Sunday, December 16, 2018


It's well known that all babies look like Winston Churchill, but the resemblance is even more amazing when they actually are Winston Churchill. Photo via somebody's Pinterest.

Mr. Bret Stephens suggesting a new biography for our Christmas reading, Churchill: Walking With Destiny by Andrew Walker, as "an antidote to the reigning conceits, self-deceptions, half-truths and clichés of our day":
For instance: Being born into “privilege” is ipso facto a privilege.
For Churchill — who suffered as a child under the remote glare of contemptuous father and a self-indulgent mother; fought valiantly in four wars by the time he was 25; and earned his own living through prodigious literary efforts that ultimately earned him a Nobel Prize — the main privilege was the opportunity to bear up under the immense weight of inner expectation that came with being born to a historic name.
It's true that Churchill's careers in the military and politics didn't pay him enough to live in the style to which he accustomed himself, as Alan Livsey/Financial Times wrote in his review of David Lough's 2015 No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money:

After his father’s death in 1895, and despite only a modest income, Churchill spent freely on everything from polo ponies to champagne. In the six years to 1914, by his own calculation, he was spending £1,160 annually with the family wine merchants, the equivalent today of £100,000. Not that they received timely payment. He regularly left his suppliers’ bills in arrears, sometimes for years.
And it's true that he wrote like crazy, moonlighting as a newspaper correspondent in all four of those wars, and profitably:
Churchill realised early on that he could gain a good income from writing. Yet as quickly as the money came in, out it went. A history of the first world war, published in 1923, eventually earned him £25,000. By 1921, Churchill’s overdraft had swollen to £28,000 — a deficit of £1m today — requiring one of many crisis talks with his bank manager.
What really kept him afloat wasn't the writing but the credit he commanded simply by virtue of the fact that his creditors thought he was a lot richer than he actually was, which is exactly what we're talking about when we talk about privilege. "Throughout his political career," wrote Deborah Cohen at The Atlantic,
he relied upon rich acquaintances to bail him out. After he lost his seat in Parliament in 1922, he engaged in dubious lobbying on behalf of oil companies. He stretched all available loopholes to avoid paying taxes, even (and especially) when he served as chancellor of the Exchequer, the head of Great Britain’s Treasury, from 1924 to 1929. And in the end, he made his fortune by taking advantage of papers commandeered from government files to construct his blockbuster memoirs.
Such chicanery is distressingly familiar these days, but it is also different. As Lough points out, Churchill’s conduct would hardly have met “the standards of transparency expected of today’s politicians.” Some of Churchill’s financial bounty came in the unlaundered (or lightly laundered) form of direct gifts and loans. Take the 1940 crisis when the shirtmaker presented his bill. The prime minister was saved by a discreet payment amounting to nearly $375,000 in today’s money, from a foreign-born financier, conveyed in a check written to someone else and endorsed over to Churchill.
And privilege might have something to do with the way the second son of the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough managed to be doing full-time journalism and a 2nd lieutenant in combat service at the same time. Sir Bindon Blood, CO of British forces under siege at Malakand in Churchill's first combat experience in the Swat Valley, 1897, apparently insisted on Churchill's being posted as a journalist (for The Telegraph), which might have been in the interest of good publicity for himself (Churchill dedicated his book on the campaign to Blood); Kitchener emphatically did not want him in the Sudan campaign of 1898, "claiming that Churchill was simply seeking publicity and medals," but Churchill went over his head, including with a visit to Lord Salisbury at 10 Downing Street, and got himself sent there anyway, with position in the 21st Lancers and accreditation from The Morning Post. (Stephens is mistaken in saying Churchill "fought valiantly in four wars" in this period; in the first, in 1895, he was merely an observer embedded with Spanish forces fighting the Cuban insurgency, and in the last, in the Boer War in 1899, he was out of uniform, devoted to The Daily Mail and The Morning Post, when he was captured by the Boer army and joined in a heroic escape, though he later acquired a lieutenancy in the South African Light Horse in the war's last two months—so two and a half wars.)

As to his parents making him neurotic, if they did, that is not what we talk about when we talk about privilege. Just spare me.
Or: To be a member of the establishment is to be a creature of it.
Churchill championed free trade to the consternation of Tory protectionists. He supported super-taxes on the rich and pensions for the old to the infuriation of his aristocratic peers. He called for rearmament before both world wars against the hopes and convictions of the pacifists and appeasers in power. His great, unfulfilled political ambition was to create a party of the sensible center. Being at the center of the establishment is what allowed him to be indifferent to — and better than — it.
When the Conservative-Unionist government under Balfour began talking about a "tariff reform" which would turn the Empire into a protected trading bloc in 1903, it was flying in the face of a national consensus in favor of free trade that had existed for 33 years, and ultimately lasted for another 35, until fairly late in the Depression. And basically destroyed the Balfour premiership. The Unionist and Conservative parties were both split on the issue; Churchill was on the free trade side,  and in fact joined the unified free-trade Liberals as Balfour's government collapsed, just in time for their 1906 election victory. There was nothing anti-establishment about his position, though.

