American Principles and Public Policy
Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, speaks at the Hillsdale National Leadership Seminar about the relationship between American principles and public policy.
Sorry Tim, I wasn’t ready. [Laughter]
I’m very lucky in the people with whom I get to work; in Tim Kaspar and Matt Bell, who both introduced me today, we have the long and the short of the matter. Thank you all for coming. Do you like Andrew Roberts? [Applause] He’s a—is he still here? Yeah, he’s over there. Are you signing books out there? Yeah, go buy a book.
I was in terror—I’ve known him for a very long time—and I was in terror last night that he would debunk one of the best Churchill jokes. And he and Richard Langworth were complicit in trying to debunk the Churchill joke in the men’s room at the House of Commons. Clement Attlee was there, and Winston Churchill went down to the other end of this facility. Clement Attlee said, “Are you feeling standoffish, Winston?”
Attlee was the first majority socialist prime minister in history and actually a friend of Winston Churchill’s, although they fought like cats and dogs about domestic policy. And Churchill replied, “Clement, every time you see something big you try to nationalize it.” [Laughter]
Now, there was a grievous time that arose where this was denied that this was the truth. First of all, obviously, it ought to be the truth. But using my powers [as] the President of Hillsdale College and my relationship with Richard Langworth, I said, “We’ve got to look this up better.” And you know, sure enough we found a source to confirm it. And so there’s no more of that. All these really great stories about Winston Churchill—whether they’re true or not—we’re accepting them all.
Principle and Policy
Okay. I’m going to talk about principle and policy a little bit this morning and try to distinguish them. They’re related and they’re different. The reason, I think, this is good to do is probably the reason Doug Jeffery thought of this conference, and that is: everything is in flux right now. It may be a realignment. Do you sense that? And you know it might go badly or well depending, you know. But in realignment those are very rare.
The abiding majority party in the United States changed in 1800 after the Revolution when Jefferson destroyed the Federalist Party. And it changed in the 1860s when the Republican Party was born and became the majority party until the New Deal. It has been that more or less ever since.
And that invented a different form of government. The government is much larger than it used to be, but it also operates very differently. It doesn’t make its laws in the same way as it used to. It doesn’t enforce the laws the same way it used to. Maybe that’s changing. I actually think it’s like a “house divided,” as Lincoln said, that it’s got to be one thing or the other. Right now it’s some of both, and it’s going to be resolved somehow, and for good or ill. We’ll see. But as this starts to happen, we get confused because it’s hard to tell at any moment what’s going on.
Sometimes there are huge changes of policy that don’t amount to a change in principle. I’ll give you an example. In the Civil War, parts of the Union made war on other parts, and the result of it was that the federal government got the power to forbid slavery in the states. It lacked that power before.
Now, is that a change in principle? Lincoln’s claim was no, it wasn’t—because why? Because the Founders themselves were hostile to slavery, and they didn’t have the means to stop it. So they stopped it as far as they could, and it took a war finally to stop it. Lincoln regretted that, but the war resolved a contradiction that was only practical in its nature because at the Founding there was an agreement that it had to go. I think it was abolished in more than 60% of the Union pretty soon, but between that Founding and the Civil War, a new idea had grown up. (I’m going to tell you about another one in contemporary times.)
The new idea was that slavery was labeled a good thing because “these people are inferior.” We now know that human societies and human beings evolved. So that means, by the way, not all men are created equal. That means, depending on how you’ve grown and how you’ve evolved and where you’ve got to. And John Calhoun wrote that these black people are inferior, and it would be an abomination to live with them as equal citizens.
As I say, that idea was not present in the American Revolution. But, you know, they all said this is a troubling thing. Even from South Carolina, Charles Pinckney—there were a lot of Pinckneys, and one of them was not as good as his brother Charles—but he was in the Constitutional Convention, and he did, and others did, operate to keep, at the Declaration of Independence, [the] mention of slavery out of it, but not because they ever claimed that it was a good thing. It was that it was too much to try to deal with in the middle of a revolution. So there was a change in principle under way, and that’s what led to the Civil War, as it were itself restored, according to Lincoln, the situation that had prevailed.
Now, I’ll just distinguish principle, principle and policy, quickly. Principle: It comes from a Latin word, and it means, “first.” The first thing it means is “first.” It’s like primary. The Greek equivalent is arché—we get an architect from that—and it means the first thing. What is the first thing? Imprimis means “in the first place.” It’s cognate with principia. And so, the first thing just means “beginning,” you know, “the first step you take.” But it comes to mean a lot more than that, and it has to mean a lot more than that, because, if a thing is a thing—excuse me, this is a little philosophy here, but it’s not much [Laughter]—if a thing is a thing, then its moment of its founding is when it becomes that thing, so the first thing—principle also means, the way we most commonly think of the word, which is “the ruling idea,” the essence, the definition of a thing, the controlling thing about it. Arché is like that in Greek—that’s, you know, in “the beginning was the word,” the word for beginning is arché. But it means something more than just “where it started,” it means “when it became what it was.”
Years ago, I haven’t done it for some years, but I’d like to briefly today, I looked up the mission statements of the Ivy League colleges (if I could find them), and I went to their websites. This is not an exactly an academic paper that I was writing—I was looking it up so I could say bad stuff about them [Laughter] if they had, if they had abandoned their missions—and, you know, I found only one that featured on its website prominently its founding. And that’s the University of Pennsylvania, which was founded by Ben Franklin, its first president. And it makes quite a lot of that—how great he was and all that—and then it says that we carry on today as he did, in an atmosphere of global and multicultural studies. [Laughter] And so I went—you know, there’s a really great paper that Ben Franklin wrote about the Founding in aid of, as a principle of the founding of the University of Pennsylvania, and it goes on and on about studying all over the world, the ancient world included, in order to find the best, and then he goes on to say what the best is, which is free, faithful, limited government, right? That means he excludes very much of human experience, but he wants to know all of human experience, not multiculturalism, but discovering what culture really is—now, the point is, the University of Pennsylvania—I haven’t looked lately, but at least when I did that a few years ago—they were making a lot of that principle, but the question is, “Are they the same thing anymore?” Because, you see, if you change the principle, you make a new and different beginning; it’s not the same thing anymore.
If John C. Calhoun had got his way, it would have been a different country, because it wouldn’t be the principle anymore “all men are created equal,” it would be the principle “those who evolved the same condition are equal, and, since evolution is an ongoing process, then the security for the rights of man is a matter of daily observance to see how far you’ve got, and if you fall behind, then laws would be justified to keep you in that spot forever.” Change that principle; you change the place. And that’s what Abraham Lincoln said. And, you know, one of the reasons it worked, one of the reasons he won—because it was very implausible that he would; you learn if you read the Lincoln-Douglas debates that people, North and South, were very divided about slavery. Most people didn’t like it, especially in the North, but maybe even in the South too. But, you know, people had this other thing going on, which was that they didn’t really like to have a lot of black people around. The rule in Illinois at the time was that they may not come in, there’s no slavery here, and also there are no black people here. And Douglass taunts Lincoln with that.
