Winston Churchill’s place in modern history is assured. As a statesman and world leader, he towers above his contemporaries. As a historian, his reputation is equally secure. But little attention has been given to Churchill’s stature as a political theorist, to the ideas and principles that he developed, tested, and followed throughout his long career as a soldier, military correspondent, politician, world leader, and author.
Winston Churchill’s World View is a study of the underlying principles and goals that shaped the actions of one of the most influential men of our time. Kenneth Thompson traces the genesis and elaboration of Churchill’s views from his youth at the fringes of the British Empire through his rise as a politician, his years of determined struggle and final triumph as the prime minister of England in its darkest hour, and the time of reflection that followed his departure from his active political life. Thompson works closely with Churchill’s writing to identify and assess his concepts of power, authority, politics, and diplomacy, as well as his thoughts on international organization and law, collective security, and practical morality.
Churchill firmed believed that an effective foreign policy must be based on a set of well-defined but flexible organizing principles. “Those who are possessed of a definite body of doctrine and of deeply rooted convictions,” he wrote in the first volume of his history of World War II, “will be in a much better position to deal with the shifts and surprises of daily affairs.” It was the lack of such a set of principle, Churchill contended, that led the Allies into the conflagration of World War II and that in the postwar era threatened to bring about an even more destructive conflict between the West and the Soviet Union. Churchill’s own plan to avert that peril, Thompson shows, was based on the twin pillars of diplomacy and strength. He insisted that peace must be negotiated. But only could a lasting settlement be concluded, a settlement that was not based on weakness and fear.
Churchill’s political philosophy was rooted in his own experience and in an awareness of the course of man’s history. It is a perspective at odds with prevailing viewpoints—based not in history, but in a shifting tide of facts and statistics—and with the current perception of a world with problems too complex and numerous to be solved through the simple application of doctrine and conviction. But this complex age, Thompson argues, is one sorely in need of the lessons of history and the wisdom of experienced statesmen. With this study, Thompson demonstrates the relevance of Winston Churchill’s views to the present world situation, and shows the current need for a steady, principled, pragmatic approach to maintaining world peace.
Kenneth W. Thompson is director emeritus of the White Burkett Miller Center of Public Affairs, and J. Wilson Newman professor of government and foreign affairs. He served as director of the Miller Center from 1978 to 1998. He is the author of some twenty books and coauthor of another two dozen.
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