Why Whittaker Chambers Was Wrong
Whittaker Chambers (1901-61) was a Communist who left the party in 1938 to become one of its most determined enemies. He also became famous for his testimony against Alger Hiss, and was admired by many for Witness (1952), a compelling autobiographical account of his conversion/deconversion experience. In and of itself, a journey to and from Communism was not uncommon among American intellectuals; many toyed with it, fewer ended up as hard-core disciples, fewer still as operational agents under Soviet direction. In addition to having been a real spy, what made Chambers distinctive in this group, and what really fueled the controversy which dogged him, were the direction and distance of his migration.
His deconversion was one not of degree but of kind. He did not remain on the Left and replace his prior Stalinist allegiance with some softer substitute-Democratic socialism, Democratic liberalism, moderate Republicanism, or any such. Instead he embraced a religious faith which, in shorthand, was a de-facto Catholicism, theologically rigorous, personally demanding, politically tough-a fighting religion, seemingly at odds with the Quakerism he actually professed.
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