were initiatives driven from within, without concern to reputation, personal circumstance or fortune. Most were decidedly modern and far sighted. This is quite clear in his advancement of ‘Tory Democracy’ – economic growth with general support for the masses. Tory Democracy is another prescription for centrist governance. Often times this led him to advocate the dismemberment of party politics and the establishment of a broad nationally based governance: “Parliamentary debate has become largely meaningless. All the time the two great party machines are grinding up against each other with the utmost energy, dividing every village, every street, every town and city into busy party camps. Each party argues that it is the fault of the other. What is certain is that to prolong the process indefinitely is the loss of all…Once it can be seen that a great new situation or great new issues lie before us, an appeal should be made to the people to create some governing force which can deal with our affairs in the name and in the interest of the large majority of the nation.”
Part of Churchill’s trajectory to statesmanship can be seen in the light of time. First accumulate a reputation for outspoken principled action. Second, accumulate power via alliances, learning and public positioning. Then state a vision resplendent with clear principles, meanings and images while solving local problems. Lastly accede to great affairs and the devising of solutions in a national and international context. This trajectory needs to be buttressed by character, skills (verbal and technical), vision and power accumulation and recognition. To have these skills imbedded in action is not enough. A person must also have as a bedrock a clear and clean sense of duty and morality.
Importantly Churchill was clean. Adultery, conspiracy, or treachery were never a part of Churchill’s character. Loyalty, aggression and impulsiveness were the main exciting agents in Churchill’s life. His extreme ambition bordering at times on foolhardiness but always driven by an abnormal energy galvanised all around him. Churchill was always a contrarian thinker, and a statesman of the highest order, but he was not a Machiavellian posturer. His success rested on energy, innovation and positive thinking, all in a consistent framework employed in over 50 years of statesmanship.
Churchill personified the well instructed and knowledgeable Leader. He was a self-developed man. As a youth he immersed himself in governing, leadership and policy. He never ceased learning and improving all of his life. He spent a great deal of time learning skills from his contemporaries such as Lloyd George, Lord Fisher, Herbert Asquith, F.E. Smith, and Max Beaverbrook amongst many others. On a political level this education led to a vision not only of strong morality but of rationality. In very few instances did Churchill compromise his personal code of morality for the sake of political gain. In this he was exemplary. But he was also a realist. He was adept at combining power and ethics in a compelling package. Very few understood the effective use of political leverage better than Churchill.
Compare Churchill’s self-education program with the political elite today. How many are steeped in history, philosophy, and the rigours and tribulations of historical notables ? What percent of our esteemed political masters exhibit such a rounded appreciation of the conditions and matters that shaped and will continue to shape the human story ? As Churchill sourly commented to then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1928 concerning the ease with which World War One could have been avoided: “Think of these people, decent, educated, the story of the past laid out before them. What to avoid, what to do etc. Patriotic, loyal, clean — trying their utmost. What a ghastly muddle they made of it ! Unteachable from infancy to tomb — there is the first & main characteristic of mankind.”
In looking at his life nothing can sum up the traits and skills of Churchill in short pleasing verbiage. He was patently too many people, a definite renaissance man, engaging in politics, writing, reporting, painting, farming, hunting, polo playing, warring and investing. Besides a massive intellect and memory Churchill possessed a spirit spurred with the whips of energy. It was unrelenting. His was the creed of action and contempt for delay. Mission was founded and achieved by exploring, questioning, trying, failing and trying again. During the 1930’s when the Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay Macdonald governments neglected the build-up of British war making strength and sought the treacherous path of appeasement to satiate the Nazi beast, Churchill who had long criticised the insipidity of such a program exclaimed in 1936 the memorable words about Baldwin’s government revealing his contempt for hiding inactivity in political closets; “The government simply cannot make up their mind, or they cannot get the Prime Minister to make up his mind. So they go in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.”
