Conservatism is the most successful political movement in history. In my upcoming book, "God's Country", I argue that it is the winning ideology of 2,000 years of history. But conservatism was stagnant during the Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman Administrations. When did the modern conservative movement start? Who propelled it?
Many argue the merits of William F. Buckley's "God and Man at Yale". Ronald Reagan rose to prominence in concert with Barry Goldwater's 1964 Presidential campaign. But modern conservatism began in 1938, when a Communist apparatchuk named Whittaker Chambers broke from Moscow, contacted Federal authorities, and informed them that a rising Democrat star named Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy.
It took a decade for Chambers' accusations to be made public. Chambers most likely would have faded into obscurity, but for a chain of events and a few patriots. FDR did not pay heed to the accusation that Communists had infiltrated his government, but Naval intelligence intercepted word that Joseph Stalin was planning a separate peace with Adolf Hitler. The Navy did not trust the Democrats. They devised the Venona project, intercepting Soviet cables, and discovered that Chambers was right about Hiss. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover refused to go public with Venona (not opened until the 1990s), because the on-going intercepts were too important to be exposed. But he told the right political people. The case went to HUAC, led by the young California Congressman, Richard Nixon. The Left excoriated Chambers. Hoover refused to shed light on Venona, letting the wheels of justice grind on their own terms. Hiss was proven right. Nixon became the first hero of conservatism. McCarthyism followed, and sides were taken.
The Hiss-Chambers duel changed the entire dynamic of American politics. Personal destruction and vitriol increased ever since. Liberals invested all their energies into Hiss. They found themselves between a rock and a hard place, forced to deny that Communism was as insidious as Nazism, or that it was even much of a threat. The Left despised Nixon for rising to power on the Hiss case, and marshaled all their forces to discredit the right during and after ensuing McCarthyism. The dominant media culture became their witting accomplices. When Vietnam and Watergate hit, they lost their last vestiges of balance. Enraged by the refusal of conservatism to go quietly into that good night, Democrats were increasingly frustrated at the electoral success of Republicans. To their dismay, they were forced again to back the Clintons in the same manner as they had Hiss, because they were their only links to power. When the Republicans exposed their lies, the Left's only "weapon" became the ongoing, nefarious and futile attempt to call George W. Bush and the Republicans "liars," too.
But it all started with Chambers. The power of Chambers' story was rooted in three things. One, he told a true story and had the evidence to prove it. Two, his Truth was rooted in Christianity. Three, he described worldwide evil, and woke America up to the fact that it was our duty to defeat this evil in order to survive.
In 1948 Chambers testified that Hiss was a Soviet spy, and part of an elaborate Communist ring. Eventually, Hiss was convicted. Chambers told the entire story, from start to finish in one of the best books ever written. "Witness" was a 1952 best seller, but has been forgotten with the passage of time. It is the first book any inquiring political mind should read, because it not only describes one of the most challenging confrontations in history, but also offers a cautionary tale for our current generation. "Witness" should be required reading in every public, private and religious school. It should be first on the list in every political science class.
Written in the darkest days of the Cold War, when Stalin still lived and the Korean War raged, Chambers expressed grave pessimism for the future of humanity. Despite his evangelical Christianity, he believed that Communists were more committed to their cause than the West. This assessment had a mixed reality, since he was "right" about the North Vietnamese, but wrong about the citizenry of Eastern Europe. But Chambers identified something that absolutely must be paid attention to by our generation. He was drawn to Communism because he identified with a Third World mindset that had no allegiance to nations and believed it offered the only answer to the tragedy of history. Eventually, news of Stalin's gulags and his own religious faith drove him from atheistic Communism.
Since publication of "Witness", we found that religious yearning, combined with fundamental economic failures, destroyed Communism. But the mindset that Chambers identified with, in fact never truly veered away from, is eternal. This is a strain of society that combines Machiavelli's nostrum that people choose security over freedom with Emma Goldman's anarchism. Finally, it has found a home in the misguided religiosity (which was missing in Communism) of Islam, and balls it all up under the banner of Terrorism. Post-Communist guilty liberalism provides its "useful idiots."
Hiss was an open Communist who edited the Daily Worker. He was then recruited into the underground espionage network operating in the New York/D.C./Baltimore corridor during the Great Depression. He met Hiss, who was never "open," choosing to operate as a spy while rising in FDR's New Deal. Hiss befriended Chambers. Chambers decided to break from the party, begging Hiss to do the same. He described in "Witness" hatred from Hiss at this suggestion that could only be called evil. Chambers went to the FBI.
His accusations were hard to prove. People used aliases and left no paper trail. FDR gave the reports no credibility. Chambers did not know about Venona. The simple truth is that Venona's secrets were believed by the Republicans, but the Democrats chose to protect their Communists. There is no other way to describe it. Hiss became highly placed in the State Department, and we now know that his in-put at the Big Three Conference and in formulating the U.N. Charter favored the Soviet Union.
By 1948, Stalin's Russia was an obvious enemy. Nixon was among a group of conservatives who saw that a great threat to the world existed, and it lived amongst the American people. The Hiss evidence, among other cases, was presented to him. Hearings were held, Chambers testified, and all hell broke loose. When China fell and Korea started, the issue of Communists in government became a heated one. 40 years later, Venona informed us that we might have held the line in China if Communists like Hiss had not steered policy away from Chiang-kai Shek.
The great historical value of "Witness" is that it describes, in no uncertain terms, just how far-reaching and insidious was the threat of Communism and the pervasiveness of Moscow's espionage in our society. Chambers knew Communism from the inside. He described liberal Americans convinced that our system would fail; foreign radicals, fueled by hatred, searching for an answer to hunger and poverty; and the hardcore Soviet spies who "handled" their Western minions.
What is so instructive about Chambers' story is that he sheds light on the Communists who stuck with the program despite news of Stalin's genocide. Chambers and other 1930s ex-Communists can be "excused" for misguided humanity. Those who continued to pledge their allegiance to the most murderous ideology in history separated themselves from the pack, and in so doing can only be described as evil.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism