THIS WEEK, 136 YEARS AGO, on November 30, 1874 to be exact, one of the great men, historians and wordsmiths of the past century was born.
Winston Churchill served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when, closely following the Allied forces victory in Europe, the voters summarily rejected him and his Conservative Party. That moment, I would argue, marked the beginning of the end of the British Empire.
Churchill won the Nobel Prize in literature, and was the first person to be recognized as an honorary citizen of the United States. See if you don't agree with me that the gentleman still has some relevance today.
[Note: Each of these quotations has been attributed to Churchill thousands of times, but given how rapidly error proliferates in the cut-and-paste era, I still wouldn't be too sure about some of them myself.]
IdeasChurchill kept to his own ideals about ideas.
“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honor; duty; mercy; hope.”
“You must look at the facts because they look at you.”
“Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.”
Like many of us, Churchill had a love/hate affair with democracy.
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth . . . but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”
“It would be a great reform in politics if wisdom could be made to spread as easily and rapidly as folly.”
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government . . . except all the others that have been tried.”
“Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon.”
“There is no such thing as a good tax.”
“We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”
As I read him, Churchill was not a socialist.
“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”
“Christopher Columbus was the first socialist: he didn’t know where he was going, he didn’t know where he was . . . and he did it all at taxpayer’s expense.”
“Socialism is like a dream. Sooner or later you wake up to reality.”
The very quotable Churchill spoke as he thought speech should be spoken.
“Old expressions are the best, and short ones even better.”
“The rule which forbids ending a sentence with a preposition is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put.”
[On the U.S. and the U.K.] “Two nations divided by a common language.”
“It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read a book of quotations.”
Gary D. Gaddy thinks it is good thing for the educated to read columns of quotations too.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday December 3, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy