Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle were eerily similar political figures, said Hillsdale politics professor Will Morrisey at a recent Kirby Center lecture in Washington, D.C. Both had to rally their people and country to fight against the German, Russian and eventually Soviet threats facing them. And, both went about it in different ways.
It all began with geopolitics, which Morrisey defined as “the realm of necessity,” which “can be the realm of liberty.” Morrisey defined liberty as the “relationship of reciprocity, shared rule” like a household’s parent-child relationship. Both France and the United Kingdom were liberty-focused governments and were what Morrisey called “commercial republics.”
Churchill “enjoyed… a long stable regime that accustomed its people to a civic and political life of ruling and being ruled” while De Gaulle had to deal with a fractured political identity where there was significant “regime instability.” French foreign policy was unstable to the point that some felt there was some “exploitation by foreign enemies” at points in their history. Churchill appealed to the Latin roots and “very Anglo-Saxonism” of his countrymen and women, sharing cultural references (such as literature) through his writings to the people. De Gaulle relied on re-educating the French people, strongly suggesting a “strong executive branch” to retain their republicanism while ridding the country of fractured politics in their parliament.
France and the United Kingdom had to confront “the military oligarchies of Wilhemine Germany and Austria-Hungary, then the tyrannies of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, and then again with nuclear weapons on both sides, the tyranny and then eventually the oligarchy of the Soviet Union.” But, in defending their states from these external threats and aggressors, Morrisey said, “In prevailing against these illiberal regimes, Republics proved the defense of political liberty hard but also possible.” These leaders had to act “in a world of massive, centralized, modern states” and became “defenders of commercial republics.”
Morrisey averred that terrain “must be entered into the thinking of a nearby ruler,” and so France was in a worse geopolitical and geographical situation located in the flat plains of Western Europe while the British were on an island. To make matters worse, Germany and Russia had centralized, militaristic governments that could easily build military capacity in secret and had enough population to sustain a military campaign. But, France and the United Kingdom could not confront Germany or Russia head-on for those reasons, and relied on a new emerging power across the Atlantic Ocean.
They “saw the rise of a friendly, but worrisome regime in North America, one which had never wielded the worldwide influence it partly fell into but mostly fell into and planned.” Although France and the United Kingdom could predict what Germans or Russian may do, having sparred with them over the years, “these statesmen could not so easily anticipate American conduct.” Also, “they both needed, but to a degree, dreaded, the United States and some of its policies” because of America’s “long standing hostility to European imperialism.”