And remember, this is happening in 1860 and the American Revolution happened between 1763 and 1800, say, so this is two generations later—two generations in politics is a long time—it means, it’s just like in the college business. To get rid of a bad thing, it takes five years, because they’ve all got to graduate. [Laughter] It’s actually true. You know, we have managed to reform a couple of fraternities, and it took five years, and, you know, and they weren’t terrible, but they just had the wrong idea about their fraternity, and then, you know, then they handed on down to the next, and the next, and the next, and we finally decided we needed a disruption here, to use the word Mr. Schweikart just used, and we got it. And, you know, they’re all being good right now. I’ll check when I get back. [Laughter]
And what Douglas does, in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, is he’s trying to prove that if you get what Lincoln recommends, you’re going to get intermarriage between blacks and whites, and nobody wants that, and of course nobody ever in a free country, in a in a peaceful country as we are—I mean, we’re very warlike for a peaceful country, but we don’t prefer the war—in a free country like that, nobody wants to go fight a big war, and so Douglas, you know, it’s remarkable what he says, he says that “Lincoln, you know, I’ll have you know,” he said, “that this very week, in this very town, Lincoln’s friend Fred Douglass”—you know, the famous black man who spoke at Hillsdale College and all that; we’re very proud about that—“has ridden through this town in a carriage driven by a white man. If you want that kind of thing, vote for Lincoln.” And Lincoln has to answer that, you know, and come to find out, he was a genius; he could. And he answered it so effectively that Douglas—his health was broken at the end, you know—he decayed, because Lincoln said, “You may be right that the black woman is your inferior. Does that mean you get to own her? Why don’t you let her alone? Why don’t you give her the same rights you claim for yourself?” And see the magic of that, right? That produced the energy that won the worst war in our history. And it was very hard, right? Lincoln said of slavery, “Forget these fancy theories,” he said, “It’s really just a product of the old serpent, and ‘man, you work; I’ll eat.’” A question of principle was at stake. After we marshaled the whole society and passed the amendments that abolished slavery and guaranteed voting rights, we went back to limited government. You see a change of principle was threatened and repelled and then the policies that had gone with the old principles were restored.
Now, “policy”—that comes from the word; it’s the same as the word “police,” and the word “police” is cognate with the Greek word polis, “the city.” Policy is what the city does, and that can mean a lot of things, large and small. It’s a broader term than the term “principle,” which means “first thing, an essential thing,” right? And so your policies can be defining of something indicative about you or not. And big things can not make a lot of difference. Like, you know, the British—my wife and Andrew—they cannot figure out which side of the road to drive on. [Laughter] It’s a terrible disability, and, you know, one time (I drive over there), but one time after we were married, but still living over there, I came home for a couple of weeks, and I got back in town at night, and my wife—I inherited from her the worst car in the world, an Austin Mini back when they were still made in Britain, and it let us down on every important occasion, including going away for our honeymoon—but, you know, I got home, and we needed something, and I got in the car to go, and I reminded myself, and I pulled out and down the street comes a pair of headlights looking right at me, and of course I panicked and managed to pull off the road, and then the guy goes by, and who was it? It was some confused American [Laughter]; he was on the wrong side of the road. And see that, you know, that doesn’t make a difference.
You know, the House of Commons, back when it was really great—I don’t know, Andrew, is it going to be restored? It’s really different from the Congress of the United States, but in another way the same thing. We elect them, they argue, we get to hear the argument, and then they vote and do something. Just like here, the House of Commons is not sovereign in the way it used to be, because most of the laws in Britain too are made outside the Parliament. But when they were made there, that’s the same idea, common in principle although it looks different in policy.
So if you can get those things distinguished in your mind—remember I mentioned something, and that is the American government looks physically, visibly, different than it used to look, and, if you go to Washington, D.C.—I noticed this years ago, and it’s one of my favorite observations, and I think it’s true (it’s roughly true)—that if something is operating in ugly building in Washington, D.C., it is unconstitutional. [Laughter] And, if you look, here’s where I saw this for the first time: I was on the National Mall, and I had my back to the Lincoln monument, and I was closer to the Capitol, and the Capitol is the grandest public building in America, and the one public building in America that rivals the greatest public buildings in Europe, just because of it’s scale—the White House is very beautiful, but it’s not very big—so I was looking at that grand thing, and I turned, and I was going to walk toward Lincoln, which is one of my favorite things to do, and there in my line of sight was the United States Department of Education. And that’s got to be, you know, just pug ugly, that thing. Indeed, they’re doing an Eisenhower memorial with the purpose to cover it up. Alas, the Eisenhower Memorial is also ugly. So I looked at that, and I looked at that, and I looked at that, and I said, “Wow, that building is constructed so that a lot of functionaries or bureaucrats can work in it. And it looks like one of those things, one of those desks with roll-top, and the little cubby holes, a bureau. It is built for a bureaucracy.” And then look back at the Capitol, and look again, and look again, and I said, “You know, there actually is no place in the Capitol, a huge building, for people who do that kind of work to be.” It was not imagined.
