The limits of Churchill’s magnanimity

Yesterday I noted Fred Thompson’s reference to Churchill’s “magnanimity.” In Aristotle’s analysis of the virtues, “magnanimity” stands at the summit of human excellence. In reading about Churchill, one cannot avoid observing Churchill’s greatness of soul. He was an extraordinarily magnanimous man.
He almost never allowed his frustrations and disappointments over the struggles of the day to be vented in a personal way, although the gentlemen against whom he contended never reciprocated. They treated him with small-minded contempt. Thompson’s example — Churchill’s tribute to Neville Chamberlain on the occasion of Chamberlain’s death — perfectly represents Churchill’s magnanimity.
The single most striking exception to this general rule is Churchill’s comments on Stanley Baldwin, although I believe he reserved his frank estimate of Baldwin until Baldwin’s death. The reason for Churhchill’s low opinion of Baldwin deserves an essay to itself and fortunately Richard Langworth has written it.
Asked his advice on what should be done with Baldwin’s corpse, Churchill replied, “Embalm, cremate and bury. Take no chances.” But the comment that initially drew my attention to Churchill’s opinion of Baldwin was this one: “It would have been much better had he never lived.” Langworth shows, as you might expect, that much of the history of the British policy of appeasement can be drawn out of the story of Churchill’s estimate of Baldwin.
Churchill also had a notoriously fraught relationship with the BBC. The Churchill biographies note mostly in passing that the BBC systematically barred Churchill from discussing his defense and foreign policy views during the 1930’s. Sir John Reith was head of the BBC at the time. Manchester writes that “Reith saw to it that [Churchill] was seldom heard over the BBC…” In his monumentally voluminous diaries Reith wrote of Churchill, “I absolutely hate him.”
Why did Reith detest Churchill? In Reith’s eyes, Churchill was of course a warmonger, and Reith, not coincidentally, held Hitler in the highest regard.
Earlier this week John Humphrys interviewed John Bolton on his BBC Radio 4 program Today. EU Referendum provides an excellent summary of the interview here; the interview can be heard here. Listening to Bolton, one can observe that something of Churchill’s spirit survives. Listening to Humphrys, one can observe that something of Reith’s spirit survives.

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