The Personalist Project

For many months now, I have been steeping my psyche in the wisdom of Whittaker Chambers, as I fall asleep nightly listening to the audio version of Witness.

When awake, I mostly read other things, including, at the moment, Norman Podhoretz' highly engaging, Ex Friends.  I would write a daily post about it, too, if time permitted.  

What most compels my attention and admiration about Chambers' thought is his deep conviction that the battle of our time is not, finally, between two political philosophies, but between two faiths: a faith in God, who made us in his image, and the faith that opposes this faith, i.e., the denial of God and God's image in man.

(It's worth saying here parenthetically and as a kind of prelude to a future post on the subject that Islamism, is, oddly enough, naturally allied with the atheism of the left in this opposition to the Judeo/Christian tradition.  The atheistic left and Islamism agree that society is to be ordered through power and kept in check by fear.  Our tradition, by contrast, holds that society should be ordered by reason, love, and personal responsibility.  In place of fear, we propose freedom.  Force is to be deployed only defensively.)

It goes without saying that this distinction (like the one between good and evil) isn't cut and dried on the level of individuals.  There are plenty to be found on the right who are like the left in denying God or in lust for power, and there are plenty to be found on the left who believe in God and are motivated by respect for others.  But these are the broad lines of battle, as Chambers sees it, and I see it too.

So, I was struck by these lines from Ex Friends:

I also argued, and even more fiercely, against the political corollary of the antisecularist position (held most prominently by Whittaker Chambers and William F. Buckley, Jr.), which was that the main difference between the Western and the Communist worlds turned on the issue of religious faith. I did not, that is, accept the idea that the cold war was a war between “godless Communism” and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Expressing a view whose most powerful proponent was the philosopher Sidney Hook, I insisted that what separated us from them was that we were free and they were not, that our political system was democratic and that theirs was totalitarian. And I consistently maintained that liberal democracy was itself a value— a value that Americans wanted to live by and that they were even willing to die for.

(NB: Podhoretz is describing his thinking of decades ago. Whether he's changed his mind since, I don't know.)

My response would be to argue that freedom and faith in God as Creator and Author of Life are not ultimately separable, even though individuals may (at least for a time) separate them.  They are not separable in sustainable practice, because they are not separable metaphysically.  It is not an accident of history that representative government grew of Christian culture (which itself was a development of Judaism.)  It has everything to do with the Judeo-Christian understanding of  Reality, man's place in it, and man's duties toward God, self and others.

Individual persons may recognize and embrace some or all of the founding truths of western democracy without recognizing its metaphysical and religious foundations.  It's perfectly possible to be a sincere democrat (small d) without faith in God, just as it's possible to be a sincere Christian with fascistic tendencies in the political realm.

But, as a favorite former professor of mine puts it, those who enjoy liberty and its benefits without acknowledging their Source, "live by the light of a setting sun."  We have been gorging ourselves on the fruit of a tree whose branches have been cut off from the roots.

To me, the results of the election have made plainer than ever what our founding fathers understood: The system of government they devised depends for its sustenance on a religious and moral people.  

In other words, I'm with Chambers. I wonder whether Norman Podhoretz is now too.

Comments (2)


#1, Dec 21, 2012 11:47am

La démocratie sera chrétienne ou elle ne sera pas. Une démocratie anti-chrétienne sera une caricature qui sombrera dans la tyrannie ou dans l'anarchie. — Democracy will be christian or it will not be. An anti-christian democracy will be a caricature that will sink into tyranny or into anarchy. (Robert Schuman, founder of the European Union)

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Dec 21, 2012 11:56pm

I confess I find it hard to understand that the founders of the European Union couldn't foresee what was coming.

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