And, you know, Washington, D.C., is a very deliberately planned place. You know, it’s not like London is, one of the great monumental cities in the world, and, you know, there’s a roughly mile on a side square where some of the greatest things that have happened in history are commemorated, and they were built at the time when those things happen, and they happened over a long period time. It’s amazing that it came out so grand as it is, especially in that part of London. But, you know, if you go down, if you start at Parliament Square, and you walk down Whitehall, and 10 Downing street is on the left, they don’t let you go down there anymore, and, you know, you go past the Horse Guards, and you get to Trafalgar Square, and what’s that about? Well, it’s obvious what that’s about because you see those big lions around that statue and they are made of melted-down French cannon. You know, Andrew joked about the French last night and the word “surrender;” that’s British stuff right there [Laughter]; they really like that, you know. And Nelson’s way, up at the top (you can’t see him very well), but he’s looking at France in case they decided to come back, you see, it’s like that. Washington was like the American government. It’s different. It was planned, and then something new came, and now it encroaches. The new encroaches on the mall everywhere you see, and I’m old enough to have been going there when that stuff wasn’t there, and I really regret the change, because the simplicity of it and the grandeur of it and the harmony of it was what they were after. With L’Enfant and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington planning the city, they did use a French architect. [Laughter]
Now, I just want to mention one more thing, and then we’ll Q&A, if you want to. In this flux that’s going on, a big issue is Donald Trump has been critical of NATO, and NATO is itself the product of a revolution, and a happy revolution, and so, of course, especially on the right, people accuse him of a betrayal of something fundamental to American foreign policy. And I don’t know whether he’s guilty of that or not for sure, because he reveals himself as he goes [Laughter], and, you know, I like him, you know, I confess it, but, you know also I watch, and so I think I can tell you how to think about that, because, you know, first of all you’ve got to understand the drama of the revolution that produced all of that. I mean NATO and the Marshall Plan and all that, and that came after the American intervention in two world wars. Those were things, we did both of those things without an overall plan for how we were going to conduct ourselves in the future. It’s just that here was an emergency, we were being attacked, let’s go over there and cream those guys, which is what we did, and, you know, with our help from the British, for example, so, after the Second World War, some very dramatic things happened, and happened fast.
Harry Truman, you know, who was nobody, he met Churchill for a few days at Potsdam, and then Churchill went home to count the votes and got hammered and so only Clement Attlee came back. He’d been there from the beginning, and that means they didn’t talk for a while, and Andrew mentioned this last night after that devastating loss, and remember, Churchill is awesome right? And he’s won that war, and he’s beloved everywhere he goes, and then he gets hammered, and he goes with his daughter, and he paints a bunch of paintings at Lake Como, and he nurses his wounds. It’s the only time I ever know of it, and Andrew said last night it lasted about two weeks; he was really down, you know, but he said, he wrote to his wife, “I don’t want to read the papers, and I don’t want to see any strangers”—we’re doing all this right now; the last volume of the Churchill document volumes is just about done; we’re going to have a big party in June in London, and Andrew is going to be speaking, all come; we’re doing these things, and they’re exciting to read, right?—because after he’s gone to Lake Como and licked his wounds, and by now it’s the end of July, and he gets back, and then the last week of October, he gets a letter. And, remember, he’s just in opposition; he’s the leader of the opposition, but he’s just an opposition member of Parliament. It’s just that he’s become the greatest man in the world, and after he became that, I don’t know if Andrew agrees with this, but I noticed that everybody, friends and enemy, they remain friend or enemy as they had been, but now they were the friend or enemy of the greatest man in the world, and that’s how they all acted, right? And it’s funny to watch, you know, because before they would dismiss him, you know, “bad judgment; too changeable; can’t trust him,” right? Now, “Oh, year, Winston Churchill!”
