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Whittaker Chambers and the Crisis of American Conservatism

I don’t have life-changing experiences very often, now that I’m middle-aged. But about a year ago, searching for insight on how conservatism got into its current mess, I read Whittaker Chambers’ Witness for the first time. In spite of its unusual length, I am now in the middle of my fifth time reading and listening through it, and expect to keep revisiting it. Chambers’ personal story and his penetrating political analysis provide a new perspective not just on conservatism but on the whole crisis of polarization and political degeneration.

I read Witness because Jonah Goldberg included it on a short list of books that those of us rendered politically homeless by the collapse of conservatism ought to revisit. I discovered not only that Witness is comparable to Augustine’s Confessions in its literary beauty and power, but that Chambers’ perspective – in Witness and in his letters to William F. Buckley, published by Buckley after Chambers’ death as Odyssey of a Friend – helps explain why the conservative movement was good and necessary, and why it ultimately became dysfunctional and proved unsustainable.

Chambers was, famously, discouraged about the future of the West. He was so not only because he had a somewhat glum personality (that, too) but because he knew the underlying cause of our political crises was our moral and spiritual immaturity. He wrote to Buckley that the future seemed bleak to him because the cultural corruption of the West is a political problem for which there is no political solution. However, a full realization of what this means would go a long way toward uncovering non-political solutions – and building a politics that welcomes non-political solutions to our political problems.

The Crisis of History

In his political thought, one of Chambers’ organizing principles is the “crisis of history.” The economic and technological development of the modern world have brought an end to older, agrarian ways of life and their traditions. These traditions told people what the meaning and purpose of their lives was. Now, we have to figure out the meaning of life for ourselves, and we have not developed the necessary moral and spiritual maturity to do so.

This is the real problem that lies behind all the obvious problems of the modern world: world wars, tyrannical oppression, alienation, poverty in the midst of plenty, etc. People are drawn to totalitarianism – to fascism and communism, and today we could add religious extremism – because they are driven to desperation in seeking answers to these urgent problems. The true answer, that our own moral failure is the underlying problem, is one we never want to accept. Hence totalitarianism, which identifies blameable enemies and promises to cure the ills of the modern world, is itself one of the ills of the modern world, and probably always will be.

Chambers points out, to our intense discomfort, that the real power of communism is that it forces to the surface what has always been the basic, subterranean question of human life: “God, or Man?” He does not mean the merely philosophical question of whether God exists. He means the practical question of who controls our destiny.

If we believe that the destiny of man is in the hands of man, it follows logically that all solutions for human problems must come from the mind and power of man. The human mind is in control of the universe, to the extent that anything is. If there are to be solutions to the catastrophic problems of world war, oppression and continuing poverty in a world of breathtaking growth, the Almighty Mind of Man must invent them on its own, and then impose them upon a recalcitrant world.

Such undertakings are sometimes successful at first, but are doomed in the long run. The lives and freedoms of a few people, or a few million people, or even a few hundred million people, inevitably pale to insignificance compared to the salvation of the whole human race. Sooner or later, if our answer is “Man” rather than “God,” we are going to start lying, cheating and stealing, and eventually torturing and murdering on a mass scale. To commit the crimes of history in order to deliver all future humanity from the crimes of history is the greatest sacrifice the devotee of Man can make to his cause.

The communist East, Chambers wrote, has chosen “Man” and has the courage of that conviction. The capitalist West has also chosen “Man,” but is haunted by the specter of its Christian past. That is why the West is in crisis; that is why the world is in crisis.

As Chambers said, without God, man cannot organize the world for man. Without God, man can only organize the world against man. Some higher power must restrain us, or else we will not be restrained.

On the Right but Not “Conservative”

Chambers’ witness against communism, and his withering diagnosis of the spiritual emptiness of the American establishment that failed to take the communist threat seriously, is not nearly as familiar as it ought to be. Even conservatives have largely forgotten Witness at this point, even though the cruel and shameful mistreatment of Chambers at the hands of the American establishment used to be one of the key origin stories of the movement. But Chambers’ critique of conservatism itself isn’t just neglected; it never really became well-known in the first place.

Buckley sought out Chambers after reading in Witness the story of how Chambers deserted his job as a spy for the Soviet Union because of his religious conversion. The two became close friends, and Chambers briefly wrote for National Review. Among his articles was a deconstruction of Ayn Rand that remains to this day one of the key documents of American intellectual life.

But Chambers always insisted that while he was a man of the Right, he was not “conservative.” His letters explaining his resignation from National Review contain one of the most incisive intellectual critiques of American conservatism ever written. (Buckley showed admirable pluck in choosing to publish them!)

Chambers’ encounter with the conservatives had forced him to make a key concession. In Witness, and indeed for his whole adult life, Chambers’ response to the crisis of history was to retreat to agrarian traditionalism. After leaving the Soviet underground, the Chambers family lived on a family farm that they worked entirely by themselves, on top of Chambers’ more-than-a-full-time job at Time magazine (where he rose to senior editor). But Buckley and the conservatives forced Chambers to recognize that human freedom – his core political concern – required openness to technological and economic development.

Chambers wrote to Buckley: “I have decided that the machine is not the enemy.” And this concession, which the conservatives had forced him to make, became the starting point of his critique of conservatism.

The whole conservative project, Chambers showed, rested on the assumption that our society’s old, traditional moral and religious structure would continue unchanged by default, as long as overweening Big Government stayed out of the way. But the technological and economic development welcomed by economic conservatism must permanently destabilize the institutions that undergird the moral norms and religious sensibilities demanded by social conservatism. What is primarily needed to meet the crisis of history is not the mere conservation of old moral and religious institutions, but a continual reform and redesign of those institutions. Not a continual reform in the vain pursuit of progress on human terms, but a continual reform to manifest the justice and mercy of the eternal and transcendent God in a world being constantly remade by technological and economic development.

The idea of a potentially fatal tension between economic liberalism and social conservatism is, of course, a familiar line of attack on conservatism. What makes Chambers’ version so much more incisive is that it lays aside the secondary issues and cuts to the heart of the issue: the relationship between God and social institutions. If our commitment to God and his holy love for an unholy human race is to remain unchanged, then our moral and religious institutions must change constantly.

One of the clearest signs of a subtle mind is the ability to distinguish things without separating them. Chambers neither identifies God with moral and religious institutions, as social conservatives tend to do; nor tries to have God without moral and religious institutions, as certain liberal, modernizing religious people try to do; nor tries to have morality without God, as secularists (including secular conservatives) strive vainly to do. We must have both God and institutions, yet they are not the same thing, and it requires constant struggle and constant reform to keep them aligned.

Conservatives are right to insist on individual rights and free markets, and the success of the movement in the 20th century was a good and necessary restraint on what would otherwise have been the unrestrained growth of state power. But this is not enough. To think that limiting government would, by itself, be sufficient to meet the crisis of history smacks strongly of that vision of the Almighty Mind of Man, planning its own salvation. As if society could solve all its problems if we could just get our public policy right – fine-tuning the laws protecting individual rights and free markets until they’re so perfect that no one will need to be good.

Money and Power Can’t Save Us

In our polarized moment, I think Chambers’ story and thought could help both the Left and Right turn away from the idolatry of power and materialism that is destroying us.

For my friends on the Left, an encounter with Chambers – a man who shared all their concerns about peace, justice for the poor and resistance to white supremacy, and bore a costlier personal witness to all these causes than almost any of them ever will – would help reveal what was good and necessary in the conservative movement. It would, I hope, compel a reckoning with the persistent tendency of the Left’s public representatives to glamorize and romanticize mass murderers (Che Guevara, the Castros, and even sometimes North Korea). It could help them recognize the enormous extent to which the power of the American establishment has been used to mistreat people on the Right for almost a century. Most importantly, it would challenge them to confront the illusion that society can solve its problems by giving power to government bureaucracies and politicized pseudo-experts.

