July 10, 2006

Still on the train...

I like this paragraph by Andrea, which could be a coda to many a discussion these days...

....It’s all rather like the attitudes that were on display during the Alger Hiss trial. On one side we had the witty, urbane, intellectual and pseudo-intellectual, well-dressed, powerful, liberal friends and fans of Hiss, not to mention Hiss himself, joking and laughing and deliberately treating the trial and the accusations against him as too, too beneath the concerns of important people. The sneers and the opprobriums against the ordinary, part-time farmer, badly-dressed (these days he’d be mocked as a “Walmart shopper”) Whittaker Chambers, whose intellect and cultural acumen hadn’t been handed to him on a silver platter but had actually been wrestled and hammered out of the Real Experience that liberals are always babbling about, are echoed in today’s putdowns of “those Christian fundamentalist rightwingers” who are threatening the fun party existence of the cool, clever people everywhere with their dumb insistence on taking life seriously. So sometimes they take life too seriously and miss the joke. Well, sometimes in the midst of joking we cool, clever, intellectual (and pseudo-intellectual) people miss the seriousness. It cuts both ways.

For someone historically minded, it's just a pleasure to see that the Hiss trial hasn't quite dropped into oblivion like the Dreyfus trial. But way more than that is the pleasure of vindication for the good guys. We know things now that we didn't know then. We know that Hiss was guilty, was in fact a Soviet secret agent, and was laughing like sinners laugh on The Hell-Bound Train. We know he was cynically using the "useful idiots" who passionately believed in his innocence. (And now we have the pain of watching the same idiots being cynically used by Islamic terrorists, who despise them, and they still think they are clever and sophisticated.)

We also know that Chambers was one of the best writers of his time. His book Witness is a stunning thing to read. I recommend it unreservedly. (And here's a Brothers Judd review of Ghosts on the Roof : Selected Journalism of Whittaker Chambers 1931-1959)

A sample of Chambers' writing...

"...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 like 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. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead."
Posted by John Weidner at July 10, 2006 7:58 AM
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