Whittaker Chambers

Whittaker Chambers

Quotes By:

John Adams
Samuel Adams
Whittaker Chambers
Charles Finney
Benjamin Franklin
Patrick Henry
John Jay
Thomas Jefferson
Paul Johnson
William K. Kilpatrick
C.S. Lewis
Abraham Lincoln
James Madison
Ronald Reagan
Gene Edward Veith
George Washington
Noah Webster
John Witherspoon


From Witness:

That [haunting fear of being wrong] is the fate of those who break without knowing clearly that Communism is wrong because something else is right, because to the challenge: God or Man?, they continue to give the answer: Man.… They are witnesses against something; they have ceased to be witnesses for anything. (13)

External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.… Hence every sincere break with Communism is a religious experience. (16)

There has never been a society or a nation without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God, and died. (17)

I associated God with ill-ventilated vestries and ill-ventilated minds. (82)

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 which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step. (83)

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil.… The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits. (195)

For while Communists make full use of liberals and their solicitudes, and sometimes flatter them to their faces, in private they treat them with that sneering contempt that the strong and predatory almost invariably feel for victims who volunteer to help in their own victimization. (202)

No matter how favorable his opinion had been to an individual or his political role, if that person fell from grace in the Communist Party, Harry Freeman changed his opinion about him instantly. That was not strange; that was a commonplace of Communist behavior. What was strange was that Harry seemed to change without any effort or embarrassment. There seemed to vanish from his mind any recollection that he had ever held any opinion other than the approved one. If you taxed him with his former views, he would show surprise, and that surprise would be authentic. He would then demonstrate to you, in a series of mental acrobatics so flexible that the shifts were all but untraceable, that he had never thought anything else. More adroitly and more completely than any other Communist I knew, Harry Freeman possessed the conviction that the party line is always right. (217-218)

About both brief, tidy men [Heinrich Himmler and Max Bedacht] there was a disturbing quality of secret power mantling insignificance—what might be called the ominousness of nonentity, which is peculiar to the terrible little figures of our time. (275)

He [one of Chambers’s landlords] was one of those valiantly and vaguely unhappy middle-aging intellectuals who had spent years not writing the book he had planned to write as a younger man. (289)

Abortion, which now fills me with physical horror, I then regarded, like all Communists, as a mere physical manipulation. (325)

Out of that vision of Almighty Man that we call Communism and that agony of souls and bodies that we call the revolution of the 20th century was left that pinch of irreducible dust: “Who pays is boss, and who takes money must also give something.” It might stand as the motto of every welfare philosophy. (414-415)

It is part of the failure of the West to understand that it is at grips with an enemy having no moral viewpoint in common with itself, that two irreconcilable viewpoints and standards of judgment, two irreconcilable moralities, proceeding from two irreconcilable readings of man’s fate and future are involved, and, hence, their conflict is irrepressible. (420)

Counterrevolution and conservatism have little in common. In the struggle against Communism the conservative is all but helpless. For that struggle cannot be fought, much less won, or even understood, except in terms of total sacrifice. And the conservative is suspicious of sacrifice; he wishes first to conserve, above all what he is and what he has. You cannot fight against revolutions so. (462)

It is surprising how little I knew about the New Deal, although it had been all around me during my years in Washington. But all the New Dealers I had known were Communists or near-Communists. None of them took the New Deal seriously as an end in itself. They regarded it as an instrument for gaining their own revolutionary ends. (471)

The New Deal was a genuine revolution, whose deepest purpose was not simply reform within existing traditions, but a basic change in the social, and, above all, the power relationships within the nation. It was not a revolution by violence. It was a revolution by bookkeeping and lawmaking. In so far as it was successful, the power of politics had replaced the power of business. This is the basic power shift of all the revolutions of our time. This shift was the revolution. (472)

To me many of my colleagues at Time, basically kind and intensely well-meaning people, seemed to me as charming and as removed from reality as fish in a fish bowl. To me they seemed to know little about the forces that were shaping the history of our time. To me they seemed like little children, knowing and clever little children, but knowing and clever chiefly about trifling things while they were extremely resistant to finding out about anything else. (477-478)

I remembered the saying: “Any fool can commit a murder, but it takes an artist to commit a good natural death.” (485)

They [liberal newsmen] were people who believed a number of things. Foremost among them was the belief that peace could be preserved, World War III could be averted only by conciliating the Soviet Union. For this no price was too high to pay, including the price of wilful historical self-delusion.… Hence like most people who have substituted the habit of delusion for reality, they became hysterical whenever the root of their delusion was touched, and reacted with a violence that completely belied the openness of mind which they prescribed for others. (499)

Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world. (506)

What I felt [as he was about to testify before the Congressional committee] was what we see in the eye of a bird or an animal that we are about to kill, which knows that it is about to be killed, and whose torment is not the certainty of death or pain, but the horror of the interval before death comes in which it knows that it has lost light and freedom forever. It is not yet dead. But it is no longer alive. (532)

Experience had taught me that innocence seldom utters outraged shrieks. Guilt does. Innocence is a mighty shield, and the man or woman covered by it, is much more likely to answer calmly: “My life is blameless. Look into it, if you like, for you will find nothing.” That is the tone of innocence. (537)

As I struggled to control my feeling, slowly and deliberately, I heard myself saying, rather than said: “The story has spread that in testifying against Mr. Hiss I am working out some old grudge, or motives of revenge or hatred. I do not hate Mr. Hiss. We were close friends, but we are caught in a tragedy of history. Mr. Hiss represents the concealed enemy against which we are all fighting, and I am fighting. I have testified against him with remorse and pity, but in a moment of history in which this Nation now stands, so help me God, I could not do otherwise.” In the completely silent room, I fought to control my voice. (694-695)

I am a man who, reluctantly, grudgingly, step by step, is destroying himself that this country and the faith by which it lives may continue to exist. (715)

The simple fact is that when 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. (741)

To those for whom the intellect alone has force, such a witness has little or no force. It bewilders and exasperates them. It challenges them to suppose that there is something greater about man than his ability to add and subtract. It submits that that something is the soul. Plain men understood the witness easily. It speaks directly to their condition. For it is peculiarly the Christian witness. They still hear it, whenever it truly reaches their ears, the ring of those glad tidings that once stirred mankind with an immense hope. For it frees them from the trap of irreversible Fate at the point at which it whispers to them that each soul is individually responsible to God, that it has only to assert that responsibility, and out of man’s weakness will come strength, out of his corruption incorruption, out of his evil good, and out of what is false invulnerable truth. (762-763)

From “Problem of the Century,” Time, 25 February 1946:

Professor Frederick L. Schuman’s book [Soviet Politics] is probably the ablest apology for Russia ever written by an American. It is like a brilliant brief by a very clever lawyer who is fortified rather than handicapped by knowing that his client did commit the murder, and even where the body is buried.

From “The Devil,” Life, 2 February 1948:

The pessimist stared at his visitor. He had never talked with the Devil before. But he had read descriptions of him by people who had and who remembered Satan as a goat, a bull, a dog, a cat, a big black man with horns, claws and a tail. The presence beside him looked distinguished, relaxed, urbane. Except for a face too characterful to be contemporary, the Devil might have been a movie magnate, an airline executive, a college president, a great surgeon or a grain speculator. “And yet,” thought the pessimist, “those are certainly not the eyes of a Yale man.”

[The Devil said:] Hell is a conspiracy. Like all good conspiracies, its first requirement is that nobody shall believe in it. Well, we have succeeded so well that for centuries there has been no Hell, and there is scarcely a rational man in the world today who, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, believes that the Devil exists.

[The Devil said:] It seems but yesterday that I launched Hell’s Five Hundred Year Plan.… I saw that Hell had to move with the tide and leave the rest to rationalism, liberalism and universal compulsory education.… At first there was some opposition in Hell. Baal, Beelzebub and a handful of almost aboriginal demons who are still living in the 10th Century B.C. and have not had an idea since the Fall, naturally opposed the New Deal.

From “Is Academic Freedom in Danger?” Life, 22 June 1953:

Re: Congressional inquiries into Communist influence:
The mass of Americans, who vehemently made known their views in (and during) a recent general election, know perfectly well that they are not living in a reign of terror and that they seldom look behind a door for anything more frightening than an umbrella.

From “Big Sister is Watching You,” National Review, 28 December 1957:

Review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged:
For the world, as seen in materialist view from the Right, scarcely differs from the same world seen in materialist view from the Left. The question become chiefly: who is to run that world in whose interests, or perhaps, at best, who can run it more efficiently?

Something of this implication is fixed in the book’s dictatorial tone, which is much its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.… From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding, “To a gas chamber—go!”

Selected by Dr. Alan Snyder