Today, July 9, 2011, marks the 50th anniversary of Whittaker Chambers’s death. It is not, I trust, necessary to remind readers about who Whittaker Chambers was, what he suffered at the hands of the bien pensant left-wing establishment, or what he achieved existentially by breaking with Communism and exposing the Left’s poster-boy traitor, Algir Hiss, and morally and literarily by writing his incandescent anti-Communist memoir Witness.
Over at NRO, Andrew Bostom has a fine essay commemorating Chambers and his courageous battle against totalitarian ideology — Islam (we may forget) as well as its kissing cousin, Communism. Here’s a teaser:
From the time of Chambers’s break with the Communist party in late 1938, till his death nearly 23 years later, Chambers was consumed by the West’s abnegation of its own institutions — which had been rooted for two millennia in a belief in the Judeo-Christian God — and their threatened active destruction by the votaries of mass secular totalitarian movements, notably Fascism and Communism. His December, 1947, Time book review of Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason, a series of penetrating reports on the trials of British World War II traitors, opens with these observations:
When, in 1936, General Emilio Mola announced that he would capture Madrid because he had four columns outside the city and a fifth column of sympathizers within, the world pounced on the phrase with the eagerness of a man who has been groping for an important word. The world might better have been stunned as by a tocsin of calamity. For what Mola had done was to indicate the dimension of treason in our time.
Other ages have had their individual traitors — men who from faintheartedness or hope of gain sold out their causes. But in the 20th century, for the first time, men banded together by millions, in movements like fascism and communism, dedicated to the purpose of betraying the institutions they lived under. In the 20th century, treason became a vocation whose modern form was specifically the treason of ideas.
Modern man was challenged to choose between the traditions of a 2,000-year-old Christian civilization and the new totalitarian systems which, in the name of social progress, contended for the allegiance of man’s secular mind. The promise of the new ideas was as old as that serpentine whisper heard in the dawn of the Creation: “You shall become as gods” — for the first traitor was the first man.
The case of Alan Nunn May represented for Rebecca West the bottom of what Chambers characterizes as “a descent into the circles of a drab inferno.” May, a lecturer on physics at the University of London, was a longstanding Communist-party member. Ostensibly volunteering to serve his country, he became the senior member of the British atomic-bomb project’s nuclear-physics division during World War II. May then transferred to Russia samples of uranium 233 and enriched uranium 235.
Chambers’s review of The Meaning of Treason also compared the violent fanaticism of the 20th century’s secular totalitarian systems’ adherents to the votaries of Islam. The modern totalitarians expressed “new ideas” that were “violently avowed,” and “the hallmark of their advocates was a fanaticism unknown since the first flush of Islam.”
Read the whole thing.