Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010

Churchill statue, Halifax, N.S.
Not a Canadian political year end list here! As I was finally getting around to renewing my New Yorker subscription yesterday, on the site I came across this article: "The making of Winston Churchill." It was from the August 30th issue and having read it at that time, I was surprised - and happy - to see that apparently it is one of the most popular articles from the year, as the sidebar rankings show.

The article was timed as a 70 year commemoration of Churchill's infamous World War II speeches from 1940. It deconstructs them and really, celebrates them for the powerful words that they were at that perilous moment ("...to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.") The article also goes into Churchill's "telepathic sense of Hitler," his sense that a "rhetorical fist" in the dictator's face would evoke rage and perhaps provoke error, as it did.

I recommend the whole thing but here is the conclusion, to give a sense of it:
Churchill’s real legacy lies elsewhere. 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.

What is most impressive about his legacy, perhaps, is that he is one of the rare charismatic moderns who seem to have never toyed with extra-parliamentary movements or anti-liberal ideals. During all the years, and despite all the difficulties—in decades when the idea of Parliament as a fraud and a folly, a slow-footed relic of a dying age, was a standard faith of intellectuals on left and right alike—he remained a creature of rules and traditions who happily kissed the Queen’s hand and accepted the people’s verdict without complaint. Throughout the war, as Hitler retreated into his many bunkers and Stalin stormed and even Roosevelt concentrated power more and more in his single hand, Churchill accepted votes of confidence, endured fatuous parliamentary criticism, and meekly left office after triumphing in the most improbable of victories. A romantic visionary in constitutional spectacles can often see things as they are.
Confidence votes during World War II...say it isn't so! No fragile economic recoveries would have bothered that parliament!

So there you go. A very popular read of the year for many. Fascinated by the language, the leadership and what we may not see again in this modern era of the 24/7 news cycle.