The Age of the Informer

The Age of the Informer

Such is the nature of the operations of the Communist party that all evidence about its key work must necessarily come from informers—that is, from those who have seen it from the inside. As Burnham points out, the pejorative connotations of that word, much exploited by the Communists, are completely inappropriate in this case. The highly dangerous Communist conspiracy is “neither a loyal company of Robin Hood nor a cheap gang of petty crooks.” Yet, those most opposed to “informers” are often intellectuals whose profession it is to inform and be informed, and who fight for freedom of inquiry in every direction but this.

—Robert Gorham Davis in The New Leader, May 10, 1954.

It shall be the duty of every member of the armed forces, to report to his commanding officer any information, coming to his attention which indicates that the retention of any member of the armed forces is not consistent with the interest of national security.

—New “loyalty regulations” just announced by Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson.

Few governments have dispensed with the services of spies and stool pigeons. No system of police has ever functioned without the aid of informers. The Mogul emperors reinforced their system of rule with an army of informers who entered the houses of citizens twice daily in the guise of scavengers. It may be doubted whether Napoleon’s rule could have been maintained without Fouche’s army of spies and informers. What distinguishes our age, however, is that the informer has now, for the first time, been extolled as a model whom others should emulate.

Earlier systems of rule utilized the informer, yet never veiled their contempt for him as a person. His was “dirty work”—necessary perhaps, yet work which entitled him to nothing but pay and contempt. The reasons for this are obvious enough. As Murray Hausknecht points out in this DISSENT, no human and social relationship is possible without a certain minimum of trust. But the informer is the anti-social type par excellence because he breaks that fundamental law of mutual trust on which society—any type of non-totalitarian society—must rest. That is why the folklore of every culture includes spies and informers among its most abhorred types, why the popular imagination has always regarded the informer from Judas to Azev with a particularly horrified fascination. Cain, the murderer of his brother, and Judas, the betrayer of his brother, are excoriated in the Christian imagination precisely because their acts strike at the very root of community.