Sir Winston Churchill’s May 1940 argument to his War Cabinet to reject Adolf Hitler’s entreaty to discuss brokering a peace deal is illustrative of sound decision-making that can benefit anyone, explained Larry Arnn, Ph.D., Hillsdale College president.
“Our choices will get better if we know stories like that,” he said.
Speaking at the Oct. 27 Fridays at Findlay executive speaker breakfast hosted by the University of Findlay, the Churchill expert’s discussion about leadership focused on valuable lessons imparted by such “geniuses” whose philosophical tenets, reinforced through politics, shaped the world and can serve as models for our everyday lives.
Click here to view Arnn’s entire lecture.
Arnn, who also teaches college courses on Aristotle and the U.S. Constitution, pointed out that difficult decisions, made daily, are influenced by knowledge and an “inner voice.” Aristotle, he said, maintained we all “long for the good, and the highest form of good is the beautiful.” Contemplating both the means and the ends, and weighing our own desires, in relation to their affect on others, is beneficial, he said.
“Pericles was a paragon of choosing. And why was he? Aristotle says that the hardest choices, the choices of life and death that involve millions of people, are made in politics,” and that situational factors, particularly the details, play a large role, Arnn noted. “Is it wrong to steal? Is it wrong to steal bread if your children are starving? Is it wrong to kill? Is it wrong to kill Hitler?”
Churchill, perhaps best known for his bold decisions and courage during World War II, “was afraid of war,” Arnn said. The statesman characterized it as unnecessary, and foresaw the dangers of technology in the form of more efficient lethal weapons that have the ability to destroy humanity, he continued.
“In an essay titled ‘Shall We All Commit Suicide’ in 1925 Churchill writes: ‘Mankind has never been in this position before. Without improving appreciably in virtue or enjoying wiser guidance, he has got into his hands at last the means of his own destruction. Death stands waiting at attention, silent and expectant, waiting for a single word from a frail being so long his servant, now for once his master,’” Arnn recited.
Yet despite his fear, Churchill argued to continue Britain’s involvement in the war, given the humanitarian toll it was exacting, and his prescient views about eventual United States involvement that he predicted would turn the tide.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give,” Churchill is known to have said.
“In the lives of the great statesman, you can see they exhibited these characteristics,” Arnn said. “Genius is a transcendent ability. One way to get it (choices) right is to study the people who have.”