But I, as a man of the Right, have also been troubled by my encounter with Chambers – a man who shared all our concerns about individual rights and free markets, and bore a costlier personal witness to these causes than almost any of us ever will. Compared to the progressivism of the New Deal and the Great Society, the Left today seems much less beholden to a grand cosmic vision of the Almighty Mind of Man, planning its own salvation. Yet we too often talk about our progressive neighbors as if anyone who favors a welfare state even slightly larger than what we are willing to countenance is just one step away from totalitarianism and mass murder. And the powerlessness of Chambers before the lies and abuses of the American establishment contrasts starkly with the enormous engines of money and power that have been built up on the Right since the 1980s. Too many on the Right have become the very oppressors that Chambers and Buckley set out to fight. Too many practice the same politics of grievance, resentment, and victim culture that we accuse the Left of practicing.

As I closed my copy of Odyssey of a Friend, just after reading those striking letters of resignation from National Review near the end of his life, two things struck me. One was that it is a testimony to divine inscrutability that great thinkers are so often taken from us just as they are making new discoveries whose implications they will never have the chance to explore. The other was that, for all its devotion to a few specific moral causes and its championing of the social utility of religion and religious institutions, the underlying failure of the conservative movement was that a serious return to moral responsibility – which ultimately means people becoming humble and obedient before the face of the cosmic power that transcends them – was not central enough to the conservative project, and could not have been made so without fundamentally altering the nature of the project.

Reader Discussion

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on August 08, 2018 at 17:48:53 pm

I knew with this commentary there was "trouble in River City" when I read these words of the author:
"I read Witness because Jonah Goldberg included it on a short list of books that those of us rendered politically homeless by the collapse of conservatism ought to revisit."

Conservatism as Whittaker Chambers embraced it, Edmund Burke and John Adams espoused it and Russel Kirk explained it has not collapsed. Except for a few politically rejected, culturally despised and psychologically-dejected conservatives who are outcast and may be living in tents with Democrat voters on the streets of San Francisco, conservatives in America across America are energized, enthused and ascendant, not homeless.

Goldberg on Chambers was, of course, merely channeling his cynical journalistic hero, George Will, on Chambers' notably non-Willian conservatism. This can be seen readily by reading Will describing that good conservative Buckley as walking a tightrope between elitism and populism. Listen to George Will scowling about "scowling"populists in his lamentation that "Today, conservatism is soiled by scowling primitives (HL Mencken called them "gaping primates," Hillary called them "deplorables" and Obama called them "clingers;" FBI Agent Peter Strzok said that at Walmart he could "Smell the Trump support") whose irritable gestures lack mental ingredients." Per Will, "America needs a reminder of conservatism before vulgarians ( the list of pejorative adjectives for Trumpians seems endless) hijacked it, and a hint of how it became susceptible to hijacking..."

One source of the hijacking of conservatism, per Will, would appear to be Chambers, himself, whose memoir, “Witness,” Will said, "(B)ecame a canonical text of conservatism. Unfortunately, it injected conservatism with a sour, whiney, complaining, crybaby populism. It is the screechy and dominant tone of the loutish faux conservatism that today is erasing (conservatism's) legacy of infectious cheerfulness and unapologetic embrace of high culture."

Will doth go on in his high-brow, anti-populist rage, "Chambers wallowed in cloying sentimentality and curdled resentment about “the plain men and women” — “my people, humble people, strong in common sense, in common goodness” — enduring the “musk of snobbism” emanating from the “socially formidable circles” of the “nicest people” produced by “certain collegiate eyries.”

Hence, it would appear that it is not his (non-existent) political, religious, moral or philosophical defects as a conservative (arguably Chambers had Burke's prudent politics, Orestes Brownson's morally-charged Catholic theology and Russel Kirk's cultural philosophy) but rather Chambers' lack of George H.W. and George W. Bush-like high-toned, elitist optimism and Chambers' odorous exuding of low-brow populism that has recently driven crypto-conservative critics of the "sky-is-falling"/Trump Derangement Syndrome School of Anti-Populism into their tireless, tiresome doomsday predictions of "the collapse of conservatism."

