Saturday, April 2, 2011

Today is Whittaker Chambers' Birthday

Aaron Gardner at Redstate has a post on Whittaker Chambers consisting of some excerpts from an essay by Richard Reinsch on Chambers entitled "Still Witnessing: The Enduring Relevance of Whittaker Chambers."

For those who may not be familiar with Chambers' significance, here is the abstract of the Reinsch article:
Whittaker Chambers is best known today as the veteran Soviet spy who became, in William F. Buckley Jr.’s words, “the most important American defector from Communism” when he testified against members of his underground Communist cell in the 1930s. Yet Chambers did more than reject Communism: He revealed a key problem with modern liberalism. In his now-classic autobiography Witness, he argued that Communism ought to be rejected in the name of something other than 20th-century modern liberalism by showing how the two grew out of a common ideology that places unbounded confidence in state power. As he remarked, New Deal acolytes had no principled reason for opposing unlimited state intrusion into the social, economic, and political realms. Herein lies the source of Chambers’ ongoing relevance: While Communism stands discredited, many still accept its fundamental conceit that man makes his own reality and that the government is the solution to all our ills.
Here is a key passage from this essay. It expresses concisely why the sophistry of a Terry Eagleton must be resisted and rejected. Marxism fancies itself to be radical but it is not. It is modern through and through and in being modern it is a rejection of the Christianity that shaped the West prior to the rise of Modernity:

Chambers’ enduring relevance abides in his diagnosis of a West “sick to death” from the philosophical and religious choices it had made in the modern era. Man had too easily concluded that he creates his reality through his own mind and consent. In the 20th century, the horrific consequences for the human person, for liberty, and for civilization itself were the piles of dead bodies sacrificed by the terror regimes in pursuit of a liberationist politics that ended in man organizing the world against man.

The West itself, Chambers feared, was listless at the moment when it most needed strength. 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.

This diagnosis is exactly the same as that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and John Paul II. The Modern misunderstanding of the nature of God has ruined its concept of man and is the root of all the disasters of the Twentieth century.

1 comment:

David Chambers said...

Some alternative viewpoints on this publication, from The New Criterion:

“He heard the screams,” by Gary Saul Morson (November 2010):

“Muffled—or strangled?” by David Chambers (January 2011):–6775

(David Chambers,