And when as a Liberal or later Unionist, for the next decade, Churchill pushed himself up in the ranks alongside David Lloyd George in a remarkable series of accomplishments, including the founding of a state pension system and the People's Budget taxes on incomes and estates to fund it, there was nothing anti-establishment about that either, though no doubt it was good work. But his long voyage from Conservative, via Liberal to Unionist to a (more or less imaginary) Constitutionalist party, to Conservative ("Anyone can rat," he remarked, "but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat") suggests that it may not have been a strong adhesion to New Liberal principles that took him away in the first place.

The way Wikipedia sums up his views on party seems adequate:
James described Churchill as having "no permanent commitment to any" party, and that his "shifts of allegiance were never unconnected with his personal interests".[544] When campaigning for his Oldham seat in 1899, Churchill referred to himself as a Conservative and a Tory Democrat;[545] the following year, he referred to Liberals as "prigs, prudes, and faddists".[541] In a 1902 letter to a fellow Conservative, Churchill stated that he had "broad, tolerant, moderate views—a longing for compromise and agreement—a disdain for cant of all kinds—a hatred for extremists whether they be Jingos or Pro-Boers; and I confess the idea of a central party, fresher, freer, more efficient, yet, above all, loyal and patriotic, is very pleasing to my heart."[546] This dream of a "Centre Party" that would bring together more moderate elements of the main British parties—and thus remain permanently in office—was a recurring one for Churchill.[547]
That "remaining permanently in office" is clearly what's small-c conservative about it, and the clear indication is that his main intention was to keep Labour permanently out. He was also contemplating the abandonment of universal suffrage and going back to a property qualification for voters in the early 1930s, and was as favorable to Hitler as any Conservative as late as 1936: "I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between communism and Nazism, I would choose communism." His fundamental stance on policy reminds me a lot of Mr. David Brooks:
Churchill's speeches on liberalism emphasised the retention of Britain's existing social structure and the need for "gradualness" rather than revolutionary change;[532] he accepted and endorsed the existence of class divisions in British society.[533] Churchill sought social reform not out of a desire to challenge the existing social structure but out of an attempt to preserve it.[534] Charles Masterman, a Liberal reformer who knew Churchill, stated that the latter "desired in England, a state of things where a benign upper class dispensed benefits to an industrious, bien pensant, and grateful working class".[531] In Jenkins' view, Churchill's privileged background prevented him from empathising with the poor, and instead he "sympathize[d] with them from on high".[535] 
And he was never as alone in the 1930s in the desire for British rearmament as he claimed to be:
Churchill later sought to portray himself as an isolated voice warning of the need to rearm against Germany. While he had a small following in the House of Commons during much of the 1930s, he was given privileged information by some elements within the government, particularly by disaffected civil servants in the War Ministry and Foreign Office. The "Churchill group" in the latter half of the decade consisted of only himself, Duncan Sandys and Brendan Bracken. It was isolated from the other factions within the Conservative Party that wanted faster rearmament and a stronger foreign policy;[339][340] one meeting of anti-Chamberlain forces decided that Churchill would make a good Minister of Supply.[341] 
But all in all he was hardly "indifferent" to "being at the center of the establishment."
Or: To be a champion of empire is to be a bigot.
In 1899, Churchill envisioned a future South Africa in which “Black is to be proclaimed the same as white … to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights.” He denounced the 1919 British massacre of Indian demonstrators at Amritsar as “a monstrous event.” He promoted social reform at home so that Britain could be a worthy leader of its dominions abroad. Churchill was a patriot, a paternalist, a product of his time — and, by those standards, a progressive.
It wasn't actually Churchill who envisioned such a future for South Africa, but the Boers or Afrikaners explaining to him why they hated the British, for giving the Africans any rights at all, which they thought was an intolerably slippery slope (from Churchill's The Boer War: London to Ladysmith Via Pretoria and Back, 1900):

You see what I'm saying? Churchill believes this noble citizen-soldier is understandably fearful about the British intentions, and sympathizes with his fear that British rule could lead to violent revolution. If only they could have a comfortable conversation, away from the war, they could see how much they fundamentally agree, on imperialism, capitalism, and the entirely British Cecil Rhodes.

Whereas he never has a conversation with a "Kaffir" or "native" in the whole course of the book, as far as I can tell, beyond the elementary transaction of purchasing mealies in a kraal; he doesn't see any reason to have one.

Which is the real point of objecting to his imperialism, I think; not that he was or wasn't a "bigot", but that he didn't think the natives' experiences were of any consequence one way or the other, or that there was any reason to consult them about anyting; that he believed in the right of "superior" races to rule over the lesser nations, as when he's talking about the right of Zionists to ignore the claims of the indigenous people in Palestine in 1937
I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.
    Because that's how imperialism operates, whether the operator is a bigot or not.

    I'm not saying, by the way, that you have to have one particular attitude toward Churchill; I'm sympathetic to Robert McCrum in the Guardian on the Roberts book, though I don't think I'd end up appreciating the tempering and civilizing as much:
    one surprising and unexpected insight from this exhilarating life is that all the qualities we loathe in Trump – his intolerance, lying, vulgarity, chauvinism, narcissism and prejudice – are fleetingly evident within Churchill, but tempered and civilised by intelligence, wit, gravitas and generosity of spirit.

    But I do think it's kind of gross on Stephens's part to be looking so hard for a pure hagiography to wipe out all the nasty things these young folk are saying, to the point of seeing things that are really not there.

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