Finest Hour 156, Autumn 2012
The Role of the State
In a fine exposition of Churchill’s turn from youthful radicalism to mature conservatism (FH 155:13) Andrew Roberts is somewhat carried away by his enthusiasm for the change. In fact, the change was not so drastic. Did Churchill in his later phases call for the abolition of old age pensions and the National Health Service? If he did not, he was, especially on the latter, to the left of today’s Democratic Party.
Mr. Roberts cites the influence of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, a book often cited but apparently little read. It was a polemic against democratic socialism, which the author considered an oxymoron—but not against the Welfare State. Indeed Hayek actually sounds downright like a modern liberal (definitive ed., 87-88, 148-49):
Nor is the preservation of competition incompatible with an extensive system of social services….The functioning of a competition not only requires adequate organization of certain institutions like money, markets, and channels of information—some of which can never be adequately provided by private enterprise….Where it is impracticable to make the enjoyment of certain services dependent on the payment of a price, competition will not produce the services…[and] these tasks provide, indeed, a wide and unquestioned field for state activity….The case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.
Mr. Roberts also refers to Adam Smith, another iconic conservative figure much misunderstood. Smith repeatedly referred to rich people as greedy and irresponsible and to businessmen as untrustworthy and immoral. In short, when Mr. Roberts uses the term “free market” in connection with Hayek or Churchill, it does not have the same meaning as it does for Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman.
The key point is that what Roberts says about Churchill in the 950s—”he was more interested in foreign than domestic affairs”—actually is true of Churchill from 1911 on (except somewhat during the Exchequer years). The conclusion is not that Churchill underwent a conversion from hard left to hard right, but that he drifted to moderate. He understood, in short, that if unshackled capitalism is the thesis and socialism is the antithesis, then the Welfare State is the synthesis—gathering the virtues of both systems while avoiding the evils.
Manfred Weidhorn, Newyork
Mr. Roberts replies: I don’t think Churchill would for one minute have thought of the modern Welfare State as being midway between the socialist and capitalist states—as Manfred Weidhorn seems to believe—but as wildly closer to the former. In this he would be right.
That neither of two Conservative election manifestos for which Churchill was responsible after creation of the National Health Service in 1948 called for its abolition does not mean that Churchill was wedded to the Welfare State. What he was wedded to was winning elections.
The tectonic plates of British politics had shifted during Attlee’s premiership, and Churchill had to shift with them. They were not to shift back until the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. She never called for the abolition of the NHS either, but is Professor Weidhorn denying that she was a free market capitalist? (And of course Churchill never called for the abolition of the Old Age Pension, since he had been one of its principal architects.)
In an otherwise perceptive response to my article, Professor Weidhorn misses Churchill’s real swing to the right, which came a good six years before his victory in the 1951 election—but which had to be accommodated within a system in which politics can only ever be the art of the possible.
Myth of the “Black Dog”
It is disconcerting to read a reference to our book, The Churchills: A Family Portrait related to the assertion that Sir Winston Churchill suffered from “Bipolar Disorder.” (FH 155:29). I wish to point out that the reference to “Bipolar” was an error that slipped through the correction process. As the main author of the book, and having spent five years researching the Churchill familly papers, I would like it to be known that I do not think that Winston Churchill suffered from Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder.
It is not a myth that Churchill’s term for his depressive episodes was “Black Dog.” Churchill’s high levels of productivity, creativity and effectiveness do belie a clinical diagnosis of profound major depression or severe manic-depression, but lesser diagnoses run a spectrum from “the blues” to cyclothymia.
The Dukes of Marborough suffered from intense melancholia and Churchill’s father had severe mood swings, suggesting a hereditary and biochemical predisposition. Ismay, Bracken, Beaverbrook and Randolph Churchill noted WSC’s serious mood swings. Beaverbrook said: “What a creature of strange moods Winston Churchill is—always at the top of the wheel of confidence or at the bottom of an intense depression.”
Lord Brain, his neurologist, thought Churchill to have cyclothymia, a mood disorder. Churchill’s mood swings were significant but do not seem to reach the threshold of clinical bipolar disorder. Research on mental impairments has demonstrated strong associations with the artistic temperament. The riddle of Churchill’s successful coping with his mood swings and depression may include his devotion to writing and passion for painting, besides his preoccupations with challenging work.
