The Day Whittaker Chambers Began His Turn From Communism

These are his own words from his stellar autobiography, “Witness.”

Avalanches gather force and crash, unheard, in men as in the mountains. But I date my break from a very casual happening. I was sitting in our apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore. It was shortly before we moved to Alger Hiss’s apartment in Washington. My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear—those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: “No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.” The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.

It is hard to overstate the influence Whittaker Chambers had on the burgeoning conservative movement in America. His accusation before the House Un-American Activities Committee that the former State Department official Alger Hiss was a communist spy  It ultimately brought several strands of conservatism together, which William Buckley, Jr. then formed into a self-conscious anti-Communist conservative movement. Chamber’s book, Witness, gave the movement much of its punching power. For a few brief months he worked for the new National Review before his failing health made it impossible to do so.

“Witness” is on any list of the top ten books on conservative reading. It takes its place not only due to its content but as well due to its literary value. It is not a political book. It is a book of philosophy, theology, and the meaning of a life well lived. Some consider it the best work of the 20th century, at least in autobiography. I am reading it now. The writing is delicious, forcing me to slow down and taste and digest morsel after morsel of truths that feed the soul.

The Hiss-Chambers duel before Congress and in courts is entertainingly described in the series on YouTube, A Pumpkin Patch, a Typewriter, and Richard Nixon. It is very well done.

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