By Jamie Glazov
A shorter version of this essay was originally published by National Review Online.
David Horowitz was born in Forest Hills, New York, on January 10, 1939, the year of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, which shattered the illusions of many Communists and other members of the progressive left. But Horowitz’s school teacher parents, Blanche and Phil, remained steadfast in their commitment to the Party. They had met in Communist meetings in the early 1930s and engaged in what turned out to be a lifelong “political romance,” as David later described it in his autobiography, Radical Son, thinking of themselves as “secret agents” of the Soviet future.
Horowitz grew up in a Communist enclave in Queens called Sunnyside Gardens. As a child, he attended the Sunnyside Progressive School, a pre-kindergarten program the Party had set up and, as an adolescent, spent summers at a Party-run children’s camp called “Wo-Chi-Ca,” short for “Workers’ Children’s Camp.” In 1956, when Horowitz was seventeen, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered a secret speech in the Kremlin about the crimes of Stalin. The “Khrushchev Report,” as it was subsequently called, was leaked by Israeli intelligence agents to the public, causing a crisis among the faithful. Party members who had previously dismissed claims by their opponents that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions as “slander,” now had no choice but to admit that the charges were true. They left the Party in a mass exodus that killed the Communist Party as a force in U.S. political life, although for many like Blanche and Phil Horowitz, it was impossible to give up the socialist faith.
Horowitz was a college freshman at Columbia University when the fallout from the Khrushchev revelations was causing a crisis in his parents’ circle. Opposed to Stalin but not to the socialist cause, he focused on his literary studies, taking courses with Lionel Trilling and other of Columbia’s distinguished faculty members. When he graduated in 1959 he married his college sweetheart, and moved to California where he began graduate studies in English literature at the University of California at Berkeley. There he met other “red diaper” babies who were determined to create a radical politics that would not bear the totalitarian baggage he believed had weighed his parents’ generation down and corrupted their political dreams.
Horowitz became an editor of a new magazine his circle of activists created called Root and Branch, which published essays embodying the political vision of the New Left two years before the Students for Democratic Society published the Port Huron Statement, which is generally regarded as the birth announcement of that movement. In 1962, he became one of the organizers of the ﬁrst campus demonstration against the Vietnam War (at that point prosecuted by a few hundred advisors JFK had sent to support the Saigon regime), and in that year, while still a graduate student, he published Student, the ﬁrst book to express the aspirations and worldview of the new radical generation.
Student portrays the university as the symbol of an oppressive corporate culture, foreshadowing the New Left critiques and campus eruptions to come. In dedicating his book to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and stressing his commitment to democratic politics, Horowitz also crystallized a diﬀerence between the ﬂedgling New Left and the old Communist vanguard. Horowitz criticized the Soviet invasion of Hungary and equated it with America’s intervention in Cuba, and he broke with economic determinism and the idea that socialism had to follow a centralized plan. He knew how far he had strayed from the political world he had grown up in when the book was attacked by a reviewer in the People’s World, the Party’s west-coast organ.
Horowitz saw himself as a dedicated socialist, but some of his intellectual work in the early sixties strayed from dogma in a preview of the second thoughts that would shape his perspective two decades later. His literary studies led him to publish Shakespeare: An Existential View in 1965, a book that follows the Hegelian idea that human existence is deﬁned not just by what actually is, but also by what might be. He mined the work of Shakespeare to explore the tension between this romance of the possible and the skeptical out-look, which constantly reminds us of the brute facts of an existence from which we cannot escape.
In an article for Root and Branch called “The Question About Meaning” Horowitz rejected Marxist determinism and endorsed the view that values are created by human will, and therefore that consciousness also determines being: “Everywhere, value attends commitment. Where men do not address their condition in the fullness of its claim, their experience fails to cross the threshold of signiﬁcance. For value can exist eﬀectively only where there are men committed to it. It is the commitment of men to the possible, to what is loftier than their attainment, beyond what the present has achieved, that permits the realization of the potential whose seed is already there.”
The idea of a spiritual dimension in which consciousness determines being and not the other way around was a trope from existentialism that contradicted Marxist materialism, even though at the time and in the ﬂush of enthusiasm created by the notion of a “new” left, Horowitz did not realize nor pursue the implications of his ideas.
After publishing Student, Horowitz left California, taking his young family (he and his wife Elissa had a son in 1961) to Sweden—in part because he admired the work of the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. During the year he spent there, he wrote The Free World Colossus, a “revisionist” history of the Cold War. It was one of the ﬁrst expressions of the New Left’s fixation with the repressive workings of an American “empire,” and was ultimately translated into several languages. In the U.S., The Free World Colossus became a handbook for the growing anti-Vietnam War movement, providing a litany of America’s “misdeeds” abroad—the coups in Iran and Guatemala, the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam—that became a staple of left-wing indictments of America.
Needing a publisher for his manuscript, Horowitz wrote the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and was somewhat surprised to receive a job offer. He spent the years 1964-1967 in London, working for the British philosopher and for the man some saw as Russell’s Rasputin, Ralph Schoenman, but balked at the International War Crimes Tribunal, which Schoenman organized. The Tribunal was headed by Russell, Jean Paul Sartre and other leftwing intellectuals whose goal was to condemn America’s “war crimes” in Vietnam but ignore those committed by the Communists. It was a small but potent sign of the New Left’s ongoing reversion to Old Left politics, which would lead to Horowitz’s eventual exit from the movement
Horowitz had only a casual relationship with Russell, but while in London became close to and profoundly influenced by two European Marxists – Ralph Miliband, whose two sons eventually became leaders of the British Labor Party, and the Polish Trotskyist Isaac Deutscher, the famed biographer of Stalin and Trotsky. Under the tutelage of Deutscher, Horowitz’s writing career as a New Left intellectual ﬂourished. He edited two books,Containment and Revolution and Corporations and the Cold War and wrote Empire & Revolution: A Radical Interpretation of Contemporary History. Empire & Revolution was a reinterpretation of Marxism that oﬀered a New Left perspective on imperialism, communism, and the Cold War. Heavily inﬂuenced by Deutscher and Trotsky, it represented Horowitz’s eﬀort to rescue socialism from its Stalinist past and to reformulate a Marxist theory that would account for the horrors of Stalinism and yet still keep the prospect of a revolutionary future alive.
Horowitz returned to the U.S. in 1968 to become an editor at Ramparts magazine, the New Left’s largest and most successful publication, with a circulation of a quarter million readers. A liberal Catholic quarterly when it began in 1962, Ramparts revived the muckraking journalism of the Progressive era, becoming the voice of the anti-war movement. A few months before Horowitz was added to the staff (to provide “more theory,” in the words of then editor Warren Hinckle), Ramparts had caused a national furor with its revelation that the CIA had infiltrated the National Student Association and used it as a “front,” the first of several such exposes.
In 1969 Horowitz and his friend Peter Collier took over Ramparts in a palace coup against its editor Robert Scheer, whose peremptory style of leadership was creating major problems for its overworked staff. In 1973, Horowitz published The Fate of Midas and Other Essays, a collection of essays, which summarized his intellectual development up to that point including his attempts to integrate Keynesian economic theory with traditional Marxist analysis, part of his continuing project to provide the theoretical foundation for an authenticallynew left. The collection also featured personal appreciations of both Deutscher and Russell, and critiques of the violent Weather Underground and SDS.
By 1969, when he and Collier assumed the reins at Ramparts, the New Left was disintegrating into futile acts of “revolutionary” violence and rhetorical narcissism. Disturbed at the direction the movement was taking, but not yet able to contemplate a future as an outsider, Horowitz later said of his predicament: “I pretty well realized even at that time that you couldn’t really remake the world as the left intended without totalitarian coercion. But it was much more diﬃcult to accept the consequences of that realization. For a long time, I simply could not face the possibility that there was no socialist future, that I was not going to be a social redeemer, and that we didn’t have the answers to humanity’s problems—in short, that I wasn’t part of an historic movement that would change the world.”
He thought that he had found an answer to the political paralysis of the early 1970s when he became close to Huey Newton, the leader of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, a group of black radicals that had jumped into the public view by making a point of carrying weapons in public and had been anointed the “vanguard of the revolution” by SDS leaders like Tom Hayden. Horowitz had avoided contacts with the Panthers in their overtly violent phase, but in 1970, Newton announced that it was “time to put away the gun” and turn to community activities. Seeing this as a constructive leftism, Horowitz found himself raising funds to purchase a Baptist church in Oakland’s inner city for the Panthers, which he turned into a “learning center” for 150 Panther children. He bought Newton’s view of incremental, community-based radical change, which seemed particularly salutary when juxtaposed to the nihilism of the Weather Underground’s bombing campaign that was reaching its height at the same time.
In September 1974 he recruited Ramparts bookkeeper, Betty Van Patter, to maintain the accounts of the tax-exempt foundation he had created to manage the Panther school. In December, Betty Van Patter’s bludgeoned body was found adrift in San Francisco Bay. The police were convinced she had been murdered by members of the Panther Party, but local prosecutors were unable to bring an indictment, and the federal government, under siege from the left, also steered clear of this crime, as did the press, which had largely bought into the notion that the Panthers had been targeted for destruction by racist law enforcement.
Entering what would become a ten-year, slow motion transformation from theorist of the left to its worst enemy, Horowitz undertook his own inquiry into the murder. As he collided with denial and threats of retribution if he continued to search, he was forced to confront three stark facts: his New Left outlook was unable to explain the events that had overtaken him; his lifelong friends and associates in the left were now a threat to his safety, since they would instinctively defend the Panther vanguard; and no one among them really cared about the murder of an innocent woman because the murderers were their political friends.
In the mind of the left, even questioning the Panthers’ role in Betty’s fate reﬂected disloyalty to the cause, since such curiosity could lead to devastating criticism of the Panthers and by extension the left itself, which had embraced the organization and turned its back on the truth that emerged from Van Patter’s death—that rather than a community service organization, Huey Newton had been running a black version of Murder Inc. in the Oakland ghetto.
Forced to look at his own commitments in a way he had never allowed himself before, Horowitz realized that it was the enemies of the left who had been correct in their assessment of the Panthers (just as they had been correct in their assessment of the Soviet Union), while the left had been disastrously wrong. The Panthers were not victims of police repression because they were political militants. They were ghetto thugs running a con on credulous white supporters, and committing crimes against vulnerable black citizens. It was the left and its “revolution” that had conferred on them the aura of a political vanguard, protecting them from being held accountable for their deeds.
As Horowitz considered the cynicism of his comrades’ reaction to Betty’s death, he recognized a familiar historical reality being played out on this smaller scale. Lies were being told to cover up murder. A collusive silence followed. Horowitz couldn’t help asking if there was something inherent in the socialist idea that led to the horrors committed in socialism’s name. He had to face the possibility that his entire life until then had been based on a lie. He had to face the connection between what he had experienced with the Panthers with the crimes his parents’ generation had defended, and thus to accept the fact that there was no “new” left, just a reiteration of the criminality that had been at the core of the left since Lenin – or the Jacobins and Babeuf. As he wrote: “It had been forty years since Stalin’s purges. The victims were dead, their memories erased. They were un-persons without public defenders, expunged even from the consciousness of the living. Those who knew the truth had to keep their silence, even as I had to keep mine. If we actually succeeded in making a revolution in America, and if the Panthers or similar radical vanguards prevailed, how would our fate be diﬀerent from theirs? Our injustice, albeit mercifully smaller in scale, was as brutal and ﬁnal as Stalin’s. As progressives we had no law to govern us, other than that of the gang.”
Everything Horowitz had previously believed, everything he had built his political life on, now crumbled before him. In a vignette that Horowitz wrote at the request the New York Times Magazine (which they predictably failed to print when they received it), he recounted the stages of his metamorphosis: “Being at the center of a heroic myth inspired passions that informed my youthful passage and guided me to the middle of my adult life. But then I was confronted by a reality so inescapable and harsh that it shattered the romance for good. A friend— the mother of three children—was brutally murdered by my political comrades, members of the very vanguard that had been appointed to redeem us all. Worse, since individuals may err, the deed was covered up by the vanguard itself who hoped, in so doing, to preserve the faith.”
“Like all radicals,” he continued, “I lived in some fundamental way in a castle in the air. Now, I had hit the ground hard, and had no idea of how to get up or go on.” Just as his progressive friends were indiﬀerent to Betty’s death, so too the left as a whole failed to reckon with the horrifying toll taken by Communist-led and New Left-backed revolutions in Cambodia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Radicals still considered themselves socialists, but exonerated themselves from socialism’s crimes.
In pursuing answers to Betty Van Patter’s death, Horowitz discovered that the Panthers had murdered more than a dozen people in the course of conducting extortion, prostitution, and drug rackets in the Oakland ghetto. And yet, to his growing bewilderment, the Panthers continued to enjoy the support of the American left, the Democratic Party, Bay Area trade unions, and even the Oakland business establishment. They were praised by prominent writers such as Murray Kempton and Garry Wills in the New York Times and by politicians like then Governor Jerry Brown of California, who was a political conﬁdant of Elaine Brown (no relation), the Panther leader who had ordered Betty’s death.
Notwithstanding the media blackout and the silence of the Panthers’ supporters, the details of their crimes have surfaced over the years principally as a result of Horowitz’s eﬀorts. The ﬁrst notice of what had happened was a courageous article in New Times magazine by a left-wing journalist named Kate Coleman, whom Horowitz had approached and provided with information. In a 1986 piece in the Village Voice, Horowitz himself identiﬁed the Panthers as Betty’s killers, and in Radical Son, which appeared in 1997, Horowitz gave a detailed account of his Panther experience and Betty’s death.
These eﬀorts had an impact even on some of the Panther survivors. In his last televised interview on 60 Minutes, Eldridge Cleaver, the former Black Panther “minister of information,” admitted the brutal ruthlessness of his comrades and himself: “If people had listened to Huey Newton and me in the 1960s, there would have been a holocaust in this country.” Years later, former Panther chairman Bobby Seale also made a public confession about Panther criminality and speciﬁcally acknowledged that the Panthers had murdered Betty Van Patter.
