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Churchill’s principles, in his own words

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In the course of researching Churchill’s attitudes to race (including anti-Semitism) and eugenics several years ago, I spoke to Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer, who gave me a lot of help and encouragement. I told Sir Martin that I was afraid that at some point in the future Churchill would be discarded as a national hero (this was long before this year’s statue-toppling mania). At present there are still a generation of people alive who remember him and/or have read about him and understand his role as our national saviour, but the danger is that young people, not knowing much real history, will absorb the Leftist message. For that reason I’ve dug out some of my research and put together this brief account.

CHURCHILL, at the time he entered Parliament in 1901 after serving in the British Army in South Africa and elsewhere, among people of different races and types, was a staunch Imperialist. At that time, well over 100 years ago, the fact that the people of one small island ruled over a great portion of the globe was seen as owing to the moral superiority of the British character. Churchill’s views on ‘race’ therefore were formed in the heyday of Empire, when it was seen as a benign civilising force; they were not the result of a racist philosophy that sought to exterminate ‘inferior’ races.[1]

His Imperialism was firmly rooted in his patriotism: in the 1930s he sidelined his trenchant opposition to Indian independence to prioritise a greater threat, that of Nazi Germany;[2] later, the Empire would play a crucial role in winning the war.[3] However in 1906 Churchill responded to a demand that Britain recognise Imperial responsibility towards native races by saying that in view of ‘the perceptible hardening against the native which is characteristic of the Milner regime [in the Transvaal]’, it was important to ‘appreciate how the [South African] colonists feel towards that ever swelling sea of dark humanity upon which they with all they hate and all they love float somewhat uneasily . . . This black peril, as it is called in the current discussion of the day, is surely as grim a problem as any mind could be forced to face’. Nevertheless he promised: ‘We will endeavour as far as we can to advance the principle of equal rights of civilised men irrespective of colour’;[4] he later maintained that ‘the greatest danger to the British Empire and to the British people is not to be found among the enormous fleets and armies of the European Continent . . . It is not in the Yellow Peril, or the Black Peril, or any danger in the wide circuit of colonial and foreign affairs. It is here in our midst, close at home, close at hand, in the vast growing cities of England and Scotland, and in the dwindling and cramped villages of our denuded countryside. It is there you will find the seeds of Imperial ruin and national decay. The awful gap between rich and poor’.[5]

After the Second World War he described Mussolini’s Imperialist ambitions towards Abyssinia as belonging to ‘those dark ages when white men felt themselves entitled to conquer yellow, brown, black or red men, and subjugate them by their superior strength and weapons’, courses of action quite ‘unsuited to the ethics of the twentieth century’.[6]

Had Churchill, like the Left-wing Fabians, hankered after a utopian state, it is unlikely that he would have recognised the unique danger posed by the Nazi racial state, greater even than Stalin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy or Franco’s Spain. As Chesterton remarked when Hitler became Chancellor, Germany was dominated by what he called the ‘Prussian’ problem: the ‘wild worship of race’. In fact, he said, the ‘right name for Race’ was ‘anthropology gone mad’ because it meant ‘everlastingly looking for your own countrymen in other people’s countries’.[7]

Much earlier, the scramble of the European nations for empire in search of raw materials for their industries brought new fears about the fitness of the European to control vast portions of often hostile territory; interest grew in racial theories and the comparative ‘fitness’ of the races and, as the anti-Imperialist Chesterton noted, no one ever claimed to be descended from an inferior race. Always attuned to cultural as well as military threats, he noted that Carlyle ‘threw himself enthusiastically into a new racial theory that had come to England from Germany’, a theory of ‘race . . . not of nationality’.[8]

Scientific ancestor worship evidently appealed to those who unlike Churchill could not boast a distinguished pedigree, but Churchill, an ardent Imperialist, also showed an interest in racial theories.  Churchill historian Andrew Roberts remarks that his novel Savrola (1900) contained ‘some neo-Darwinist references to the survival of the fittest among the nations that reflected the standard eugenicist thinking of the day, to which Churchill subscribed, but that is where any similarity to Mein Kampf ends. It certainly did not sketch an autobiographical fantasy about Churchill’s rise to power’.[9]

Churchill’s only attempt at fiction concerns the struggle against the unpopular president of Laurania, seen from the perspective of his chief opponent, the eponymous hero. It is not an attempt at propaganda but an exploration of the conflicting interests of Imperialism; Churchill had served in Cuba and admitted to feeling the tension between the romantic rebel cause and the equally romantic Imperialist desire to hold on to a colony acquired by one’s forebears.[10]The remarks to which Roberts refers centre on the ultimate fate of humanity and are not particularly flattering to ‘the effete and trembling European’ who would ‘sweep from the earth by scientific machinery the valiant savages who assail him’, although they do illustrate theories of cultural degeneration popularised by Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that so influenced Churchill: ‘Ultimately the dominant race will degenerate, and as there will be none to take its place, the degeneration must continue. It is the old struggle between vitality and decay, between energy and indolence; a struggle that always ends in silence. After all, we could not expect human development to be constant. It is only a question of time before the planet becomes unfitted to support life on its surface . . . decay will involve all, victors and vanquished. The fire of life will die out, the spirit of vitality become extinct’; this would extend to other planets in a ‘universal survival of the fittest’. 

