Today we celebrate Whittaker Chambers’ birthday. This quiet, unassuming man has become a giant in the conservative movement for his condemning testimony against Communism, and his autobiography, Witness, remains one of the masterpieces of American writing. Even the pumpkin patch on the Chambers’ farm, where he famously gathered evidence of Communist spies in the United States government, has become a pilgrimage point.
His significant role in exposing Communism, then, is undisputed. But what is his relevance to the American situation today?
As Richard Reinsch illustrates in the latest First Principles essay, Chambers recognized that Communism was not an isolated philosophy. Chambers explained in Witness:
[W]hen I took up my little sling and aimed at Communism, I also hit something else. What I hit was the forces of that great socialist revolution, which, in the name of liberalism, spasmodically, incompletely, somewhat formlessly, but always in the same direction, has been inching its ice cap over the nation for two decades.
He recognized that Communism and modern liberalism, as we see it today, share a common philosophical root: the belief that man is perfectible, and that the government possesses unlimited authority to shape a utopian society.
As long as people held this unbounded confidence in man and government, Chambers believed that the West was in danger of complete collapse. And though Communism has been discredited today, modern liberalism is flourishing. A proper understanding of man’s limitations and the limited scope of government must be reintroduced to American philosophy. Whittaker Chambers’ birthday seems an appropriate time to remember his witness, and redouble our efforts.