Brilliant diction summing up the most hated of Churchill’s dislikes – inaction. But we have still to reach that quality in Churchill, which warrants us in calling him great. For a man may be gifted far above the ordinary, without earning the emblem of true greatness. Churchill had brilliant gifts. He was, in addition, driven by a limitless, borderless, shifting, resolute ambition. Without such magnificent ambition, men never have, and never will accede to the summit of power, prestige and greatness. “Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise (that last infirmity of noble mind), To scorn delights, and live laborious days.”
But unseemly ambition is insufficient to earn the appellation of great. It has to be elevated by noble principles (‘that last infirmity of noble mind’), to allow a man to rise above the supine mass. Flaming pertinacity is dangerous without the fibre of moral strength. Credibility rests on the broad shoulders of honesty and reliability. No Leader can shrug off those characteristics of success. Genius and energy do not necessarily shape the epiphanies of leadership. They have to combined in harmony and strength with the skills and qualities that we discussed in the last chapter, and which illuminate true leadership.
But character, skill and morality are not enough for leaders. Intelligence is necessary. It does us no good having a clutch of well intentioned clods fouling up the process. Intelligence can only really be measured by verbal capacity and skill. IQ measures and tests are inaccurate. Churchill owned the English language and he owned the skill of persuasion. As such he commanded the heights of leadership. He could communicate the moment, the mission, and the energy. Churchill was one of the few politicians in our century that had a beautiful, lucid communication and vocabulary. Emboldening this was his common sense, technical skill and creativity. Above all the dynamism of his verbal adroitness lied in the desire for action and not drift.
A baser form of intelligence is what can be termed ‘Political Antennae’. In most political circles this skill is usually too overdeveloped. In the case of Churchill it was surprisingly weak and poorly unused. Churchill’s rhetoric was maybe too developed and at times not flexible enough for his audience or plainly inappropriate. But this weakness is still overshadowed by his capacity at conciliation and political problem solving and more vitally by his verbal capability. Churchill engineered delicate dispute resolutions over South Africa, Ireland, and social reform in England to name but a few, quickly striding across political boundaries and ideologies and involving himself intimately with those who had the greatest grievance in order to solve the conflict. Coupled with his strong array of communication skills he achieved a political pre-eminence that darkly shadowed his companions.
His oratory and conciliatory skills were allowed to flourish due to the mastery of technical details. Churchill was one of those rare politicians that actually knew what he was talking about. This dedication to lucidity ties in with persuasion and compromise and the knowledge of details leads to flexibility because plans can be made for each situation. Churchill always had three or four contingency plans for every situation. Strategy and vision thus sprung from intelligence and from being able to see the whole picture and from the confidence that one way or another the vision would be achieved.
This vision coupled with creativity gave Churchill adequate resources to enact change and innovation. In political spheres Churchill was light years ahead of his companions in collecting, analysing, and synthesising information at the micro level and relating it to the big picture. His innovation stemmed from patient practicality and discipline and not inspired genius as romantic novels about great change would like us to believe. This vision included fair economic trade and economic liberalism, adequate welfare for the population, peace and democratic governance, classical and scientifically or technically based education, and a powerful security apparatus to combat evil and aggression.
In achieving his aims, and in using his native and educated intelligence Churchill consciously chose to be nobody’s knave. He flaunted his independence, not only in action, but also in flamboyant dress and style. Yet his romantic urges were touched by the humbleness of most people’s lives, but to those at the summit where power corrupts, contracts are broken, lies are purveyed as half-truths, the issue of spirit and mores takes on a different colour. Basically Churchill trusted his own counsel and that of a half-dozen friends. To the rest of the world he looked like a recluse. To those who knew him well, he was defending himself against the often wicked and spiteful attacks of political banditos. Hence sympathy for the mass, trust for the few.
In this regard Churchill was exceptionally callous and rough to friend and foe alike in his early years. But as time tempered and beat down the baser impulses of searing rhetoric, Churchill acquired another skill — that of informal networking and interpersonal persuasion. He became as he aged refreshingly human. However, it was not until the 1930’s when he was in his late 50s and early 60s, that strident verbal missives were shelved for moderate expositions (with some notable exceptions) of the situation at hand, and fair treatment was meted out to friend and foe alike.