And to that end Greg Forster makes unfounded accusations about Chambers' (and Trump's?) conservative populism, including:

"Conservatives are right to insist on individual rights and free markets, and the success of the movement in the 20th century was a good and necessary restraint on what would otherwise have been the unrestrained growth of state power. But this is not enough. To think that limiting government would, by itself, be sufficient to meet the crisis of history smacks strongly of that vision of the Almighty Mind of Man, planning its own salvation. As if society could solve all its problems if we could just get our public policy right – fine-tuning the laws protecting individual rights and free markets until they’re so perfect that no one will need to be good."

Other than classical liberals and libertarians, what "conservatives" today assert that it is "enough" to limit government or that with better public policy "no one will need to be good"? To the contrary, republican virtue remains as fundamental to conservatism today as it was to the Founders.

Forster adds, "Too many on the Right have become the very oppressors that Chambers and Buckley set out to fight. Too many practice the same politics of grievance, resentment, and victim culture that we accuse the Left of practicing."
What on God's green earth is Forster talking about? Be specific. Who are these conservative "oppressors" who have become "too many?' Identify them.

Forster adds insult to conservative injury: "Yet we (conservatives) too often talk about our progressive neighbors as if anyone who favors a welfare state even slightly larger than what we are willing to countenance is just one step away from totalitarianism and mass murder."

That is simply CNN stupid! Cite just one example of that "too often" comment by just one notable "conservative."

And Forster says:
"The whole conservative project, Chambers showed, rested on the assumption that our society’s old, traditional moral and religious structure would continue unchanged by default, as long as overweening Big Government stayed out of the way.
Where does Chambers "show" that? I say it's not so.

Forster goes on: "But the technological and economic development welcomed by economic conservatism must permanently destabilize the institutions that undergird the moral norms and religious sensibilities demanded by social conservatism."
Why is the institutional destabilization of the foundations of morality and religion attributed to "technological and economic development"? I say that other causes play a greater role.

Forster then generalizes his already- sweeping assertions, "(T)hat, for all its devotion to a few specific moral causes and its championing of the social utility of religion and religious institutions, the underlying failure of the conservative movement was that a serious return to moral responsibility – which ultimately means people becoming humble and obedient before the face of the cosmic power that transcends them – was not central enough to the conservative project, and could not have been made so without fundamentally altering the nature of the project."

That is simply untrue. While during Chambers' life mainline Protestantism Rockefeller-style definitely undermined the religious ethic of republican virtue and it continues to do so, Catholicism was resurgent nationally and exerted a powerful conservative cultural force and Christian evangelism underwent a tremendous popular revival that exerted a profound moral and conservative influence on American families, politics and culture. Just think Fulton J. Sheen and Billy Graham and you'll get the point. And the rapidly growing religious right, today, from the sacrilege of Roe v. Wade in 1974 through the imminent 2018 congressional elections and the confirmation battles over Judge Gorsuch and Judge Kavenaugh, is the virtual heart and lifeblood of an ascendant conservative populism.

In reviewing for Time Magazine the novel, "Darkness at Noon" Chambers made a touching tribute to the existential centrality of his Christianity (Catholicism) when he noted that there are only two possible ethical positions on political man, “(O)ne of them is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be sacrosanct … The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be … sacrificed to the community …” And he denounced the latter. That embrace of Christianity's doctrine of the sanctity of life and that denunciation of statism remain central tenets of American conservatism today.

In a Time cover story, "Religion; Peace and the Papacy," Chambers affirmed the political centrality of the Catholic Church:
" What the papacy demands is social justice within nations. It believes that if this can be accomplished, wars will largely cease: the work of justice is peace. Instead of Karl Marx’s violent “revolutionary reconstitution of society as a whole,” the Catholic Church wants a conservative reconstitution of society in the name of God, justice, peace. Moreover, it insists on the dignity of the individual whom God created in his own image and for a decade has vigorously protested against the cruel persecution of the Jews as a violation of God’s Tabernacle."

What Chambers held to be both true and potent of religious conservatism then is true and potent today of the religious foundation of conservative populism, the cultural and educational elitism and the holier-than-thou sour grapes of George Will and Jonah Goldberg notwithstanding.

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Pukka Luftmensch
on October 18, 2020 at 18:33:31 pm

Pukka...
Thank you. I read your response and felt better.
It is easy to criticize the good because one feels one knows better.
I feel more comfortable with your response than I do with this article which criticizes without explaining what he thinks Chambers' problems are with mainstream conservatism today or in Chambers' day.
My personal prejudice is that the less government does for us is better. And I won't apologize for thinking that.
Thank you for your response.

