“This is the poisoned well of the radical heart: the displacement of real emotions into political fantasies; the rejection of present communities for a future illusion; the denial of flesh and blood human beings for an Idea of humanity that is more important than humanity itself.”
The Black Book of the American Left is first of all a narrative map of the battles fought over the last 40 years and — it must be said – lost, almost every one. The Black Book contains a record as complete as any likely to be written of the struggle to resist a Communist-inspired Left that was not defeated in the Cold War but took advantage of the Soviet defeat to enter the American mainstream and conquer it, until today its members occupy the White House.
“David Horowitz is an enormously important thinker among American conservatives.”
—The Weekly Standard
“David Horowitz is one of America’s deepest thinkers about the Left.”
As one of the creators of the New Left, David Horowitz knows from the inside the tyrannical impulses of today’s progressives. For the last several decades he has waged ideological war against his old comrades, exposing their totalitarian designs evident today in every social institution the left has invaded. The current volume in his magisterial collection of essays The Black Book of the American Left focuses on the culture wars, the contest of ideas still being fought out in schools, popular culture, and the media. With relentless argument and fierce passion, Horowitz exposes the incoherence, hypocrisy, and naked lust for power that drives the left and leaves in its wake social, cultural, and political ruin. A future history of our times will find no better source-book than these dispatches from the culture-war front.
-Bruce Thornton, Research Fellow, Hoover Institute
Introduction to Volume V: Culture Wars
By David Horowitz
Culture Wars is the fifth volume of The Black Book of the American Left, and the first of three focusing on the attacks on American values that first gained traction in the 1960s. These conflicts have continued through half a century, dividing Americans more sharply than at any time since the Civil War, while re-shaping the national culture in ways that reflect the agendas of the progressive elites. “Political correctness” is the term that is widely employed to describe the changes to the cultural landscape effected by these elites, whose influence reached a critical mass in American educational and media institutions in the 1990s.
The phenomenon of “political correctness” is, in fact, an updated version of the “party line”— a stock feature of the organizations of the Communist-progressive left. The utility of a party line lies in the way it demonizes opponents, converting dissent into deviancy, while requiring its adherents to reduce complex realities to political formulas, which deprives them of the ability to learn from their experiences. The term was coined by Mao Zedong as a slogan for closing party ranks, and is integral to the left’s totalitarian impulses and messianic ambitions. The radical character of the political-correctness movement has been obscured by the widespread reference to its adherents as “liberals,” even as they have engaged in a relentless assault on the liberal values that are embedded in the American constitutional framework.
The cultural offensive launched by progressives was inspired by an Italian Stalinist named Antonio Gramsci, whose works became an academic fashion in the 1970s, a time when the liberal arts divisions of American universities had come increasingly under radical control. Writing in the 1930s, Gramsci had proposed an innovation in Marxist theory which sought to address the fact that the working class had failed in its historic mission as a revolutionary force. There was nothing original in Gramsci’s observa-tion, which was shared by many socialists at the time, including Benito Mussolini, a Leninist who turned to populism as a solution to the dilemma posed by the missing proletariat. What was original was Gramsci’s own solution, which was to put cultural institutions at the center of the revolutionary agenda.
Marxist radicals had previously focused on taking control of the means of industrial production. Gramsci now proposed that their attention and energies should be redirected towards controlling the means of cultural production. In Gramsci’s conception, this meant infiltrating and then subverting universities, churches, media and the institutions of the arts — the instrumentalities by which ideas were introduced into the general culture. In devising this strategy, Gramsci turned one of Marxism’s central claims on its head. Marx had famously said that “the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class,” implying that the principal obstacle to social progress was a “false consciousness” imposed from above, which validated the social status quo. The imposition of these false ideas was accomplished through the cultural institutions which the ruling class controlled. In Gramsci’s vision, radical subvention of these institutions and therefore of the culture would make radical ideas the ruling ideas, which would result in radicals becoming a political ruling class.
The first section of this volume consists of three essays I wrote with Peter Collier that describe the spread of “political correctness” in the universities, the first stage in the left’s march through the institutions of the culture. “It’s the Culture, Stupid!” opens with the appointments of two academic ideologues to key roles in the newly elected administration of President Bill Clinton — an indication of how far the left’s assault had advanced by 1992. The two essays that follow describe the course of political correctness as a new orthodoxy in the intellectual culture.