As Churchill matured so did his attention to friendship. “If F.E. (Smith), was strong meat and stronger drink, then Churchill in contrast to his public reputation as a ‘domineering’, even ‘rude’, figure, had in the intimacy of personal friendship a quality which is almost feminine in its caressing charm” As F.E. wrote, Churchill had a ‘simplicity which no other public man of the highest distinction possesses.’ He also endeavoured to perform many deeds of goodwill to aid friends and family. It can be summarised by Philip Snowden a long-time Churchill opponent and liberal critic, “Your generosity to a political opponent marks you for ever in my eyes the ‘great gentleman’ I have always thought you. Had I been in trouble which I could not control myself, there is none to whom I should have felt I could come with more confidence that I should be gently treated.”
A budget of good humour, tact and some considered patience fund the other necessary resources and tools to achieve success. Alone they are unsubstantive. It is better to be dour and effective, than gay and incompetent. Allied to well-developed skills and principles, sensitivity, embedded in the formidable array of humour and tact, provides a potent and efficient tool. About Churchill it is fair to say that he was ambitious and calculating; but not cold and that saved him. As a colleague stated, “His ambition is sanguine, runs in a torrent, and the calculation is hardly more than the rocks or the stump which the torrent strikes for a second…queer, shrewd power of introspection, which tells him his gifts and character are such as will make him boom….He was born a demagogue, and he happens to know it.” Yet ambition without a defining purpose can not only corrupt, but it can also destroy.
A crowning vision is really the linchpin that will attract followers. Most good and great individuals have displayed a pretty consistent approach to the world and a pretty stable world view. Some superficial analysis may suggest that because Churchill changed parties, challenged convention, criticised incompetence and insipidity and usurped obedience, he was a grasping, clawing, malevolent opportunist. If rigid conformity is the sign of good political standing, Churchill was indeed recklessly unpredictable and unreliable. However, the picture of Churchill as a soldier of fortune, an adventurer and a troublemaker was and is incorrect. Strong ethics, values and principles guided his actions. He had little of Lloyd George’s cunning or the well-disguised craftiness of Stanley Baldwin. His decisions might have been unpredictable, but his motives were seldom hard to fathom. Churchill rarely embroiled himself in the base pettiness of political intrigue in part from a distaste of such ignominy, combined as well with a guileless personality.
To the charge of unreliability Churchill retorted that, “To improve is to change. To be perfect is to have changed often.” In actual fact the changes were due to some effort at self improvement, but to a fidelity of what he already was. Churchill was most consistent with his own true north direction when he was the least supportive of his party’s policy. Churchill never could swallow the party line always choosing and deciding for himself. In assessing Churchill’s skill base the following is a reasonable portrait: “Far from changing his views too often, Mr Churchill has scarcely, during a long and stormy career, altered them at all. If anyone wishes to discover his views on the large and lasting issues of our time, he need only set himself to discover what Mr Churchill has said or written on the subject at any period of his long and exceptionally articulate public life, in particular during the years before the First World War: The number of instances in which his views have in later years undergone any appreciable degree of change will be astoundingly small….When biographers and historians come to describe his views…they will find that his opinions on all these topics are set in fixed patterns, set early in life and later only reinforced.”
This historical reality is evidenced when studying Churchill. What drove Churchill in his personal intellectual and political journey’s can also be said to mirror the advance of imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries . Thus not only did he possess grand skill, he was also a student but more importantly a conscious product of history. In this regard he closely resembles (consciously no doubt) British and world history. Even in his literary works this is reflected. For instance in Churchill’s book, ‘The Story of the Malakand Field Force’, which depicts British soldiery in north-western India at the turn of the 20th century he questioned what motivated men and nations to face great hazards. The principal elements that Churchill discovered were preparation, discipline, vanity and sentiment and he remarked that sentiment was the most important of the group. Churchill believed that civilisation can only march forward if it clings to a vision – a sentiment that ennobles its occupation and galvanises its spirit. Empires fall because the sword begins to dominate the sentiment and the people lose hold of the impulse and spirit that the sentiment contained and made the use of the sword in the first instance appropriate.
