Posted by mlajoie2 on 3 May, 2009 at 11:46 am. 11 comments already!

witness.jpgI have been rereading the classic tome “Witness” by Whittaker Chambers recently, using the new 50th anniversary edition with wonderful forewords by the recently deceased Buckley & Novak.  (It has had a foundational influence on American conservatives and traditionalists like Buckley and Novak and justifiably so.)

Although I have read it several times before, this is the first time I’ve read it since the election and the difference for me is astounding and eye-opening.  Things have been leaping out of the pages at me this time.  There is a lot I could talk about but for the purposes of this essay, there is one basic thing I want to mention.  The point I want to make here is just how ‘Communist’ what Obama has said and done in regard to “Change” in the light of Chambers’ definition.  [Is Obama specifically a Marxist or a Communist? That is another question which I cannot and do not presume to know as a fact.  The points of similarity, however, I think, are obvious.]

First, for purposes of information, let me tell you a little bit about the book and the man.  Many today have little idea who Whittaker Chambers is and why his book is so important, so some comment is owed to the reader.

“Witness” is Chambers’ attempt to explain his bearing ‘witness’ against Alger Hiss as a Communist spy in the famous trials and Congressional contests involving him in the late 40’s.  He presents himself as a ‘witness’ but what kind of ‘witness’ is he?  His answer has nothing to do with grudges, politics per se or even ideology.  He even fails to fit into the classic ‘conservative’ mold.  Basically, his answer is an existential one.  He must witness against Communism not Hiss, against the experiential ideas not the Party.  He MUST do it to be true to himself:  “External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.… Hence every sincere break with Communism is a religious experience.”

Whittaker (the name he adopted from his mother in the 1920’s) distinguished himself as a translator early on, notably for his rendition of “Bambi” from the German.  To say his upbringing was problematic would be an understatement.  As time went on, his troubled family life and experiences led Chambers to embrace Marxism and he did so with great ferocity.  He was a bisexual aesthete who vehemently rejected religion and “associated God with ill-ventilated vestries and ill-ventilated minds.”

Chambers radical bent was all-consuming; he became not only a Communist Party member but also went underground to be a Soviet operative, a total self-dedication.  He ended up operating among the government circles of Washington, DC in a secret Communist cell based there (later known as the “Ware group”).  He was alternately known as “Carl” or “Bob” or other aliases.  He and his wife became close friends with a State Department official and his family that they met in that group; the friend’s name was Alger Hiss.

After ten years or so, he underwent a mystical conversion, his description of which might be said to resemble the “Confession” of St. Augustine.  A key break came when the Party first tried to stop his marriage and then demanded they abort their newly conceived child.  “Abortion, which now fills me with physical horror, I then regarded, like all Communists, as a mere physical manipulation.” All that had apparently changed within himself.   He began to realize he was no longer what he had been and could not go through with what he had come to see as a horror.  From that point on, he slowly began to plan, not only his break from the Party, but to begin his life-and-death war with Communism itself. 

19500123_whittaker_chambers_0.jpgHe resurfaced using his own name at considerable risk.  He comments at one point that he felt he was “joining the losing side”.  Getting a job at TIME magazine probably saved his life, because one did not usually ‘leave’ the Soviet underground alive.  He went on to become a major editor in most divisions of the magazine, having a huge impact with the use of his superior writing skills.  His main theme was that Marxism was EVIL and that it was a matter of life-and-death for civilization to identify and resist it.  This was something the liberal press of his day heartily mocked.  Mao & his minions in China were harmless “agrarian reformers”; these liberals claimed to see the future in the USSR and that ‘it worked’.  In order to come to these conclusions they had to ignore the purges and genocides, torture and death camps, but that seemed something many were quite wiling to do.  Chambers’ marvelous writing kept prophetically and inconveniently pointing to such willful ignorance.  Many of his editorials read as fresh today as when he wrote them.

{By the way, there can really be no doubt that Hiss was a Soviet spy.  He has been identified in their own files with the codename ALES, as confirmed by the bipartisan committee of Senator Moynihan (despite the baseless public absolution he received from NBC and others in the media).  His influence at the Yalta conference, taking advantage of an ailing Roosevelt, might very well explain Stalin’s amazing success there.  An example of a discussion on this is here:}

Whittaker Chambers decided to cooperate against Hiss and the result was those famous trials and hearings that still incite strong reactions today.  Among the highlights of those events was the famous set of microfilm that Chambers produced from his pumpkin patch for a young Richard Nixon.