So he gets this letter, and the letter is from the president of Westminster College, and, you know, and I will tell you (it’s an honest truth), I cannot remember the name of the president who wrote to him, and the reason is it isn’t important. [Laughter] If I ever got to do something like that, you wouldn’t remember my name either, because the postscript is what’s important. Harry Truman wrote P.S. something like, “This is a college in my home district. Please come. I will introduce you.” That’s interesting. And he doesn’t know Truman very well. Well, he goes, and sees it’s a piece of genius, political cleverness, because, if Churchill had been the Prime Minister of Great Britain at that moment, this invitation probably wouldn’t work, because that would commit Britain and America to something, whereas Churchill is able to stand at the front of the room, and, you know, it’s the “Sinews of Peace” speech, he calls it. It’s one of his greatest speeches, and it, by the way, is a complete account of the foreign policy that won the Cold War. It’s amazingly prophetic, right? And brilliant. But he says at the beginning, he says, “You know, I’ve realized all my ambitions. There’s nothing more to which I could aspire now. I’m just, you know, a private fellow.” There is nothing here, but what you see, right? Except I got a photograph; I went and researched and found a photograph of him beginning that speech, and what you see was Winston Churchill right here and here is Harry Truman, right there, having just introduced him, and then he makes the declarations that open the Cold War. Now, Truman denied having read the speech and didn’t state any opinion about it. Churchill, the day before, he said, cabled to the cabinet, Clement Attlee’s cabinet back in London that they’d gone over the speech, and Truman thought it strong and approved it, but Truman didn’t have to say that.
And, you know, the world just got into an uproar. All the reliables, right? I can tell you the judgment of the New York Times was just about back then as good as it is now [Laughter], and, you know, there is amazing consistency in those people. And Stalin himself erupts, and then gives interviews erupting, and so what follows—first of all, what preceded a few days, was that the Turkish ambassador in Washington had died, and so Truman sent his body back in a naval flotilla of great strength—and then soon you get the Marshall Plan, and you get NATO, and you get the European Union, and that is a change in American foreign policy of fundamental importance. And there’s no legacy of that previous in America; there’s just hints of it here and there, like Teddy Roosevelt’s White Fleet going around the world, and him arbitrating disputes; there’s some things like that. But, you know, the real principle is the Monroe Doctrine and entangling alliances. And so we departed from that. And we and Truman in America—not so much Churchill; they had their empire for a long time—he’s accused of a betrayal of principle, of a change in principle, and yet, sure enough, that thing has been the policy. You know, we’re used to, not just thinking ourselves the greatest country in the world—we thought that when we wrote the Declaration of Independence, and there were hardly any of us, right?—we’ve always been a little full of ourselves. Like Andrew says, that’s the genius of the British people, and I reply, “Not alone.” See? And so now something new—we’re used to being involved all over the place, and so are we going to discard that now?
Well, here’s what I think about that. I think, I know, what the criteria are to think about it. First of all, if you read— This Fulton Speech is March 5th, 1946; you can find it on the internet easily. You should read it through; it’s quite a production. Also, it’ll make you sad a little bit, because who talks like that today? Who can write like that? You know, it’s a different sort of thing than which one encounters, and, you know, I think the same thing when I read Abraham Lincoln, but then the scale of what Churchill wrote, it’s just awesome, you know? Lincoln was in politics for nine years; he gave maybe 20, maybe 15 major speeches. Churchill just fills up books, you know, with all that stuff and writes his own books too. I can’t account for it. I don’t think it can be accounted for. So you read that speech, and here’s what you find. First of all, it’s a movement, the speech, there’s a coherence to it. It starts out with a bunch of sweeping generalities.
First, the first one is “America, you’re the man. And you’ve got responsibility, primacy and power comes with responsibility, and, he says, then we have to have to get rid of the two marauders and their war and tyranny. And our aim should be to protect every home, the health and the comfort and safety, the health and welfare of every home in every land around the world.” That’s a big deal, isn’t it? You know, and nobody’s ever quite said that much in American politics that I know, but then when you read the speech, you find out that— and then how you stop war, the United Nations, which should have courts and constables and arms. He says that. Everybody thinks that’s a good idea today? So then he begins to qualify, and, mark you, what’s he trying to do? In 1952, when Churchill has resumed the Premiership, he gets a report that, since the American and British military buildup is recommenced after the Second World War, over the last three year period, the Soviets had built twice as many airplanes as Britain and the United States combined, and they have an overwhelming majority and tanks and numbers of soldiers and readiness to fight beyond anything. If they want to go to the Atlantic Ocean, they can go, and what stops them? So first of all, remember Churchill is trying to build a coalition worldwide to stop those guys and also what they represent, and so he thinks grandly, and, of course, he’s gotten used to big numbers.
