Sunday, August 11, 2013

Winston Churchill - Hedgehog or Fox?

When my wife and I take a longish car trip we listen to books on tape.  On this trip we are listening to the Churchill biography the Last Lion - which I read when it came out but I am such an admirer of Churchill that I never cease to enjoy hearing more about him.

He was a master of phrases - when the labor party took over he said that "what had started out as utopia is now queue-topia."   Many of his wartime speeches represent economical use of the language that almost no other politician could master - "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

But as you go thorough this very thorough book I began to think about Isiah Berlin's famous essay on Hedgehogs and Foxes.   Berlin divided the world into two types of people - people who attempt to define the world through a single lens (Hedgehogs) and those who extrapolate off a wide variety of experiences (Foxes).  

Churchill was clearly a product of his time who viewed the world through a particular lens or set of lenses.   One can pick out elements in his life from fashion, to speech patterns to even great speeches like the Westminster College Iron Curtain speech - where he seemed to be defining the world that most had not recognized.   That would make him a hedgehog.    And yet, as you look at his life's work, especially his stint as a war time Prime Minister - he often seemed to have figured out how to fit the facts to the situation.   In some cases the perception of a single lens was completely off base.  That makes him look a lot like a fox.

So what do you think?

No comments: