In the rapid decline and collapse of the British Empire, the United Kingdom, and England itself in the 20th Century, one figure dominates the events of the era. That man is Winston Churchill.
His life covers both the height of peace, prosperity, empire, and yes, even liberty. And the actions and events that caused all of those to be lost. Of which the greatest loss was liberty.
The British Empire, and its predecessors, has had its ups and downs in nearly a thousand years. From William the Bastard (later “the Conquerer”) in 1066 to the pitiful excuse for a dynasty and nation in 2022, and the impending death of the second Elizabeth reigning (not ruling – never that!) over a pitiful, shrunken, demoralized, frightened shadow of a nation. A small empire, by modern standards, the Norman/Angevin domains were nevertheless powerful and large in their era, but were torn asunder in just a trio of centuries – by internal and external forces. A second, much larger empire took more centuries but grew powerful and even dominant. And spanned the globe, ultimately outliving its original antagonists (Spain, Portugal, Turkey). It even overcame the loss of its greatest jewels: the Atlantic Seaboard colonies that formed the United States. The British defeat (with many allies, of course) of France and Napoleon in 1815 heralded a century of power and growth. By 1900, the sun indeed never set on the British Empire. It was that peak of imperial power that shaped Winston Churchill.
But the decline of empire began then as well. Many point to the Anglo-French alliance, the Entente Cordiale of 1904 as the point of origin: the real turning point was 1914 when that alliance drew the British into the Great War (our World War One), a continental war that the UK should never have fought. (Just as the United States should not have.)
After the unmitigated disaster of the Great War, the British Empire’s destiny was clear – like the empires which that War had already destroyed. Although things were good in many ways in the 1920s, and even in the worldwide depression of the 1930s, the signs of decay – not just decadence – were obvious. The UK could have taken action to prevent – or at least delay – the collapse. Again ending the meddling in Europe that should have been rejected in the 1905-1920 era could have prevented the second bloodletting in two generations, and prevented bankruptcy of the empire: financial and moral. Tying the Empire together in a constitutional, democratic nature (for instance, an Imperial Parliament in which both the old Dominions and the African and Asian colonies were represented), could have even revived it. Internationally, treating Germany decently, and China and Japan with compassion and fairness, would have helped enormously.
But instead, and to a degree like the French, the British arrogance, of whom Winston Churchill both was the legacy and a leading proponent, combined with the growing fragmentation of British society, ensured that doom would come swiftly after the enormous sacrifices and horrors of the Second World War. Indeed, together France and Germany (and with the avid participation of the FedGov and even Stalin) seemed intent over 20 years of “peace.” Intent in causing a second, greater worldwide conflict. One not just centered in Europe and spilling across the globe but one with two centers, and at least six fronts: Western and Eastern Europe, North Africa, South Asia, the Pacific, and China. In which Britain and its now increasing-moribund empire participated fully. And so destroyed itself.
Some lovers of liberty may find it objectionable, but a part of this was the de facto abdication of the royal family, the Windsors. They left the nation, the empire, the people to the mercies of the politicians and whims of the so-called democratic process. They could have set the example in perseverance and moral courage, in pressing both the old nobility and the “new nobility” (the owners and managers of industry and other endeavors) to live up to the standards that preserve and expand liberty and therefore prosperity and peace.
The collapse of the Empire and British prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s is notable because it was relatively peaceful and actually rather slow-motion.
The greatest loss was not prosperity, was not the worldwide network that promoted more and more free trade, freedom of travel, and all the benefits of the Empire and Commonwealth. It was the loss of personal and individual liberty and the destruction of free enterprise. Britain embraced socialism and embraced Europe and all its troubles and errors. And for much of those two decades, Winston Churchill was both the instigator and a beneficiary of those actions and trends. Even while he supposedly fought against many of them.
Churchill was a perfect example of a man on a white horse, more similar than most are willing to admit to Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Franklin D Roosevelt. He left his world, his nation, yes, and his empire and people, a poorer, less-free place with more powerful government and more de facto slavery. Half-heartedly, the British have tried again and again in the last half-century, to restore some of Albion’s glory and liberty, and have (at least for now) failed.