References readers may wish to consult include Ismay’s letter to Gen. Auchinleck, 3 April 1942, in Connell, Auchinleck (London: Cassell, 1959); Brendan Bracken in Moran, Churchill: Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966 pbk., 793-96); Randolph Churchill in Ronald R. Fieve, Moodswing (New York: Bantam, 1976 pbk., 123-24; Beaverbrook, Politicians and War 1914-1916 (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1928), 124; Russell Brain, “Encounters with Winston Churchill” in Medical History, 2000, 44:10; and Kay Redfield Jamison, Touched with Fire (New York: Free Press, 1993).
John. H. Mather, M.D., Washington
NBC’s Olympic Blitz
In its lead up to the Olympics on Saturday, 11 August, NBC ran a special, “Their Finest Hour,” narrated by Tom Brokaw, reprising the undoubted heroism of Britons during the Blitz. But a commentator, Jon Meacham, called Churchill a “failed politician…not trusted by the Royal Family.” He also trotted out a supposed quote by Roosevelt: “Well, I suppose he’s the best man England has, even if he is drunk half of the time.” Is there a modicum of truth in this, or is it just the standard bashing of a great figure by a news network? I was incensed.
Jeremy Slaubaugh, Latham, N.Y.
Editor’s response: I thought Brokaw’s production was superb, and I am usually the worst critic of these productions. All they had wrong was where Churchill heard about Pearl Harbor and removing “and its Commonwealth” from the Finest Hour speech.
Jon Meacham (whose book, Franklin and Winston, is a standard work) is not all wrong. Churchill was, in 1939, a “failed politician” by most yardsticks (see Robert Rhodes James’s Churchill: A Study in Failure 1900-1939). The Royal Family didn’t trust him. Roosevelt did say he was “drunk half the time.” Churchill’s private secretary, John Colville, who came over from Chamberlain, wrote on 10 May 1940: “I spent the day in a bright blue new suit from the Fifty-Shilling Tailors, cheap and sensational looking, which I felt was appropriate to the new Government.”
In short order they all learned differently. Meacham himself says at the end, “If it hadn’t been for Churchill we would be living in a different and worse world.”
Who Authorized Dieppe?
It was interesting to read Terry Reardon’s fine summary of Winston Churchill and the raid on Dieppe (FH 154:32-36). However, it may be misleading to say “Montgomery approached the Canadian Army Chief, General McNaughton, for a division to form the main part of the force.” It would seem the initial approach was the other way round. Gen. H.D. Crerar, Commander of Canadian 2 Corps in Britain, had already contacted Montgomery, writing on 5 February 1942:
…I believe that occasions will increasingly present themselves for small raids across the Channel opposite the Army front. I consider that it would be in the general interest if a very high proportion of these prospective raids, if not the total, should be undertaken by detachments from the Canadian Corps….In default of a reputation built up in battle, the Corps undoubtedly would receive great stimulus if, in the near future, it succeeded in making a name for itself for its raiding activities.
Sidney Allinson, Victoria, B.C
Mr. Reardon replies: Everyone knew Canadians stationed in Britain were chafing to come to grips with the enemy. General Crerar, the Canadian Corps Commander, was prominent among them, but he did not have the authority to offer Canadian troops without approval. The specific approval process for the Dieppe operation was that Montgomery approached Crerar, who was enthusiastic. Montgomery then approached General Andy McNaughton, Commander of the Canadian troops. McNaughton was also supportive, but he had authority to approve only minor operations. Since this was not a minor operation, he cabled the Canadian War Committee in Ottawa, which provided approval.
The Ingredients of Character
I have enjoyed Churchill on multiple levels, as a historical figure, as a fine writer, and as an orator whose grasp of the English language was equaled in his day by fellow writer C.S. Lewis. Both knew the power of the written word and spoken word. Churchill had honed his skills with the language to a level few ever attain.
As a boy scout leader, I believe what really paved the way for Churchill to achieve greatness was a single word: character. He had what Hitler lacked, and what Stalin never desired. That character was based on courage, daring, resolve and composure. On the field of battle, his courage was staggering, and his daring to try the untried was enviable. His unabated resolve through difficulties was admired by friend and foe; his composure denoted a person who was levelheaded and difficult to unnerve.
Maj. Jesse. I. Carnes, Via Email
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