Boris Johnson on Winston Churchill

by Institute of Public Affairs on November 3, 2014

Next January will mark exactly fifty years since Winston Churchill’s death.

Two weeks ago, Boris Johnson’s important new book, The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made Historywas published by Hodder & Stoughton. The book was reviewed by Con Coughlin in The Telegraph.

You can also read a preview of the book in The Telegraph here.In it, Johnson talks about how Churchill changed history on 28 May 1940, when, shortly after becoming Prime Minister, he convinced his Cabinet to continue fighting Hitler:

These days we dimly believe that the Second World War was won with Russian blood and American money; and though that is in some ways true, it is also true that, without Winston Churchill, Hitler would almost certainly have won. At several moments he was the beaver who dammed the flow of events; and never did he affect the course of history more profoundly than in 1940.

There is no doubt that Churchill was an immense historical figure – in fact, a 2002 poll voted him ‘the greatest Briton of all time‘. He was also a significant writer. Perhaps his most famous book, A History of the English-Speaking Peopleswas included in the IPA’s 2009 monograph 100 Great Books of Liberty.

That is one reason that Johnson’s take on his life is especially interesting. One of the themes he repeats throughout is that Churchill’s achievements are in danger of being forgotten.

In 2012, for example, then-Education Secretary Michael Gove was alarmed that Churchill was not mentioned in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.

Coughlin says in his review of Johnson’s book:

Johnson believes that, with the soldiers of the Second World War gradually fading away, we are losing those who can remember the sound of his voice, and he argues there is a danger that we might forget the scale of Churchill’s achievements.

Johnson is a Classicist, ex-journalist, and London’s quite charismatic mayor. The BBC wrote this profile of him upon his election in 2008. His earlier books include The Dream of Rome(2007 – reviewed here by Labour MP Denis MacShane in The Independent) and Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World (2012 – reviewed here by Ashley Prime in The Globe and Mail).

Another interesting feature of this particular biography is that Johnson includes an analysis of Churchill’s style of speaking. You can watch an interesting video here, in which Johnson explains how to talk like Winston Churchill.

For a more serious biography on Churchill, a popular choice is the official biography by Martin Gilbert, which is outlined here on The Churchill Centre website. It is also available in the single-volume abridgement, Churchill: A Life.

Also of note are Paul Johnson’s Churchill, The Last Lion series by William Manchester (in three parts: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932Alone, 1932-1940, and Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965), and Churchill’s own autobiography, My Early Life: 1874-1904.

Reading, Watching, Listening

In a special edition of Horizons earlier this month, IPA Research Fellow Hannah Pandel talked about the release of the Federal government’s National Curriculum Review. You can see the full review here and the IPA’s media release here.

As the media release argues, the review confirms the previous findings of the IPA’s research on the National Curriculum, which were summarised in this submission to the government Department of Education in March 2014 and in the IPA’s 2010 monograph The National Curriculum: A Critique. The full monograph can be viewed online here.

Here is a quick overview of some of the other responses to the review. Two weeks ago, one of the heads of the curriculum review, Ken Wiltshire, wrote this opinion piece ($) in The Australian explaining its conclusions. This article in the Sydney Morning Herald argued that the culture wars ‘fizzled out’ with the curriculum review. Finally, on 14 October Chris Berg wrote inThe Drum about the futility of the National Curriculum project in general.

Historian Lynn Hunt’s latest book, Writing History in the Global Erapromotes a new trend in history called ‘global history’. Here($) is a fascinating critique by Brendan Simms from the Wall Street Journal, which raises some arguments to the contrary – namely, ‘global history’ is not new and tends to ‘ignore classic international relations’, such as the impact of war on society.

Simms’ latest book, Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy from 1453 to the Presentwas published last year. It surveys the history and politics of Europe since the fall of Constantinople and was reviewed in The Telegraph by Noel Malcolm in April 2013.

In this month’s edition of the IPA Review, I wrote that classic literature is being progressively locked out of Australian classroomsHere ($) is an article from The Australian by Christopher Bantick, a senior literary teacher at a Melbourne independent school, who makes a similar argument about the degrading of young adult fiction and the disappearance of good literature from classrooms.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate has created a series of fascinating videos that tell the story of George Washington’sYorktown Campaign (1781) – a crucial part of the American War of Independence.

Connor Court recently published The Fragility of Freedom by Peter Fenwick. This book details the heritage of Western Civilisation, the values of liberty, prosperity, and free enterprise, and the challenges that these values face today.

Very relevant to the topic of the fragility of freedom is James Allan’s latest article in The Spectator on freedom and the Coalition and Dan Hannan’s interesting piece on Habeas Corpus and the threat that it faces in present-day England.

Leonard Liggio, Executive Vice President of Academics at Atlas Network and a great promoter of classical liberalism, passed away earlier this month on 14 October 2014. For more on Liggio’s achievements, read his biography here and see a video archive here, prepared by the Liggio Legacy Project.

Previous post:

Next post: