Reading David Horowitz’s “A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption in this Life and the Next” is like taking an autumn stroll with a gray-haired elder encountered at a family reunion. You were expecting his usual social, political, and economic rants that sometimes alienated you, and sometimes frightened you. Sometimes you saw some shaft of insight in his words, an insight you defiantly resisted because his worldview was so different from your own. You see the world through rose-colored glasses of universal brotherhood and a brighter tomorrow. This guy insistently reminded you of failed utopias.
Before you set out on your stroll, though, he made sure to bring his three pooches along. The tenderness he showed the dogs gives you pause. You realized that as different as you are in age and worldview, you both love dogs.
As you step out into the gray light, suddenly crepuscular so early in the afternoon, the elder speaks. You’re accustomed to clipped who-what-when-where-why-style headlines. Today the rhythm and care of poetry shimmers just under the surface of his prose.
He’s talking about death. Well, yes, that would make sense; he is a septuagenarian. He has had a cancer scare and one of his children has pre-deceased him.
You slow your steps and listen. His words seem, like the moldering leaves, fading light, and the migrating geese overhead, to be arising organically out of the autumnal scene. You’ll be pondering what you hear today for a long time.
“A Point in Time” is a meditation on death and mortality, morality, religious faith, and the Utopian urge. Horowitz uses Marcus Aurelius’ and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s works as touchstones.
Horowitz’s parents had been members of the American Communist Party. Horowitz himself was close to the Black Panthers. In 1974 their bookkeeper, Betty Van Patter, was murdered. Horowitz was convinced that the Panthers were responsible. In 1985, Horowitz publicly broke with the left. My former comrades spoke of Horowitz as if he were the devil incarnate.
I went to heckle Horowitz ten years ago. He said something that silenced me, and that I pondered repeatedly: Camden, Newark, and Paterson have had Democratic leadership for decades. I grew up among people who vividly remember Newark and Paterson as thriving, even enviable cities. That they are now slums breaks many New Jerseyians hearts. Horowitz’s comment was a significant paving stone in my own turn away from the left.
Even so I did not expect a book like “A Point in Time” from Horowitz. It is meditative, serene, and stoic. It is not a Christian book, but it treats Christianity and its impact with respect.
Horowitz talks about death using dogs, pet ownership, homes, and writing. Dogs live for about a decade, much shorter than the average human lifespan. We must watch our beloved four-footed friends age and die at a more rapid rate than our own. Homes are our carapace. We experience them almost as extensions of ourselves, renovating them with a sense that our lives might go on forever. Moving into, and then out of a home, also reminds us of mortality.
Horowitz’s daughter Sarah was a writer who never married. She died relatively young, and having published relatively little. Horowitz contemplates her one bedroom apartment, and her writings, her most significant material legacy. Medical diagnoses, too, remind us of mortality. If we go on living long enough, eventually we will get cancer, or diabetes, or something. We will fight the illness as long as we can. We lose the fight in increments, as Horowitz has in the amount of walking he can do before fatigue reels him back home.
We turn to bookcases. Marcus Aurelius provides a stoic model; Dostoyevsky a Christian one. Horowitz’s selection of quotes from Dostoyevsky convinces me that I need to read more of him, or at least about him. The quotes Horowitz selects are stunningly apropos to American college campuses today. Horowitz positions Dostoyevsky as the antidote to atheist nihilists and Utopians.
Horowitz considers faith, but acknowledges that he is an agnostic. He briefly describes a few unspeakable crimes from current headlines. With a few spare sentences, he describes the kind of sadism that occurs every day. How do we believe in God in a world in which not just children, but even dogs, are subject to cruel and meaningless tortures? If God is omnipotent, how do we avoid assigning responsibility to God for horrible events?
Rejection of God has been for many a sort of religion of its own. Horowitz’s father did not believe in God, but he did have a myth and a telos. “When he read his morning paper it was not to gather tidings of events that actually affected him – prices rising, weather brewing, wars approaching – but to parse the script of a global drama that would one day bring history and its miseries to an end.”
Similarly, Dostoyevsky’s fellow conspirator Nikolay Speshnev said that his political hope “is also a religion only a different one. It makes a divinity out of a new and different object, but there is nothing new about the deification itself.” The difference between Dostoyevsky and men like Speshnev is acted out on college campuses in America every day, and on the international stage. Dostoyevsky describes how radicals justify “wading through blood.” One need only look to the former cradle of civilization to find examples.
