Sunday, July 9, 2023

Feet of clay

Andrew Roberts, a Churchill biographer, reviews a recent collection of essays about Winston Churchill. Although, he writes, it "assembles [an] impressive expression of current academic thinking on Churchill," there is "no sense of actually celebrating [his] life and achievements."
“Viewed by some as the saviour of his nation, and by others as a racist imperialist,” states Cambridge University Press of one of its latest in the Cambridge Companions to History series, “who was Winston Churchill really, and how has he become such a controversial figure?”

A more honest wording might be: “Viewed by over 90% of Britons and Americans as the saviour of his nation and Civilisation, and by a small but growing band of ignorant idealogues as a racist imperialist, who was Winston Churchill really, and how did we manage to let a band of left-wing academics and Twitterati turn him into such a controversial figure?” ....

The Cambridge Companion will therefore give you plenty of insights into “how [Churchill] has become such a controversial figure,” but few into what made him the genius, hero and giant that he was and remains. Academics revel in pointing out their subjects’ feet of clay, but all too often pay too little attention to the marble in the rest of the statue. This is a relatively new phenomenon.

It is unclear quite when it became de rigueur for academics to avoid praising Winston Churchill. Amongst past academics who wrote in high praise of him are such genuine intellectual luminaries as Isaiah Berlin, Leo Strauss, A.L. Rowse, Hugh Trevor Roper, Martin Gilbert, Henry Pelling, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Asa Briggs, Alan Bullock, Paul Addison, A.J.P. Taylor and Roy Jenkins. These people—any one of whom was the equal or superior to anyone writing in this volume—did not feel that being mealy-mouthed about Churchill’s self-evident greatness was politically or professionally necessary, in the way all too many academics seem to nowadays. .... (more, in which Roberts comments on each of the the essays)
Andrew Roberts, "The Cambridge Companion to Winston Churchill: a Review," The Churchill Project, July 6, 2023.

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