Imagine if Winston Churchill visited London today—perhaps to watch the Olympics, or to speak before Parliament. What would he think?
Churchill was the greatest figure of the 20th century, and perhaps the most towering personality to come out of Britain in the last few centuries. Though Churchill had and still has some critics and detractors, few ever questioned his love for his country.
Churchill is still widely considered a great man. He was a fearless warrior and masterful military tactician and leader. He was a brilliant statesman and a quick-witted politician. He was also an exceptional historian, an eloquent orator, a gifted painter, and one of history’s most underrated philosophers. Excelling in any one of these fields is enough to qualify a man as great, yet Churchill excelled in each of these areas.
But what motivated Winston Churchill? What motivated him to devote virtually every minute of his life to fighting for his nation? What motivated him to master military tactics and strategy? What motivated him to work so hard to become a great public speaker? What motivated him to endure the hard slog of politics? What motivated him, even in the twilight years of his life, to churn out articles, columns and books?
What was it that motivated Winston Churchill to become a great man?
Child of the Empire
Winston Churchill was born in November 1874. Queen Victoria was on England’s royal throne at the time, and the British Empire was near the apex of its global might and majesty.
During the reign of Victoria, the British Empire’s holdings around the globe expanded until it had become the largest empire in history. Though Great Britain was a small island nation, by the end of the 19th century it was said that the sun never set on its territory. With its colonies, protectorates and territories, the empire included over 14 million square miles of land and 450 million people—more than a quarter of the global population. With supremacy at sea, Britain took on the role of global policeman, and came to dominate world politics.
The vast tracts of lands it possessed to harvest natural resources brought great wealth into the empire. Owning such a large amount of the planet gave Britain unparalleled power in world trade, and granted it significant influence over the economies of countries like China, Siam (Thailand) and Argentina. In Britain’s ports, ships arrived from all over the globe carrying goods and raw materials that fueled the local economy. The wealth supported an age of scientific, industrial, cultural and military advancement within the United Kingdom.
It was within this environment of imperial greatness that Winston Churchill grew up. In his book Churchill and His Generals, Raymond Callahan explains the impact the British Empire had on Churchill’s mental, intellectual and moral maturation: “Churchill’s hostility toward Bolshevism abroad and socialism at home had its parallel in his reaction to nationalism in the empire. He had grown up with the late Victorian surge of empire building. He was 8 when Britain occupied Egypt, 11 when Gordon fell at Khartoum, and present when Gordon was avenged at Omdurman in 1898. The empire he had known as a young man always would seem to him part of the natural order of things …” (emphasis mine throughout).
Churchill passionately loved the British Empire, more than anything else in his life. He wanted the empire to be part of the natural order of things. Callahan continues: It was “beneficent and an indispensable prop of British power and greatness. Yet his entire political career would be played out in an era of challenge and dissolution for imperial rule.” Every minute of Churchill’s life, every decision and tactic, every new bill, every column and book, stemmed from his devotion to the British Empire!
It is easy to oversimplify Winston Churchill’s love of the empire. He didn’t love it simply because it was English, or powerful and wealthy, or because it ruled over tens of millions of people. Churchill’s writings show that his love for empire went much, much deeper. There was a selfless, altruistic, noble dimension to his devotion.
Winston Churchill wanted to share the British Empire with the rest of mankind.
Empire With a Purpose
Churchill believed the British Empire had a larger purpose. During World War ii, he once stated, “Whatever may happen on the Continent, we cannot doubt our duty, and we shall certainly use all our power to defend the island, the empire and our cause.” Perhaps most of his countrymen were fighting only for England, or for the British Commonwealth. But Winston Churchill was fighting for humanity!
Historians have noted how Churchill would speak of England’s special destiny. Merriam-Webster defines destiny as “something to which a person or thing is destined; a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency.” Churchill was never an overly religious man. But he did, especially as he got older, believe in the presence of a Higher Power, and that there was a grand strategy being worked out on Earth.
On one occasion Churchill announced, “I have not become the king’s first minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” Here’s what Lord Moran, Churchill’s doctor and close confidante from 1940 till 1965, said about that statement: “It was not just bravado. He was affirming a faith for which he was prepared to give his life, and he proved it throughout his life.”
Dr. Moran then stated, “If Winston has believed in anything at all in the course of his long life, it has been in the British Empire and all that it stands for.’”
Churchill’s ambitions were larger and nobler because he filled his mind with empire thinking. This expanded his ability to give selflessly and tirelessly, to sacrifice and do whatever was necessary to grow and preserve that empire.
Author and historian Kirk Emmert explored Churchill’s devotion in his excellent book Winston S. Churchill on Empire. He wrote, “The word ‘empire’ in the title is to be taken on many levels. The glory of the British Empire was its service to a cause that transcended Britain, that transcended history, that transcended time itself.”
Of course, the British Empire wasn’t even close to being perfect; there were plenty of mistakes and injustices. But it emphatically was not the cruel, evil and inhumane force that many today think it was.
Emmert wrote that in Churchill’s view, the British Empire acted to “lift human life away from barbarism and savagery towards civilization and human excellence.” In many instances, that is exactly what it did. It was, as Churchill believed, a powerful civilizing force that benefited all of humanity!
Empire the World Needs
Historian and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson explains in detail the good work of the British Empire in his book Empire. Despite the wide criticism leveled at the British Empire today, he writes, “the fact remains that no organization in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labor than the British Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And no organization has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world.”
Ferguson does a very good job making the case that “the world we know today is in large measure the product of Britain’s age of empire.” He documents Britain’s towering contributions to the lands it colonized, and to humanity in general—contributions that included the English language and literature; English forms of land ownership; Scottish and English banking; Common Law; team sports; representative assemblies; and modern notions of freedom and liberty.
All these things were rooted in Judeo-Christian values, which the British shared with mankind during their global rule.
Isn’t an empire that leads the world away from savagery toward human excellence a good thing? This world needs that kind of empire!
Even America’s forefathers, despite their hostility to many facets of British rule, recognized Britain’s enormous contributions to the moral view of man. In June 1783, George Washington wrote, “The foundation of our empire was not laid in the gloomy age of ignorance and superstition, but at an [epoch] when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period .…”
On July 10, 1833, Lord Macaulay stated in a speech before British Parliament, “There is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. That empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals and our literature and our laws.” When Churchill entered the scene a few decades later, his view was essentially the same. These men believed Britain had a unique and special system of law, values and morals, and wanted to share those with the rest of mankind.
Contrast that ideal with what you see today, when Britain’s greatest export is lawless, amoral, drunken thuggery! Just laws and upright morals should be exported around the world. But Britain instead spreads deep corruption and a plague of evil, as does America. That is a terrible shame.
Emmert explained that Churchill believed that the “fostering of civilization [is] the highest purpose of empire.” It was Churchill’s hope and belief that the British Empire, grounded on a strong system of law and morality, would improve the character of both Britain’s leaders and its subjects. It never did this perfectly, but it did so more than any other people or empire!
“True imperialism … develops manhood,” Churchill said. That is politically incorrect today—but it is still very accurate! True imperialism—the expansion of an empire rooted in law and morality—does create quality men—and women. Churchill was a masculine man, a courageous, selfless individual. It was largely the British Empire that made him a real leader, one of the greatest in our time.
Churchill always had his detractors. He often called them “little Englanders.” These people wanted to do away with the empire—to renounce it and live an inward life. Churchill believed that such a retreat from the world would have terrible consequences.
“In his opposition to both little Englanders and to unbridled imperialists, he defended what he viewed as a modern, essentially political understanding of empire,” wrote Emmert. “Contrary to current critics of imperialism, Churchill argued that a properly constituted, imperial rule was civilizing in that it improved both rulers and ruled, preparing the ruled for self-government.”
Churchill warned “little Englanders” that their desire to retreat and live in seclusion was a dream—and that such thinking would inevitably bring conflict!
Read these words from Churchill during the battle of Dunkirk: “We shall fight in France, and we shall fight on the seas and the oceans. … Then our empire beyond the oceans, armed and guarded by the British fleet, will carry on the struggle until, in God’s good time, the new world with all its power and might sets forth to the rescue and liberation of the old.”
Churchill didn’t view the British Empire as a conquering force. He viewed it as a force for freedom, justice and civilization—and it was!
That strong belief in empire did great things for mankind!
Where do you find that spirit today in Great Britain? If Churchill visited Britain today, I think he would be horrified, and deeply saddened and ashamed, at the state of the nation he dedicated his life to serving.
In fact, he would barely recognize it!
God’s View of Empire
Human history has certainly produced some very evil empires. Rather than civilizing the world, some empires have made it more barbaric and violent. According to biblical prophecy, the most savage empire of all is going to rise just before Jesus Christ’s Second Coming—and we can see it emerging before our eyes in Europe today! At present, it is disguised with sophistication, but soon it will revert to its historical brutality.
That ugly history has contributed to the evil view that many people today have of empire in general, especially among intellectuals and scholars in the West. However, the existence of these barbarizing empires doesn’t change the good that a civilizing empire can do. And the scholars’ cynical portrayal of the British Empire is very deceptive and dishonest.
At its core, is it immoral to have an empire? No. There isn’t anything wrong with an empire if it brings good. Truly, the right kind of imperialism can accomplish great things!
In fact, if you understand the gospel that Jesus Christ brought to this Earth—advance news from God the Father of the soon-coming Kingdom of God—it was at its heart an imperialistic message!
The Kingdom of God could very accurately be called the God Family Empire!
God has a plan to lift human life away from barbarism and savagery toward civilization and excellence. He has a strategy to spread just laws and right morals. He intends to fulfill the noble purpose of fostering the right kind of civilization for the benefit of the whole world!
God is laying the foundation of that future empire today. He is preparing a people—His Church—that will be ready when the time comes that Jesus Christ is crowned King of kings and Lord of lords.
Are you one whom God could use for that noble purpose? Would you devote your life to this greatest of all causes?
Think on this statement from James Anthony Froude, which he wrote in his book Oceana: “A man … who is more than himself, who is part of an institution, who has devoted himself to a cause—or is a citizen of an imperial power—expands to the scope and fullness of the larger organism; and the grander the organization, the larger and more important the unit that knows that he belongs to it. His thoughts are wider, his interests less selfish, his ambitions ampler and nobler. … A great nation makes great men, a small nation makes little men.”
Froude was talking about the British Empire. Churchill and many others were living proof of that statement. That great empire ennobled them and set their imaginations on fire.
But Froude’s observation is infinitely truer of the empire that God Himself is establishing! This empire improves both rulers and ruled. The more we understand it and commit our passions to it, the less selfish our interests, the wider our thoughts, the ampler and nobler our ambitions become!
After all, this is God’s empire! It is the greatest, most wonderful and inspiring endeavor that will ever be. No nation or kingdom on Earth will ever produce greater men and women than God’s Kingdom—and you can join forces with it even today! ▪