John: Karen Finney’s refusal to acknowledge that Alger Hiss was a Communist spy — let alone a Soviet agent with a direct hand in crafting American policy during World War II and the crucial early Cold War years — should, alas, come as no surprise. The Cold War years are full of unpleasant memories for the Left, whose intellectuals, ignoring the horrors of the Russian Revolution, Stalin’s massacres, and much more, touted Communism as the wave of the future, and whose policies caved to Communism’s aggressive expansion across the globe.
More than half a century on, when they’ve been shown to be on “the wrong side of history,” to use a favorite liberal notion, Joe McCarthy is one of the few pleasant memories of the period for the Left: an alcoholic Republican senator who launched a shameless inquisition to expose a conspiracy theory — hundreds of Communist operatives secretly working against the United States.
Of course, there is the unpleasant fact that McCarthy was, by and large, right. That makes Hiss a particular problem: Acknowledge he’s a spy and you might have to admit that McCarthy — and, even worse, then-congressman Richard Nixon — were onto something.
But there is more at stake than holding onto an effective rhetorical bludgeon. One cannot — or perhaps should not — mention Alger Hiss without acknowledging the man who, at great personal risk, unmasked him: Whittaker Chambers (who would eventually write for this publication at the behest of Bill Buckley). Chambers chronicled his “impossible return” from the Communist underground in his autobiography, Witness, surely one of the great books of the 20th century.
In it he explains what we might call the Finney Phenomenon:
Thus men who sincerely abhorred the word Communism, in the pursuit of common ends found that they were unable to distinguish Communists from themselves, except that it was just the Communists who were likely to be most forthright and most dedicated in the common cause. . . . Any charge of Communism enraged them precisely because they could not grasp the differences between themselves and those against whom it was made.
This is not to give credence to any “Obama the Commie” bumper stickers, but Chambers’s point is damning: Communism, socialism, and their friendlier-faced relation, modern liberalism (“progressivism”), are close kin. They spring from the same philosophical root, and they each reach toward the same end. We see their commensurability today in many liberals’ cultish devotion to the Castro brothers, Hugo Chavez, and Che Guevara.
Karen Finney might have a tough time labeling Alger Hiss a Communist because, in fact, he looks rather disconcertingly like a modern-day liberal.