Withdraw ‘Whittaker’

Why take ‘Whittaker Chambers’ out of NRI awards

By David Chambers | March 14, 2019

[Note: On March 21, 2019, National Review promised to publish the following essay over the weekend following presentation of the 2nd biennial Whittaker Chambers Award (March 30-31, 2019) but in fact did not – so we are now – March 31, 2019]

Last month, National Review and the National Review Institute announced the second “Whittaker Chambers Award.”  Soon after, a request came to stop using “Whittaker Chambers” for an award name in future.  They agreed. 

Whittaker Chambers Award

The request came from us, the Whittaker Chambers Family.  “We” are the surviving child of Whittaker Chambers and his grandchildren.  We disagreed with the first awardee.  We asked NR to include us in deciding the second awardee. 

NR had agreed to include us.  Instead, NR and NRI announced again without our input. 

In such light, we say, stopping in future is not enough.  We now ask NR and NRI to withdraw the name “Whittaker Chambers” from past and current awardees, in all instances, including online. 

All of us agree:  the efforts of the two awardees run counter to the instincts and experience of Whittaker Chambers.  All of us agree:  their efforts have not matched his.  Again, we ask NR and NRI to remove the name “Whittaker Chambers” from awards past, present, and future. 

No doubt, NR and NRI can find another hero who would gladly have her or his name on such a prestigious award.  

We look forward to NR and NRI’s honoring our request. 

We thank NR for publishing this request publicly. 

As family historian, let me share some reasons why the awardees and their efforts so mismatch an award in the name of Whittaker Chambers.

Putin and Stalin
Vladimir Putin and Joseph Stalin (from Euromaidan Press)

Regarding Mr. Hannan, I feel certain Whittaker Chambers would not have supported Brexit. 

He would see the European Union as stabilizing a Europe ravaged by two world wars in his lifetime.  He would happily see the former enemy Germany part of the EU.  He would see the UK’s seceding from the EU as playing into the hands of Russia’s new Stalin, Vladimir Putin

Readers may recall that his NR essays of 1957-1959 often worried about Soviet (today, Russian) aggression.  Titles included “Soviet Strategy in the Middle East,” “The Coming Struggle for Outer Space,” and “Missiles, Brains and Mind.”  Those titles sound fresh even today.  That is because he kept his eye on the larger forces at work in the world.  He was afraid:  “War on the scale of the worlds, annihilation, space and its command, a visible nearness to the brink of unheard-of disaster.”  His words sound disconcertingly current, although published by NR in 1958 (“Some Untimely Jottings“). 

He would have seen Brexit as pure foolishness. 

"The Lord Provides" by Jacob Burck (1934)
“The Lord Provides” by Jacob Burck (1934) 1

Regarding Mr. Janus, I feel certain Whittaker Chambers would not have supported Janus v. AFSCME

True, Whittaker Chambers was leery of labor unions—when infiltrated by Communists.  In the 1930s, he had seen fellow spy-ring member Lee Pressman join the Congress of Industrial Organizations as legal counsel.  Another fellow spy John Abt joined the Amalgamated Clothing Workers as legal counsel.  (The CIO ousted Pressman in 1948; Abt left the ACW voluntarily.)  In the 1920s, he had seen colleagues at the Daily Worker newspaper double as apparatchiks—covert labor agitators who then reported on their own AgitProp activities in the paper.  (These included Earl Browder, later head of the Communist Party USA—see Witness p225.) 

However, few readers may realize that Whittaker Chambers married into a union family.  His wife Esther Shemitz worked for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.  Her brother Reuben Shemitz was a labor lawyer.  Her nephew Nathan L. Levine, too, was a labor lawyer.  (Both testified in the Hiss Case.)  These are public facts.  Family members know that her sister Sophie Shemitz was a hat-makers union member. 

Readers may recall that Esther Shemitz and Whittaker Chambers first met at the 1926 Passaic textile strike (see Witness, pp231-2).  A few readers may know that the police beat Esther Shemitz there.

Whittaker Chambers farming (1949)
Whittaker Chambers farming (1949)

Readers will remember that Whittaker Chambers became as much farmer as writer.  He wrote the NR essays “Some Westminster Notes” and “A Westminster Letter” from his farm.  His posthumous memoir Cold Friday often talks of farm matters. 

He had great respect for both farming and industrial workers.  He never opposed their organizing.  He worked his farm cooperatively with neighbors; his son still does.

Keep in mind that opposing Communism in no way implies opposing unions. 


  1. Jacob Burck (1907-1982) was a Pulitzer Prize winning artist who studied at the Art Students League with Esther Shemitz.

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