Winston Churchill, Andrew Roberts, and Brexit

Minister of Munitions WInston Churchill meets with women war workers in 1918

Minister of Munitions WInston Churchill meets with women war workers in 1918

On the Econtalk podcast I listened to today, Russ Roberts interviewed Andrew Roberts on his recently published biography of Winston Churchill, Churchill: Walking with Destiny. Entertaining and informative, as always. Both Roberts and Roberts are big Churchill partisans, which makes sense, particularly in our glum era where history classes, seldom taught well to begin with, seem dedicated to eliminating any sign that any individual human being ever actually accomplished anything specific. Churchill was never anything other than specific, and he achieved a tremendous amount, making a great number of dramatic mistakes in the process.

I suppose that part of my issue with modern teaching of history is that it can't face the fact that mistakes, even vast, grotesque mistakes, are inevitable when people are acting without foreknowledge of the future. In a very real sense, to act is to screw up, and to act on a large, ambitious scale is to screw up on a large, ambitious scale.

The confounding appearance of Brexit

But in the course of this Andrew reveals himself to be a Brexiteer. I couldn't tell whether Russ was surprised or not. Andrew's position was that Brexit means that the UK can orient itself to the world, not just to Europe. Not that the UK will ever again be a world power. But it will be part of the world.

I can buy that, just as I can buy common-sense objections to the fact that Europe's main industry seems to be the creation of ever more precise, over-defined, and intrusive regulations. I once pointed out that while most places generate comedies of manner, New England's preferred form is the comedy of ethics. If that's true, then modern Europe should be generating comedies of regulation.

What Kurt Gödel has to do with extramarital sex

Well, perhaps that is what Michel Houellebecq writes. He certainly has to write in a country where, as we all learned a couple of days ago, an employee traveling on business who dies during extramarital sex has suffered an industrial accident, making the company liable. It's easy to make fun of this stuff, of course. But if Kurt Gödel demonstrated that no matter what system of rules and axioms you use, there will always be true statements that are unprovable within that system. then any consistent system of regulations will inevitably produce a ridiculous result if interpreted strictly.

If this blog post had fixed margins, they would be too narrow for me to prove this theorem.

A regulator's favorite book of the Bible is Leviticus

OK, I can't prove this either. But it is definitely the book that most closely approximates the ideal of a modern history curriculum: not events, not personalities, but the ritual practices you must perform, in exactly the way you must perform them.

Portrayals of Churchill

Andrew likes the movie Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman, abhorring, as everyone should, the scene in the tube, which he describes as a focus group. Churchill led what people thought, he did not follow. And, he says, Churchill was on the Tube only once, in 1926, and never tried it again.

He also likes Robert Hardy's portrayal in the early 80s series, Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, a judgment with which I heartily concur. That was destination television for me and my roommates John and Pam that year.

Do you have a favorite biography of Winston Churchill?

Mine is the two volumes of The Last Lion, by William Manchester, Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 and Alone, 1932-1940. Unfortunately, Manchester died before finishing the third volume, and it was finished by someone else, to all accounts not even coming close to the quality of the first two.