The Pequod Review:
Whittaker Chambers's memoir Witness describes his life as a Communist spy, followed by his break from the movement and conversion to anti-communism. Witness is of course a seminal book for American conservatives, as Chambers describes the events that caused him to abandon his prior faith. These are sometimes moving:
Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. "He was immensely pro-Soviet," she said, "and then -- you will laugh at me -- but you must not laugh at my father -- and then -- one night -- in Moscow -- he heard screams. That's all. Simply one night he heard screams."
A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind's. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.
But Chambers can also be simplistic and trite:
Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else. It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom. God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom. He is the only guarantor. 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. Necessity is the only ultimate justification known to the mind.
Nonetheless, read generously — and without judgments or preconceptions about which of Chambers's politics were the "right" ones — the book is a useful study of human psychology, and specifically how we cherry pick evidence, engage in motivated reasoning, and choose our politics based on emotions and morality rather than facts.