“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Winston Churchill’s bon mot has been taken seriously by many scholarly critics, who argue that his biographies and memoir-histories are incompletely documented, skewed toward self-justification, and selective in their treatment. This includes not only his accounts of the First and Second World Wars, but A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
In this essay, Justin D. Lyons, Associate Professor of Political Science at Ashland University, points out that Churchill’s historical and literary efforts have a purpose that goes beyond the strict bounds of scholarly objectivity, self-justification, and the need to earn Churchill money (he earned his bread and cheese, after all, as a writer). That purpose united Churchill’s public and literary life. It was, as Larry Arnn points out in his forthcoming book on Churchill, to combat what Churchill called (in shorthand) “mass effects in modern life.” – the threat that totalitarian ideologies, combined with advances in modern science, would destroy the human race in its totality; or, more likely, destroy the possibility of human freedom and excellence, in the name of the collective. For Churchill, this threat had an international component (fascism and communism), but also an insidious domestic counterpart (socialism).
Early on in his political career, long before World War II, Churchill determined that it was essential that the United States become a partner in this enterprise. Thus his histories and memoirs, including A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, must be read in this light, as a way to demonstrate and reinforce the common cause between American and the British Empire. Churchill develops a continuity of principle from the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights (Glorious Revolution) through the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, a continuity that extended to joint cooperation in the fight against Hitler and in the Cold War. One might object that, as a matter of fact, the Declaration formally divided the two great branches of the English-speaking peoples. But Churchill, as Lyons points out, was getting at something deeper than mere history. This was literature in the service of the Grandest Strategy.