This spirit and vision was evident and mature. He commiserated with the poor, the downtrodden or the straggling. Some of his mightiest missions and political forays were instigated on behalf of those who lived lives beyond his comprehension but not his beyond his compassion. Yet here lies a paradox. Within political circles and in the ring of friends and associates he could be extraordinarily blind, politically inept, insensitive and roguish. Or so it appears from a distance. Yet for the great mass of ‘Poor England’ or for the devotion of the Commonwealth nations, tears would be produced, sagas told, and emotion unleashed. The difference is dramatic but crucial.
If we examine for instance his stand on fair economic trade he was malleable to changing circumstance but rather solid in his underlying belief in market forces, with government succouring the unlucky. He left the Conservatives over Fair Trade in 1904, when they put forward a policy of protectionism, anathema to an orthodox Liberal like Churchill. He only returned to the Conservative party in 1924 when undue governmental interference in trade had been expunged from their agenda, and when the political costs of doing so were at a low threshold. Fair trade in the mind of Churchill did not preclude beneficial and justified government involvement to at times, stimulate employment and counteract nefarious foreign practice. For instance by 1908 Churchill had developed a respectable appreciation of contra-cyclical public works feeling that in useful but uncompetitive industries such as afforestation, public departments should be constructed to allow the expansion or contraction of work according to the needs of the labour market, much like the utilisation of an accordion. He was also much taken by the notion of having a governmental body dedicated to intelligence gathering on market conditions and inputting clever designs regarding the balance of trade and the proper use of employment. These concepts were never tried.
Supportive of free or at least fair trade, Churchill throughout his career could never conceal his concern for the effects of such unbridled combat upon the poor man and women. Speaking in a lecture at Oxford in June of 1930 he posited that unencumbered free trade was not at that time working: “The growth of public opinion, and still more of voting opinion, violently and instinctively rejects many features of this massive creed. No one, for instance, will agree that wages should be settled only by the higgling of the market. No one would agree that modern world-dislocation of industry…should simply be met by preaching thrift and zeal to the displaced worker. Few would agree that private enterprise is the sole agency by which fruitful economic activities can be launched or conducted.” Churchill appended to this suspicion of market forces the idea of an economic council, chosen in proportion to parliamentary representation as an agent of economic advice. This concept of an objective economic watchdog was never viably pursued.
These economic doctrines – fair trade and support for the common worker – were strictly consistent with his life long pursuit of social stability, prosperity and opportunity. In wider party politics Churchill was a radical who consistently attacked the Conservatives as a party of wealthy vested interests conspiring to exploit the poor. He had a rough belief in proper mass democracy (though part of him sympathised with the viewpoints of the controversial Nietzche who feared for mass democratisation feeling that the great features of aristocratic or privileged existence would disappear), and most of his actions were ‘de Tocquevillian’. Churchill was fundamentally concerned that there should not be governmental obstruction to the mass of the people realising the benefits that a liberalising democracy could bring into their lives. In 1908 he wrote to Asquith:
“There is a tremendous policy in social organisation. The need is urgent and the moment ripe. Germany with a harder climate and far less accumulated wealth has managed to establish tolerable basic conditions for her people. She is organised not only for war, but for peace. We are organised for nothing except party politics. The Minister who will apply to this country the successful experiences of Germany in social organisation may or may not be supported at the polls, but he will at least have a memorial which time will not deface of his administration.” If we consider the tremendous tasks in which the human race and governments; local, regional, national and hopefully international, will struggle against in the near future then social organisation and re-organisation, probably of a brutal or dislocative nature will not be completed in the current ‘pork and play’ atmosphere in today’s political systems. Politicians engaged in change will need the courage to ignore the polls and do what needs to be done.
Churchill was a master at this, usually getting the House of Commons to agree to his proposals even if he was in a subordinate or even antagonistic position. The skills used to complete such duties were varied. Very rarely did they include threats, bullying, trampling on souls, or the use of political power. Logic, parliamentary procedure, emotional colour and well-researched positions counted as more important. Churchill proposed and acquired the acceptance of the House on a number of far reaching proposals, including;
- Institution of Labour Exchanges and unemployed insurance
- National Infirmity Insurance
- Special state industries such as roads, afforestation
- Modernised poor law (law mandating that children should support their parents)
- State control of the railway
- Compulsory education until age 17
Churchill’s economic beliefs and education though broader and more profound than many politicians were attached to a series of principles. He loathed dependence and esteemed individualism. He was fully in support of laissez-faire and the doctrines of 17th, 18th and 19th century English economics. His faith in Adam Smith, John Locke and Edwardian experience compelled Churchill to espouse his support in the benedictions of unshackled economic exchange. In October of 1902, in a letter to a political colleague while still a member of the Conservative party, Churchill commented that it was necessary by an ‘evolutionary process’ to create a wing of the Conservative party which would either infuse vigour into the entire unit, or allow the formation of a central coalition. Churchill realised as he stated in the letter that his plan would become most important as an incident in or possibly as a herald of the movement, but that it would also move suspicion that he was moved only by mere restless ambition and not substantive issues. He needed a grand theme and found it in the Free Trade debate of 1903-4. Churchill was unable to countenance the stance of the Conservative party in their clamouring for protection and left joining the Liberals on May 31 1904. Allegations of opportunism, deceit and cowardice, rained down upon him as he shifted sides. In a note to a friend Churchill admitted; “(The) Free Trade issue subsides it leaves my personal ambitions naked and stranded on the beach – and they are an ugly and unsatisfactory spectacle by themselves, though nothing but an advantage when borne forward with the flood of a great outside cause.” Indeed without a great cause ambition is a rather repulsive picture.
For Churchill and others liberal ideals as exemplified by the Free Trade question meant more than simply the abolition of protective tariffs. It personifies a whole philosophy of political, social and economic organisation. John Stuart Mill in ‘Principles of Political Economy’ in 1848 developed the ‘Laissez-faire’, concept and every departure from it, unless required by some great good, is a certain evil. This commandment created the key notes of mid-Victorian liberalism: the reliance upon individualism, the establishment of self-respect, and self-reliance, and the organisation of voluntary and co-operative societies to better the plight of the weak, wounded and suffering.
Support for such mantra was rooted in an earlier period of excitable prosperity. Coinciding with the advent of Free Trade in the years 1850-1870, there was an economic boom in the UK. It can be fairly argued that the removal of tariff barriers probably had only a marginal impact on the British economy. Nevertheless, psychologically the advent of free trade was closely associated with entrepreneurial zest and commercial success. It appeared that market forces working within the social and political structure solved the question of English strength, which preoccupied the country from 1820-50.
Churchill knew his economic history well. It moulded and galvanised his political and philosophical beliefs. It shaped his political attitude and formed one of his bedrock principles – free movement of goods and services. This created in his political philosophy a paradox — Churchill was at once a radical and a traditionalist. He was a radical in changing structures and governmental organisations and arcane laws to facilitate the movement of finance and trade on a more fair and free basis. He was also a radical in his determination to raise the general standard of living, economic opportunity and chance for decent education and welfare. He was a traditionalist in his empathy that the productive capitalistic system as the only guaranteed method of sustaining society and providing a nation with the capability to ensure adequate standards of wealth and progress. It must be protected at all costs – vision must be enjoined by the means to protect its vested interests.
In assessing the use of power Churchill’s career and leadership in this regard actually represents Britain’s peculiarity as a Great Power which during its hegemony was formed in the conjunction of three factors: her naval strength, her imperial possessions, and her financial hegemony. Through two stints as First Lord of the Admiralty, Chancellor of the Exchequer and through two World Wars, Churchill devoted the lion’s share of his time and energies to upholding these interlocking causes, making it conspicuously clear in the process that he had no intention of presiding over the liquidation of the British Empire. As Chancellor of the Exchequer Churchill presented 5 budgets (1925-1929). In British history only Pitt, Walpole and Gladstone can equal that record. Though vastly entertaining as pieces of oratory and acting adroitness his budgets adhered as much as it was possible to economic orthodoxy. Many times Churchill was accused of slight of hand sophistry in the compilation of his numbers and in the collection of his tax revenue. However, this allegation has been and could be made with more convincing effect against every other Chancellor in this century. What is more important to note is that Churchill’s orthodoxy underpinned the Victorian notion of Britain’s greatness.