You know, his commitment to the empire is not just romantic. My favorite letter to demonstrate this is from 1942, late in the year, when the Allies have begun to win in North Africa and the prime minister of New Zealand, Peter Fraser, writes a letter to Winston Churchill and says, “Things are better there now. You’ve got one of our few divisions and the best of them, and we need them back home.” And Churchill writes him a letter. Now first of all, something north of 40% of the total British war effort is supplied by nations from the Empire. Franklin Roosevelt could never get this fact through his skull, right? It’s a real practical thing in a massive war, and numbers count. Where are you going to get the force to stop that craziness over there, right? And so Churchill writes him back, and he says, “You know, Prime Minister, I still think that the most important stuff is over here, and I urge you to let them stay.” And so then a week passes, and he writes again (Frazer) and he says, “We’ve talked about it in the cabinet, and we’ve debated it in our House of Commons, and we agree they can stay.” You see what that means? That means all he really had to do was send a cable to the general, “come home,” and the general would have got himself home.
Now Churchill’s looking for that; he’s looking for millions of free people, hundreds of millions, to raise a force to stop this possibility of global despotism as wicked as the Hitler global despotism. And so he thinks about the UN, but then soon enough he starts qualifying that, because the next thing he says is— And this is the first time where he introduces into this speech the differences between kinds of nation; the beginning of the speech is all of the nations. And he says it would be criminal madness to give the secret of the nuclear weapon to the world in the condition that’s in, so the UN gets some weapons, but not the big weapon, and not the one that decides everything for the time being. Nobody would sleep any less restfully, whatever he says, because it’s the United States and Great Britain and Canada that have this secret, and it would be different if those other guys had it. So, first of all, the call is qualified by the claims of friendship. And then he goes on to explain what he means by that.
He talks about the Soviet Union. He never threatens any aggression against them. He qualifies the thing about the health and safety, the comfort and welfare, with this phrase, “It is not our duty to interfere in the affairs of nations that we have not conquered in war,” which is, of course, most of the world. He says, “How are we going to get their welfare?” He quotes an American and one of his mentors, who was, let’s say, a particular friend of Churchill’s mother— That was delicate. [Laughter] I don’t know what Andrew thinks about that, but I think they were particular friends. And he was a great man; he would fill Madison Square Garden, this man, Bourke Cockran. And so he hadn’t seen Bourke Cockran for 45 years, but, he says in this speech, “I remember an American friend, Bourke Cockran, and he said, ‘The earth is a generous mother if the people will but cultivate her soil in justice and in peace. There is enough for all.’” Free market, property rights, not communism, see?
