One day in January 1948, Winston Churchill told the House of Commons “that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history”. A year later George Orwell published 1984, in which his hero Winston Smith was tortured by thoughts about the deceits of demagogues: “If all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth.”
Does that mean that Thomas E. Ricks’ study of Churchill and Orwell is the latest in the recent sequence of books that pit two men (Wittgenstein and Popper have had the treatment, as have Sartre and Camus, Leonardo and Michelangelo, and Keynes and Hayek) against one another to see who comes out on top? Not a bit of it. Ricks’ mission is to convince us that his two “vastly dissimilar” subjects were in fact cut from the same cloth. The high-born Tory romantic and the socialist scholarship boy were united in their belief that the twentieth century’s big- shot ideologues wanted to sound the death knell on individual freedom.