The book’s intimacy is typified by a lovely passage on page 22. Horowitz lays awake at night, “haunted by reflections of death.” Kissing his wife, or petting “the small bodies curled like furry slippers at my feet” provides him with a reprieve from “this emptiness.”
The book’s cover by Bosch Fawstin depicts the scene at Dostoyevsky’s mock execution by czarist police: three erect stakes. I cannot help but think of the anachronistic reference to Christ – “three pale figures led forth and bound to three posts driven upright in the ground” – in W.H. Auden’s poem “Shield of Achilles.” Horowitz’s book, like Auden’s poem, like Marcus Aurelius, recognizes that each generation must confront, struggle with, and then lose, “The mass and majesty of this world, all that carries weight and always weighs the same,” whether we live under the House of Atreus, or the Pax Romana, or the reign of Obama.
Death gave us this David Horowitz. If mortality were not knocking on his door, I don’t think he would have written this book; if it were not knocking on ours, however faint the sound, we could not resonate to it. Death “focuses the mind” and awakens the heart. The myth of, or perhaps the evidence for, immortality gives us the determination to apply death’s lessons.
Originally published at Amazon.com.
By Ron Radosh
December 30, 2011
Originally published at PJMedia.com
There’s still time to buy a 2011 book, and my vote for Book of the Year  is: David Horowitz’s A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption In This Life and the Next. Many of you know Horowitz as a fearless fighter for conservatism, a polemicist and organizer second to none. But this time, you will find a very different and sober David Horowitz. Here you will come across a reflective, searching and eloquent treatise on the essential philosophical and moral issues all of us face: the very meaning of our life on Earth, how we make sense of it, what meaning we give to our short sojourn on it, and the big question of what our stay really means, especially if like Horowitz, we are not religious.
Herein, David paints a wide brush, moving from subjects like the death of his daughter, his remembrances of growing up under the tutelage of his Communist father, and discourses on the lessons to be learned from the great figures of history and literature, such as Marcus Aurelius of Ancient Rome, and the greatest novelist of old Russia, Fyodor Dostoevsky.
On one level, Horowitz’s book is highly pessimistic. My wife warned me not to read it, fearing it would leave me depressed. Horowitz writes a great deal about what he has learned from his dogs, seeing their responses to all around them and their aging over the years to what our own future portends. Having very recently lost our beloved Maltese dog Sam, I certainly understand when Horowitz writes that once having lived with dogs, “they have come to seem indispensable,” since they teach us so much and brighten our lives each day. But rather than make me sad, I felt a great peace and calm reading Horowitz’s beautiful prose. Far more than other authors, he has been able to touch my feelings on a deep level, and cause me to reflect on whether or not I have been able to make a difference while I am among the living.
Of course, David Horowitz writes a book that has political implications. His father, as we know, was a man who substituted the chimera of the revolutionary transformation of humanity through communism as the road to salvation, rather than the religious faith shared by most earthly dwellers. For him history “was a forward march,” he writes, a man whose ideology meant that there was no use for Dostoevsky, a writer who left the path of revolution for that of God, and was therefore seen as “reactionary.” Unlike his father, Horowitz picked up the great novelist’s works, and learned “insights that helped to wake me from the dreams that had stifled my father’s life.”
His pages are Dostoevsky are a tour d ’force, a guide through what we can learn from his novels, and from Distoevsky’s own experience. As a man of religion, Horowitz explains, he had a “conservative view of our human lot, the very opposite of the radical faith that we can become gods, and create a new world.” One is struck by Dostoevsky’s understandings, made so long ago, that still have the greatest relevance to our own times. Horowitz quotes the Russian novelist on his judgment of those who seek early redemption through revolutionary change. He offers us the following words from Dostoevsky:
“Socialism is a modern incarnation of godlessness, the tower of Babel built without God, not to raise earth to haven but to bring down heaven to earth.” Of those who believe in this path, he wrote: “They hope to make a just order for themselves, but having rejected Christ they will end by drenching the earth with blood.”
