Genesis of Chambers-Reagan

Book Cover 1What led me to write my new book The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom? Here’s the background.

It was not until after my graduation from college in 1973 that I began to pay serious attention to politics. Of course, it was hard not to know what was going on that year—the Watergate controversy overshadowed all political discussion. Over the next year and a half, I watched as the Nixon presidency collapsed.

The 1976 presidential election forced me to consider the two candidates on a deeper level than I had previously. Although my personal political philosophy was not fully developed, I was socially conservative due to my evangelical Christian faith. When the Democratic candidate, Jimmy Carter, claimed to be a born-again Christian, I read his autobiography and tried to sort through what he really believed, both religiously and politically. The result of that research was a reasoned vote for Gerald Ford.

Ford, though, had not been my first choice for the Republican nomination. I had followed the Reagan challenge to Ford closely and was disappointed when Reagan fell short at the convention. By 1980, I was solidly in the Reagan camp, rejoicing over his stunning electoral victory over an incumbent president.

1984 Campaign ButtonI had returned to college by that time, having started a master’s degree in history, and can recall the reaction of one of my professors the morning after the election. He came into the classroom with the burden of the world seemingly on his shoulders. Clearly, he was disturbed. He removed all doubt as to the source of that disturbance when he announced to the class that he could scarcely bring himself to realize that “that cowboy has been elected president.” His perspective was not unique; it was dominant on that campus—and most others.

A few months into the Reagan presidency, I moved to the Washington, D.C., area to continue my education, pursuing a doctorate in history at The American University. I remained in the D.C. area throughout the entire Reagan administration, leaving for my first full-time college-level teaching position shortly after George H. W. Bush took over the Oval Office.

Those eight years in D.C. gave me a political education, even though I never took a job with the administration. Rather, I wrote and researched for a number of organizations, both inside the government and outside, as a freelancer. It was a valuable time for grappling with how my faith formed the basis for my political philosophy.

In the midst of this “grappling” I heard about a book many considered seminal to the entire conservative movement as represented in the Reagan presidency. When I discovered that Reagan himself had read the book and credited it with providing his understanding of the philosophy and workings of the communist mind, I decided it was time to evaluate it myself. The book was Witness. The author was Whittaker Chambers.

WitnessI did not expect what I found. I expected a treatise on communism and how wrong it was. What I received was far more. Chambers had not written a political tract; instead, he wrote painfully of the weaknesses in his own life while detailing the tragic consequences of a philosophy that he believed dethroned God.

It was not just a story. It was not simply an autobiography. It was a personal spiritual reflection and confession. One reading was not enough, even though it was 799 pages. I had to go through it again to see what I might have missed the first time. I believed the work to be so significant that later I developed an entire college course around the book and its author.

My new book adheres to all the goals of a scholarly work. My research is as meticulous as possible, and documentation for every quotation is provided. While I have salient points of agreement philosophically with both of my subjects, I also recognize their weaknesses and inconsistencies, and those will be noted.

The goal is a reasoned historical analysis. But one can be scholarly and not have to succumb either to cynicism in the analysis or to dryness in writing style. If the reader who finishes this book can be glad that he had the opportunity to read it, and that it furthered his understanding of these two individuals, I can be satisfied with that.

If you would like to delve into this further, just click on the ad on the right side of my blog and go straight to the Amazon page. I’m hoping you will find the foray into the worlds of Chambers and Reagan to be worthwhile.

“The Witness and the President” Makes Its Appearance

Witness & President DrawingTen years ago, I had the vision for a book on Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan. I wanted to compare/contrast the pessimism of the former with the optimism of the latter. I also wanted to know just how much Chambers influenced Reagan.

I had read Chambers’s masterful autobiography, Witness, back in the mid-1980s. It affected me deeply. I also was very appreciative of the principles that guided Reagan in his life and administration, an appreciation that grew over time as the nation floundered under successors who weren’t as solidly grounded—and some of whom, like Bill Clinton, who never deserved the office in the first place and who destroyed the respect and esteem we should hold for the presidency.

