The left-wing firebrands who turned to the right

HitchJohn Gray at The New Statesman:

Writing about Whittaker Chambers, who, from being a member of the Communist Party and later an ­operative for Soviet intelligence, defected to become a leading figure of the American right, Daniel Oppenheimer comments: “The party, for Chambers, was less a political organisation than a crucible for the forging of his own Bolshevik soul.” It is an astute judgement, one that applies to some degree to all of the six apostates from the left whose lives and beliefs Oppenheimer examines in this arresting and at times revelatory study. Chambers, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens were different from one another in many ways, some of them quite fundamental. And yet, for each man, his volte-face was much more than a response to world events: it was an exercise in self-creation, in which what was being fashioned was the meaning of a life.

Chambers turned to communism while fleeing a fractured family and a hidden life of homosexual cruising, which he renounced when he rejected communism and became a Christian. A scion of Princeton and Balliol, Burnham used his mastery of Marxist theory to show off his formidable intellect and, once he had demolished Marxism, to issue dramatic forecasts of the near future that were nearly always confounded, but somehow enabled him to enjoy an afterlife as a consultant to the CIA. Reagan moved on from liberalism to the American presidency by way of a failed marriage and a ­flagging Hollywood career.

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