Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Letter from Whittaker Chambers to William F. Buckley, Jr.

In a 1954 letter to Whittaker Chambers, William F. Buckley, Jr. expressed the hope that National Review would play a role in stopping the communists from wrecking the West. In his reply, dated August 5, 1954, Chambers crushed Buckley’s hopes. 

Chambers begins his letter by declaring that it is too late to stop the communists: “I no longer believe that political solutions are possible for us. I am baffled by the way people still speak of the West as if it were at least a cultural unity against Communism though it is divided not only by a political, but by an invisible cleavage. On one side are the voiceless masses with their own subdivisions and fractures. On the other side is the enlightened, articulate elite which, to one degree or other, has rejected the religious roots of the civilization—the roots without which it is no longer Western civilization, but a new order of beliefs, attitudes and mandates.” 

Chambers then notes that communism did not originate in Russia; it is a Western creation: “In short, this is the order of which Communism is one logical expression, originating not in Russia, but in the culture capitals of the West, reaching Russia by clandestine delivery via the old underground centers in Cracow, Vienna, Berne, Zurich, and Geneva.”

He ends his letter with these lines: “It is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.”

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