The next section, titled “Media Culture,” examines the radical influence in the nation’s media, beginning with the left’s domination of the film industry, exemplified in its ability to impose the longest blacklist in American history on a political opponent. For more than thirty years Hollywood leftists were able to deny Elia Kazan, one of America’s greatest directors, the honors, recognition, and opportunities his talents had earned. His crime? In the early 1950s he chose to defend his country rather than members of the Communist Party active in theater and film who were engaged in betraying their country to a totalitarian enemy. The ban on Kazan lasted longer than the blacklist of any of the famous targets of the McCarthy era, and, unlike theirs, his exile was not enforced by a handful of studio heads but by the creative film community as a whole. Consequently, his blacklisting reveals far more about the dominance of the entertainment media by a political orthodoxy than anything McCarthy and his supporters achieved. “Up From Multiculturalism” examines an ideological centerpiece of the left’s offensive. Previously, Americans had shared a common culture that was rooted in America’s constitutional framework. This constitutional republic was a multi-ethnic society whose success could be attributed to its distinctive and unitary culture of individualism and equal rights under the law. A national identity was created by the commitment of a diverse citizenry to these basic values held in common. Multiculturalism in its very inception, on the other hand, was an assault on the idea of a singular, shared culture or a set of dominant values.
While multiculturalists presented their agenda as a program of equality and inclusion, it was in its conception and implementation a movement aimed at deconstructing the American identity and the culture that sustained it. To accomplish this deconstruction, the American narrative of freedom was systematically rewritten as an unrelenting history of racism and oppression. “Up From Multiculturalism” describes the institutional mechanism by which this radical departure from Americans’ traditional view of themselves was imposed on a university culture whose institutional base was so decentralized as to seem immune to the imposition of an orthodoxy, and a change in perspective so sweeping and profound.
Three essays in this volume tell the story of my encounters with Steve Wasserman, a veteran Marxist radical who in 1996 became the editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Since Wasserman’s election was not untypical of other national media institutions, and would not have been possible if the Times itself had not undergone a cultural change, this story may be said to be emblematic of the wider transformation. Similar stories could easily be told about the new cultural arbiters at The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major media institutions. The incidents recounted in these chapters speak volumes about the changes that had already taken place as the century drew to a close. The fate of my appeals to the publisher of the Times, recounted here, provide a textbook confirmation of Lenin’s boast that Communists could count on the capitalists to sell the rope that would be used to hang them.
Several of the essays that follow — most prominently “Telling It Like It Wasn’t”— address the left’s insistence on rewriting the past as a step towards reshaping the future. This left-wing revisionism was the work not only of journalists and polemicists but of university professors who politicized entire academic fields, including those of American history and American Studies. How far leftists have been willing to go in fabricating easily ascertainable facts to advance a political agenda is the subject of the final chapter in this section, “The Progressive Myth Machine.” David Brock is the publisher of an Internet site sponsored by George Soros and the Clintons, whose proclaimed purpose is to correct misinformation disseminated by conservative media. In practice Media Matters functions as an attack site focused on discrediting opponents of the political left, by any means necessary. As one of those targets, and as a subject in Brock’s book, The Republican Noise Machine, I was afforded the opportunity of reviewing his account of my career, and documenting the facts ignored and even inverted by him. In reviewing Brock’s book, I was thus able to cast light on the methods favored by an individual who has been described by The New York Times as “a Democratic political operative,” is the head of a major Democratic political action committee, and whose site is a key provider of talking points for the party’s legislators and activists.
Parts II and III of this volume focus on sexual and gender politics. These are reflections of the left’s totalitarian ambitions — its desire to transform not only the political order but the entire social order and the individuals who compose it. Generally described as “identity politics,” these efforts were expressions of the left’s signature project of “social construction”— its determination to use social institutions and the power of the state to create “new men and new women.” In other words, to reshape human nature to fit the utopian program.
Under Communist regimes, such efforts led to human disasters on an epic scale: tens of millions of deaths through politically induced famines and the systematic slaughters of individuals who refused to go along with the socialist scheme. In America, the left is still unable to marshal the full power of the state against its political opponents, but even in this democratic environment its utopian incitements and the intimidations of political correctness led in the 1980s to the greatest human catastrophe outside of war in the nation’s history. As the articles in this section show, the epidemic of AIDS was fueled in the first place by the left’s crusade for “sexual liberation,” defined as promiscuous sex with strangers, and then facilitated by its politically inspired destruction of elements of the public health system designed to combat such contagions.
