A postmodern Churchill

Judd Magilnick reviews London’s new Churchill Museum for the Spectator Online: “Deconstructing Winston.” It appears that those of us who want to learn about Churchill as well as from Churchill will have to stick with the books by his best biographers, Martin Gilbert and William Manchester, and those by Churchill himself. After making his own critical contribution to the survival of Western civilization, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. In his speech accepting the award, Churchill observed:

Since Alfred Nobel died in 1896 we have entered an age of storm and tragedy. The power of man has grown in every sphere except over himself. Never in the field of action have events seemed so harshly to dwarf personalities. Rarely in history have brutal facts so dominated thought or has such a widespread, individual virtue found so dim a collective focus. The fearful question confronts us; have our problems got beyond our control? Undoubtedly we are passing through a phase where this may be so. Well may we humble ourselves, and seek for guidance and mercy.

Later this year James Muller’s definitive new edition of Churchill’s The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan will be published. Such passages as this one will be restored to their proper place in the text:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.
Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytising faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science – the science against which it had vainly struggled – the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

Our friend Steve Hayward’s excellent Weekly Standard essay on The River War is “Fighting fanaticism.” Steve commments on the passage above and renders a fine appreciation of the book.

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