I read everything else Chambers wrote—his journalistic essays and his posthumous work, Cold Friday. I researched diligently the papers of Reagan’s presidency at his library, combing through all his speeches, and read as many as I could of the myriad books about him that kept appearing.

It all came together, and now the result is The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom. The book is now available through Amazon at this URL.

Am I relieved that this has now come to fruition? Absolutely. But this is more than merely the satisfaction of getting the book published; this is part of my effort to help our citizens understand basic Biblical principles upon which our society must be based.

Chambers left the Communist Underground and found the Christian faith. He gave witness to the need for Western civilization to return to the faith. Reagan, unlike Chambers, had a Christian upbringing. Whatever straying he may have done during his lifetime, he came back to that same solid foundation of faith that Chambers found.

These two men have a message for our generation. This book tells their stories and, I trust, will challenge you to think about the principles we must never lose.

I hope you will get a copy, read it carefully (it tells a good story, too), and ponder its message.

The Obligatory Obama Update

I so much prefer using this blog to showcase positive things, highlighting people like C. S. Lewis, Whittaker Chambers, and Ronald Reagan. But I feel I must continue to offer commentary on contemporary developments, both cultural and political.

I’m going to use the blog today to do a little catch-up. Lest we forget, we still have someone residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. doing his best to transform the country. I’ve avoided making him the focus of this blog for a while, but now it’s time to provide an overview of how his national transformation is working.

I’ll let political cartoons do most of my talking.

On the Obamacare front (yes, mainstream media, it’s still a relevant issue), more bad news for the occupant of the White House. State co-ops are folding because they are going broke, premiums are rising significantly (which anyone with any knowledge of economics predicted), and all those wonderful promises of state-controlled healthcare for everyone are wilting.

Co-Ops

Coverage

Tweaks

Then there’s Obama’s about-face on putting “boots on the ground” in the Middle East, specifically Syria. Now, I’m not an advocate of sending massive numbers of US troops into that quagmire, but if you’re going to do it at all, shouldn’t you send more than fifty Special Ops soldiers? Fifty? Yes, you heard correctly. Does anyone really believe that’s going to turn the tide there? And just what tide are we trying to turn anyway? Supporting the so-called “moderates” against ISIS sounds good, but how many of those moderates are there, and can they really be trusted?

One is tempted to view this action as just for show—no substance at all.

Limited Action

Flip-Flops

Squiggle

Then there’s his executive action to release a large number of drug offenders from prison. Now, I certainly can agree that some of them may have received sentences that didn’t comport with the offense, yet there’s significant testimony that many of those being released were not simply casual users but dealers. And now they are to be sent out into the general population again.

My cynical side will show here: how many of those released prisoners will now be allowed to vote in the next presidential election? Do you think they will vote for Republicans? Right.

Employers are also not supposed to be able to investigate the criminal past of applicants as readily as before. Well, that definitely helps one person in particular:

Criminal History

You are now updated. I’ve done my duty. Tomorrow, back to C. S. Lewis.

The Poetic Prose of Whittaker Chambers

I arrived in Texas yesterday for the C. S. Lewis Foundation Retreat. Most of the attendees won’t be here until later today. I’m early because I’m taking part in the Academic Roundtable that is held prior to the main events.

Already I’ve met some very nice people (this is my first Lewis function, so I don’t really know anyone) and last evening I attended what is called the “Bag End Cafe,” a nod to Lewis’s friend, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Everyone was sharing favorite poems. Now, here’s where I make a terrible confession. I’m not really into poetry. Shocking, I know. I should do a penance of some type.

Chambers at DeskHowever, I do really like prose that has a poetic quality to it. I believe that’s one reason why I’ve always been attracted to Lewis’s writing. Another person who wrote like that is Whittaker Chambers. I was on the verge of sharing something Chambers wrote in his magnificent Witness when the gathering ended. Here’s what I would have read, taken from Chambers’s reflections on the death of the spirit after WWI:

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.

To me, that’s a wonderful combination of poignant prose that whispers, “If you listen closely, this is poetry.”

