Mr. Beck, Meet Mr. Chambers

I’ve never met Glenn Beck, but after watching him for the past year and a half, I feel I know him to some extent, at least in that modern concept of knowing people, at a distance via technology.

I sincerely appreciate what he has been doing on his television program, particularly his emphasis on history. Specifically, I have loved the following:

  1. The exposé of progressivism, showing how that philosophy has permeated our politics and government.
  2. The excellent choice of guests ranging from Amity Shlaes to Jonah Goldberg to Larry Schweikart.
  3. The Founders Friday series in which he reintroduces (or introduces, as the case may be) the thinking of the Founders to a national audience.
  4. His desire to lead Americans back to faith in God and all the values that flow from that faith.
  5. His sense of how to combine substance with entertainment, thereby making the substance far more interesting to those who watch.

Glenn Beck

Oh, I’ve had some quibbles with him along the way. First, I’m not overly fond of Thomas Paine. Yes, his Common Sense was instrumental in leading toward independence, but his later Age of Reason, which trashed Christianity, met with overwhelming rejection by the American people—justly so, in my view.

I’ve also wished at times that his critique of Republicans didn’t make all Republicans seem like sellouts. Not all are (and I’m sure he realizes this).

My third quibble has been his reliance on proponents of Ayn Rand’s philosophy as a basis for championing the free market and capitalism.

Ayn Rand

It’s that third quibble that leads me to write today. I missed his program from June 15th, but on his site I saw that he quoted Whittaker Chambers as one of the media elite who mocked Rand. I have to ask, “Is Beck really aware of who Chambers is?”

Last week, he had a show dealing with the history of American communism and plastered a picture of Alger Hiss on his blackboard. Hiss, the underground communist agent who stood at FDR’s side at Yalta and who was instrumental in secreting classified government information to the Soviet Union, was only outed because of Whittaker Chambers.

Chambers had been in the underground with Hiss, but then broke from communism, found faith in God, became a senior editor at Time, gave explosive testimony about Hiss in congressional hearings in 1948, which led to Hiss’s conviction on perjury charges, and then told his story in a highly publicized autobiography called Witness.

Chambers Testifying at HUAC

Ronald Reagan was tremendously impacted by Witness. It gave him the broader understanding for why people were attracted to the communist message. Reagan quoted from Chambers on a number of occasions during his presidency. In 1984, he awarded Chambers, posthumously, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, not only for his exposure of communism in the American government, but also for his deeper message to Western Civilization: we have to decide whether we are going to put all our faith in Man or in God. Chambers obviously chose the latter.

The quote Beck used from Chambers about Rand’s Atlas Shrugged came from a review of the book he penned in National Review, where he was a senior editor in 1957. National Review, founded by Chambers’s friend William F. Buckley, can hardly be classified as part of the media elite. Chambers himself was attacked viciously by that elite because he linked modern liberalism with communism—both had as their source faith in Man.

When Chambers called Rand’s book silly and the story preposterous, it wasn’t because he disagreed with free enterprise or capitalism. He came to that conclusion for two reasons: first, her characters he considered to be caricatures. As a great writer himself, he couldn’t bear her method of storytelling.

The second reason, though, is one Beck should appreciate. He rejected her materialist view of life. Rand was an atheist who hated Christianity because it told its adherents to think of others before oneself. Chambers, upon reading her book, saw this philosophy quite clearly and distanced himself from it.

He said—and I believe he is correct on this—that materialism, whether from the Right or the Left, leads to dictatorship of some kind. He sensed in Rand’s book a tone of “I’m right, and no disagreement is allowed.” That’s why he made his most controversial statement at the end of the review, one that angered Randians considerably:

From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding, “To a gas chamber—go!”

I thought it might be good to point this out because it disturbed me to see Chambers thrown in with the liberal media elite. His critique came from the Right, not the Left, and was based on his profound belief in God and concern that Rand’s philosophy would lead to a different form of totalitarianism.

I neglected to mention one other thing I like about Beck: he has acknowledged more than once that he has been a latecomer to some of these ideas, and that he simply wants to share with his audience what he has discovered. That’s humility, which is essential in life. I’m hoping he will now discover more about Whittaker Chambers and perhaps, in a forthcoming program, give him his due.