He eventually became a Quaker and a small farmer.  He resigned from Time after the turmoil of the Hiss trial and lived quietly on his farm.  Chambers was pilloried and mocked by the liberal media of his time as he fully expected, and his eccentricity and intellectualism made him an easy target, but he was satisfied that he had been true to himself in giving witness to the truth.

Now let me go on to my main point.  I noted in my reading this time that Chambers seemed to identify one major appeal that Communism has that makes it what it is:  CHANGE.  Action which becomes its own reason, freed from God and morality, finds its meaning in acting for its own sake.

“The revolutionary heart of Communism is not the theatrical appeal: ‘Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to gain.’ It is a simple statement of Karl Marx, further simplified for handy use: “Philosophers have explained the world; It is necessary to CHANGE the world.” Communists are bound together by no secret oath. The tie that binds them across the frontiers of nations, across barriers of language and differences of class and education, in defiance of religion, morality, truth, law, honor, the weaknesses of the body and the irresolutions of the mind, even unto death, is a simple conviction: It is necessary to CHANGE the world. Their power, whose nature baffles the rest of the world, because in a large measure the rest of the world has lost that power, is the power to hold convictions and to act on them. It is the same power that moves mountains; it is also an unfailing power to move men. Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die -to bear witness-for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it.

It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: ‘Ye shall be as gods.’ It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.” [From the introductory “Foreword in the Form of a Letter to my Children”, emphasis mine]

Doesn’t this sound awfully FAMILIAR?!?  This is true not only about Obama’s ubiquitous campaign slogans, but also in terms of his first hundred days.  ACT quickly!  Don’t think!  No need to actually read those bills.  Abortion fits right into this.  The sheer radical nature of so MANY of his appointees on this and related issues fits the template.  Don’t examine or reveal what abortion really is.  Don’t complicate matters with moral conundrums about good and evil.  It’s just a ‘physical manipulation”.  Just DO it!

Chambers’ assessment of the relationship of government and business sounds eerily familiar as well:

It is surprising how little I knew about the New Deal, although it had been all around me during my years in Washington. But all the New Dealers I had known were Communists or near-Communists. None of them took the New Deal seriously as an end in itself. They regarded it as an instrument for gaining their own revolutionary ends.

The New Deal was a genuine revolution, whose deepest purpose was not simply reform within existing traditions, but a basic CHANGE in the social, and, above all, the POWER relationships within the nation. It was not a revolution by violence. It was a revolution by bookkeeping and lawmaking. In so far as it was successful, the power of POLITICS had replaced the power of business. This is the basic power shift of all the revolutions of our time. This shift was the revolution. [emphasis mine]

What Obama and his Chicago radicals are doing makes the power-grabbing, government control and spending of the New Deal look like child’s play but the description above is just as apt.  Doesn’t it seem like Obama is trying to replace the power of business with the power of politics?  Isn’t what he is seeking a basic change in social and power relationships?  This would seem to be indeed “revolution by lawmaking”.  “Witness” has apparently foreseen exactly what a nation led by ‘Communist’-style CHANGE would look and feel like.  This is a chilling realization. .  Maybe you are resisting this insight because you voted for Obama and you feel invested.  Any good American wants his President to succeed.  I submit this is a case when we should hope he fails not out of spite but for the sake of civilization.

When we grasp eternal truths they lead to amazing predictions.  One does not necessarily need to be a seer to be a prophet.  If you understand human nature and the divine dynamic, it’s amazing how well you can see what’s going to happen.  It seems to me that “Witness” holds a timeless value which is particularly valuable at certain times.  I propose that now is such a time.  “Witness” has been a witness to the future.

How should we react?  Chambers was actually somewhat pessimistic about the Free World’s chances; it seemed like he might have been wrong with the triumphs of the fall of the USSR and its satellites.  With recent events, however, I’m wondering whether his pessimism wasn’t that far off.   Even if that is so, he was only a theoretical pessimist; he was actually a practical optimist.  His sentiments about possible outcomes didn’t stop him from being an amazing witness indeed.  We should follow his example, using whatever gifts we have to unmask this evil assailing us for what it is.  Chambers has come ‘back to the future’ to warn us of the horror facing us.  Let us echo that warning loud and clear.