But for the most part, progressive keepers of the flame were silent. SDS leader and later California State Senator Tom Hayden and Los Angeles Times journalist Robert Scheer, who worked with the Panthers and promoted their agendas never wrote a word about Panther crimes in the forty-five years after Van Patter’s murder. Former SDS president and later UC Berkeley professor Todd Gitlin’s history of the 1960s fails to acknowledge Panther criminality or mention Van Patter, or the murders of police oﬃcers for which the Panthers and other leftist groups were responsible. Like other New Left historians, when Gitlin deals with the Panthers, he presents them as abused victims who sometimes were driven to indefensible (but unspeciﬁed) acts because of their persecution. In Kenneth O’Reilly’s Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972, the Panthers do no wrong and are the targets of legal genocide.
In his essay “Still No Regrets,” Horowitz wrote: “A library of memoirs by aging new leftists and ‘progressive’ academics recall the rebellions of the 1960s. But hardly a page in any of them has the basic honesty—or sheer decency—to say, ‘Yes, we supported these murderers and those spies, and the agents of that evil empire,’ or to say so without an alibi. I’d like to hear even one of these advocates of ‘social justice’ make this simple acknowledgement: ‘We greatly exaggerated the sins of America and underestimated its decencies and virtues, and we’re sorry.’”
The political journey from left to right, of course, had been made before. But Horowitz’s change of heart was of a somewhat diﬀerent character than the conversions of the ex-Communists who had traveled to the right before him. Unlike the contributors to The God That Failed, for instance, most of whom remained men of the left, Horowitz made a comprehensive break with the radical worldview. Horowitz’s “conversion” was actually his second. The ﬁrst was his break from communism after Khrushchev’s revelations, while the second was from the socialist idea itself. For the writers of The God That Failed, Stalinism was a cruel socialist aberration. For Horowitz, the roots of Stalinism—and of totalitarianism—lay in socialism itself.
After Betty’s murder, Horowitz ceased his radical activism and his political writing for most of the following decade. Silence about politics became his refuge, as he painstakingly reassessed his life and outlook. He was already involved in a project with Peter Collier to complete a multi-generation biography of the Rockefeller family and this became his cocoon. In 1975, The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty appeared to widespread acclaim, including a front-page rave in the New York Times Book Review. It became a bestseller and a nominee for a National Book Award. The success of The Rockefellers led to a series of other books—The Kennedys: An American Drama (1984), The Fords: An American Epic (1987), and The Roosevelts: An American Saga (1994). These works earned Collier and Horowitz praise from the Los Angeles Times as “the premier chroniclers of American dynastic tragedy.”
During this period, Horowitz also wrote The First Frontier, The Indian Wars & America’s Origins: 1607-1776(1978), a book which remained somewhat within the parameters of the leftist outlook, while attempting to establish the idea that a nation’s character, as deﬁned in its early history, shaped its destiny. While he was at work on this book, events in Southeast Asia were writing a ﬁnal chapter to the narrative that had deﬁned his own generation. After the Communist victory in Vietnam in 1975, the North Vietnamese began executing tens of thousands of South Vietnamese and setting up “re-education camps” where ideological offenders were held in “tiger cages.” The general repression prompted an exodus of two million refugees, unprecedented in the history of Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese boat people perished in the Gulf of Thailand and in the South China Sea in their attempt to escape the Communist new order that the eﬀorts of the New Left had helped to bring about.
In Cambodia, the victory of the Communists led to the slaughter of some three million Cambodian peasants. More peasants were killed in Indochina in the ﬁrst three years of Communist rule than had been killed on both sides during the thirteen years of the anti-Communist war. Horowitz later reﬂected on the cause of these events: “Every testimony by North Vietnamese generals in the postwar years has aﬃrmed that they knew they could not defeat the United States on the battleﬁeld, and that they counted on the division of our people at home to win the war for them. The Vietcong forces we were ﬁghting in South Vietnam were destroyed in 1968. In other words, most of the war and most of the casualties in the war occurred because the dictatorship of North Vietnam counted on the fact Americans would give up the battle rather than pay the price necessary to win it. This is what happened. The blood of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, and tens of thousands of Americans, is on the hands of the anti-war activists who prolonged the struggle and gave victory to the Communists.”
As the Indochinese tragedy unfolded, Horowitz was struck by how the left refused to hold itself accountable for the result it had fought so hard for—a Communist victory—and how it could not have cared less about the new suﬀering of the Vietnamese in whose name it had once purported to speak. He became increasingly convinced, as his friend and colleague Peter Collier had tried to persuade him, that “the element of malice played a larger role in the motives of the left than I had been willing to accept.” If the left really wanted a better world, why was it so indiﬀerent to the terrible consequences of its own ideas and practices?
In 1979, Horowitz wrote a column for the Nation, which its editors titled, “A Radical’s Disenchantment.” It was the ﬁrst public statement by a prominent New Leftist that the New Left had anything to answer for. “A Radical’s Disenchantment” described his disillusion with the left, referring to many of the horrors that socialism had produced. Horowitz also confronted the silence with which the left had met these horrors, ending the piece with questions he had been asking himself: “Can the left take a really hard look at itself—the consequences of its failures, the credibility of its critiques, the viability of its goals? Can it begin to shed the arrogant cloak of self-righteousness that elevates it above its own history and makes it impervious to the lessons of experience?” He already knew, however, what the answer was.
In November 1984, Horowitz turned another corner. He cast his ﬁrst Republican ballot for Ronald Reagan. Shortly thereafter he learned that Peter Collier had done the same. On March 17, 1985, he and Collier wrote a front-page story for the Sunday magazine of the Washington Post, “Lefties for Reagan,” and explained their vote by describing what they had seen and done while fighting against “Amerikkka” as part of the left. As they expected, the article inspired vitriolic responses from their former comrades and forced them to re-enter the political arena to wage what became a two-person war against the 60s left.
Dissecting the left’s hypocrisy now became a Horowitz métier. As a former believer, Horowitz could attack the progressive myth with the familiarity of an insider. He and Collier delivered their ﬁrst stunning blow in Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties, a 1989 book in which they analyzed the legacy of the New Left and its corrosive eﬀects on American culture. Destructive Generation represented the ﬁrst dissent from the celebration of the 1960s that had been issuing forth in volume after volume from publishing companies now edited by former New Leftists. For years Destructive Generation remained both the definitive and the only critical work on the radicalism of the decade. In a summary indictment, the authors charged that the left had steadfastly refused to make a balance sheet, let alone a profit and loss statement, of what it had done. Progressives who preened their “social conscience” showed no concern for the destructive consequences of their acts on ordinary people like the Vietnamese and Cambodian peasants who had been slaughtered in the wake of America’s panicked withdrawal from Vietnam.
Before Collier and Horowitz turned on the left, they had enjoyed front-page reviews in the New York Times Book Review and bestseller status for their multi generational biographies. But Destructive Generation marked their eclipse in the literary culture. As Horowitz later recalled, “Our books, once prominently reviewed everywhere, were now equally ignored. With a few notable exceptions, we became pariahs and un-persons in mainstream intellectual circles.” The last review of a Horowitz book in The New York Review of Books was in 1985, the very spring that Collier and Horowitz announced they had voted for Ronald Reagan.
Horowitz’s next work, Radical Son, published in 1997 was powerful enough that even his enemies had to admit that it called up comparisons to Whittaker Chambers’ Witness and Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. George Gilder called it “the ﬁrst great American autobiography of his generation.” In this memoir Horowitz provided an account of his life, the details of which were already being distorted by his political enemies, and described the intellectual process of his political change of heart. Like Chambers’ classic, Radical Son is an eloquent and riveting narrative, providing a cogent moral and intellectual basis for the changes it describes. It engages in a fearless examination of self, which was almost unprecedented in political memoirs, when Horowitz’s book appeared. Going further than any previous narrative in demonstrating how deeply the Marxist fairy tale is entwined with the character and psychology of its believers, Horowitz reveals the seductive power of the progressive faith. He shows how the socialist lie reaches into every corner of a believer’s soul, and why the break from radicalism can be a personally devastating decision.
Horowitz’s next book, The Politics of Bad Faith, is a collection of six essays published in 1998 that provided what he called “an intellectual companion piece” to Radical Son—analysis counterpointing its narrative. A central theme of the book is the refusal of radicals to accept what the implications of the collapse of communism are for the future of socialism. “For radicals, it is not socialism,” Horowitz writes, “but only the language of socialism that is ﬁnally dead. To be reborn, the left had only to rename itself in terms that did not carry the memories of insurmountable defeat, to appropriate a past that could still be victorious.” Thus leftists now call themselves “progressives,” and even “liberals.”
The second chapter, “The Fate of the Marxist Idea,” is one of the most powerful essays Horowitz has written. An autobiographical segment, it takes the form of letters to two former radical friends. The ﬁrst, called “Unnecessary Losses,” is to Carol Pasternak Kaplan, a friend since childhood who refused to attend his father’s memorial service because Horowitz had abandoned the socialist cause. (As Horowitz notes, “In the community of the left—it is perfectly normal to erase the intimacies of a lifetime over political diﬀerences.”) The second letter was to the English socialist Ralph Miliband. Titled “The Road To Nowhere,” it examined the Soviet experience, the refuted positions of the New Left, and the bad faith arguments through which leftists proposed to rescue their blighted dreams: “Wherever the revolutionary left has triumphed, its triumph has meant economic backwardness and social poverty, cultural deprivation and the loss of political freedom for all those unfortunate peoples under its yoke. This is the real legacy of the left of which you and I were a part. We called ourselves progressives; but we were the true reactionaries of the modern world.”
The ﬁfth essay in the book, “A Radical Holocaust,” examined how the post-Communist left had revived the Marxist paradigm applying it to sexual orientation, gender, and race. Horowitz calls this maneuver “kitschMarxism” and in this chapter reveals how the left has revived the destructive force of the original paradigm as well. In “A Radical Holocaust,” Horowitz shows how the theory of “gay liberation” prompted leaders of the gay community to oppose and undermine proven public health methods for combating communicable diseases and in the process produced a public health disaster: “I think that the AIDS catastrophe is a metaphor for all the catastrophes that utopians have created. It’s about the delusion that thinking can make it so, that an abstract idea can be imposed on reality, that the laws of nature can be deﬁed with impunity. The story of the AIDS epidemic reveals how powerful the leftist idea remains and how far reaching is its impact.”
Horowitz’s next book, Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes, published in 1999, quickly became the most controversial work the author had written. It addressed the new cultural dimensions of the radical cause, specifically the determination to make race function the way class had in the traditional Marxist paradigm. White males were demonized as an ersatz ruling class responsible for every social disparity between racial groups and genders. In the absence of actual racists in university admissions oﬃces, for instance, the left created a myth—“institutional racism”—that was alleged to explain all disparities in academic test scores and university admissions. The creation of this myth was essential to keep alive “the discredited Marxist idea that an alien power separates the citizens of democratic societies into rulers and ruled, the dominant race and the races that are oppressed.” Behind the idea that all blacks are victims all the time, according to Horowitz, lies the desire to perpetuate the failed Marxist vision and the social war it justifies.
In an article in Hating Whitey titled “Up From Multiculturalism” Horowitz analyzes another post-Communist radical doctrine. Like socialism, “multiculturalism [is] an invention of well-fed intellectuals,” he writes. “It did not well up from the immigrant communities and ethnic ‘ghettoes’ of America as an expression of cultural aspirations or communal needs. Instead it was manufactured by veterans of the Sixties left, who had established a new political base in the faculties of the universities.” In the new multicultural version of the radical vision, racial and ethnic status replace class status as a political trump card. Horowitz points out that emphasizing ethnic identity over class solidarity situates the multicultural left squarely in the tradition of classic European fascism. Intellectually, he observes, the multicultural left “owes more to Mussolini than to Marx.”
In 1996, Horowitz, who had gradually embraced the cause of conservatism, was approached by a disaffected Democratic strategist who wanted to put his talents at the service of Ward Connerly’s campaign for a Civil Rights Initiative in California. The Initiative would ban racial preferences, the discriminatory laws and regulations functioning as a “progressive” version of Jim Crow, which had been reintroduced by the left into the American political framework in a slap against the civil rights movement and King’s vision of a polity where people were judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. The strategist was appalled by what he saw as his party’s defection from the principles of the movement he had supported as a young man, and he saw in Horowitz a kindred spirit. At their first meeting the strategist said to Horowitz, “Your side only wins when Democrats screw up big time. And that is because your position is always negative – against the policies of the left. You don’t give people something to vote for.”
This began a relationship that resulted in a new theme of Horowitz’s work – advice to conservatives on how to win the electoral battle and, more broadly, how to combat progressive ideas with a positive vision. Horowitz’s first effort in this vein was a pamphlet that appeared in 2000 in time for the election called “The Art of Political War,” later expanded into a book called The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits (2002). George Bush’s campaign manager, Karl Rove, described the pamphlet as “the perfect guide to winning on the political battleﬁeld.”
In The Art of Political War Horowitz observes that progressives have inverted Clausewitz’s famous dictum and treat politics as “war continued by other means.” By contrast, conservatives approach politics as a debate over policy. Conservatives generally and Republicans in particular, either fail to understand that there is a political war taking place, or disapprove of the fact that there is. Conservatives approach politics as a series of management issues, and hope to impose limits on what government may do. Their paradigm is based on individualism, compromise, and partial solutions. This puts conservatives at a distinct disadvantage in political combats with the left, whose paradigm of oppression and liberation inspires missionary zeal and is perfectly suited to aggressive tactics and no-holds-barred combat.
At the center of America’s imaginative life is what Horowitz calls “the romance of the underdog.” America loves those who struggle against the odds. Consequently a party that presents itself as a champion of the vulnerable and enemy of the powerful has an immediate edge in the political arena. Of course, when Democrats do this it is an expression of rank hypocrisy. Democrats and political leftists control the governing councils and public schools of every major inner city in America and have for ﬁfty years or more. They are thus responsible for everything that is wrong with inner city America that policy can affect. Horowitz’s political strategy is to turn the tables on the left, framing “liberals” and “progressives” as the actual oppressors of minorities and the poor.
In How To Beat the Democrats and Other Subversive Ideas (2000), Horowitz returned to these themes, attempting to reformulate and clarify the ideas laid out in “The Art of Political War,” and offer them as advice to Republicans. He accompanied them with specific recommendations for Republicans on framing the issues. The new book collected a sampling of the 100 or so position papers that he was to write during the 2000 presidential campaign in a bi-weekly newsletter he called “The War Room,” which then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay posted on his congressional website. But the campaign caused Horowitz to realize that while Republicans were generous with praise for his advice, they were temperamentally unsuited to act on it.
In the spring of 2001, Horowitz put his own advice to the test by launching an effort to oppose the left’s campaign to secure reparations for slavery 137 years after the fact as “bad for blacks and racist too.” Horowitz conducted his opposition by taking out ads in college newspapers across the country – or attempting to. Forty college papers refused to print the ad, generating a furor over free speech. Donald Downs, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin summed up the reaction: “The Horowitz controversy has laid bare the cultural and intellectual splits that rivet the contemporary university.” No Republicans and – with the notable exceptions of Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams – few conservatives stepped forward to support Horowitz who was attacked by the left as a “racist” and whose speaking events were disrupted by protesters. At one appearance at the University of California Berkeley, university officials assigned 30 armed guards to protect Horowitz, who subsequently – and for the rest of his career – was unable to speak on campuses without a security presence.
Because the protests against the anti-reparations ads involved gross violations of free speech – at Brown University leftists destroyed an entire issue of the Brown Daily Herald after its editors published the ad – Horowitz’s campaign became the subject of 400 news stories. The attacks of the left made him a widely recognized conservative figure. In the fall, Horowitz published an account of these events, which he called Uncivil Wars. In addition to providing a narrative of his campaign, the book made the case against reparations and provided a vivid portrait of the American campus under the reign of political correctness.
The reparations campaign exposed the hostility of American campuses to ideas that challenged the orthodoxies of the left. One consequence of this was the absence of any university interest in Horowitz’s own work. To provide a guide to the growing corpus of his writings, he decided to publish a representative selection of his articles and excerpts from his books along with a bibliography of his writings to date. An essay-length intellectual biography by this author served as its introduction. The book was titled, Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey and was published in 2003.
The reparations campaign had revealed how a small minority of activists were able to dominate the campus debate by calling racists anyone who stepped forward to challenge their views. The anti-reparations ads that Horowitz placed contained “10 Reasons” for the view that reparations were a bad idea at a time when there were no slaves and the majority of the population were descendants of Americans who either opposed slavery or arrived after it was abolished. But the spring term of the anti-reparations campaign went by without a single response by Horowitz’s critics to the arguments and evidence presented in his ad. Only epithets and character slanders were hurled in Horowitz’s direction. Even though the claims of the ad were on firm historical grounds, not a single university professor with expertise in American slavery was willing to incur the risks associated with confirming those facts because it would entail opposing the campus left, and incurring similar insults. In other words in the current environment of campus “political correctness,” issues like reparations for slavery simply could not be rationally addressed.
Horowitz viewed this as a troubling commentary on the state of the contemporary university and of university authorities who were afraid to enforce an educational decorum allowing both sides of controversial issues to be addressed in a campus setting. Horowitz’s encounters with students on more than 100 campuses he had visited in the previous decade made him aware that the intimidation and suppression of conservative views extended to the classroom itself where conservative ideas were ridiculed by faculty and fellow students and conservative texts were virtually absent from required reading lists.
As a result, in 2002 Horowitz launched a “Campaign for Fairness and Inclusion in Higher Education” to foster a pluralism of ideas and viewpoints, and in the spring of 2003 drafted an “Academic Bill of Rights” based on the classic 1915 statement on academic freedom by the American Association of University Professors. Over the next seven years Horowitz attempted to persuade universities to adopt a code to insure that students would have access to views on more than one side of controversial issues and that faculty would conduct themselves professionally in the classroom, and refrain from using their authority to indoctrinate students in partisan agendas. To advance these principles Horowitz wrote four books analyzing the situation he encountered on the several hundred campuses he visited during the seven years of his campaign: The Professors (2006), Indoctrination U(2008), One-Party Classroom (2009), and Reforming Our Universities (2010).
Of these texts, The Professors received the widest attention because it exposed a radical culture of academics who had corrupted the institutions of higher learning, using their faculty positions as platforms for political rather than scholarly agendas. Horowitz described this politicization of the classroom as the end of the ethos of the modern research university in liberal arts faculties. It represented, he wrote, a reversion to the doctrinal institutions of the 19th Century when colleges were training centers for the clergy, and indoctrination was standard academic procedure. No previous work had taken on the radical subversion of the university as directly and forcefully as The Professors, which is why the book became such a target of attack by the academic left, with the president of the American Association of University Professors going so far as to urge others not to read the book.
Indoctrination U unveiled the ferocity of the opposition to Horowitz’s campaign as leftist critics smeared it as a “blacklist” and “McCarthyism” and a “witch hunt.” Notwithstanding the fierce opposition it encountered, Horowitz’s campaign had some significant achievements. In June 2005 the American Council on Education, representing over 1,800 colleges and universities, issued a formal statement declaring that, “academic freedom and intellectual pluralism were core principles of an American education.” A Brookings Institution report made this comment: “Perhaps the peak of David Horowitz’s national influence came in June 2005 when a coalition of twenty-eight mainstream national education associations, led by the American Council on Education, approved a statement on academic rights and responsibilities that blended traditional concepts of academic freedom with an endorsement of intellectual pluralism and student rights as championed by Horowitz.”
In Horowitz’s view, however, the American Council’s statement did nothing to actually change the academic curriculum or ensure that it reflected the pluralistic values that the statement endorsed. In 2009, as his campaign entered its final year, Horowitz co-authored One-Party Classroom with Jacob Laksin, which examined more than 170 curricula from 12 major universities that could only be described as courses designed to indoctrinate students in leftwing politics. The problem remained what it had been at the outset: how to get university authorities to require liberal arts faculties to behave professionally in the classroom, to teach their students how to think and not tell them what to think. Horowitz concluded his campaign with a comprehensive account of his efforts, Reforming Our Universities, which was also a richly textured description of American institutions of higher learning and the forces within those institutions that had politicized the academic curriculum and were prepared to defend their “right” to indoctrinate students in their political agendas.
Having been part of a progressive movement that identified with America’s enemies, Horowitz was struck by the Democrats’ reluctance to stop Saddam Hussein’s aggression during the first Gulf War when only 10 Democratic senators supported the coalition that George H.W. Bush had assembled to reverse Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait. This was a sign of the commanding role the left had assumed in the Democratic Party. Since Saddam Hussein was one of the true monsters of the 20th Century and did not justify his atrocities by appeals to “social justice,” it also revealed the disturbing lengths to which the left would go to act on its hostility to America.
While he was writing his account of the reparations controversy in the summer of 2001, Horowitz was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In October, shortly after the 9-11 attacks, he underwent a radical prostatectomy and radiation treatments to remove the cancer. While recovering from the operation, Horowitz wrote a long essay titled, “How the Left Undermined America’s Security Before and After 9/11,” which traced the leftward march of the Democratic Party and its growing defection from the War on Terror. This essay became the background to two important books on the war in Iraq and the continuing transformation of the Democratic Party into a party of the left.
The first of these volumes, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left (2004), described the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq and set out to explain how a secular left that championed Enlightenment values had aligned itself with the Islamist enemies of those values and the West. Unholy Alliance also described how the radical left, which organized massive demonstrations against the war, had dramatically influenced the course of Democratic policy and caused a break in the bi-partisanship that had characterized American foreign policy over the previous half century.
Unholy Alliance was the first book to trace the evolution of American radicalism from its support for the Soviet bloc to its opposition to the War on Terror and explain how the left and Islamist movements share a common mindset that creates a bond between them. Both ideologies are utopian enterprises that require the suppression of dissent and/or the eradication of the opposition to achieve their vision of paradise on earth – the classless utopia for the left, and the Sharia utopia for the Islamists. For the left, America is the hated seat of global capitalism and individualism. For Islamists, America is the hated seat of Western values, a bulwark against the global domination of Islam and a wellspring of spiritual iniquity. Consequently, both of these destructive movements have a shared conception of, and contempt for, the “Great Satan” – America – which they identify as the primary source of evil in the world and find common ground in their desire to annihilate or “fundamentally transform” it.
Five years later Horowitz followed Unholy Alliance with a second volume written with Ben Johnson called, Party of Defeat: How Democrats and Radicals Undermined America’s War on Terror Before and After 9-11 (2008). Eighteen Republican senators and congressmen endorsed the book including the ranking members of the committees on intelligence, foreign relations and military affairs in both houses. Party of Defeat examined in detail what Horowitz was later to call “the great betrayal” – the unprecedented defection of a major political party from a war in progress that it had voted to authorize and then proceeded to sabotage. The authors provided the historical background of the Democratic Party’s defeatism, tracing its antipathy for America back to the Vietnam War and George McGovern’s notorious 1972 “America Come Home” campaign, which like the Wallace progressives in 1948, identified America’s resistance to Communism as the problem rather than the Communist aggressors themselves. The book is notable for its debunking of the major Democratic arguments against the war, and the detail it provides of the Democrats’ treachery in destroying intelligence operations, undermining morale and conducting a psychological warfare campaign “worthy of the enemy” against America’s war effort.
After the completion of Unholy Alliance in 2004, Horowitz turned his attention to an Internet project that would provide conservatives with a profile of the left, which he believed was effecting dramatic changes in the political landscape. “DiscovertheNetworks.org, which went online in February 2005, was an encyclopedia of the left that provided a map of its networks, funding, personnel and agendas, both overt and covert. The influence of “Discover the Networks” in shaping conservatives’ understanding of the left and making it possible for conservative journalists and authors to identify the thousands of organizations of the left is difficult to calculate. But there is no question that it has been enormous, particularly in providing an indispensable resource for journalists and other writers in identifying the constituents of the Islamist jihad, and describing the radical networks around Barack Obama and the Democratic Party leadership. Stanley Kurtz, the author of Radical-in-Chief, a seminal book on the president’s political career has said that he “could not have written Radical-in-Chiefwithout the information provided in Discover the Networks.” Aaron Klein’s and Paul Kengor’s work on Obama are similarly indebted. The rationale for this database and the uproar surrounding its publication are examined in Volume 2 of this series, Progressives.
In pursuing his efforts to document the left’s infiltration and eventual control of the Democratic Party, Horowitz’s attention was drawn to a recently formed network of funders and apparatchiks that the Washington Post had already described as a “shadow party,” taking a term from the British political lexicon to describe the government-in-waiting of the opposition party. In this case, however, the government-in-waiting was being formed inside the opposition party itself. With author Richard Poe, Horowitz published The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party (2006). Their book was an exposé of how billionaire George Soros had put together a coalition of wealthy funders, radical activists and political apparatchiks which quickly gained a lock on the Democratic Party’s political apparatus and began a behind the scenes effort to exclude moderates and to shape party policies in a radical direction. Horowitz had already described the ideological influence the left exerted on the Democratic Party; now he unveiled the mechanism by which it was implemented.
Following the publication of The Shadow Party, Horowitz continued this work with another book, this time co-authored with Jacob Laksin: The New Leviathan: How the Left-Wing Money Machine Shapes American Politics and Threatens America’s Future (2012). Drawing on the Discover the Networks database, the new book documented and analyzed what no other work of scholarship had even noticed – that the left had successfully built the richest and most powerful political machine in American history. The authors’ findings upended the conventional wisdom that conservatives and the Republican Party represent the rich and powerful, while progressives and the Democrats are “the party of the people.” To the contrary, their research proved beyond a doubt that the financial assets of the left directed at policy formation actually exceed by a factor of ten and more those of the right and are being invested in “transforming” America and reorienting it in a socialist direction. The New Leviathan reveals how a powerful network moves radical ideas like Obamacare from the margins of the political mainstream and makes them the priority agendas of the Democratic Party. In so doing, this network has shifted the national policy debate dramatically to the left and reconfigured the nation’s own political agenda. One chapter of the book, “The Making of a President,” documents how Barack Obama’s entire political career was shaped, funded and made possible by the financial and political network they describe.
In 2014, Horowitz resumed his strategic lessons for Republicans and conservatives in Take No Prisoners: The Battle Plan for Defeating the Left, which is a summary statement of his twenty years of thinking about political warfare. According to Horowitz, conservatives fail to employ a political language that speaks to voters’ emotions, and fail to highlight the moral imperative of opposing policies that are destructive to the poor and the vulnerable, and ultimately to all Americans. Picking up from where The Art of Political War left off, Horowitz analyzes the defeat Republicans suffered in the 2012 presidential election in which they were beaten by an incumbent who had only a failed record on which to run. Horowitz describes how this outcome is directly related to the fact that progressives and conservatives see the world differently. Progressives view themselves as social redeemers, as missionaries seeking to transform the world, which inspires their will to win. Conservatives are pragmatists whose goals are specific, practical and modest by comparison. But it is only by embracing an inspiring mission as defenders of freedom and champions of the victims of progressive policies that conservatives can confront the fire of the left with a fire of their own.
In 2012 Horowitz published what with one large exception was to be a final episode in the work of the second half of his life—to understand the pathology of the left, its hatred of America, and its destructive agendas. He gave it the title Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion (2012). Among its six chapters is a portrait of his friend, Christopher Hitchens, whose incomplete second thoughts about his radical commitments becomes for Horowitz a measure of what it means to be of the left, and what it means to have left the left. This poignant rendering of both the man and his evolving ideology explores the seamless fabric joining radical ideas and lives, and the destructive consequences of both.