Perhaps because David Horowitz cannot bring himself to accept formal religion, and remains a skeptic deeply admiring of those who are believers, his book has a pessimistic streak to it which his writing itself disputes. Since he cannot bring himself to accept religion, Horowitz writes that “I am left to ponder the pointlessness of our strivings on this earth and to ask impossible questions, and receive no answers.”
For a moral soul who is not religious, the question raised is then whether life can have any meaning. He talks about what his daughter called “the rolling of the souls,” and writes that even though she is not here, her thoughts follow him, and as he puts it, “my future takes on a memory and a face.” But David’s prose proves that our strivings are anything put pointless. As he learns from Dostoyevsky, the collectivist passion has no worthy end. Horowitz writes: “Even as they seek desperately for a common object to love, so they yearn for a common enemy to hate, which is why the quest for an earthly redemption has led to the greatest crimes.”
That does not mean, as Horowitz thinks, that we will all forget the heroes of the past we now honor, and “history itself,” which is only “a cycle of rises and falls,” means life progresses on its own rhythyms. Eventually, he writes his family name itself will disappear, and that too meant little, since the name was most likely made upon his grandfather’s arrival in America from Europe. Indeed, Horowitz even thinks this book means little itself, although he writes that “I still return to the security of my stories,” since those of his own life make existence bearable. He writes because that is what he does. Looking forward to the publication of this very book, Horowitz writes, “few people will read it, and then there will be none.”
He is not sure that his work “is important to anyone,” although he acknowledges that he has acquired an audience “to whom it may seem so,” and thinks perhaps his words have caused some good. But he writes primarily for himself, because “it is important to me.” Yet, he has told us when he visited his late daughter’s apartment, he found scores of writings, known to no one but herself, which she, like her father, was compelled to write. After her death, David saw to it that her own book  culled from these papers would be published. Why did he do this, if as he really thinks, it matters not if anyone but the writer saw the results?
This unwarranted pessimism, as I suggested, is a deep flaw, and reflects Horowitz’s deep feelings about how without belief in God, meaning cannot exist in life. We all know that the writings of David Horowitz have in fact mattered a great deal, as does this special book. So my advice to readers of this column is simple: Prove David Horowitz wrong. Buy A Point in Time. It will be a gift to yourself, and one that you will cherish forever.
Article printed from Ron Radosh: http://pjmedia.com/ronradosh
URL to article: http://pjmedia.com/ronradosh/2011/12/30/my-vote-for-the-best-book-of-2011-david-horowitzs-a-point-in-time/
URLs in this post:
 Book of the Year: http://www.amazon.com/Point-Time-Search-Redemption-This/dp/159698290X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325270933&sr=1-1
 book: http://www.amazon.com/Collected-Writings-Sarah-Horowitz-ebook/dp/B004AM5ASG/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325274050&sr=1-2
September 19, 2011
Modern liberalism as a political religion is a topic of enduring interest–especially to conservatives on the receiving end of the latest leftist crusade. David Horowitz’s stunning autobiography, Radical Son, although not presented as a study of political religion, is one of the great explorations of the subject. Horowitz’s parents were committed Communists, and his struggle to break free of their ideological spell provoked deeply penetrating insights into the emotional foundations of leftist politics.
Now, in a very different spirit, Horowitz has returned to the topic in his new book, A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption in This Life and the Next. Here, an older Horowitz interweaves reflections on the troubling character of leftist political religion with his own attempts to make sense of life and mortality.
A Point in Time shifts effortlessly from the seemingly mundane details of daily life to the most serious questions, and back. If you want a model of how to read and think about a great work of literature or philosophy, this is it. Horowitz grapples with the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the novels of Dostoevsky as if his life depended on them, which in a way it does. Horowitz approaches these authors as full human beings. He moves between their lives and writings, then responds to them as if they were walking beside him.
A Point in Time is brief and easy to read. You can finish it in a single leisurely day. The simplicity is deceptive, however. This book will challenge you.
Nobody personifies tough-minded political infighting more than David Horowitz. Yet A Point in Time proves again what Horowitz has shown us before–that a brawling political spirit can harbor profundity.
