Thornton’s second case study — the appeasement of Nazi aggression in the decade before World War II — demonstrates how modern “utopianism” and the accompanying malaise of cultural self-loathing exacerbate the timeless, siren temptation of appeasement firmly rooted in the human psyche. Case study three — the contemporary West’s largely supine response to resurgent global jihadism — reveals the grotesque persistence of post-World War I era delusive utopianism and destructive self-flagellation despite the still tangible horrors inflicted by 20th century Nazi and Communist totalitarianism.
The first and second case studies feature two orator-statesmen: the ancient Greek Demosthenes, and Winston Churchill. These men recognized what was (and remains) at risk, as described by Thornton:
[T]he continuation of political freedom and autonomy, with all their attendant goods — human rights, rule by law, consensual government, equality, personal freedom, and a political system that benefits all citizens rather than the interests of a tyrant or an illiberal regime.
Demosthenes argued that the corrosion of political virtue, evident, Thornton observes:
… in the reluctance of citizens to serve in the army, their unwillingness to forgo the public dole, and the corruption of some politicians by bribery — stands out as the premier cause of the Greeks’ failure to resist Philip and defend their freedom.
Although tarnished by modern “revisionist mania,” which Thornton dismisses, Demosthenes remains for the author (consistent with an earlier continuum of appraisals “from Cicero to French statesman Clemenceau”) the paragon “of resistance to tyranny and the defense of freedom.” Demosthenes warned his fellow citizens of Athens:
[Philip did] not want to have the Athenian tradition of liberty watching to seize every chance against himself.
He implored them to resist Philip’s aggression:
[Philip is] the inveterate enemy of constitutional government and democracy, for unless you are heartily persuaded of this, you will not consent to take your politics seriously.
Over two millennia later, in defense of the same foundational Western freedoms articulated by Demosthenes, Winston Churchill had to grapple additionally with what Thornton aptly refers to as “all of the interwar cultural pathologies” which enervated England in the 1920s and 1930s:
Pacifism, “war guilt,” internationalist idealism, hostility to the military, all the delusions that made a policy of appeasement seem not just expedient, but a moral imperative.
Churchill decried this mentality as suicidal when confronting the “bands of sturdy Teutonic youths marching through the streets and roads of Germany, with the light of desire in their eyes to suffer for their Fatherland.”
He reiterated the existential threat posed by such “utopian” cultural self-hatred during a 1933 address to the Royal Society of St. George:
Our difficulties come from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians. But what have they to offer but a vague internationalism, a squalid materialism, and the promise of impossible Utopias?
Churchill concluded the same speech with this moral lesson:
Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told. If, while on all sides foreign nations are every day asserting a more aggressive and militant nationalism by arms and trade, we remain paralyzed by our own theoretical doctrines or plunged into the stupor of after-war exhaustion, then indeed all that the croakers predict will come true, and our ruin will be swift and final.