Today is Winston Churchill’s birthday, always an excuse for a cigar and a snoot of brandy. To connect this with a previous thread, here’s the concluding fragment of Leo Strauss’s lengthy spontaneous remarks to his students in class upon hearing the news of Churchill’s death in 1965 (many of Strauss’s classes were tape-recorded, and transcripts circulate in samizdat form):
“The death of Churchill reminds us of the limitations of our craft, and therewith of our duty. We have no higher duty, and no more pressing duty, than to remind ourselves and our students of political greatness, human greatness, of the peaks of human excellence. For we are supposed to train ourselves and others in seeing things as they are, and this means above all in seeing their greatness and their misery, their excellence and their vileness, their nobility and their triumphs, and therefore never to mistake medicority, however brilliant, for true greatness.”
And Gertrude Himmelfarb had this to say some years back: “When I meet a historian who cannot think that there have been great men, great men moreover in politics, I feel myself in the presence of a bad historian. And there are times when I incline to judge all historians by their opinion of Winston Churchill–whether they can see that, no matter how much better the details, often damaging, of the man and his career become known, he still remains, quite simply, a great man.”
Hear, hear. Happy birthday, Sir Winston!