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Honey
on August 09, 2018 at 11:14:30 am

It has been asked "Why hasn't Conservatism accomplished anything?" Conservatism is a philosophy or political movement NOT a political party. It has no organization, no elected officials, nor any power to accomplish anything. It deals in ideas and principles that need to be heard but don't have any more need to be brought up to date than the constitution does. They are time tested truths.

The Conservative movement is NOT monolithic and never assumed it was. It encompasses Libertarians, Neo-conservatives, Palo-conservatives, economic and social mined Conservatives in it's big tent. Nor is it mercurial in that it changes it's governing philosophy depending on the current emotions or demagoguery. Conservatives are basically skeptical of human nature so therefore we are not looking for nor expecting "purity" or the second coming of Reagan in a candidate. We simply would be satisfied with basic Conservative views that Reagan would recognize.

Candidates usually run for elected office with the expressed view of making things better for people. Conservatives however run to protect and preserve the principles and traditions that founded our great nation. On limited government and shrinking the administrative state. This ideology needless to say doesn't attract many voters besides the hardline Conservative. If there is a failure in Conservatism it lies with the politician who supposedly expounded themselves as being followers of Conservatism and failed NOT in the philosophy of Conservatism itself.

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Bob Manderville
on October 18, 2020 at 18:35:37 pm
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Honey
on August 09, 2018 at 13:55:14 pm

Pukka,

I really liked your comment, but I did want to correct one incorrect fact you note in passing:

"In reviewing for Time Magazine the novel, “Darkness at Noon” Chambers made a touching tribute to the existential centrality of his Christianity (Catholicism) when he noted..."

Actually, whatever Chambers thought of the Catholic Church, he himself was a Quaker (which is discusses in "Witness.")

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Jeffrey S.
on August 09, 2018 at 14:18:56 pm

Pukka:

I'll be brief.

I think you may be overly critical of Forster's essay / thinking.
I did not read him to be so critical of Chambers as did you, nor do I think he was arguing that Chambers was stuck in some agrarian based epistemology / morality. Rather, he indicated that Chambers, later in his life, began to question the depth of the moral / intellectual / philosophical arsenal that such an agrarian persepctive can offer to a conservative.

Yes, it is true that "limited" government is preferable as such limitations reduce the number of possible governmental interventions into the body politic; BUT, it is also true that the mere limiting of government may not be (and I think IS NOT) sufficient to overcome the changes in mindset, outlook and, yes, morality, that technology has wrought. Indeed, (I suspect that you will agree) the very elitist *conservatives* that you properly excoriate provide evidence of the rightness of Forster's assertions.
How often have we heard Georgie Girl (can't hit the ball out of the infield) Will and Jonah Goldberg regale us with the wonders and benefactions of Free Trade, Global economic interconnectivity and rail against any reasonably proposed (not necessarily correct, mind you) discussion of some form of ameliorative "entitlements" for those whose economic circumstances are not quite so robust as may be our own.
It is these same people (and their brethren in the Never Trump school) that Chambers would have identified as the new "oppressors" of the right. Think Georgy Girl's slanders on that "moron from Queens" (his words). How many others at NRO, and Bill Kristol at Weekly Standard, etc who think of people such as myself (also from Queens, eons ago) as deplorable, malodorous, ignoramuses. They are the new Grandees - and any who depart from their self-designated genius / insight are to be dismissed as proletarian detritus who are in constant need of reminding of their sequacious position relative to the soi-disant intellectual powerhouses of the conservative cosmology.

I think that neither Chambers, nor Forster's presentment of Chambers, seeks to eliminate or even diminsh the moral / religious foundations upon which the regime was consecrated and sustained for over two centuries. Rather, both would have us revisit how our situation, and consequently, perhaps, our substance, has changed AND USING those same conservative, fundamental principles, one of which is charity, seek to improve the condition of those who would wish to be improved. It is not intended as a "revolutionary reconstitution of society" as both Marx and the present fakir in the Vatican would have us believe.
Rather, it may very well be that Chambers would find himself in agreement with The Trumpster on trade and the deleterious effects, the current (alleged) free trade regime has upon the citizenry. Think again, of all those Never Trumpers who rail against Trumps efforts to level the trading field.

