Richard Nixon's Culture War

Richard Nixon's Culture War
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"What we must realize is that this struggle probably will not be decided in the military, economic, or scientific areas, important as these are. The battle in which we are engaged is primarily one of ideas. The test is one not so much of arms but of faith."

The above quote is from a speech Richard Nixon gave in 1960 about communism. The quote has become central to what I call the Nixon Test. If a Nixon biographer does not understand that quote, they won't understand faith, and if they don't understand faith, they won't understand Richard Nixon.

And if they don't understand Nixon, they won't understand the culture war, which began with Nixon.

The latest to fail the Nixon Test is Evan Thomas. Thomas, a liberal journalist (and the grandson of a socialist politician), is the author of a new Nixon biography, Being Nixon: A Man Divided. Thomas's failure to understand Nixon comes the same place it comes with most journalists, and where it is most crucial: early, with Nixon's involvement with the Chambers-Hiss case. In 1948 Whittaker Chambers, an editor at Time magazine, who was an ex-communist and courier for the Soviet Union, fingered Alger Hiss, a high-ranking State Department official and liberal golden boy, as a Soviet Spy.

The liberal establishment came to Hiss's defense and tried to destroy Chambers. History, and Soviet archives, have proven that Chambers was telling the truth.

Richard Nixon was the first, and for a time the only, person who believed Whittaker Chambers. He saw through the slick evasions of Hiss. Nixon also understood that the fight between the free world and communism was a battle over differing faiths, as the quote above shows. Nixon understood that communism, and the liberalism that was part of it and is now dominant, is a religion.

Communism, socialism, and liberalism are all faiths with their own dogma. They argue morality, for right and wrong sides of history, about the imperative of doing what's right with the fever of country preachers. Conservatives, Christians, opponents of same sex marriage: these people are not just wrong -- they're evil, wretched, demonic. Opposing the State means you are not just deluded, but a lost soul who needs to be converted.

Whittaker Chambers was one of the first to see the coercion of the 20th century Left, its religious impulse to force conversion, and the way it spreads its message like a gospel. He described it well in his classic memoir Witness:

The simple fact is that when I took up my little sling and aimed at Communism, I also hit something else. What I hit was the forces of that great socialist revolution, which, in the name of liberalism, spasmodically, incompletely, somewhat formlessly, but always in the same direction, has been inching its ice cap over the nation for two decades.

Nixon -- or at least the 1950s Nixon, before his big government programs of the 1970s -- got this, which is why the left still hates him. The idea that Nixon was right about communism and its connection to modern liberalism is intolerable to liberals, which is why Evan Thomas can't face it. The Chambers-Hiss case was ground zero of the culture wars, and to return to it is to return to the original arguments, which is not good for liberalism, which likes to think it is not totalitarian.

Thomas acknowledges that Chambers-Hiss was the launch of the culture war, but refuses to admit Nixon's intelligence, deductive reasoning, and, most of all, faith. To the question of why Nixon so doggedly defended Chambers, Thomas offers this: "Personal ambition, patriotism, and an almost eerie sense of timing moved Nixon more than fixed political principle."

Exactly wrong. It was fixed political principle, and fixed religious principle, that made Nixon stand fast. More from Nixon on communism:

Communism is utterly wrong about its most basic premise, the premise that underlies everything it has to say about economics, law, philosophy, morality, and religion. Communism starts with the proposition that there are no universal truths or general truths of human nature. According to its teachings there is nothing one human age can say to another about the proper ordering of society or about such subjects as justice, freedom, and equality. They contend that there are no eternal truths. All ideas of right and wrong come from the social system under which one lives. If that system requires tyranny and oppression, then tyranny and oppression must within that system be accepted; there can be no higher court of appeal. Not only do the premises of Communist philosophy make any coherent theory of freedom impossible, but the actual structure of the Soviet regime is such that no true sense of freedom can ever develop under it.

And a quote from Whittaker Chambers:

What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind -- the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step.

This is it, the heart of the matter, the first epic skirmish in what would become, and remains, the culture war. Either reality is real or it isn't. Either man is perfectible or he is not. Either we have souls or we don't. Either there is a God or there isn't.

Nixon answered those questions correctly, and the secular left has been denying it ever since.

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