The Corner

Familiar Chambers

I met Richard Reinsch last summer in California when we were both Claremont fellows (with Andrew Breitbart, among other luminaries). I was delighted to read and chat with him about his new book on Whittaker Chambers this summer. Here’s a little taste of it, if you haven’t read the Q&A up today yet: 

LOPEZ: How important is God — and in particular the Cross — in the life and thought of Chambers? 

REINSCH: Much of what Chambers does is really incomprehensible without his conversion to Christianity; his understanding of Christianity is total and existential, and, as I argue in the book, he sees himself as a victim-soul in his manifold witnesses. He decried the comfortable decadence of mainline American Protestantism, and he was right; look at those churches today. The differences for Chambers were original sin, pride, and anxiety: These were the parts of man that Christianity spoke to in a way superior to any other set of ideas. (Of course, Christianity is not an idea.) I think his best thoughts on Christianity’s meaning are in his description of his confused state after leaving the Communist underground: “What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind — the luminous shroud it has spun around the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God.”

LOPEZ: You compare Chambers to St. Augustine. Isn’t that a bit much?

REINSCH: I’m not arguing that Chambers bears the same significance as St. Augustine. The comparison is that both men intended for their religious conversions to be exemplary. Also, both were converting away from what they regarded, correctly I think, as intellectual heresy. This cognitive unlearning was a tremendous part of the conversions of both. They didn’t merely shed their respective errors — they shed vital parts of their self-understanding.Chambers also came to understand Augustine’s notion that love is our weight. We become what we love. This is why intellectual error is so disfiguring to man.

LOPEZ: Would Chambers recognize the Left of today?

REINSCH: In certain respects, yes. The Left of today has obviously shed its belief in the necessity of comprehensive planning — although Donald Berwick’s speeches, assuming they are representative, cause us to reconsider the conventional wisdom. But the Left certainly retains an existential belief in planning.Chambers would recognize the Left’s fundamental disloyalty to the dignity and nature of man, as well as its great confusion about liberty, its objects and purposes. The inability to think through the implications of biotechnology, human sexuality, and the issues underlying the culture of death remain with us, and they pour out of the Left’s confusion about man.

More on Chambers and the Right, and WFB, and Calvin Coolidge, and much more here

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