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The Romantic-Conservative

by Zoe Pollock

Adam Gopnik's survey of Churchill is a spot-on read, with all the right flourishes of detail. Here he is on Churchill's speeches:

Churchill was a cavalier statesman who could never survive roundhead strictures on ornament and theatrical excess in speaking. That’s why he could supply what everyone needed in 1940: a style that would mark emphatic ends (there is no good news), conventional ideas (we are an ancient nation), and old-fashioned emphasis (we will fight). Perhaps the style never suited the time. It suited the moment. The archaic poetic allusions in the June 4th speechthe reference to King Arthur’s knights, the echoes of Shakespeare and John of Gaunt’s oration on Englandare there to say, “What’s to fear? We’ve been here before.” The images are stale, the metaphors are violent, the atmosphere is dramaticand the moment justifies them all.

He goes on to perfectly illustrate the importance of temperament in Churchill's legacy:

He is, with de Gaulle, the greatest instance in modern times of the romantic-conservative temperament in power. The curious thing is that this temperament can at moments be more practical than its liberal opposite, or than its pragmatic-conservative twin, since it rightly concedes the primacy of ideas and passions, rather than interests and practicalities, in men’s minds. Churchill was a student of history, but one whose reading allowed him to grasp when a new thing in history happened.