Sunday, August 04, 2013

60 Years Old, Even More Worth a Read Now

Yes, I read it; yes, I still have it around.  Mine's at least second-hand with a bookplate from someone in Indiana (!)

A decade ago, Regnery issued the 50th anniversary of Whittaker Chambers’ Witness, honoring its corporate motto that reads, “it is our purpose to publish good books where we find them.”  Witness is not simply a good book, but one of the most profound studies of human nature published in at least the past hundred years. It rips apart the media and cultural narrative about the early Cold War in the United States.  At a very basic and human level, the book also lays out Chambers’ own tortuous navigation of the spirit.
Chambers is one of the most complex and unremembered of important American historical figures.  Like many other writers between the world wars, such as John Dos Passos, he embraced Communist leftism as the only possible savior of humanity.  Most of these men and women flirted with the international Communist movement as fellow travelers.

Not ever content to flit at the periphery of events, Chambers slid into an even deeper ensnarement.  He ended up managing part of a Moscow based spy network that used journalists, artists, and technocrats to extend its poisoned tentacles into the world’s most important capitals.

By 1937, however, Chambers made “the decision to die, if necessary, rather than to live under Communism.”  Unlike the slow climb from Communism to conservatism made by some contemporaries, again, such as Dos Passos, Chambers moved quickly. First, he decided to mentally abandon Communism as a set of beliefs.  That not being sufficient, he walked into the home of Assistant Secretary of State Adolph Berle in 1939 and gave a full confession.  To him, the break was a “personal, intellectual, and religious act” that had much less potential consequence for himself and his family than deserting a Soviet spy apparatus.  Time editor Henry Grunwald later related that Chambers told him that Communism equated “slavery and spiritual night.

It's not an easy read, but it is very clear and lucid.  And yes, Chambers 'gets' the human condition, although his work is clouded a bit by his Protestant theo-philosophical meanderings.

HT:  Sipsey Street


Anonymous said...

Most important thing I have ever read, without a second place finisher coming within a country mile. It explained everything about the human condition to me, as an 18-year old, and literally prepared me intellectually and emotionally for everything that has come after I read it, and after high school.

His description, for instance, of Communism as nothing more than "man's second oldest faith, whispered in the first days of creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: ye shall be as gods," had more explanatory power than anything I have ever read elsewhere.

Rest in Peace, Whittaker Chambers.


Anonymous said...

I too made the "decision to die rather than live under communism." Yippee!

Anonymous said...

"...although his work is clouded a bit by his Protestant theo-philosophical meanderings."

Right, because there is only one true faith, and anyone who practices something different than you has lapses in judgement. You see, that arrogant attitude is the reason why people get sick of religion. To each their own, as long as they believe in God.