Churchill’s Trial | Book Review

Churchill’s Leadership Philosophy

For anyone wondering if leaders are only born, rather than made,  Dr. Larry Arnn’s meticulously researched work offers probably the greatest expression of a Personal Leadership Philosophy, grown over a lifetime of public service and statesmanship. Highlighting the deepest application of leadership, this dissertation underscores the statesman’s often-solitary journey.

Dr. Arnn offers two reasons why Churchill’s’ story is relevant today (p. xv): Scientific advancement of weaponry and warfare, and the comprehensive administrative state. He opens (p. xviii) speaking of human nature, that leaders may fall short (see Madison Federalist 51 – If men were angels…), and that Churchill believed statesmen could be “armed,” in his case via writings and speeches. Churchill’s fifteen million words advanced him, and his considered life via politics. His values called for humility and prudence, regardless the height of one’s influential position.

Three Trials

Dr. Arnn outlines three trials, or trends, Churchill faced. First, the rise of Nazism (pp. xx-xxvi), or consolidation of German states via war, allowing “scientific barbarism,” whereby “Governments own peoples,” rather than the opposite. Hitler leveraged this national abnegation leading to tyranny. Second, the rise of the Soviet Union (pp. xxvi-xxx), or a tyranny of the Left, reducing humanity to materialism, dominated by class worship. Stalin, as Khozyain, or boss, crushed all dissent, creating an environment (see Koestler’s Darkness at Noon) where former allies surrendered their souls to their corporeal idea -- The Party. Third, the leftward turn in Western Democracies (pp. xxx-xxxiii), or the Progressive impulsive “efforts to exalt the power of the central government and to limit the rights of individuals.” Events coinciding with Churchill’s lifetime allow foreseeing a newer, more foreboding tyranny, armed with modern science capable of eliminating individuality.


Churchill’s early ambition, influence, and leadership philosophy, via the Boer war led to four observations (pp. 7-9): Thinking about danger, thinking about politics, thinking about time (urgency of action), and thinking about victory. By his mid-twenties, Churchill had already fought in multiple wars, written extensively and persuasively about the experiences, and was thinking deeply about statesmanship. Reflecting on the loss of Antwerp (think After Action Review, AAR), he sought broader position (pp. 12-13) and joined the Chamberlain government. He understood the influential nature of leadership, adding charm, and especially, rhetoric to his repertoire (p. 17). His expectations, based on courage and fear, were clear regarding Hitler:

“…that every man of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender….”

Reflecting upon war in the Sudan in The River War, Churchill realized technology may allow victory over courage and generalship, or prudence (p. 24), foreshadowing the monstrous destructive potential of modern warfare. In his autobiographical novel, Savrola, Churchill (p. 30) advises that “science does not necessarily bring either kindness or civilization.” This is a great reminder our moral compass must guide our ever-advancing technology. For Churchill, leading via our compass is statesmanship, explored more deeply as virtue in Chapter Three.

Strategy | Duality

The duality of pugnacity and reserve, advance and retreat, thought and action, statesmanship and generalship, politics and war (p. 69) launch a towering Chapter Four, The Strategist. Because of modern warfare’s destructive potential, Churchill saw strategy as economic politics, preserving a vibrant private economy allowing war fighting with strength when necessary (p. 72). Analogous to the American Constitution’s executive unity (or a corporate Chief Executive Officer), he believed statesmen provide unity (purpose) while generals give the soldiers a plan. We may think of Jim CollinsAligning Actions and Values as contemporary equivalent, with alignment (unity) essential before executing strategy (the plan). Most of us have learned the hard way that unaligned strategies lead to workplace silos.

Like an individual personal leadership philosophy, Churchill viewed words as weapons, or that what one says will affect what one does (p. 87). Arnn references George Bernard Shaw’s Fabian Essays, setting up Marx, Stalin and Lenin’s view of human relations as a contest necessarily requiring the advantage of some at the expense of others, rather than win-win outcomes (conflict management). This sets up Part Three, after Chapter Five’s meditations on Indian and South African colonialism (empire).

Conflicting Visions

Can humankind be perfected? Part III explores the leadership, or statesman’s role during peacetime. Churchill reflected upon “Mass effects in Modern Life” (p. 119), or put another way, what risks arise when unprecedented war fighting capability exists during peacetime. Similar to Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Visions, whereby an unconstrained vision appeals to human perfection, the Fabian (pp. 122-127) socialist vision relies on science for morality rather than personal virtues.

At the core, Churchill found nature, and likewise values such as justice, wisdom, valor and prudence, constants (p. 150) at risk of suppression by well-meaning socialistic equality objectives. His strongest statements against socialism (p. 169) were that although overcoming consent of the governed was not the intention of the Socialists, their measures would nonetheless lead us there.

Regardless one’s political orientation (capitalist vs. socialist, constrained vs. unconstrained vision), Churchill’s deep reflections (he switched political parties twice) suggest we as leaders consider the limitations of a personal leadership philosophy, as well as the consequences, intended and otherwise, of our overarching vision. Churchill considered prudence (p. xiii) the virtue proper of a statesman, and more recently General Stanley McChrystal found humility (see Team of Teams) in the role of a gardener, or fostering an environment where others may grow.

For Further Reflection

The World Crisis “Deadlock in the West” and Sinews of Peace [1946 Speech] are frequently referenced, and a lifetime of suggested further reading is provided (pp. 363-364) for a deeper dive into a singular leader.

A genuine masterpiece.

JE | December 2015