Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Whittaker Chambers, born Jay Vivian Chambers, aka Jay David Whittaker Chambers

American Editor, Journalist and Writer

"True wisdom comes from the overcoming of suffering and sin. All true wisdom is therefore touched with sadness."

"[The Devil said:] Hell is a conspiracy. Like all good conspiracies, its first requirement is that nobody shall believe in it. Well, we have succeeded so well that for centuries there has been no Hell, and there is scarcely a rational man in the world today who, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, believes that the Devil exists."

"[The Devil said:] It seems but yesterday that I launched Hell’s Five Hundred Year Plan.… I saw that Hell had to move with the tide and leave the rest to rationalism, liberalism and universal compulsory education… At first there was some opposition in Hell. Baal, Beelzebub and a handful of almost aboriginal demons who are still living in the 10th Century B.C. and have not had an idea since the Fall, naturally opposed the New Deal."

"A man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something. A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences."

"A nation's life is about as long as its reverential memory."

"A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences."

"Abortion, which now fills me with physical horror, I then regarded, like all Communists, as a mere physical manipulation."

"About both brief, tidy men [Heinrich Himmler and Max Bedacht] there was a disturbing quality of secret power mantling insignificance—what might be called the ominousness of nonentity, which is peculiar to the terrible little figures of our time."

"As I struggled to control my feeling, slowly and deliberately, I heard myself saying, rather than said: “The story has spread that in testifying against Mr. Hiss I am working out some old grudge, or motives of revenge or hatred. I do not hate Mr. Hiss. We were close friends, but we are caught in a tragedy of history. Mr. Hiss represents the concealed enemy against which we are all fighting, and I am fighting. I have testified against him with remorse and pity, but in a moment of history in which this Nation now stands, so help me God, I could not do otherwise.” In the completely silent room, I fought to control my voice."

"All children are afraid of the night; when they grow up, they are still afraid, but more afraid of admitting it."

"At issue in the Hiss Case was the question whether this sick society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it."

"At issue was the question whether this man's faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith it was that this society is sick beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads for its swift extinction and replacement by another."

"Conservatism is alien to the very nature of capitalism."

"Counterrevolution and conservatism have little in common. In the struggle against Communism the conservative is all but helpless. For that struggle cannot be fought, much less won, or even understood, except in terms of total sacrifice. And the conservative is suspicious of sacrifice; he wishes first to conserve, above all what he is and what he has. You cannot fight against revolutions so."

"Crime, violence, infamy are not tragedy. Tragedy occurs when a human soul awakes and seeks, in suffering and pain, to free itself from crime, violence, infamy, even at the cost of life. The struggle is the tragedy - not defeat or death. That is why the spectacle of tragedy has always filled men, not with despair, but with a sense of hope and exaltation."

"Die goldene Medina. The accent was not on the golden (except in the sense of some mysterious Light), but on the Medina - that is, the city of hope, the city of deliverance."

"Every man is crucified upon the cross of himself."

"Every sincere break with Communism is a religious experience, though the Communists fail to identify its true nature, though he fail to go to the end of the experience. His break is the political expression of the perpetual need of the soul whose first faint stirring he has felt within him, years, months or days before he breaks. A Communist breaks because he must choose at last between irreconcilable opposites — God or Man, Soul or Mind, Freedom or Communism."

"Experience had taught me that innocence seldom utters outraged shrieks. Guilt does. Innocence is a mighty shield, and the man or woman covered by it, is much more likely to answer calmly: “My life is blameless. Look into it, if you like, for you will find nothing.” That is the tone of innocence."

"External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.… Hence every sincere break with Communism is a religious experience."

"For in this century, within the next decades, will be decided for generations whether all mankind is to become Communist, whether the whole world is to become free, or whether, in the struggle, civilization as we know it is to be completely destroyed or completely changed."

"For the world, as seen in materialist view from the Right, scarcely differs from the same world seen in materialist view from the Left. The question become chiefly: who is to run that world in whose interests, or perhaps, at best, who can run it more efficiently? Something of this implication is fixed in the book’s dictatorial tone, which is much its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.… From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding, “To a gas chamber—go!”"

"For while Communists make full use of liberals and their solicitudes, and sometimes flatter them to their faces, in private they treat them with that sneering contempt that the strong and predatory almost invariably feel for victims who volunteer to help in their own victimization."

"He was a Southerner with the fine abandon some Southerners have about firearms and related matters. "Well, sir," he said with immense pleasure, "you've bought the right gun. Just hold it in front of you, squeeze the trigger, and, brother, it will be fay-ya-you-well.""

"Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies."

"I am a man who, reluctantly, grudgingly, step by step, is destroying himself that this country and the faith by which it lives may continue to exist."

"I associated God with ill-ventilated vestries and ill-ventilated minds."

"I cannot ever inform against anyone without feeling something die within me. I inform without pleasure because it is necessary."

"I do not know any way to explain why God's grace touches a man who seems unworthy of it."

"I have great silent thanks to God. For I knew that if, as children, you could thus feel in your souls the reverence and awe for life and the world, which is the ultimate meaning of Beethoven and Shakespeare, as a man and woman you could never be satisfied with less."

"I know that I am leaving the winning side for the losing side, but it is better to die on the losing side than to live under Communism."

"I remembered the saying: “Any fool can commit a murder, but it takes an artist to commit a good natural death.”"

"I see in Communism the focus of the concentrated evil of our time."

"I wanted my wife to realize clearly one long-term penalty, for herself and for the children, of the step I was taking. I said: You know, we are leaving the winning world for the losing world."

"In 1937, I began, like Lazarus, the impossible return. I began to break away from Communism and to climb from deep within its underground, where for six years I had been buried, back into the world of free men."

"In the 20th Century, treason became a vocation whose modern form was specifically the treason of ideas."

"Innocence seldom utters outraged shrieks. Guilt Does."

"Is dirt nice? Is death nice? Above all is dying nice? And, in the end, we must ask, is God nice? I doubt it."

"It is better to die on the losing side than to live under communism."

"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."

"It is in fact no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder that will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come."

"It is part of the failure of the West to understand that it is at grips with an enemy having no moral viewpoint in common with itself, that two irreconcilable viewpoints and standards of judgment, two irreconcilable moralities, proceeding from two irreconcilable readings of man’s fate and future are involved, and, hence, their conflict is irrepressible."

"It is popular to call it a crisis of the Western world. It is in fact a crisis of the whole world. Communism, which claims to be a solution of the crisis, is itself a symptom and an irritant of the crisis."

"It is surprising how little I knew about the New Deal, although it had been all around me during my years in Washington. But all the New Dealers I had known were Communists or near-Communists. None of them took the New Deal seriously as an end in itself. They regarded it as an instrument for gaining their own revolutionary ends."

"It taught me that . . . there can be no true humility and no true compassion where there is no courage."

"Lenin was a Great Russian peasant et rien de plus, mais r-r-rien de plus. Oh yes, he was a dialectician, the only true one among them. But most of all he was a Russian and that is to be a peasant."

"Life is not worth living for which a man is not prepared to die at any moment."

"Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world."

"My century is unique in the history of men for two reasons. It is the first century since life began when a decisive part of the most articulate section of mankind has not merely ceased to believe in God, but has deliberately rejected God. And it is the century in which this religious rejection has taken a specifically political form."

"My children, as long as you live, the shadow of the Hiss Case will brush you. In every pair of eyes that rests on you, you will see pass, like a cloud passing behind a woods in winter, the memory of your father - dissembled in friendly eyes, lurking in unfriendly eyes."