Churchill was a realist and understood power. Power is really to be embraced and used and is in some ways the centre piece of leadership. To ignore it is to perish. Because of his somewhat apolitical view of the world Churchill could discern very clearly the different perspectives on how nations viewed peace and how any destroyer of peace would appear in various forms to different nations. To prevent war and general international dislocation he at times called for zones and regional structures, including World-Grand Alliances. Power and strength were vital: In his words, “Appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only path to peace.”
Though primarily remembered as a war-hungry demagogue, Churchill on at least half a dozen occasions defiantly crusaded against the level and purpose of military spending. These personal programs were driven in part by his political position. That is only a small part of the answer. During the 1920’s Churchill felt that military expenditure was too high and should be curbed given the threat of inflation, the spectre of economic dislocation and the vital investments needed in infrastructure and social programs. These economic indicators drove Churchill to proselytise against excessive taxation and to insist on reviews of defence expenditures. It was necessary Churchill felt, to augment the Royal Air Force allotment and decrease the high administrative costs of the army and look suspiciously into the Royal Navy claims of needing more funding. The cabinet agreed with Churchill: “that the Fighting Services should proceed on the assumption that no great war is to be anticipated within the next ten years” although, “provision should be made for the possible expansion of trained units in case of an emergency arising.” Little of the war-mongerer appears in this sentiment though security was never to be imperilled.
Churchill was emphatic that the 10 year rule be reviewed each year. This 10 year dictum uttered in the mid 20′s obviously proved false since in 1936, the Germans seized the Rhineland. Beginning with the rise of Hitler and the stench of his ideology, Churchill began advocating not only a mammoth increase in armament production but also a closer relationship with Russia. Strategy had changed again. This option was proffered from a man who in the early 1920’s had supported the incursion of British soldiers into the heartland of Russia to cleanse it of Bolshevism. Churchill regarded Bolshevism as the lowliest creed and construct of mankind’s civilised history. These adjurations were consistent with his concept of maintaining a balance of power and bargaining from a position of strength, all in the name of effacing and avoiding an evil tumult. It is – and should be – one of the chief reasons for our admiration and support of Churchill that he consistently advocated peace by international understanding and if understanding were to collapse to resist any impingement of freedom by force.
But his political courtship of Russia was based on seemingly obvious and important facts. As Churchill previsioned in the early 30’s a new line of French fortifications established only along the French part of the Rhine would enable Germany to attack France through Belgium and Holland. He knew that Germany would not respect the neutrality of the Low Countries in her desire to rip and tear the French to pieces. He also warned that Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Rumania, Austria and the Baltic’s, were at risk, and that Britain could not detain a German advance into these areas from her current submissive position of weakness. Churchill wanted to station a part of the British fleet in the Baltic to outnumber the German fleet. To achieve measurable, guarded security an alliance with the Bolshies was inevitable, vital and more importantly achievable.
If stronger lines had been followed in the 1930’s World War Two could have been avoided. With a ‘Churchillian’ leadership of the world and vision of power and morality we could have escaped the disgusting slaughter of 70 million people. In a 1945 speech to the combined Belgian Senate and Chamber, Churchill stressed what is still surely relevant in our world today; namely the resistance and prevention of dictator aggression: “If the United States had taken an active part in the League of Nations, and if the League of Nations had been prepared to use concerted force, even had it only been European force, to prevent the re-armament of Germany, there was no need for further serious bloodshed. If the Allies had resisted Hitler strongly in his early stages, even up to his seizure of the Rhineland in 1936, he would have been forced to recoil, and a chance would have been given to the sane elements in German life, which were very powerful especially in the High Command, to free Germany of the maniacal Government and system into the grip of which she was falling. Do no forget that twice the German people, by a majority, voted against Hitler, but the Allies and the League of Nations acted with such feebleness and lack of clairvoyance.”
