Finest Hour

Fearful Levity

The shadow of Maurice Cowling hangs heavy over Robert Crowcroft’s The End Is Nigh: British Politics, Power, and the Road to the Second World War. Cowling’s The Impact of Hitler, published in 1975, was an influential challenge to historical orthodoxy. Writing from the disenchanted perspective of an English conservative embittered by the economic and political depths to which post-war Britain had by that point sunk, Cowling treated the approach of the Second World War not as a study in the failure of appeasement. Rather, dismissing the impact of ideas, he saw it as struggle in which naked political ambition defined British policy. It is, as Crowcroft states, a “highly sceptical way of looking at politics.”

As Cowling intended, the effect British politics.” The only difference between the contending politicians was that, while Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain, and the Labour Party were all driven by a pursuit for power, Winston Churchill was so consistently unprincipled, ambitious, and wrong that the war in which he helped to embroil Britain in 1939 made him a menace to British power, British greatness, and the British Empire. Between them, they show what happens when “the competition to rule a democratic polis overwhelms the system.”

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