Friday, 23 October 2015

Will, Providence and Winston Churchill

This exposition is edited and adapted from William Arkle's A Geography of Consciousness pages 213-4:

We sometimes consider the human will to be something like a show of psychological strength and virility. And providence or fate, therefore, may seem to be a product of mastery by some individual's will. But the true will works in a manner that is almost completely contrary to this idea. 

The true will achieves its purpose in harmony with every other will. This happens by the true will working behind the scenes, along with all other wills, at a level far behind the surface of things. 

The true will recognizes the value of all things, and aims to be harmless towards every form of life, by working quietly and patiently, and eventually bringing-together and arranging all the correct factors in the correct place and at the correct time.

So, by the time we observe the will at work in some way which seems providential, this is merely the endpoint of a vast and complex and extremely subtle arrangement of factors which have been coming-together over a long period of time. 

So subtle; that the appearance is one of a staggering multiplicity of coincidences, or a providential event of extraordinary improbability.

When we notice that a strong and able individual (a 'great man') appears in political life at a very critical time, we may say that 'the time produces the man'. This may partly be true; but in reality the necessary individual may be present at the critical time because the crisis and that individual's being were inseparably connected by that individual's true will from a long time previously. That individual's true will was able to foresee the confrontation of the forces which created the crisis.  

In effect, the true will of the great man designed-itself to be present as an individual person, exactly in order to be able to take part in the crisis which required it.

Winston Churchill is a case which comes to mind. 



  1. I read a book called Empire by Niall Ferguson recently. The section on WWII empire history described how Churchill, as a precocious young Harrow Boy wrote an essay in which he prophesied that he would one day lead the British Empire on a great battle against seemingly indomitable forces of evil and at great cost but in an almost apocalyptic clash of will power between nation. I undertand this was many decades before he became the war era politician. If that isn't a sign of providence waiting in the wings I don't know what is?! Of course, there is the possibility that Harrow boys of the empire tended to write that kind of stuff anyway, at a time when the beating heart of empire had not faded in young men's minds, but still it struck me as auspicious.

  2. This is something I think about all the time. It ties in very well with what you write elsewhere concerning the value of genius. I've studied the Second World War in depth and for me the two outstanding personalities are Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle. Hitler, I believe, allowed himself to become a mere conduit for dark forces - little more than a shell - a bit like Wither and Frost in That Hideous Strength. Stalin comes across as more machine than man while Roosevelt was a shallow, if politically astute, mediocrity.

    The imaginative flair displayed by Churchill and de Gaulle, coupled with their deep historical awareness, gave them the power to inspire, symbolise and even incarnate their nations. 'I am France' declared de Gaulle at one point, and he was absolutely right. He alone (for a time) possessed the inner capability and direction to assume the archetypal reality of the nation. The fall of France gave his 'inner man' the stage and platform which it had been working towards unconsciously all his life.

    Exactly the same goes for Churchill. I can't help thinking of the age-old legends of Arthur, the 'sleeping king', awaking at his country's hour of need to dispel the invader. Churchill, whether knowingly or not, tapped into this mythic stream, and this, I feel, is what gave him the ability to connect with his people at the mythic, archetypal level - the only level which matters at times of national crisis.

    Both Chuchill and de Gaulle were writers and historians, writing with a flair and elan not usually associated with academics and 'professionals.' They were mavericks and outsiders, frequently at odds with their respective establishments. Neither were in any way a safe pair of hands. 'Genius', I believe, is the best word to describe them.

    I share your concerns regarding the current marginalisation of genius. It almost makes me wonder if some kind of dark 'puissance' is at work, ensuring that such lantern bearers can never appear again to stiffen the resolve of our crumbling civilisation. But, as you say, it's the single most important factor. To have a 'cutting edge' is everything - in politics, art, literature, science, religion or whatever. To have an independence of mind and a disrespect for current norms allied to a strong sense of tradition and value. That's the kind of personality I feel is increasingly being squeezed out of contemporary life.

    But I don't despair. The large crowds lining the streets, for instance, for the reburial of Richard III earlier in the year, gives hope that those archetypal levels - those mythic strata - are still very much alive and in the game. As Frodo says while darkness sweeps the land: "They cannot conquer forever."

  3. @David - Good confirmation. It is easy for people, especially on the left, to be overwhelmed by focusing on Churchill's faults and failures - but he did the one thing needful (and a bit more), and not by accident, but from the core of his essential being.

    If only he had been in power a little earlier - to prevent the inhumane, bureaucratic, pacifistic and un-English debacle that was the mass (pre actual war) 'evacuation' of children (and businesses) in 1939.

    @John - Really great comment - one of the best I've had!

    "It almost makes me wonder if some kind of dark 'puissance' is at work, ensuring that such lantern bearers can never appear again to stiffen the resolve of our crumbling civilisation." I know what you mean - but I don't think they have that power - unless people want them to; and in that case the lantern bearers are powerless anyway.

    My feeling is that *as things stand*, having refused repentance, and having actively embraced and tried to impose an inverted-good/ evil agenda (on ourselves, and increasingly everywhere else) the West probably needs to be destroyed - for our own good and the good of the rest of humanity. In such circumstances no lantern bearer will arise - we will simply be allowed to take the consequences of our own wickedness.

    This kind of thing is one of the saddest things I have observed about being a parent of a child who turns-out to be unrepentantly and actively evil - someone that delights in the destruction of innocence and goodness. At some agonizing point the parent has to stop defending their child from the consequences of their wicked choices, and let events take their course.

    Having been given so many and such great opportunities, and spurned them and (metaphorically) spat at those who did right; our civilization must be getting close to such a point, if we have not already passed it.

    This - although a terrible waste - would not be the greatest of tragedies, as CS Lewis perceived; because all civilizations and the earth itself are ephemeral in the eternal context of our souls. All *good* things must come to an end in this mortal life - how much more reasonably must bad things likewise come to an end.