Ironically, however, it is the revolutionary Savrola, who exercises free will, who articulates these views in a dialogue that reads like Churchill’s attempt to reconcile modern science with his own observations and his stubborn belief in a higher power. When the President’s wife presumes from these remarks that he does not believe in God, Savrola retorts: ‘I never said that.’ In the context of eugenics it is interesting to note Savrola’s claim that ‘the virtues of civilisation are of a higher type than those of barbarism. Kindness is better than courage, and charity more than strength.’[11] Much later,Churchill repeated his moral version of the ‘struggle of the races’ in an essay in which he foresaw the victory of the race with the most up-to-date and deadly weaponry.[12]

Although Churchill experimented with different ideas and philosophies, and despite his own aristocratic antecedents, it is interesting that in the early twentieth century, he was fighting a political battle against the hereditary principle of the House of Lords, which gave the peers by virtue of their blood the right to obstruct legislation to benefit the poor.[13] He was just as capable of criticising the rich: when the future of the House of Lords was under discussion and Lord Curzon quoted Renan to the effect that all civilisation had been the work of aristocrats, Churchill tore this to shreds. Christianity, he pointed out, had originated among the poor. As for the arts, this grandson of a duke asked, ‘What great picture was ever painted by a duke?’[14]

Although Churchill praised ‘our race’, his meaning was not the same as Hitler’s; after the war, he blamed the Labour government, not the biological quality of the people, for national deterioration: ‘Nevertheless we must not lose faith in our race and in our destiny. We are still the same islands, as we were in the great days we can all remember. Our spirit is unconquerable, our ingenuity and craftsmanship unsurpassed. Our latent resources are unmeasured . . .  Never must we lose our faith and our courage, never must we fail in exertion and resolve.’[15]

In embracing a genuine wartime coalition rather than heading a thinly-disguised Conservative government – and during the 1930s he had been a critic of his own party on the matter of re-armament – Churchill paid the price in defeat at the ballot box, even after his amazing victory; that very victory gave the electorate the luxury of rejecting him. Also thanks to that victory, the current crop of ‘anti-racists’ have inherited the freedom to daub Churchill’s statues with offensive slogans accusing him of racism. This is highly ironic, considering that he defeated the Nazi racial state. The intrinsic evil of Nazism was that the strong should dominate the weak; in contrast, Churchill’s fight for his country was influenced by his determination to follow the historical precedent of challenging ‘whoever is the strongest or the potentially dominating tyrant’;[16] under his leadership, the little nations defeated the more powerful: the Strong Man was defeated by the weak.

References:

[1] Gilbert, M, Churchill and Eugenics, at August 5, 2009, p1. Manchester notes: ‘Like most men of his generation, he regarded blacks as an inferior race . . . He never outgrew this prejudice’ (Manchester, W, The Caged Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill 1932-1940 (Cardinal, 1989) p160); this could be explained by one of Winston’s earliest memories in the days when the British Empire was a celebrated concept:‘There were pictures in the papers of these Zulus. They were black and naked, with spears called “assegais” which they threw very cleverly. They killed a great many of our soldiers, but judging from the pictures, not nearly so many as our soldiers killed of them. I was very angry with the Zulus, and glad to hear they were being killed; and so was my friend, the old prison warder’(Churchill, W S, My Early Life: A Roving Commission (Charnwood, 1930/1992) p8); this early perception of threat from the black races might have contributed to his fears about ‘racial deterioration’ – that the supposedly superior white man might succumb to ‘inferior’ but savage and dangerous peoples.

[2] Manchester, W, The Caged Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill 1932-1940 (Cardinal, 1989) p149. During the Thirties, as Rhodes James remarks: ‘Churchill’s speeches on the India Question do not make agreeable reading. One constantly reiterated theme was that famine in Britain would be an immediate result of a grant of Dominion Status. Another was that a third of the working population would be unemployed. His allegations concerning the incompetence of Indians aroused indignation and not merely in India . . . Most depressing of all is the total absence of any constructive suggestions’ (James, R R (Ed), Churchill Speaks: Winston S Churchill in Peace and War: Collected Speeches, 1897-1963 (Windward, 1981) p455).

