Winston Churchill and the Scientific Imagination
Churchill is an equal-opportunity prophet: “Under sufficient stress—starvation, terror, warlike passion, or even cold intellectual frenzy—the modern man we know so well will do the most terrible deeds, and his modern woman will back him up”
Finest Hour 94
by Paul K. Alkon
Much has been written about the administrative side of Churchill’s long and important involvement with science. As First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, Churchill presided over great advances in warship armament, speed, and endurance that he himself describes in a very technical chapter of The World Crisis ironically entitled “The Romance of Design.” (1) Historians have noted other influential activities ranging from his encouragement of military aviation, tank development, and chemical warfare during the First World War through his concern as Prime Minister with radar, rockets, proximity fuses, asdic, atomic research, and other facets of what in his memoirs of World War II he fancifully calls “The Wizard War.” Well known are Churchill’s singular friendship with his scientific mentor, Professor Lindemann, and his role in the establishment of Churchill College at Cambridge University as a center for the study of science—upon continuing mastery of which, Churchill insisted in one of his last speeches, depended England’s future.
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The Scaffolding of Rhetoric was written by Churchill in November 1897.
Winston Churchill studied the art of speech making from a very early age. This article was never formally published during Churchill lifetime, though some of the ideas in it were incorporated in Savrola, Churchill’s only novel. Written in 1897 when he was just 23, it provides Churchill’s formula for crafting a powerful and impactful speech. His advice today that is as sound as ever. It is republished here by kind permission of the Churchill Literary Estate and Winston S. Churchill MP.
By Winston S Churchill
Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king. He is an independent force in the world. Abandoned by his party, betrayed by his friends, stripped of his offices, whoever can command this power is still formidable. Many have watched its effects. A meeting of grave citizens, protected by all the cynicism of these prosaic days, is unable to resist its influence. From unresponsive silence they advance to grudging approval and thence to complete agreement with the speaker. The cheers become louder and more frequent; the enthusiasm momentarily increases; until they are convulsed by emotions they are unable to control and shaken by passions of which they have resigned the direction.
It is however freely written and frequently remarked that the day of oratory is passing. The newspaper report and the growing knowledge of men have, it is said, led to the decline of rhetoric. Now no rhetorician would be likely to admit that his art had lost its power, and if this proposition be generally affirmed, the conclusion follows that there are at present no orators. But it by no means follows that the future will be equally barren.
There was once a party in the state that thought that the power of personality in politics was a thing of the past, that took as a motto “Measures not Men,” and forthwith proceeded blindly to follow a great man for thirty years. Human weakness appears to be one of the few unvarying features of life and we are convinced that those primary forces which from earliest antiquity have appealed to men will continue to influence their actions. The sentimental and emotional parts of the human mind will even derive new vigour from the spread of education and the easiness of intercourse.
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