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“All who were with him then agree that the Old Man had more important matters on his mind than the sensitive feelings of subordinates. In any event, in time they came to adore him. Jock Colville later recalled, ‘Churchill had a natural sympathy for simple people, because he himself took a simple view of what was required; and he hated casuistry. That was no doubt why the man-in-the-street loved him and the intellectuals did not.’ Churchill, for his part, considered those on the left who anointed themselves the arbiters of right and wrong to be arrogant, ‘a fault,’ Colville recalled, Churchill ‘detested in others, particularly in its intellectual form.’ For that reason, Churchill ‘had dislike and contempt, of a kind which transcended politics, of the intellectual wing of the Labour party,’ which in turn despised Churchill. In 1940 the intellectualism of the left was inimical to Churchill and to Britain’s cause, which was simplicity itself: defeat Hitler.

Churchill cared little for obtuse political or social theories; he was a man of action: state the problem, find a solution, and solve the problem. For a man of action, however, he was exceptionally thoughtful and well read. When serving as a young subaltern in India, he amassed a private library that included Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, Plato’s Republic, Schopenhauer on pessimism, Malthus on population, and Darwin’s Origin of Species. Reading, for Churchill, was a form of action. After a lifetime of reading — from the sea-adventuring Hornblower novels to the complete Shakespeare and Macaulay — he possessed the acumen to reduce complex intellectual systems and constructs and theories to their most basic essences. He once brought a wartime dinner conversation on socialism to an abrupt end by recommending that those present read Maurice Maeterlinck’s entomological study, The Life of the White Ant. ‘Socialism,’ Churchill declared, ‘would make our society comparable to that of the white ant.’ Case closed. Almost a decade later, when the Labour Party, then in power, nationalized British industries one by one, and when paper, meat, gasoline, and even wood for furniture were still rationed, Churchill commented: ‘The Socialist dream is no longer Utopia but Queuetopia.'”


Excerpted from The Last Lion: Winston Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid.

More of the Old Man:

Winston Churchill