The large exception alluded to is the series of nine volumes called The Black Book of the American Left, of which this is the final installment. It can be said with reasonable certitude that this is the most complete, first-hand portrait of the left as it has evolved from the inception of the Cold War through the era of Barack Obama and the Islamic jihad that is likely to be written.
Along with his political books, Horowitz began publishing in 2005 a series of four volumes of philosophical memoirs that reveal a different side of his personality and writing. Always known for his strong cerebral prose, in these volumes he shows a lyrical introspection that is unexpected. All four books engage issues of mortality and faith, and along the way show how the progressive quest for perfect justice, as Horowitz puts it, “is really an attempt to deny the permanence of injustice of which death is the exemplary case.”
The first of these volumes, The End of Time (2005), is all at once a meditation on the religious angst of the 17thCentury physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal, a journal of his own battle with cancer, a look into the mind of 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta and the story of a romantic relationship that Horowitz never expected to have. Literary critic Stanley Fish wrote of the book: “Most memoirs only mime honesty. This one performs it. Beautifully written, unflinching in its contemplation of the abyss, and yet finally hopeful in its acceptance of human finitude. And as a bonus, it gives us a wonderful love story.”
The second book in this series, A Cracking of the Heart (2009), is a moving tribute to his beloved daughter, Sarah, who died in her San Francisco apartment in 2008 at the young age of 44. Sarah was born with Turner Syndrome, a disability that often causes shortness of stature and progressive deafness, both of which affected Sarah. It also produced arthritis in one of her hips, which caused her pain, significantly limited her mobility and caused her to walk with a limp. It also produced a heart condition, associated with early death. Yet A Cracking of the Heart is witness to an extraordinary human being who rejected self-pity and complaint, and who chose instead to live a life of perseverance, hard work and independence. A talented writer and Good Samaritan, Sarah refused to allow these obstacles to stifle her dreams. With exceptional bravery and magnanimity she confronted the forces that tried to crush her. Horowitz reveals how, from an early age, while facing the cruel limitations imposed on her, she showed a tremendous compassion for the disadvantaged, became active in the Turner Syndrome Society, taught autistic youth, protested capital punishment, fed the homeless, and sojourned to Israel, where she twice climbed Masada. She also traveled to El Salvador to build homes for poor Catholics, to Mumbai to help sexually abused Hindu girls, and to Uganda to teach English to the 3-5 year olds of the Abayudaya, a tribe of African Jews, with whom she lived in mud-floor huts with no electricity or running water.
While celebrating Sarah’s life, A Cracking of the Heart movingly examines the tensions between father and daughter arising from their political differences and also the conflicts that arose naturally from a parent’s concern and a daughter’s fierce quest for independence. We are privy to their ongoing dialogue and eventual reconciliation, and to a father’s unassuageable grief, and brutal encounter with the finality of death.
Horowitz describes the next work in this meditative series as “a summa of my life’s work.” Subtitled “The Search for Redemption in this Life and the Next,” A Point in Time (2011) is about the all too human fear that our existence will vanish into oblivion – and the consequences of coping with this fear by acting as gods and trying to remake the world. It begins with reflections on the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and moves on to the 19thCentury novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky and his prescient vision of the totalitarian state.
In his fourth book of reflections on faith and mortality, You’re Going to Be Dead One Day: A Love Story, Horowitz takes us on an inspirational journey inside his personal world, sharing his remarkable and unlikely love story with his wife April, his relationship with his children, his philosophical reflections about gratitude and perseverance in the face of adversity and illness and his evolving thoughts on death. This book is about the choice each of us faces—whether to embrace this world we are given and make the most of it, or to live a life of bitterness (the fate of Horowitz’s own father) because we cannot live in a world of utopian fantasy that does not exist.
In You’re Going to Be Dead One Day, we see how far Horowitz has escaped from his father’s shadow and from the destructive discontent that lies at the heart of the radical creed. While looking unflinchingly at human limitations and the death that awaits us all, his story is nonetheless one of tenuous hope, even joy. His body may be failing him, but his spirit is strong; all his multiplicity of experience, belief and disillusion, has left him with one ineradicable truth: that the here and now is to be treasured; that death, while a dark and formidable word, does not carry the day. The last word is love—for his wife, his children, his friends and animals. This is a book in which Horowitz has fully followed Wordsworth’s ideal of recollecting one’s life in tranquility.
So how, finally to measure David Horowitz’s life and work? This question is complicated by the fact that in having second thoughts about the left and its catastrophic impact on American life, Horowitz has alienated the literary and cultural establishment that showered him with acclaim from the moment he burst onto the scene as one of the leaders of his radical generation. During the second half of his life he has worked against the grain as an outsider whose literary output, prodigious by any standard, has been largely ignored by the progressive cultural establishment except when it was being condemned in an effort to place it beyond the pale of respectability.
Yet despite the effort to deprecate and diminish him, Horowitz has succeeded in his main task of exposing the left’s agenda and decoding the way it seeks to control American culture and politics. He has never refused to do battle with his critics. But they have for the most part refused to do battle with him, launching hit and run attacks from the institutional heights of the mainstream culture, which made them difficult to respond to since Horowitz was denied access to that platform. To cite a few examples: when Garry Wills made an ignorant but damaging aside in a Time magazine cover story on the Sixties to the effect that Collier and Horowitz were merely “marginal” ﬁgures in the decade, the magazine refused to print a response. An irresponsible slander by Time columnist Jack White, who called Horowitz a “bigot,” was allowed to stand, despite the embarrassment of Time’s editor, who was familiar with Horowitz’s work and to whom Horowitz appealed. No letter to the editor was allowed to answer a malicious insinuation by Slate editor-in-chief, Jacob Weisberg in the New York Times Magazine. And so forth.
Rather than entering a tough but reasonable dialogue, Horowitz’s critics have often chosen contemptuous hauteur. When Horowitz dissected some writing by MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, for instance, Chomsky responded in an online venue, “I haven’t read Horowitz. I didn’t used to read him when he was a Stalinist and I don’t read him today.” Chomsky’s claim was mendacious on all counts. First, he knew that Horowitz’s “Stalinism” as a teenager was an accident of birth and that as an adult Horowitz had been an outspoken and visible anti-Stalinist. Second, Chomsky had not only read Horowitz’s work as a leftist but had admiringly cited his Rampartsarticle, “Sinews of Power” in his own book Problems of Knowledge and Freedom. Third, after Horowitz published “A Radical’s Disenchantment,” his farewell to the left, Chomsky sent him two nasty letters, consisting of twelve single-spaced typewritten pages, although he never answered Horowitz’s responses.
