My latest reading of Fawn Brodie’s Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character was about the Alger Hiss case. I won’t go into a lot of detail about that, but I will say that Brodie says some things that I did not learn from other books about Nixon that I have read. For one, as I’ve said before, there is controversy about whether Congressman Richard Nixon got intelligence information about Hiss from Father John Cronin before Whittaker Chambers and Hiss testified to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Nixon in Six Crises said that he first learned of Hiss and Chambers’ accusation that Hiss was a Communist when they initially appeared before HUAC, whereas Father John Cronin said for years that he fed Nixon intelligence prior to that point, a claim that Cronin supposedly retracted later. The debate usually centers around Cronin and whether his retraction occurred or was trustworthy, but Brodie brings in another consideration: that Nixon himself “would mention the Cronin briefing to [biographers] Earl Mazo and Bela Kornitzer, both of whom published the fact” (pages 201-202). Second, according to Brodie, French and Canadian intelligence cast suspicions on Alger Hiss. I don’t recall reading that elsewhere. I read about Venona and Soviet intelligence, but not French and Canadian intelligence.
What I want to use as my starting-point in this post is something that Brodie says on page 203. Whittaker Chambers (who would later accuse Alger Hiss of being a Communist and of engaging in espionage) left the Communist Party, and he went on to write for Time Magazine, eventually becoming the magazine’s editor. Brodie quotes Chambers as saying: “Time gave me back my life. It gave me my voice. It gave me sanctuary, professional respect, peace, and time in which to mature my changed view of the world and men’s destiny, and mine in it.”
The part about Chambers being given the space to mature in his new view of the world stood out to me, for some reason. Chambers had left an environment that many could label as fanatical and cultish, the Communist Party in the United States. After leaving his old worldview, where would he go from there? Could he build another worldview in its place? What would be his compass and identity? Being a writer and an editor for Time gave him a chance to explore the world and what he believed, and why.
There are plenty of people in Chambers’ sort of situation. There are people who become Christians, and they wonder how they can mature in their newfound faith. They may find answers in solitude, as they read the Bible and commune with God in prayer. They may also receive guidance from communities and people who have been in the Christian faith for a long time. There are people who quit drinking and join Alcoholics Anonymous, and they are seeking to learn the ropes of a new life. They do so by going to meetings and by being mentored by other recovering alcoholics, including a sponsor. There are people who are detoxing from fundamentalist Christianity, after concluding that it has been an unhealthy worldview and an abusive environment for them. They may do some searching on their own, reading books. Perhaps they, too, receive help from some sort of community, maybe online. They’re leaving the old and entering the new, and they are looking for ways to mature on their new path.
I myself have been reluctant to get “help” from other people or communities on whatever new path I have found myself on. I fear that others will try to recreate me into their image, rather than allowing me the freedom to grow as I wish. On the other hand, there are times when I realize that I need guidance from outside of myself, since my own head can be a lonely place that distorts reality and focuses on the negative. Perhaps a solution is for me to listen to the advice of others, while remembering that I have the free choice to accept or to reject it.