Jan 3, 2011
Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary
By Richard M. Reinsch II
(Indianapolis: ISI Books, 2010)
To the Editors:
I enjoyed your review (“He heard the screams,” November 2010) of Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary, by Richard Reinsch. I offer comments, as a grandchild of Whittaker Chambers who has studied his life and writings.
I agree with the book’s reviewer. Gary Saul Morson says: “Where Chambers writes with passion and palpability, Reinsch offers fuzz. His prose muffles the screams.” Morson cites “SparkNotes” depth. He finds the “appalling” prose “irritating.” And there, he stops. He calls the author’s efforts “accurate . . . if simplistic.”
I would go further. More than muffling Whittaker Chambers’s intellectual thought, Reinsch strangles it. He narrows Chambers’s vistas to his own private passion: conversion passages in Witness (page 83). Fixation aside, nothing is new. There is no insight, key, or cipher to unlock Chambers’s thought. Like Michael Kimmage’s The Conservative Turn (2009), Reinsch raises no challenge to the view of Chambers set forth by William F. Buckley, Jr. He even shirks the task posed to himself—to “weave together” strands of Chambers’s thought (page vii). Instead, by ignoring vast areas of influence and thought, he renders readers as ignorant as himself. Reinsch leaves Sam Tanenhaus unchallenged too. Tanenhaus sacrificed accuracy for a Vanity Fair approach, which helped make his biography [Whittaker Chambers: A Biography] a bestseller. Reinsch ditches insight for personal bias.
Of course, bias mars most books on Chambers, Hiss, and the Hiss Case. These books, left-wing and right-wing alike, grind axes—they add little, and nothing new. Instead, by and large they recycle previous works. To date, no work has examined the life or thoughts of Chambers an Sich. Thus, none discerns why the Hiss Case unfolded as it did. Nor does any book relate Whittaker Chambers to today: they remain mired in the Cold War. Yet we live in a time of spy networks and bomb-wielding assassins. Our world is not unlike that of the young Whittaker Chambers.