And then he says the crux of what he’s traveled here to say. And I have almost no disagreements in life with Andrew Robertson. Where I disagree, I’m wrong, but he actually says in his book that this is not the crux, and I think it is. There you go, ha take that! You know, do you need a microphone? [Laughter] What is the crux? A special relationship with Britain and America. Why? First, because they can talk, and that’s the way free people—there’s only two ways for human beings to get along, and one is talking, and the other is force—and we can talk, and then he says, what do we say? “We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones…” And then he quotes, because see, where Andrew and I were laughing about this last night; it takes a genius, right? but Winston Churchill actually turns, over 40 years, consistently, the American Declaration of Independence into a pact of friendship between Britain and the United States. [Laughter]
You know, I remember the first time I had dinner with my wife’s parents before we were married, and she said something about America and about its beginnings and how it was British. I said we had the divorce, independence, which declared our independence from the British tyrant. [Laughter] Wasn’t I diplomatic? [Laughter] When I asked my father-in-law if I could marry his daughter, first, he tortured me; he made me wait for like 45 minutes while he watched TV. [Laughter] Arthur Negus Antiques Roadshow. We had a plot; they had tea at the same time every day (they’re British and you could just set the clock by them having tea), and so we were going to arrive on a Sunday, and we were going to arrive for tea, and then when Jocelyn, Penny’s mother, rolled the trolley away, I would stay behind and ask Dennis if I could marry Penny. And so off goes the trolley. And I said Denis, and he said Arthur Negus, and then he gets up and turns on the TV. I’m watching this guy who’s got these boots that are made out of coal, polished up, and they’re speculating how much these boots are worth—they’re actually lumps of coal, and I thought, “why am I doing this?”—and then he turned it off, and he said, “Have I shown you my collection of glass?” Yeah, and I’ve got to go look at it again, right? And then we sit down I said “Dennis,” and the big eyebrows come up, and I said, “I’ve asked Penny to marry me, and she’s done me the honor saying yes, if you approve.” And he held out his hand—see this; you’ll like this—he said, “Jocelyn and I have always said that we wish all Americans could be like you.” Yeah, he insulted my country! [Laughter] Special relationship. Anyway, that’s all very important things to me in my life, of course, and he was a very—you know, my father-in-law was a camp commander of a Japanese POW camp for four years, and that’s, you know, not easy duty. Three-and-a-half years.
So Churchill thinks that the energy that comes from the principles of freedom can unite the world, and the people who can lead that are the people in whose language the principles were best articulated, and that’s not parochialism; that’s a recognition of the force and meaning of human speech. And Churchill rang all the changes on that for his whole life.
Now let’s go back. Conditions change, and so policies change. How do you think about NATO today? Well, whatever you think about it— and you know I myself favor its continuation, but I also think that it’s there to do a job, and to do that job reliably under pressure as the kind that comes in war it needs to be an alliance among a bunch of people who have reached a fundamental agreement about all the purposes of life. I think that’s what Winston Churchill thought was strong, and I think, you know, with the shifts in the world and the stuff that’s going on, but then finally, my last point is a change of principle that is threatened. And that’s what has to be resisted, in my opinion, because what is the change?
First of all there’s been this revolution in government all across the West and in China, by the way, which proceeds according to not unrelated principles to what dominate in many Western countries, and that is that because we now know—and you’ll see that this is sort of akin to the principles of the Old South—now, that we know that everything is evolution, everything has changed, so not nature, not the laws of nature and nature’s God, change, change and hope, I guess you’d say. We ourselves, our own being, is altering all the time, and what makes this remarkable now is that we know that—you know Hegel’s great aside, “the owl of Minerva flies at dusk”—we’ve always been victims of the process of history, but at the end of history, we can see the process, and then we can take control, and the way we take control is that we bring the tools of modern science to bear on the governing of human beings, and we rationalize and make scientific the society. Once Churchill saw this coming. The first time I know of him talking of it is in 1898, but consistently through his life after that, and that means that this thing, and, see, once you adopt that principle that the rightful rule belongs to the one who can make a scientific plan for the society, can you see how there’s an automatic tendency to centralization, because “make a plan for everybody.” That’s one reason why in education today, we forget, it’s actually invisible to us that the learning is in the student, and that each one has to have the experience, and their contribution to it will be decisive, and that means education is not something we are doing to them; we do that with them, but mostly they do it. Once you understand that, by the way, you just watch them blossom; just tell them it’s their problem, I’ll help, and they—”okay, I’ve got something to do.” You’re not anymore saying “you have to do what I say,” you’re saying, “Do you want to know this thing, this beautiful and precious thing? Do you want to know this? Because that will be hard; you’re not sure you’re up to it, but if you are, I’ll help you.”