Dismissive snark was not unique to Chomsky. Eric Alterman, a commentator for MSNBC and a columnist for theNation, wrote a scathing review of The Politics of Bad Faith in which he failed to discuss the ideas in the text, but instead passed on to readers Paul Berman’s unhinged claim that Horowitz was a “demented lunatic,” a charge made in the course of a bitter attack in the pages of the socialist magazine Dissent. “When Horowitz ﬁnally dies,” Alterman wrote in the same review, “I suspect we will be confronted with a posthumous volume of memoirs titled ‘The End of History.’” The operative word here is the wishful ﬁnally. Leftists like Alterman now face a double bind: not only is Horowitz still with us, but he has given them the living summary of his work they dreaded in The Black Book of the American Left.
The tenured radicals of the university, perhaps because they have felt the sting of Horowitz’s attack, have chosen to ignore his signiﬁcant role in the events of the 1960s and 70s while composing their political and social histories and filling their archives with primary documents. Despite a virtual cottage industry involving that radical era, he has received no more than a handful of inquires about his views, recollections, expertise, or work from any of the thousands of left-wing scholars and their students writing theses, articles, and books, or logging oral histories about this swath of history. At the same time, several faculty devoted to these historical pursuits have boycotted his campus appearances.
Similarly, the acropolis of our literary culture—the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and the New York Times—have studiously ignored Horowitz’s work since he moved to the conservative camp. The New York Review of Books has not reviewed a Horowitz book since 1985, when The Kennedys was published; The New Republic stopped with Destructive Generation in 1989 and with the exception of one brief dismissive notice, theNew York Times stopped with the publication of Radical Son.
Some sectors of intellectual conservatism have also kept a distance from Horowitz, reﬂecting a discomfort with his aggressive political and literary style. Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, who published several pieces by Collier and Horowitz in the 1980s, observes: “Some conservatives think he goes too far, and my guess is that some also believe his relentless campaign against the left focuses too much on the ‘pure’ form of it that has become less inﬂuential than its adulterated versions traveling under the name of liberalism. Then there’s his polemical style, which still resembles the one invented by the left. Even though it has made the left its target, there are conservatives, I think, who feel uncomfortable with it.”
The historian Richard Pipes is also puzzled by the failure of some conservative intellectuals to embrace Horowitz: “It may have to do with style and decorum. Conservatives do not like aggressive argumentation—they prefer to stand above the fray. For the same reason they ignore Rush Limbaugh for all his enormous success and inﬂuence. It is a weakness of the conservative movement, this fear of giving battle.”
Yet while some conservatives have kept him at arm’s length, it cannot be denied that Horowitz has enjoyed signiﬁcant support in the conservative movement generally and even from the conservative media. While his later efforts may not always have received the attention they merit, Radical Son was a cover story in the Weekly Standard, Ramesh Ponnuru wrote an elegant and appreciative review in First Things and the book received very favorable notices in National Review and other conservative publications.
To overcome the many obstacles he has faced, Horowitz has been forced to create his own institutional base to carry on his work. He has done this with the help of a handful of conservative foundations and over 140,000 individual supporters who contribute to the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Its online journal, FrontPageMag.com, is devoted to “News of the War at Home and Abroad” and receives over one and a half million unique visitors a month. TruthRevolt.org, another daily site that “hits and unmasks” leftists in the media; and a campus campaign website, JewHatred.org. tracks the growing anti-Semitism that has defaced the university and is creeping into mainstream politics.
The creation of the Freedom Center has enabled Horowitz to speak at over four hundred colleges and universities in the last twenty years – albeit in appearances that were ghettoized thanks to the protests and boycotts of the left – and to appear on well over a thousand radio talk shows and television programs. Through these efforts, Horowitz has been able to play a signiﬁcant role in the battle of ideas. Paul Hollander, himself the author of notable books on radical politics, including Political Pilgrims and Anti-Americanism, has made the following comment on Horowitz’s contribution: “He played a very important part in the culture wars, and has been exceptionally courageous and paid a price for it by becoming the most detested ex-radical among his former comrades. Especially valuable has been his willingness to ‘dirty his hands’ so to speak by debating and addressing often hostile debaters and audiences. I know that many people think that he has embraced another extreme, that he has been too confrontational, etc. He exempliﬁes to some degree the dilemma of how to avoid becoming like one’s adversaries: how do you avoid the designation of ‘ideologue’ if you ﬁght ideologues? Or avoid politicizing your own self as you ﬁght the politicization of things, which should not be political? Would he have been more effective if he had been perceived as more ‘moderate?’ Hard to know. I basically applaud virtually all the stands he has taken, including most recently on the reparations for slavery.”
The left’s hatred for Horowitz’s achievement in exposing and crystallizing the pathology of radicalism is his reward for a quarter century of writing and argumentation. It has drawn the following appreciation from Norman Podhoretz: “David Horowitz is hated by the left because he is not only an apostate but has been even more relentless and aggressive in attacking his former political allies than some of us who preceded him in what I once called ‘breaking ranks’ with that world. He has also taken the polemical and organizational techniques he learned in his days on the left, and ﬁgured out how to use them against the left, whose vulnerabilities he knows in his bones. (That he is such a good writer and speaker doesn’t hurt, either.) In fact, he has done so much, and in so many different ways, that one might be justiﬁed in suspecting that ‘David Horowitz’ is actually more than one person.”
Podhoretz’s words explain why Horowitz continues to receive such tremendous praise from those who sense the left’s pernicious threat to liberty and who respect and admire what he has contributed to its defense. Academic and social critic Camille Paglia, herself an independent leftist, calls Horowitz “one of America’s most original and courageous political analysts,” reflecting that “as a scholar who regularly surveys archival material, I think that, a century from now, cultural historians will find David Horowitz’s spiritual and political odyssey paradigmatic for our time.” Roger Kimball, the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the publisher of Encounter Books, refers to Horowitz as a “national treasure.” Emmy Award-winning writer, journalist, and political pundit Bernard Goldberg, calls Horowitz “one of America’s most important and interesting thinkers.” Wall Street Journal editorial board member Robert L. Pollock, sees in Horowitz “one of America’s foremost defenders of free speech and free thought.” Publisher’s Weekly, meanwhile, describes Horowitz as “one of the best political writers on either side of the aisle.”
Horowitz exempliﬁes the irritating and threatening reminder to tyranny that human freedom and the triumph of the human spirit can ultimately never be suffocated or suppressed. Henry Mark Holzer, a libertarian lawyer who was Ayn Rand’s attorney and has represented Soviet dissidents ﬂeeing communism for freedom in the West, has given expression to sentiments shared by many of Horowitz’s conservative supporters: “I don’t say loosely that someone is a hero. But in my view, David Horowitz ﬁts the deﬁnition of that term. He is a man who has stood up, and for a long time stood up alone, for his values. And his confessions are invaluable. We didn’t have Alger Hiss providing us with a book about why he turned to treason. But Horowitz has expressed how and why many Americans betrayed their own country in the face of evil. In this sense, he has provided a great service. And this service is enhanced by the fact that he shows how this form of treason operated on the psychological level. I am not sure that this has ever been done before.”
Someone who has traced the arc of David Horowitz’s life cannot help but think that, despite all the efforts to silence him, he will ultimately be vindicated by history and that the principles behind his work, to use William Faulkner’s famous words, will not only endure but prevail.