Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

My Reply to Heilbrunn

I’ve sent the following letter to the NY Times book review in response to their Sunday essay, Winston Churchill, Neocon?

New York Times Book Review
229 West 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036-3959

To the editor:

Jacob Heilbrunn’s essay “Winston Churchill, Neocon?” (Book Review, February 27, 2005) casts a jaundiced eye on whether Reagan and Bush deserve to be regarded as Churchill’s heirs, and whether Churchill’s imperialism, which Heilbrunn badly caricatures, makes him worthy of admiration in the first place. Since Heilbrunn rightly implicates me in the pro-Churchill chorus (though neither he nor the Times’ copy desk can seem to spell my name correctly), perhaps I might be allowed a few words to respond.

The case for Reagan’s continuity with Churchill is straightforward. Reagan’s affinity with Churchill went beyond borrowing the memorable quotation. Churchill said in his famous “Iron Curtain” speech that World War II could have been prevented “without the firing of a single shot.” Reagan, heeding Churchill’s vivid lesson of “peace through strength” (for which liberals ridiculed him relentlessly) prevented World War III “without firing a single shot,” as Margaret Thatcher observed. (Indeed, Reagan’s partnership with Thatcher in the 1980s could be seen as the very fulfillment of the Anglo-American unity that Churchill had envisioned in the “Iron Curtain” speech and elsewhere.) And this is just the most obvious of the deep parallels between Churchill and Reagan.

As to whether Bush has some claim to the same tradition, merely consult the recent thoughts of Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert: “Although it can easily be argued that George W. Bush and Tony Blair face a far lesser challenge than Roosevelt and Churchill did—that the war on terror is not a third world war—they may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill. Their societies are too divided today to deliver a calm judgment, and many of their achievements may be in the future: when Iraq has a stable democracy, with al-Qaeda neutralized, and when Israel and the Palestinian Authority are independent democracies, living side by side in constructive economic cooperation . . . Any accurate assessment of Bush and Blair must wait, perhaps a decade or longer, until the record can be scrutinized.” (The Observer, December 26, 2004.) I’m happy to await the judgment of history, while Heilbrunn continues his heckling just as his ideological soul mates did to Reagan in the 1980s.

One final thought: When it came to American politics, Churchill always preferred the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. Would he today?


Steven F. Hayward
Resident Scholar
American Enterprise Institute

(Note: My book comparing Reagan and Churchill will be published in October by Crown/Forum: Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders).

P.S. I mailed the hard copy to the Times in an envelope with a Ronald Reagan stamp. Heh.

Discussions - 5 Comments

This question about Churchill and "neoconservative" foreign policy reminds me of something in Lord Moran’s brilliant essays on Churchill’s character at the end of his published diary about his years as the great statesman’s doctor.

Lord Moran wrote that Churchill’s greatness was based not so much on a nice calculation of strategic reasons, but on an invincible disdain for what is weak and "in itself wrong."

I think Churchill would have attacked Hussein’s regime, just as Bush did, and he would have stuck by his decision, just as Bush has.

("Churchill: Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran")

Great letter! Great post! The Churchills and Reagans of the world take us far above the mind-numbing chatter of the intellectuals and number crunchers, not to mention the appeasers and those who are reflexively anti-American and anti-Western. Churchill and Reagan always reserved the right to support the party which did the most to promote and preserve human freedom, heedless of forms. Such is the character of great men.

Steve, keep up the great work! The characteristics of great, principled statesmanship are based upon vision, leadership, and prudence, not partisan politics. Churchill, Reagan, and Bush pursued good objects and struggled against the forces of darkness that have, do, and will continue to threaten civilization. Lincoln, FDR, and JFK also realized this and exhibited principled leadership. All of these men are heroes and should be recognized as such.

I look forward to the book, and I hope it is as good as THE AGE OF REAGAN, The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964 - 1980.

Churchill was part of a tradition which DENIED freedom to millions of people. He was also responsible for the policies of murder and repression in many places all over the world, one of which was Ireland. I know something about this because some of my relatives were murdered by black and tans while fighting for Irish freedom. Perhaps you should not try to ignore history so much in your search for heroes.
Ultimately, it all depends on your values -some prefer muder and tyranny and its perpetuation while others do not. I think the people who began America were among the latter and I respect them for that. They had to exhibit great courage to overcome the British boot. They were also lucky to have had a great ocean separating them. Ireland and other countries were not so fortunate.
Trumpeting the value of freedom, while worshiping those who have taken it away from millions is the ultimate contradiction.

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