You see, that’s the whole disposition of government that flows from the Declaration of Independence, or what Churchill called “the title deeds,” and the Magna Carta, and the Petition of Right, the flow from those, right? And this new idea is that it’s got to be trained by experts, but of course once you get that principle, why do you need the nation-state? That’s why this movement toward internationalism—Andrew, in one of very many fine things, but one of the very best things, in his book, as he produces a quote that I did not know, and Churchill says, and I’ll only paraphrase it, but “hogwash.” This is, these laws and these things, these are the job of governments. With the European Union, the movement which he helped to create, we’re not talking about that; we’re talking about something else; we’re talking about alliances for trade and protection, but see, if it’s a fact that we are being encouraged to surrender our authority over our government, then that’s a change in regime, and to the extent that these alliances that we have have morphed into that kind of thing, my own view is that we should not abandon them. My view is that we should reform them so they are back to what they were in the mind of Winston Churchill. Thank you. [Applause]
Anybody want to say anything? No? If there’s not one question, you don’t get your dessert. Andrew, do you want to say anything? Take him a microphone. [Applause] Wait, you’re not saying he was better than I was. [Laughter]
Andrew Roberts: “Thank you very much. I’ve got two things to say. The first is that that was a very profound lecture you just gave, Larry. We are so lucky to have you saying these wonderful things; we really are. And the second thing is, I wonder if you could just say a little bit more about—I think the thing that we disagreed with on the “Sinews of Peace” speech is the idea of “from Stettin in the Baltic”—so I’d like you to talk a little bit more about his stance on communism and the fundamental evil of communism that he mentions in that speech, because my sense was that he’d already in the Harvard speech in 1943 said the important things about the Anglo-American alliance and a special relationship, so I’d like you to say a little bit more about the moral fury that he felt about what communism did to the human condition.”
Larry Arnn: “Very good. See, remember when I disagreed with Andrew, that I said that on occasions when I do, he’s right, and so there’s a reason why the speech is remembered as the “Iron Curtain” speech, which is not what Churchill called it, because the dramatic thing he said and it’s like the utmost particular, “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has fallen across Europe,” and then he describes it. It’s very lovely, because, you know, Churchill had a gift, you know, he had so many, but there there’s two kinds of paragraphs that he could write, and he wrote them many different times and better than anybody I know ever did. He can describe freedom in a little speech called, “Civilization.” What does it mean? It means the rule of civilians, it means independent courts, it means freedom of speech. He just gives this list, right? One of those lists is in the iron curtain speech. And the other thing is he can describe tyranny and its ugliness and its terror, right? And he says that the Nazis once, you know, in the “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech he says something “in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime…” So, in other words, the thing that the speech did was name the enemy. And nobody had done that—not Churchill, he’d not done that. There’s a great letter in the Churchill archive, by the way, there’s an exactly parallel letter in the London Times letter to the editor of the London Times, the owner, and it’s a long letter about how they’ve been wrong about everything for years. Not sent. And then a shorter letter. Not sent. And then a letter that’s about that long. So he writes this letter to Stalin in 1944 and he just hammers him and what the Soviets have done. Not sent. And then a shorter one. Not sent. And then the last one, all of that is reduced to one sentence: “I am afraid I was never any good at Karl Marx.” So he got it off his chest, right? But he couldn’t say it. Now he gets to say it, and that provides the practical organizing purpose of world foreign policy, American foreign policy. Andrew is exactly right about that. And my point is only that negative things have no independent existence of their own; they are only the spoiling of positive things. And so Churchill did wish to emphasize the positive things, right? Because that is what we fight for and also how we will go about fighting, see? And the speech is, you know, because, by the way, the speech ends with the most amazing flattery of the United States. A few days before, he had said that not since Rome has any people enjoyed such a primacy of power, right? But it ends with praise of the British Empire. And you know the first thing and the last thing are the most prominent thing in any book or speech, so I think that he thought that, you know—and I’ll shut up now, but I’ll close with this point, and I’m confident Andrew agrees with it—is that the modern world is very different from the ancient world in so many ways, and one of them is it’s global. And that means that, when evil arises in it, and it does, as it did in the ancient world, when it arises in it, it could conquer everything. Churchill is aware of this, right? His fears of war are expressed in eloquent speeches and essays, where, you know, “shall we all commit suicide,” right? And it means that you actually now need an organizing principle for the world in order to resist those horrors. And where does he find it, right? He finds it in the American Declaration of Independence and it’s forebears in the British heritage. And they are great not because they’re British or American; they are great because they are human, and we are ennobled because we adopted them. Thanks.” [Applause]