The leaders of the gay rights movement were all veterans of the radical Sixties who had gravitated to the Democratic Party, the dominant presence in the governments and public health agencies of San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, the three urban centers from which the epidemic originally spread. Once the epidemic took root, the left then directed its political influence to disabling the safeguards of the nation’s public health systems in order to protect the sexually “liberated” zones it had created, which happened to be the spawning grounds of the disease. Thanks to the left’s practice of charging its opponents with “homophobia” and bigotry, resistance to its policy agendas was easily overcome. The subsequent crippling of the public health systems led to a massive expansion of the epidemic and the eventual deaths of more than 650,000 Americans, most of them homosexual and young, most of whom could have been saved if traditional public health policies had been employed.
In 1983, just before the virus was isolated, at a time when authorities were first becoming publicly concerned, Peter Collier and I wrote an article about the political forces shaping official responses in the city of San Francisco. Retitled here as “Origins of a Political Epidemic,” the article was written with the help of some prominent gay leaders who had become alarmed by what they saw taking place but, because of the intimidation, were unable to oppose publicly. It was the first journalistic report to expose the destructive impact of the gay liberation activists and also the criminal negligence of local authorities, who acquiesced to their self-destructive, politically correct demands. The remaining articles in this section track the relentless path of the epidemic and the inability of the rest of the nation to wake up from its ideology-induced slumber and revive the public health policies that had been abandoned.
In my autobiography Radical Son I wrote about my involvement in reporting the story Collier and I had written, and also about the hostile reaction it received. At the time there had been only 300 deaths from an epidemic that was doubling every 6 months. I recalled how I had calculated that, at this rate, in 20 years there would be 200,000 people dead if nothing were done; how I realized that the cultural tide supporting the destructive agendas of the left was so strong that there was nothing anyone would do to stop it; and how utterly helpless I felt. The final section of this volume, “Gender Politics,” deals with another destructive aspect of the cultural attitudes promoted by the left. This was an ideological feminism, which created its own party line and was used to corrupt institutional standards, demanding gender quotas in hiring and evaluations. In 1995 this feminist juggernaut precipitated the greatest witch-hunt in American history over a series of incidents at the “Tailhook” convention of naval aviators in Las Vegas. As a result of the feminist attacks and the purges that followed, what had been an annual event was terminated. The reputations recklessly destroyed and careers summarily ended were a national tragedy, a travesty worse than anything that had resulted from the infamous McCarthy investigations. But they received no critical coverage by media in full self-censorship mode as a result of similar feminist campaigns that had put them on notice that they themselves were not immune from similar attacks.
Part IV of this volume is also about the media culture, and focuses on one of my early concerns in creating the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in 1988. This was the government’s creation of what became a billion-dollar media platform for left-wing propaganda in the public broadcasting networks PBS and NPR.
The authorizing legislation for this complex — the Public Broad-casting Act of 1967— specifically forbade the creation of a politically oriented network, since a party in power could potentially use such an institution to undermine the democratic system.
Nonetheless, a politically oriented network was created despite the law. From its inception, public broadcasting has been managed and run almost exclusively by individuals of the left.
For several years I was actively engaged in lobbying public broadcasting officials to persuade them to observe the letter of the Public Broadcasting Act by including a diversity of views in their current affairs programming. I published a magazine, COMINT, which was distributed to 12,000 members of the public broadcasting community in what proved to be the futile hope of embarrassing them into complying with their enabling legislation. As a result of this activity, I had first-hand experience to confirm the suspicion that those responsible for programming— with the notable exception of the producers of the MacNeil/Lehrer News- Hour — were uninterested in observing their legal mandate and were by and large fellow-traveling progressives who encouraged radicals of the Steve Wasserman type and defended them from critics when the tendentious screeds they aired were challenged. The chapters in this section, originally written for COMINT, recount how PBS executives produced and then defended programs celebrating Communist guerrillas, terrorists and Black Panther murderers, while airing specials that treated conservatives like Ronald Reagan as traitors. When confronted, public broadcasting executives regularly claimed that these political propaganda films actually met the system’s quality standards, although it was not clear how this could be possible, since the Public Broadcasting Act stipulated in so many words that current affairs programming must be “strictly fair, objective and balanced.”
From the Author
I welcome comments on the Black Book and will reply to as many as I am able. I especially welcome comments from the left which so far has pretended that this critique does not exist. This is a throwback to the Stalinist era, and I hope that there are some leftists with the integrity to attempt to meet an argument rather than stamping it out. I hope all commenters will treat the intellectual issues involved and not resort to name-calling and anti-intellectual rants.