"The crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God."
In the form of a letter to his children, Whittaker Chambers wrote in the forward to his book Witness, "A man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something." Chambers is best known for his dramatic role in outing U.S. State Department official Alger Hiss as a communist spy in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1948. A communist spy himself, Chambers had a Christian conversion and declared that in 1937, he began "like Lazarus, the impossible return."
His return to the principles of freedom made him one of the most forceful anti-communists of the 20th century. William F. Buckley, Jr. called him the greatest figure who defected from communism. A proponent of the free market, Chambers worked to orient conservatives towards higher truths about economics – and the nature of man and God. In Witness he wrote, "Economics is not the central problem of this century. It is a relative problem which can be solved in relative ways. Faith is the central problem of this age."
In his view, the future of freedom was dependent on a deeper recognition of the value of the human soul. Increased secularism was the great threat to America, which Chambers believed would leave the Republic too vulnerable to outwork Soviet resolve and thus unable to defend itself. He believed that man must know himself in relation to God if he is to know himself truly.
Chambers was a popular editor at Time Magazine where he worked after leaving Communism to warn the nation of the Marxist threat. In 1952, he published his epic autobiography Witness after the Hiss trial. He also included New Dealers among a branch of dangerous progressives whose revolution "was not simply reform within existing traditions, but a basic change in the social, and, above all, the power relationships within the nation." In his view, New Dealers rejoiced that the power of politics was replacing the power of markets and the entrepreneurial spirit. He lamented that loyal New Dealers were unable to identify the communist threat because they shared many of the same goals.
For Chambers, religion and freedom were indivisible. "Man was never more beastly than in his attempts to organize his life, individually and collectively, without God," declared Chambers.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan, who credited Witness as being monumental in his own political conversion, posthumously awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The medal citation reads:
At a critical moment in our Nation's history, Whittaker Chambers stood alone against the brooding terrors of our age. Consummate intellectual, writer of moving majestic prose, and witness to the truth, he became the focus of a momentous controversy in American history that symbolized our century's epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, a controversy in which the solitary figure of Whittaker Chambers personified the mystery of human redemption in the face of evil and suffering. As long as humanity speaks of virtue and dreams of freedom, the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers will ennoble and inspire. The words of Arthur Koestler are his epitaph: 'The witness is gone; the testimony will stand.'
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