We at the Claremont Institute have a number of heroes. They include the American Founders, Abraham Lincoln, and Sir Winston Churchill. Today, November 30th, marks 130 years since Churchill was born. He remains one of history's great examples of what a statesman of courage and principle can accomplish.
When Churchill denounced the Iron Curtain in 1946, he insisted upon the moral clarity which permits us to distinguish between free government and tyranny. It reminds us why America is in need of our defense--not merely because it is ours, but because it is good. Here one finds the intersection of statesmanship and political philosophy to which the Claremont Institute is dedicated.
The great teacher of political philosophy, Leo Strauss, was also an admirer of Winston Churchill. Strauss heard of Churchill's passing in the midst of a lecture. He paused to offer the following remarks, which seem fitting to now recall:
The death of Churchill is a healthy reminder to students of political science of their limitations, the limitations of their craft.
The tyrant stood at the pinnacle of his power. The contrast between the indomitable and magnanimous statesman and the insane tyrant--this spectacle in its clear simplicity was one of the greatest lessons which men can learn, at any time.
No less enlightening is the lesson conveyed by Churchill's failure, which is too great to be called tragedy. I mean the fact that Churchill's heroic action on behalf of human freedom against Hitler only contributed, through no fault of Churchill's, to increase the threat to freedom which is posed by Stalin or his successors. Churchill did the utmost that a man could do to counter that threat--publicly and most visibly in Greece and in Fulton, Missouri.
Not a whit less important than his deeds and speeches are his writings, above all his Marlboroughâ€¦quot;the greatest historical work written in our century, an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding, which should be required reading for every student of political science.
The death of Churchill reminds us of the limitations of our craft, and therewith of our duty. We have no higher duty, and no more pressing duty, than to remind ourselves and our students, of political greatness, human greatness, of the peaks of human excellence. For we are supposed to train ourselves and others in seeing things as they are, and this means above all in seeing their greatness and their misery, their excellence and their vileness, their nobility and their triumphs, and therefore never to mistake mediocrity, however brilliant, for true greatness.