Finest Hour 147, Summer 2010
Wit and Wisdom – “Leadership of the Best”—or “Past”?
“I have a question about a quote in Finest Hour 144, page 24, second column. Bram Stoker asks: “What is Tory Democracy?” Churchill answers: “The association of us all through the leadership of the past.” Shouldn’t that be “…through the leadership of the best”?
—WIL CLAUS, HELLEVOETSIUS, NETHERLANDS
“Leadership of the Best”
Churchill frequently defined Democracy (but not “Tory Democracy) as “the association of us all through leadership of the best.” But he always put quote marks around the phrase to show he was quoting somebody else. Here are Churchill’s four uses of the phrase:
• The People’s Rights (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970, first published 1910) 54: “Democracy has been called ‘the association of us all through the leadership of the best.’”
• Stemming the Tide: Speeches 1951 & 1952. (London: Cassell, 1953), Scottish Unionist Annual Conference, Glasgow, 18 May 1951, 82-83:
“We Unionists do not believe in class government or that any section of the community should set themselves up as a ruling class. We hold that everyone should have a fair chance to make the best of himself or herself under just laws and with representative government and parliamentary institutions should secure—to quote a definition of democracy I was taught many years ago, —’the association of us all through the leadership of the best.’”
• History of the English-Speaking Peoples, vol. I, The Birth of Britain (New York: Dodd Mead, 1956), 66:
“Other authorities draw an alternative picture. ‘The bulk of the homesteads within the village,’ J. R. Green tells us, were those of its freemen or ceorls; but amongst these were the larger homes of eorls, or men distinguished among their fellows by noble blood, who were held in an hereditary reverence, and from whom the leaders of the village were chosen in war-time or rulers in times of peace. But the choice was a purely voluntary one, and the man of noble blood enjoyed no legal privilege amongst his fellows. If this were so we might thus early have realised the democratic ideal of ‘the association of us all through the leadership of the best.’”
• “This Age of Government by Great Dictators” in the series, “Great Events of Our Time,” News of the World, 10 October 1937, republished in The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill, vol. IV, Churchill at Large (London: Library of Imperial History, 1975), 395:
“Democracy has been defined as ‘the association of us all in the leadership of the best.’ In practice it does not always work this way. Vast masses of people were invested with the decisive right to vote, while at the same time they had very little leisure to study the questions upon which they must pronounce; and an enormous apparatus for feeding them with propaganda, catchwords and slogans came simultaneously into existence. This combination of extraordinary conditions bid fair to reintroduce the age of anarchy.”
We quote the above at length, because it reveals a line of his thinking in the 1930s that we examined last issue, in another of his articles from 1934, where he recommends a “bonus vote” for the “more responsible” members of society, and even comes out for partial proportional representation—which he abandoned later on. See Churchill, “How We Can Restore the Lost Glory to Democracy,” Finest Hour 146: 12.
“Leadership of the Past”
Although it would be logical to think that Lord Randolph’s political concepts involved the elitist leadership of the Victorian Conservative Party (“the best”), the question Bram Stoker asked was “What is Tory Democracy?”
WSC’s response to Stoker appears in none of Churchill’s own works, but two of his biographers picked it up from Stoker’s 1908 interview: “Ephesian” [Bechofer Roberts], Winston Churchill (London: Mills & Boon, 1927, 136); and Virginia Cowles, Winston Churchill: The Era and the Man (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953, 93). Both quote the word “past” not “best,” the same as Stoker quoted it in 1908.
“Ephesian” writes: “Tory Democracy might differ in many ways from the view of Toryism held by older men of the Party, but it remained a Tory doctrine. Democracy was not the preserve of the Radical Party. At heart, in all basic sentiments Churchill was, and would ever be, a Conservative; no man in the country has a truer sentiment of the continuity of our national life.” (Is “Ephesian” quite right? Churchill’s views were more consistently those of a Liberal, but that party disappeared from under him and he went back to the Conservatives.)
“Leadership of the Past” may not have been a misquote. To Stoker he was referring to Tory Democracy. His fertile mind might easily have substituted “past” for “best” to distinguish them. And he was too fastidious a writer and speaker to put quotes around “leadership of the best,” while omitting them from “leadership of the past”— which seems to have been his own formulation.
Of course, Stoker might merely have misheard him! It is indeed interesting. Thanks for this good pick-up, and for pointing it out to us.
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