David Horowitz is one of the rare human beings, and handful of former Sixties radicals, who made an unequivocal break with his longstanding political beliefs and commitments. Unlike many former radicals who renounced some of the questionable means used in the pursuit of their political agenda but refused to distance themselves from the purported ideals, Horowitz rejected the ideals as well. In the meantime, most of the former Sixties radicals, or even some Sixties moderates, have continued to cling nostalgically to what they consider to be admirable goals embedded in their youthful idealism and legitimated by the irresistible appeal of good intentions.
Horowitz can claim further distinction on account of being an exceptionally knowledgeable guide to all varieties of the American left and his understanding of these movements and the mentalities of their adherents. It helps that he has been familiar with many individuals representing or associated with the same movements. Also unusual, even among the fully disillusioned, that ever since his break with his political past, Horowitz has devoted his life to renouncing and combating his former political illusions, commitments and affiliations. In doing so he was willing to risk the over-politicization of his own life, and the weakening of the boundaries between the personal and the political realm. He has also made it easier for his many critics to claim that his crusading spirit bears some resemblance to those of his former comrades and adversaries.
For reasons not obvious, more of the former supporters of the Soviet Union (of The God That Failed variety) and of Western communist movements of the past were willing and able to reexamine and publicly discard their previous convictions and illusions than those of the Sixties generation. The latter, while distancing themselves from the Soviet model, idealized Third World communist systems such as those of China, Cuba and North Vietnam. I am not sure why that has been the case but I surmise that since the Sixties radicals had more widespread and enduring subcultural or group support (especially on the campuses) than their predecessors of the 1930s, they had a lesser need to reexamine and reevaluate their beliefs. It is always easier to persist in convictions, even in wrongheaded ones, if they are widely shared. Moreover, the agenda of the Sixties radicals was broader, encompassing not only sympathy for the idealized and misperceived communist systems noted above, but also popular domestic causes such as the anti-Vietnam war protest, civil rights and women’s liberation. The presence of this large, supportive, quasi-communal subculture made it easier to squelch the impulse to engage in political soul-searching or “second thoughts.” As Horowitz puts it,
[T]he secret of the left’s longevity, its ability to withstand the discrediting of its idea, to ignore the millions of its victims, and thus to renew itself in the next generation…is the creation of a culture…and of a living community that perpetuates its myths…In 2003, the Rosenberg grandchildren can take pride in their heritage a being the heirs of Communists and spies, and receive encouragement and praise from “an international community of support.” [267-268]