Actually, I think you may be more in agreement with Forster than at first appears (well, at least if Forster is read in my lights)..
take care
gabe

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gabe
on August 09, 2018 at 14:40:52 pm

Thanks for the correction. He shoulda been a Catholic; said lots of things that sounded Catholic; more like Thomas Merton than Jane Adams, although he certainly had some Walt Whitman in him.

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Pukka Luftmensch
on August 09, 2018 at 19:21:47 pm

Hmm!
You may be correct. I need to think on whether I over-reacted to clumsy wording or responded accurately to stealth Bushism.
I think the latter; lots of evidence that the essay vilipends conservativism while wrapping its criticism in the flag of Whittaker Chambers.

If I'm wrong Forster can say so, and so long as he disowns Jonah Goldberg I'll accept his setting me right.

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Pukka Luftmensch
on August 09, 2018 at 20:25:45 pm

"...so long as he disowns Jonah Goldberg I’ll accept his setting me right."

Heck, I'll buy him a good drink!

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gabe
on August 10, 2018 at 11:19:36 am

"Figuring out the meaning of life": Here's my view, for whatever it's worth.

We were created to participate in the ongoing creation of the universe. We are still Earth-bound, a germinating seed, as it were. To survive in the long run, we must progress technologically, using the creative powers of the human mind (our single greatest and inexhaustible natural resource) to create new resources to replace those that get used up. This becomes an element of the human condition for every society that leaves the stone age and starts relying on metal, which requires mines, etc. Of course, this problem of the availability of natural resources is becoming a global existential crisis in our time.

Ongoing technological progress requires a particular type of social organization, a balance of collective purpose and individual initiative. JFK's Apollo Program is a good example: The need to miniaturize computers to fit on spacecraft was the genesis of the internet revolution and the ongoing outpouring of related advances in technology fueled by private initiative.

A counterpart of a society's need to promote technological progress is the collective need to foster the development of the individual's nascent capacity/inclination to act for the well-being of others and of society in general. Otherwise, we get a society ruled by a self-interested oligarchy that has little interest in technological progress, because progress threatens the status quo, which they control.

The education system of Renaissance England and the Revolution-era American colonies provides an imperfect example of how to nurture the development of habitual benevolence.

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John Schmeeckle
on August 12, 2018 at 21:48:04 pm

"Glum personality": No, actually my grandfather was jovial, lighthearted, and quite funny in daily life: he wrote darkly about what he perceived.

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David Chambers
on August 13, 2018 at 10:51:25 am

David:

Thank you for that comment.

Indeed, how else was one to write about the decline of the West that he perceived, other than darkly!

Your grandfather wrote quite powerfully and I, for one (as I am sure did many others) was moved by his words.

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gabe
on October 18, 2020 at 18:39:07 pm
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Honey
on August 13, 2018 at 11:21:08 am

Well, I would suggest Forster's "glum" stuff about Chambers, along with other errors of his assessment, is of a piece with the mischaracterization (per the notably cheerful George Will) of Chambers' "... loutish faux conservatism that today is erasing (conservatism’s) legacy of infectious cheerfulness and unapologetic embrace of high culture.”(I love the irony of that phrase about conservatism's "infectious cheerfulness" coming from the Sad Sack, George Will, whose face would crack if he laughed!)

Who are you going to believe about Chambers, George Will and Greg Forster who never knew Chambers, or the "lying eyes" memories of the man's grandson?

Establishment Republicans are simply awful both in judging depth of character and in understanding conservatism. E.g., they all loathe Trump the most-effective conservative president since Reagan and whom the morally-sensible religious right has embraced, Orrin Hatch made Ted Kennedy his Best Senate Bud and the Bushes STILL love the Clintons.

Who are you going to believe about Chambers, George Will or Greg Forster who never knew Chambers, or the "lying eyes" memories of the man's grandson?