After the Second World War he continued such pleas arguing in various speeches for France and Germany to bind wounds and for Russia to be a partner with the West in the greater development of a peaceful Europe. When it became obvious that the Soviets intended to challenge if not supplant the West (especially after the communist seizure of power in Czechoslovakia in 1948), than the tone of conciliation turned to a growling of an affronted bulldog as Churchill told American officials, that now is the time, promptly, to tell the Soviets that if they do not retire from Berlin and abandon Eastern Germany, withdrawing to the Polish frontier ‘we will raze their cities’. In his signal ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in Fulton Missouri in 1948 Churchill implored that the UNO must work effectively to prevent another war recognising Russia as a leading nation, remembering the gallantry of its efforts in the last war, and acknowledging its ‘Iron Curtain’ control of Eastern Europe which necessitated the banding and collation of Western strength and might.
It is a complex issue and drives to the heart of politics that so many of us view with revulsion – peace through strength and shifting alliances and geopolitical supporters. To understand such necessities today we need to understand the human animal. In scanning leadership and the great broad stretch and gesture of events, the basic construct of the human animal has to be borne in mind. Churchill constantly reminded his associates of the base fact that we really have not changed genetically in the last 100,000 years. DNA and microbiology are 1 of 2 great frontiers of human discovery in the next generation, (the other is information technology). As advances are made in understanding the human genome, advances must also be made in the way society and the leaders of society are structured and educated.
Churchill’s view of international affairs was pragmatic though not Machiavellian. He had two basic precepts of security — use history as a guide and foster a balance of power between the strongest lands, and ensure that the internal national health was seasoned and keen. Churchill frequently referred to his debt to those who had laboured before himself as he did to Katherine Asquith, on April 5 1929; “How strange it is that the past is so little understood and so quickly forgotten. We live in the most thoughtless of ages. Every day headlines and short views. I have tried to drag history up a little nearer to our own times in case it should be helpful as a guide in present difficulties.”
This enduring commitment to knowledge and of increasing the power, and not the dependency of the layman, both intellectually and politically was the central tenet of Churchill’s political genius. He could combine the new world with the old gleaning the important knowledge from the past, to help shape the institutions of the current and future. To say he was old-fashioned as some critics contend is simplistic. Churchill more than any other figure helped create the modern welfare nation state (though he would be appalled at its size and generosity today), promote peace through strength and ensure that the precarious balance of power between east and west, that was the only stability guaranteed to mankind for 44 years, was not toppled. Pure motives, unflinching devotion to good, ambition stemming from benign aspirations, all lead to quality. As one commentator explained of Pitt, so it could be ascribed to Churchill: “Pitt desired power, and he desired it, we really believe, from high and generous motives. He was, in the strict sense of the word, a patriot. He saw the national spirit sinking.” In conclusion then, we can state that Churchill matches many of those qualities and skills that define true leadership and greatness. It is these defining values that warrant the assertion that Churchill was indeed this century’s most important catalyst in propelling the world to where we are today. And I have not even discussed in detail his stand against Hitler and totalitarianism.
Thus, as a new millennium dawns I do believe that if we can revise our current system of educating ourselves and our leaders along the principles already evinced; namely, character, skills, intelligence, vision and understanding power, that we can create a proper cadre of leading men and women and that all of society will benefit from the reduction of intrigue and pettiness. Human nature can be changed, however painfully long it will take. In order to understand how we can do this it is often times necessary to understand how the ‘great’ or historically important at any rate went about it. I don’t think that in the 20th century there has been any more dedicated man who defended the Liberalised view of freedom, economic exchange and human dignity, better than Churchill. For this reason, he should be nominated as the most influential man of the past century. And for this reason his skills and weaknesses should be studied and appreciated with especial care.