Saturday, April 02, 2011

Whitaker Chambers: the Sounds of Solzhenitsyn

From a Richard Reinsch II essay at Heritage commemorating Chambers' birthday. It's not surprising that Chambers' Witness is not prescribed reading for the modern Right, by the way; Chambers was leery of many of its axioms. So was Solzhenitsyn (and in another line of thinking, Benedict XVI, who attacks Western relativism, a philosophical child of the conundrum described by Chambers and Solzhenitsyn.)

...Chambers argued that the West’s weakness grew out of its tacit adoption of many of the philosophical errors on which Communism rested. A larger Western conversion, Chambers boldly urged, similar in many respects to his personal conversion would have to be made if Communism and its philosophical underpinnings were to be defeated. The West would have to emerge from its deep-seated materialism, its confusion over the nature of the person and his dignity, and its detached understanding of the free society’s conservative origins. This could happen, Chambers observed, only if the West reengaged the truth about God and man.

Chambers’ diagnosis troubles us today because of the West’s retention of so many of the ideas that shaped Communism. We still remain distant, if not cut off, from the intellectual and religious sources that shaped the West from its beginning. The contemporary West still asserts that reality should be understood through empirical reason alone, that man is merely a highly evolved creature; or, alternatively, it states that liberty is only a useful fiction because history, science, economics, and the state are the real movers carrying man forward.

Or, reduced to only one sentence:

As he wrote in Witness, “political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible.

And a 'political reading of the Bible' is inadequate, at best.

Chambers understood deLubac's aphorism that “It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can ultimately only organize it against man....something that could have been written by G K Chesterton, too.

Chambers also recognized the falsity of the Libertarian philosophy.

...liberty is perverted by the modern project because it is tied to the masterful realization of self-sovereignty. In this view, nothing exists above the human will that can provide guidance and direction to liberty. Man chooses, consents to, and creates his own reality. The ideology of consent wages its own ruthless logic by abstracting man from his nature and purpose. For the reality that man created in the 20th century was the product of a ferocious striving for perfection. The paradox that Chambers noticed was that man’s attempts to reclaim Eden only further removed him from the modest achievements he could obtain...

Reminding us of JPII's phrase that "Freedom is the liberty to do what is right." And by that he meant 'to do ONLY what is right.'

There is a warning for the modern Rightists:

Chambers reasoned that the Soviet Union’s secret power was its philosophic materialism, the belief that empirically measurable reality was the only reality open to man. The West held a kindred faith in this transformative understanding of reality. [What Nietzsche called Tthe transvaluation of all values"] The problematic aspect was that human mystery and limits were never accorded the dignity they deserved under this ranking of goods. This meant that man looked too much to material, scientific, and economic progress for the perfection of his nature. Even in the West, there was the creepy notion that if these were the primary goods, perhaps the command-control state was a better bargain for their achievement.

The significance for Chambers was that the materialism and unconscious atheism informally guiding the West may have objected to Communism but could not counter the narrative of man and his perfection put forward by Communism

Or, we might add, the "soft-tyranny Socialism" which is the same cloth in pastel--and which remains a significant force in the West--witness Obama, Merkel, or Greece, inter alia.

Chambers and Solzhenitsyn were co-witnesses.

This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow.

Or again, Solzhenitsyn, here commenting on the reason for the weakness of the West, as did Chambers (in almost the same terms):

I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists

Two great minds, one message. It IS possible to 'lose the West,' and it seems that we are living through the fulcrum-time both nationally and in Wisconsin.

HT: RedStates


Saint Revolution said...

Saw the people standin',
thousand years in chains.
Somebody said it's diff'rent now,
But, look!
It's just the same.
Pharoahs spin the message,
Round and round the truth.
They could've saved, a million people,
How can I tell you?

wolskerj said...

Or as Anthony Esolen says,
"Secular Humanism is contradiction in terms - the more secular a society is, the less human it becomes."

John Foust said...

Wow, so we're supposed to carry out Jesus's goals and JPII's rephrasing of them? They didn't really mean "help the poor" literally, did they?