Looking forward to the rest of this retreat.

The Chambers-Reagan Journey

Ten years ago, I had an idea for a book and began the research. I sought to compare the nearly unbounded optimism of Ronald Reagan with the more pessimistic outlook of Whittaker Chambers, the ex-communist who became front-page news when he outed Alger Hiss as an underground spy.

Chambers then wrote his autobiography, Witness, which went beyond a simple telling of a tale; it became a treatise on the downfall of Western civilization unless it would turn once again to Christian faith.

I completed writing the first draft in 2010, then searched for a publisher. I found one, but the publication stumbled over something out of the control of both the publisher and myself—we mutually agreed to terminate the contract in 2012.

The search continued, and lasted until this year when I finally found a publisher with the conviction that what I had written needed to be in print. It will be a reality now in a matter of days.

I recently received the front cover, and I was impressed with it.

Book Cover 1

It has just the right “feel” for what I wanted the cover to portray. The look is as professional as I had always hoped it would be. Then I was sent the back cover, which included excerpts from some quite eminent historians’ endorsements for the book:

Witness & the President Back Cover

Paul Kengor is a well-established Reagan scholar; George Nash is considered the dean of historians with respect to analyzing modern American conservatism; Richard Reinsch has written an excellent account of Chambers’s worldview; and Luke Nichter is co-author/editor of the bestselling book on the Nixon tapes. Luke also just happens to be one of my former students from when I taught at Regent University’s School of Government in a master’s program.

Needless to say, I am thrilled with the prospects of this publication. I’m hoping many of you will be interested enough to purchase a copy—and then a few more for your friends.

When it does become available, which will be very soon, I will let you know. May God be praised for opening this door.

The Trump-McCarthy Parallel

I admit to being amazed at the support Donald Trump seems to be getting, not only from what might be called “movement conservatives,” but more specifically, from evangelical Christians. One article indicates that he is the leading candidate among that latter group. I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but if it’s even close to the mark, it’s astonishing.

Donald Trump 2I won’t go into detail again (see a previous post) on why I do not support Trump’s candidacy, but I can offer a short summary: supreme arrogance (he says he’s never asked God for forgiveness for anything; constant boasting about how rich he is and how smart); other personal character traits (favorite words being “loser” and “stupid”; resorting to twitter jibes on an adolescent level toward those who criticize him); and his recent “conversion” to conservative policies.

On that last point, some have tried to compare his change to conservatism to Ronald Reagan’s. I’ve studied Reagan in some depth and know that his worldview changed over time as a result of intense study and grappling with foundational philosophical issues. I’m not convinced that is the case with Trump; neither do I trust him to remain true to what he now says he believes.

In fact, he’s rather mixed up on some things: he claims to be for repealing Obamacare, yet says a universal, government-run healthcare system is workable in some countries. He doesn’t quite say why he considers it unworkable here. Perhaps he really doesn’t. Perhaps, were he to attain the presidency, we might be subject to another failed promise from a politician.

Joe McCarthyI’m also seeing a historical parallel with another situation. Back in the early 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy made a big splash as a crusader against communism. He was bold and brash and developed a large following. Many in conservatism at the time saw him as the leader against the establishment and flocked to his bandwagon. Yet he was little more than an opportunist, seizing on a hot topic that he did not really grasp clearly.

As evidence for this conclusion, I turn to Whittaker Chambers, a genuine champion of liberty who left the communist underground, gave his witness to Congress, and suffered publicly for doing so. Yet he succeeded in unmasking the underground movement, with the climax being the conviction of Alger Hiss—who had been his compatriot in the underground and then became a top State Department official—for perjury.

McCarthy wanted to tie his crusade to Chambers. They met. Chambers came away with some rather pointed comments about the senator. In a letter to William F. Buckley, Chambers summarized McCarthy’s approach in this way: “Senator McCarthy’s notion of tactics is to break the rules, saturate the enemy with poison gas, and then charge through the contaminated area, shouting Comanche war cries.”