Originally published at NationalReview.com
By Wilfred M. McClay — December 2011
There are only three chapters in David Horowitz’s brief, poignant, and gracefully written memoir, A Point in Time. But their unadorned titles convey the book’s underlying theme: “October 2006,” “November 2008,” and “December 2010.” This succession of months marks the inexorable tread of winter closing in, which is the ultimate subject of Horowitz’s book. After an extraordinarily energetic public career at the white-hot center of the era’s greatest and most passionate political and cultural controversies—a courageous and complex life filled with an outsized complement of battles, causes, conversions, enemies, and war wounds, not to mention the confusions of late 20th-century marriage and family life and the mounting array of physical infirmities that come with age—Horowitz has set down his sword and now peers out toward the unknown reaches that await him beyond the horizon of his mortality.
Horowitz brings to the task not only his characteristic intellectual vigor, but also a certain chastened skepticism that is wise enough to be skeptical of itself. Such reflexivity is expressed in the very prose, which flows with ease, shifting freely between the personal and the philosophical and then doubling back on itself. There are moments of peace, uncertainty, sadness, resignation, quiet joy. There is no rage against the dying of the light. This is no longer the enfant terrible or fierce truth-seeking missile of writings past. These are the reflections of a lion in winter.
For us, meaning is a necessity, not a luxury. We cannot manage for long without it. The impulse to write our histories and tell our stories is intrinsic, one of the ways we stave off the unbearable terror of meaninglessness and find a way to bring forward into the present some part of the past that is constantly slipping away from us into darkness. “When a day passes, it is no longer there,” wrote Isaac Bashevis Singer; “What remains of it? Nothing more than a story.” Indeed, he continued: “The whole world, all human life, is one long story.”
Horowitz sees matters similarly, although he carries an awareness of not one story but a multitude. His book lovingly rehearses some of the best of them, especially as rendered in the works of Marcus Aurelius and Fyodor Dostoevsky and in the Hebrew and Christian Bible. He insists both on the imperishable human need for our stories and the inescapable fact that we are generally the ones constructing them, a position that makes both belief and unbelief difficult to sustain. Hence he dwells in a kind of uneasy post-secular staging area, respectful of religious stories, convinced of their richness and fundamental truth, as well as their indispensability to our moral lives, but unable to partake of their metaphysical consolations. He is an unbeliever at bottom, but in a way that has nothing in common with our era’s loud professional atheists, who are merely believers of a different kind.
Of course, the one story to which this postmodern dilemma surely does not apply is the story of our individual biological existence: the steady tread of time, the unstoppable decline against whose force so much of the rest of our storymaking is deployed, a winter that can only be delayed, never denied. About that story Horowitz is brutally honest; it is the one story for which the empirical evidence is overwhelming. Now in his 70s, he relates the signs of bodily decline with a stoical detachment that most of us would find hard to emulate. But he is too wise to be a simple materialist. True, he will not permit himself the reassurances of faith when his intellect refuses to consent. But that refusal includes a refusal to regard the faith of others as mere illusion, especially in cases like that of Mozart, whose transfiguring faith formed the basis for his sublime achievements.
It seems to him that the meaning of our lives depends, paradoxically, on the existence of something outside ourselves, and that we must feel ourselves part of something larger in order to feel ourselves whole. “In order to be moral,” he says, “men must inhabit stories that have no end,” and they tell such stories with the presumption that “someone will be there to take it all in,” watching and listening. It might be God, it might simply be our fellow humans, but we require “the audience of others” to confirm our humanity. And yet he cannot dismiss the possibility that this performance is illusory, that our storytelling may be, in the words of novelist Julian Barnes, “just a scratching on the wall of the condemned cell,” something we do to certify, “I was here, too.” To which Horowitz darkly adds: “But to whom?”
Nor are stories always edifying. One must find a way to distinguish among them and judge their fruits. Horowitz comes by his pattern of unbelief honestly, since he has spent much of his life freeing himself from the death grip of modernity’s most seductive story: the progressive myth of the redemption of the world through revolutionary transformation. For Horowitz, as a red-diaper baby raised by committed Communist parents, the task of liberating himself from this story would be doubly difficult, because it was not only an intellectual chore but also an existential challenge. He had the misfortune to find the deadening abstractions of revolutionary theory embodied in the person of his father. To rebel against one was to conquer the other.
