Magazine April 20, 2020, Issue

Whittaker Chambers through the Eyes of Rebecca West

Rebecca West (Madame Yévonde/Wikimedia)
West understood more clearly than anyone the allure of Communism for educated Westerners

Bolshevism’s appeal to Western intellectuals is a mystery we still struggle to explain. Why did artists who despised patriotism show a larger loyalty to Russian chauvinism? Why did writers defend a regime that repeatedly imprisoned, tortured, and killed writers? In short, why did intelligent people who lived in free countries worship at the altar of despotic states? Few thinkers studied this enigma more carefully than the British critic Rebecca West (1892–1983).

That is not an achievement we associate with her name. Rebecca West is more likely to be recalled for The Return of the Soldier (1918), an innovative psychological novel; or

This article appears as “Communist Mystic” in the April 20, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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Peter Baehr — Mr. Baehr is a research professor in social thought at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. His Book of Dictators will be published in 2021.

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