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A few days ago I wrote about Mike Pence’s excellent Hillsdale speech on the president’s proper constitutional role. I noted that we conservatives devote great energy to criticizing liberals for their routine, expedient disregard for the Constitution, but don’t, often enough, make the affirmative case for the Constitution as the institutional source of our liberties.
Analogously, I’m not sure we do as good a job as the liberals do in articulating the affirmative case for our philosophy of government and our policies. It seems we find ourselves too often on the defensive, focusing more on liberal fallacies and misdeeds than promoting our cause. For example, we defend against the charge that the Bush tax rates for the highest income bracket are evil, greedy uncompassionate, and unfair, rather than say, promoting the flat tax. Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” is a notable exception.
The left appears more motivated and certainly more consistent, nay relentless, in pressing their cause. In the last few days, I was reminded of this as when rereading the Foreword to Whittaker Chambers’ conservative classic, “Witness,” and the great struggle he described between two competing faiths: Communism and freedom — between those who rely on man for deliverance and those who rely on God. Upon reading this, I thought of the modern leftists’ “faith,” which rivals in intensity that of the communists of whom Chambers wrote.
I sometimes wonder whether many Christians and conservatives have as much faith in what we believe, for which there is an abundance of probative evidence, as liberals have concerning their views on the environment, macroevolution, Keynesian economics, foreign policy appeasement, etc. against which there is substantial evidence.
Chambers’ words in describing the conflicting “faiths” of his time are worth underscoring as we contemplate their relevance for the ongoing worldview wars in which we are engaged, which are not that different. If we were naïve before Obama about the extent to which liberals will go with unchecked power, we no longer have an excuse. Granted, not all leftists are Communists, but all Communists (and fascists) are leftists.
Listen to Chambers describe the nature and awesome power of the communists’ faith:
Their power, whose nature baffles the rest of the world, because in a large measure the rest of the world has lost that power, is the power to hold convictions and to act on them. It is the same power that moves mountains; it is also an unfailing power to move men. Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die–to bear witness–for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it.
It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.
It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirected men’s destiny and reorganizing mand’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. …
The vision is a challenge and implies a threat. It challenges man to prove by his acts that he is the masterwork of the Creation – by making thought and act one. It challenges him to prove it by using the force of his rational mind to end the bloody meaningless-ness of man’s history – by giving it purpose and a plan. It challenges him to prove it by reducing the meaningless chaos of nature, by imposing on it his rational will to order, abundance, security, peace. It is the vision of materialism.”
Equally instructive and relevant for our consideration today are Chambers’ words about communism’s insidious ability to attract good people.
He wrote, “I see in Communism the focus of the concentrated evil of our time.” So, he asked, why do men become Communists? How did he become one himself? Was it that he was “simply stupid?” “Morally depraved?” He answered “no” to both. “Educated men,” he said, “become Communists chiefly for moral reasons” even as they realize that “the crimes and horrors of Communism were inherent in Communism.”
He was one of the many to fall for its deceptive allure to the point that “this movement, once a mere muttering of political outcasts, became the immense force that now contests the mastery of mankind.” But, again, why? Answer: “Communism makes some profound appeal to the human mind.” It continued to attract converts even after its evils became common knowledge.
Chambers pointed out that Communism “is not simply a vicious plot hatched by wicked men in a sub-cellar. Nor is it just the writings of Marx and Lenin, or its many precepts, or the theatrical appeal of the many revolutionaries who chant, “Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to gain.”
“Communists,” wrote Chambers, “are bound together by no secret oath. The tie that binds them across the frontiers of nations, across the barriers of language and differences of class and education, in defiance of religion, morality, truth, law, honor, the weakness of the body and the irresolutions of the mind, even unto death, is a simple conviction. It is necessary to change the world.”
It is necessary to change the world. Kind of like, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
I have long believed that liberalism flourishes largely by virtue of its superficial moral appeal and the faith of its adherents in the power of man, through the agency of government, to solve all man’s problems and to continue down the linear path to enlightenment and toward man’s perfection.
While I am not trying to be melodramatic or overstate the case, I do believe we can profit greatly from Chambers’ words. Our victory in the Cold War did not end the existential threats to this nation – and I’m not here referring to radical Islam, which can be discussed elsewhere. With the advent of the Tea Party protests I am encouraged that we’re finally waking up to these challenges and the reality that we have to remain more aggressively vigilant if we are to preserve our liberty and security. This is a promising start, but we must understand the struggle in which we’re engaged will never end as long as human beings are human beings.
In words that we should heed as a reminder and savor as an encouragement, Chambers poignantly related that he was not just a witness in a trial against Alger Hiss, but that he was also a witness in a larger sense – “an involuntary witness to God’s grace and to the fortifying power of faith,” that empowered him, “a man … tarnished by life, unprepossessing, not brave,” to “prevail so far against the powers of the world arrayed most solidly against him, to destroy him and defeat his truth.”