Chambers at DeskThese heavy-handed tactics were of deep concern to Chambers, who wrote:

I know he thinks this is a superior technique that the rest of us are too far behind to appreciate. But it is repetitious and unartful, and, with time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. Not necessarily because the blow is low, or because he lacks heart and purpose, but because he lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep.

He tried not to come to a rash judgment, but concluded, “It is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist; that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.”

What worried him the most was the damage McCarthy would do over time:

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.

Chambers was correct: McCarthy stumbled on his own arrogance and ignorance; his actions discredited anti-communist efforts to this day.

Personally, I have those same fears about Donald Trump. Everything Chambers said about McCarthy looms in my mind when I hear Trump speak, and I am concerned that his nomination, let alone his possible election as president, may be the death knell for true conservatism, and Christians who currently look past his character failings will one day regret their willful blindness.

There are some who say that God doesn’t need a committed Christian to accomplish his purposes, that He can use someone who is terribly flawed and not in touch with Him to carry out His will.

I understand that position. God does work in all situations. He did use Nebuchadnezzar to carry out His judgments on His people of Israel. But that was for the purpose of punishment for sin. Frankly, He has a lot of politicians to choose from if He is ready to unleash His judgment on America. Trump is not unique in that sense.

Since when do we deliberately choose a spiritual renegade over a committed Christian man or woman who is seeking to do His will? Those men and women do exist, and some are running for president right now. Why would we throw our support behind someone who is more egocentric than anyone else in the political realm?

I don’t want to have to defend myself before God after making a choice like that. I’m going to give my vote to someone who at least has a heart for righteousness and the God who defines what is and is not righteous.

If Trump is the Republican nominee, we may be destroying whatever remains of principle in that party. If he should ever be elected president, we may see in that office someone who is a combination of Nebuchadnezzar and Joe McCarthy. He may be the channel for God’s judgment, but I will not willingly go that route. I still want to help save America.

My musings in this post will not be accepted by all, I know. But I hope you will, at the very least, avoid being caught up in an emotional appeal and will take some time to reflect on the concerns I have expressed here. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

Fruits of the Sabbatical

My 27th year of teaching at the college level begins today. I’m a little out of practice, though, after a year’s sabbatical. I’ll have to change my mental outlook and reorient myself.

The sabbatical year was a real blessing. When some people picture a sabbatical, they probably think of someone relaxing for a year, playing golf, etc. Well, I haven’t played golf since I was 18 (that was at least a couple of years ago) and for me, relaxation consists of reading, researching, and writing.

And that’s what I did for those many months.

What did I accomplish?

20141025_095359I researched at six presidential libraries—Eisenhower, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton—and at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College for a collaborative effort with a colleague on what we hope will be a book (books?) on spiritual advisors to presidents.

That research resulted in a mass of information in the form of letters, memos, etc., that still need to be examined more closely to decide what to use. Once a book contract for this is achieved, I’ll gladly let you know.

C. S. Lewis 5While at Wheaton, I delved into papers on C. S. Lewis at the Wade Center and came away convinced that a book should be written on Lewis’s influence on Americans. That turned into a major research project in which I read and took notes on all letters Lewis wrote to American correspondents.

As I was nearing completion of the book, I found an agent who is now working to place it with a publisher. As of this date, there is a bright prospect that one publisher is serious about it, but I’m still awaiting final approval.

Just last week, another breakthrough occurred. I had finished a book-length manuscript comparing the optimism of Ronald Reagan with the pessimism of Whittaker Chambers back in 2010. At one point, I had a publisher but had to withdraw from that contract. Now I have another contract on that one, and the book should be ready for the market either late September-early October.

El PradoSo, all in all, this has been a wonderful year of devotion to scholarly pursuits. I will always be grateful to Southeastern University for its confidence in me and the funding it provided for all those research trips.

My research deepened my own knowledge significantly. One of the fruits is a new course I will be teaching this semester on the influence of C. S. Lewis. That will be fun. Is it okay to have fun as a university professor?

So it’s back to “normal” life now. My spirit has revived and I’m ready to accept the teaching challenge once again. I thank God for the opportunities He provides.