[3] After the war, Churchill remarked: ‘The Crown has become the mysterious link – indeed, I may say, the magic link – which unites our loosely bound but strongly interwoven Commonwealth of nations, States and races.’ (Churchill, W S, Broadcast on the death of King George VI, February 7, 1952, James, R R (Ed), Churchill Speaks: Winston S Churchill in Peace and War: Collected Speeches, 1897-1963 (Windward, 1981) p952).

[4] Churchill, House of Commons debate, February 28, 1906, in Churchill, R S, Winston S Churchill Vol. II: Young Statesman 1901-1914 (Heinemann 1967) pp163-165; in fact the debate was on a Radical MP’s censure motion against Lord Milner, High Commissioner of South Africa, for allowing the flogging of Chinese coolies imported as cheap labour to work in the gold mines; as Randolph Churchill remarks: ‘In long-term retrospect it seems strange that no one on either side, Boer or British, Liberal or Tory, foresaw any racial issue between black and white. The racial issue was limited to Boer and British.’ He adds that Churchill’s remarks about Lord Milner, who had been an opponent of the Liberal government, incurred the ‘deep hostility’ of Tories, which was ‘essential to an understanding of Churchill’s future career’ (Ibid, p. 165).

[5] W S Churchill, Speech, Palace Theatre, Leicester, September 4, 1909, James, R R (Ed), Churchill Speaks: Winston S. Churchill in Peace and War: Collected Speeches, 1897-1963 (Windward, 1981) p175; Rhodes James remarks: ‘This speech deeply shocked many of Churchill’s former friends and provoked a letter of protest to the Times from the King’s secretary. The central point of controversy was the threat to abolish the veto of the Lords – for which Churchill was also rebuked by the Prime Minister’ (Ibid, p172).

[6] Churchill, W S, The Second World War: The Gathering Storm (Cassell 1948) p129.

[7] Chesterton, G K, ‘The Heresy of Race’, G K’s Weekly, April 20, 1933, pp103-104.

[8] Chesterton, G K, ‘English Literature and the Latin Tradition’ in Chesterton on Shakespeare (Darwen Finlayson, 1971) p20.

[9] Roberts, A, Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003) p3.

[10] ‘I had not, no doubt owing to my restricted education, quite realised that these other nations [like Spain] had the same sort of feeling about their possessions as we in England had had always been brought up to have about ours. They felt about Cuba, it seemed, just as we felt about Ireland. This impressed me much. I thought it rather cheek that these foreigners should have just the same views and use the same sort of language about their country and their colonies as if they were British’ (Churchill, W S, My Early Life: A Roving Commission (Charnwood, 1930/1992) p109).

[11] Churchill, W S, Savrola (Cedric Chivers Ltd, 1900/1990) pp93-94.

[12] ‘There is no reason why a base, degenerate, immoral race should not make an enemy far above them in quality the prostrate subject of their caprice or tyranny, simply because they happened to be possessed at a given moment of some new death-dealing or terror-working process and were ruthless in its employment’ (Churchill, W S, Shall We all Commit Suicide? in Thoughts and Adventures (Leo Cooper, 1932/1990) p179).

[13] ‘The claim of the House of Lords is not that if the electors like the sons of distinguished men may have legislative functions entrusted to them; it is that, whether they like it or not, the sons and grandsons and the great-grandsons, and so on till the end of time, of distinguished men shall have legislative functions entrusted to them. That claim resolves itself into this, that we should maintain in our country a superior class, with law-giving functions inherent in their blood, transmissible by them to their remotest posterity, and that these functions should be exercised irrespective of the character, the intelligence, or the experience of the tenant for the time being – [laughter] – and utterly independent of the public need and the public will’ (Churchill’s reply to Lord Curzon’s defence of the hereditary principle, election campaign speech at Burnley, December 17, 1909,  James, R R (Ed), Churchill Speaks: Winston S Churchill in Peace and War: Collected Speeches, 1897-1963 (Windward, 1981) p 181).

[14] Ibid, p182.

[15] Churchill, W S, Speech, Grand Habitation of the Primrose League, Albert Hall, London, April 27, 1951, James, R R (Ed), Churchill Speaks: Winston S Churchill in Peace and War: Collected Speeches, 1897-1963 (Windward, 1981) pp937-938.

[16] Churchill, W S, The Second World War: The Gathering Storm (Cassell 1948) pp162-163.

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Ann Farmer
Ann Farmer
Ann Farmer is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Movement (Catholic University of America, 2008).

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