Saturday, February 01, 2003
In Churchill's Shadow - 1st February 2003, 22.37

With the current debates engendered by the Caldwell article, Atlantic Monthly recently published an interview with David Cannadine, focussing on his new book concerning perceptions of Churchill as the personification of national greatness. This was confirmed recently by the BBC poll on Great Britons.

Well, Churchill, of course, is very complicated. There's a marvelous cartoon called "The Two Churchills" drawn by David Low when Churchill was defeated at the general election of 1945. It has Churchill the leader of humanity sitting on top of a podium, enjoying the plaudits and the acclaim of the free world, whose liberty he has arguably done more than anybody else to preserve. And there is Churchill the disgruntled party leader, way way down below the podium, who has behaved so badly at the general election of 1945. And Churchill the leader of humanity looks down serenely on the disgruntled Churchill, the leader of the opposition, and says, "Cheer up, they'll soon forget you, but they'll always remember me." It's a rather wonderful cartoon, because it's both insightful and moving. Churchill was in every way a larger than life figure—that, I think, is incontrovertible. His faults were on a large scale, and his virtues were on a large scale.

The interview also shows that, the debates on Britain as a great power, remain dominated by the long twilight following the retreat from Empire. However, historians remain wedded to historiography rather than current debate. It is an optimistic signal that the 'school of declinism', in its political and economic wings, has not been revisited in political debate since the early 1980s, and seems to have been banished by Thatcher. These days people blame Britain's problems on incompetence and crap politicians, not a hidebound traditional society, a decaying Establishment and post-imperial decline.


Post a Comment

Blog Archive