The embrace of history, understood as the sure path of progress, was one way—his father’s way—of fulfilling the human need to inhabit a story that envelops and upholds one, the sort of story that does not end. Yet belief in that story seemed only to diminish Horowitz’s father. Horowitz speculates that it was precisely his father’s fierce “passion for worlds that did not exist,” his addiction to the bloodless abstractions that animated his ruling story, and his consequent blindness to the beauties and pleasures of ordinary and everyday things, that imprisoned him. He writes:
My father was a missionary of the promised future in which a gentle rain of justice would nourish every seed. He never suspected that a fantasy so remote from the life directly in front of him might actually be the source of his isolation and gloom. By the time I was old enough to take my father’s measure as a man, he was enveloped in a metaphysical despair so dense he could never break free.
Horowitz had his own bout with 60s radicalism and his own conversion from the left, about which he has written so memorably in his autobiography, Radical Son. The conversion seems by now to be complete. In A Point in Time, he expresses the anti-progressive conviction that history is, in fact, without any clear direction. Over against the motto cited so often by Barack Obama, that “the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he offers this chilly rejoinder: “The arc of the moral universe is indeed bent, but there is no one and no way to unbend it.”
So if history is not a story to trust with one’s soul and spirit, what else might there be? Horowitz’s parents had regarded the thinkers of the past as “childlike seekers in the primitive world, groping their way to fragments of knowledge through fogs of religious myth.” But that was a sign of their characteristic progressive blindness and arrogance. To reject their premises was to discover that the past might offer insights that the present had forgotten. A Point in Time chronicles Horowitz’s search for them.
The great Stoic Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, for example, offers some hope of sustenance for Horowitz: “Our perturbations come only from our opinions” of things, and not the things themselves. Though we cannot change the world, we can change what we make of it. We can, in other words, “construct a narrative” for our lives that “does not multiply unnecessary defeats” and that makes peace with what cannot be altered. Yet the Stoic ideal turns out to be too difficult even for Marcus Aurelius, who cannot bear the thought that the world outside us might be meaningless, and, after wrestling with the problem, he declares: “There certainly are gods, and they take care of the world.” Such a jejune conclusion disappoints Horowitz and renders the whole undertaking far less impressive.
Horowitz also finds considerable insight in the writings of Dostoevsky, who recognized, through his own harrowing experience of revolutionary politics, that bloody horrors will always befall a world in which all things are permitted. Horowitz offers a deeply sympathetic reading of Dostoevsky’s messianic Christian faith as a counter to revolutionary nihilism. But then Horowitz recoils at the Russian’s appalling anti-Semitism (“the Yid and his bank are now reigning over everything,” Dostoevsky recorded in his notebooks) and he is forced to reconsider the claims of the one story which is already rightly his, like it or not—the “old idea” of Jewish identity, grounded in claims of chosenness and promised redemption. Yet this story, too, fails to satisfy him entirely, since the unique and relentless persecution of the Jews after three millennia seems to make a mockery of the old idea.
So none of the older stories can command Horowitz’s unconditional belief, or even provisional faith. Yet he finds that without them “our lives would be chaos and our existence unbearable.” It is a difficult position he takes, if one with an undeniable integrity, and one that echoes the ancient Jewish aversion to false gods, including the false god of godlessness. But it seems to have produced in Horowitz a final release from the weight of his father’s bloodless abstractions and the destructive moral self-importance that they confer on those who adopt them.
This release is reflected in the obvious writerly satisfaction he takes here in immersing himself in the careful and evocative description of his life’s routines and simple pleasures: the houses he lives in, the landscapes he walks through, the quirky behavior of his beloved dogs, the changing expressions on their faces, and the simple sadness he feels as he watches them age and faces the thought of life without them—that sense of dying piecemeal that we experience each time we lose something or someone we love, something that can never be replaced. And then face the possibility of other such losses, some of them beyond bearing.
Compared with such things, and the other intimacies of the heart and spirit that go to the marrow of human existence, the Sturm und Drang of world-historical struggles and public contentions begins to fade in interest and grow somehow smaller and more fleeting. As the public world contracts, the inner world expands. As A Point in Time shows triumphantly, that can be the greatest compensation for the onset of winter.
About the Author
Wilfred M. McClay holds the SunTrust Bank Chair of Excellence in the Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He last wrote “How to Understand Rush Limbaugh” for our February issue.
This article was originally printed in Commentary Magazine