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Pukka Luftmensch
on August 14, 2018 at 15:05:48 pm

[…] Law & Liberty recently ran a piece I wrote on how Wittaker Chambers can shed light on the collapse of conservatism: […]

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Image of Why Conservatism Collapsed – Hang Together
Why Conservatism Collapsed – Hang Together
on November 20, 2018 at 06:01:16 am

[…] of modernity? These are the options that now command the most attention. But a fresh encounter with Whittaker Chambers’ critique of fusionism would help open our minds to other possible directions for the […]

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Image of The Right after Fusionism, Part 1: Whittaker Chambers and the Nationalist Temptation
The Right after Fusionism, Part 1: Whittaker Chambers and the Nationalist Temptation
on November 20, 2018 at 16:10:13 pm

I own a first edition of Witness I gleefully came across at an estate sale. Oh the joy! but i also have cheap paperback copies because I read it every 2 years for the last 25 years.

There is absolutely no way to put Whittaker Chambers in any sort of category that can prove this or that theory you might want to throw out there. So stop. It's irreverent.

I find your arguments for big government sadly typical for the neo cons of today. Maybe add Amity Shleas', The Forgotten Man, to your reading list? Sheesh! Witness should be required reading in high school. It's also, in my opinion, the best written book of the 20th century.

All I can say without going into detail is I hope people will read Chambers. I have every book including Cold Friday and every article from Time I could get my hands on. Why? Because he's a thinker and brilliant writer. Not a theologian, policy analyst or pundit. And you are trying to make him into a pundit to promote your neocon views. Shame!

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Lydia
on November 20, 2018 at 16:21:50 pm

"Rather, it may very well be that Chambers would find himself in agreement with The Trumpster on trade and the deleterious effects, the current (alleged) free trade regime has upon the citizenry. Think again, of all those Never Trumpers who rail against Trumps efforts to level the trading field."

Chambers understood the totalitarian mindset and dealing with them. Think of the bold deception of an Alger Hiss, a darling of the DC set.

And when it comes to big government, I recall Chambers' reaction to the Government paying farmers not to grow corn.

maybe the author needs to Define what he means by institutions and big government.

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Lydia
on November 28, 2018 at 06:02:17 am

[…] social conservatism with economic liberalism—seems to have lost much of its political viability. Whittaker Chambers’ critique of fusionism seems to offer both a plausible explanation for this decline and an appealing alternative to […]

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Image of The Right after Fusionism, Part 2: Whittaker Chambers and the Economic Temptation
The Right after Fusionism, Part 2: Whittaker Chambers and the Economic Temptation
on December 05, 2018 at 06:02:16 am

[…] Whittaker Chambers’ critique of fusionism not only helps us understand fusionism’s decline, but the limits of these alternatives. Having looked at the first two alternatives in previous articles, we now turn to the third: romantic nostalgia for the lost world of moral coherence before economic liberalism. […]

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Image of The Right After Fusionism, Part 3: Whittaker Chambers and the Nostalgic Temptation
The Right After Fusionism, Part 3: Whittaker Chambers and the Nostalgic Temptation
on July 03, 2019 at 10:55:22 am

[…] fall, in a labor of love, I wrote four articles on Whittaker Chambers for Law & Liberty – one on how Chambers helps us see what was good in fusionism and why it had to die, and a series of […]

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This Fourth, Learning to Cross the Desert – Hang Together
on January 05, 2020 at 03:32:49 am

[…] Whittaker Chambers and the Crisis of American Conservatism […]

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Happy New Year! – Road Warrior Radio
on August 25, 2020 at 09:21:04 am

This is a fantastic post.

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slumlord
on October 18, 2020 at 18:49:59 pm

I read this article and it made me queasy. What does Forster mean?
I read the comments and many of them made me feel better.
People like to judge others to feel superior.
My wish is to accept those who think like me in the main.
Chambers affected me deeply. It was moving to me to see a comment from his grandson here.
Nevertrumpers have it wrong. The man they loathe has done more to advance the cause of conservatism than anyone since Reagan.
When Professor Forster writes to put down faults in conservatism, he muddled more than he clarified

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Honey

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