One wonders whether there exists a more succinct and lucid summary of Winston Churchill’s political thought than Larry P. Arnn’s Churchill’s Trial. Significant time has passed between my reading this book and writing my thoughts here. One simply cannot do justice to all the ideas contained therein in the space of a short essay. Only Arnn’s long study of Churchill has allowed him to compress so much of his thought into a single volume. It might be compared to Douglass Southall Freeman cutting back Lee’s biography from seven volumes to two or James Thomas Flexner condensing four volumes of Washington into one. Indeed, cutting down Churchill’s thought into a single volume might be an even greater feat, because few modern statesmen have written so much (over forty books, thousands of articles and speeches, and two film scripts) or had so much written about them.
The primary thrust of the book concerns Churchill’s defense of constitutional government and liberty against the forces which tried to undermine it. Socialists, communists, and fascists count as his primary opponents. The last two were the overt foes Churchill fought in World War II and during the Cold War. The first foe Churchill constantly combated within his own country. Socialism stood as the most pernicious, slowly stripping away liberty from the British people in exchange for government aid as appointed bureaucrats gained more power to rule over the British people. The citizens held no control over these bureaucrats, and such officials could reinterpret laws or create regulations free from the check of the ballot box.
One sad point about Churchill’s life’s work is that though he defeated socialism’s spawn overseas, he failed to defeat it in his own country. Many of the former allied nations are more properly called bureaucracies than democracies. In England, the Fabian Society (whose members included George Bernard Shaw, a fan of the famous socialist leader Adolf Hitler) constantly promoted leftism inside the country. With the Labor Party’s victory in 1945, it is fair to say that they beat Churchill in England even as Churchill beat their violent fellow ideologues across the North Sea.
Still, the fight for a constitutional government beholden to the people against that of central planners is far from over. Today’s conservative can gain plenty of intellectual fodder from reading this book for the culture war. This book speaks about the necessity of free trade, free speech, popular representation, checks and balances, and other topics dear to a conservative’s heart. I give this book my hearty recommendation.