A dense, forgiving study of the great British leader who was both of his time and flexible enough to transcend it.
Churchill famously asserted that “he had not become Prime Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire,” although the gradual unraveling of proprietorship over India, Ireland, the African colonies, Palestine and parts of the Middle East occurred on his watch during the first half of the 20th century. Toye (History/Univ. of Exeter; Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness, 2007) seems to be writing for a new generation of post-Empire readers, many of whom need to be reminded that Churchill was cultivated within a British aristocracy at the apogee of Victorian expansion, wherein, as Churchill remarked in his early 20s, the motherland would “continue to pursue that course marked out for us by an all-wise hand and carry out our mission of bearing peace, civilisation and good government to the uttermost ends of the earth.” Although he was steeped in the work of Kipling, Gibbons and Winwood Reade, from whose The Martyrdom of Man he derived the idea that “Empire and progress went hand in hand,” Churchill did not subscribe to patronizing, racist views toward the empire’s “barbarous peoples.” Toye tracks the evolution of Churchill’s ideas through his early journalistic forays in India, which provided him a nuanced examination of “frontier policy” in The Story of the Malakand Field; his participation in the British campaign in the Sudan, where he witnessed firsthand atrocities committed by the British; observation of the war against the Boers and fate of the South African blacks, which prodded him in a more liberal direction as his parliamentary career took off; shifting “diehard” attitudes toward Irish Home Rule, Muslims, Hindus and Jews as global flashpoints erupted; and his evident struggle to “reconcile the demands of his conscience with those of political conformity.”
Toye considers this enormously complicated subject with admirable equanimity.