Ironically, once upon a time liberals loved Winston Churchill, while many conservatives didn’t much care for him. Go back to the 1950s and you’ll see encomia to Churchill from Arthur Schlesinger and Isaiah Berlin (among others), and let’s not forget how much John F. Kennedy loved Churchill, and was disappointed he couldn’t lure Churchill to the White House on Churchill’s last visit to the U.S. in 1961.
Meanwhile, many conservatives back then didn’t like Churchill. Robert Taft and other isolationists disliked that Churchill dragged us into another European war and then the NATO alliance after the war (a criticism revived more recently by Pat Buchanan.) William F. Buckley wrote harshly about Churchill at the time of Churchill’s death in 1965:
All those men who were moved by the martial rhetoric of Winston Churchill to go out and die also figure in any obituary notice of Winston Churchill, and they are not appeased by glossing over the final imperfection of Churchill’s life. . . May he sleep more peacefully than some of those who depended on him.
Buckley’s chief complaint was that Churchill gave in too much to Stalin and Roosevelt, as if Churchill had unused plenipotentiary power (as WFB might have put it elsewhere) to have averted the post-war disorder. Buckley later revised his opinion of Churchill, largely under the influence of Harry Jaffa, as a certain recent book recounts.
Today of course it is liberals who dislike Churchill, starting with Exhibit One—Obama removing the Churchill bust from the Oval Office and sending it back to the British embassy.
Which brings me to today’s New York Times review of Darkest Hour, the biopic of Churchill in May-June 1940 starring Gary Oldman that opens in theaters today. The Times reviewer, A.O. Scott, clearly doesn’t like Churchill, because imperialism or something. . . Scott never quite makes entirely explicit. But it is clear that, like most egalitarian liberals, Scott clearly doesn’t like human excellence, which is why he repairs to the impulse to belittle not only Churchill, but the Britons of 1940:
And like “The King’s Speech,” Mr. Wright’s film is a serviceable enough historical drama. But like “Dunkirk,” it falls back on an idealized notion of the English character that feels, in present circumstances, less nostalgic than downright reactionary, and as empty as those ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On” internet memes. Rather than invite the audience to think about the difficulties of democratic governance at a time of peril, the filmmakers promote passivity and hero-worship, offering not so much a Great Man Theory as a great man fetish. . .
Churchill’s resolve, like the bravery of the soldiers, airmen and ordinary Britons in “Dunkirk,” is offered not as a rebuke to the current generation, but rather as a sop, an easy and complacent fantasy of Imperial gumption and national unity. Standing up to the Nazis, an undeniably brave and good thing to have done, is treated like a moral check that can be cashed in perpetuity. “Darkest Hour” is proud of its hero, proud of itself and proud to have come down on the right side of history nearly 80 years after the fact. It wants you to share that pride, and to claim a share of it. But we have nothing to be proud of.
“But we have nothing to be proud of”?? Seriously? I suppose it might make a good motto for the New York Times. I imagine Scott is another of those media grandees who hangs around Elaine’s wondering why so many Americans have come to despise people like him.
I urge all Power Line readers to go see Darkest Hour this weekend to juice up its opening numbers, and perhaps also to boost Oldman’s candidacy for best actor at the next Academy Awards. I’m planning to see the film on Friday, after which I’ll be putting down a long piece about Churchill in cinema and the various actors who have played him over the years, going all the way back to Simon Ward in Young Winston in 1971. Fortunately, I just got my new glasses today, just in time: