The following is the first of two parts of Jamie Glazov's introduction to David Horowitz's new book Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey, (Spence Publishing, 2003). Click Here to see Part II.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that American lives have no second acts. The odyssey of David Horowitz refutes Fitzgerald’s claim. Born into a Communist family, Horowitz became one of the founders and intellectual leaders of the New Left in the 1960’s. Then, as the result of a tragedy that was both personal and political, he became profoundly disillusioned with the radical movement and its social vision. In the 1980’s he began a second career as a conservative intellectual, establishing an educational center in Los Angeles, writing a series of books, and launching several magazines that played an influential role in the culture wars the 1960’s had spawned.
Horowitz’s first career as a left-wing intellectual is perhaps best summarized by a hostile critic who once shared his political allegiances. In a 1986 Village Voice article, the writer Paul Berman wrote the first public attack on Horowitz’s political turn, which also provided a testament to Horowitz’s shaping influence on 1960’s radicalism. “Other writers of the New Left figured larger in the awareness of the general public,” wrote Berman, “but no one in those days figured larger among the leftists themselves.”1 Two decades later, Jay Nordlinger, the managing editor of the conservative National Review, delivered this encomium: “Who is the Most Valuable Player of the Right? I could name many candidates but I now present David Horowitz, the ex-radical leftist who has the heart, guts, brains and a beautiful pen.”2
But it is the words of cultural critic Camille Paglia which most fully articulate the unique position Horowitz has come to occupy in his post-conversion years. In the midst of one of the numerous controversies in which Horowitz had become embroiled, Paglia wrote: “I respect the astute and rigorously unsentimental David Horowitz as one of America’s most original and courageous political analysts. He has the true 1960’s spirit—audacious and irreverent, yet passionately engaged and committed to social change. . . . 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.”3
It is because David Horowitz has led such a controversial and complex—and influential—career that an effort to provide an intellectual guide to his work is warranted. The pieces in the present volume have been selected to give an overview of his writings and thus to provide the first map of his intellectual development. The selections range from excerpts from his first book, published forty years ago, to his most recent writings on the war on terror. The pieces include political polemics, journalistic reportage and reflective articles along with select chapters from most of his books. They cover a broad range of issues, including the origins of the New Left, the Cold War, the fall of communism, the nature of political radicalism, race relations, the war on terror, the intellectual culture wars, and modern conservatism. Twenty-eight of the selections have not been published in book form before or are contained in texts that are generally unavailable. A bibliography of Horowitz’s writings is provided at the end.
* * * * *
David Horowitz was born in Forest Hills, New York, on January 10, 1939. It was the year of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, which shattered the illusions of many Communists and other members of the “progressive” left. Until then they had thought of themselves as “premature anti-fascists,” but most were able to rationalize even this pact with the devil as a pragmatic “necessity.” After all, they had already rationalized Stalin’s purges, show-trials, and collectivization policies that had led to the deaths of millions in the 1930’s, whose only crime was to present obstacles on the path to the socialist future.
For some, however, the Nazi-Soviet pact proved a disillusioning event that inspired them to abandon their progressive faith. The fact that they were able to have second thoughts and break with the authority of the Communist Party revealed that powerful as the utopian spell might be, a person of strong character could resist it. Perhaps the hand of fate is detectable in the coincidence that David Horowitz was born in that year.
Horowitz’s parents had met in the Communist Party in the early 1930’s. They were enthusiasts of what their son has described in his autobiography, Radical Son, as a “political romance,” thinking of themselves as “secret agents” of the Soviet future.1 Phil and Blanche Horowitz were humble schoolteachers who probably never broke a law, but did hope and work for a Soviet victory in the Cold War. For many Party members, like the Rosenberg spies, their identity as secret agents was, in fact, “a fantasy waiting to happen.”2
Horowitz’s early years were spent 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,” which was short for “Workers’ Children’s Camp.” In 1956, when Horowitz was seventeen, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev delivered a secret speech about the crimes of Stalin to the Soviet Communist Party. The “Khrushchev Report,” as it was subsequently called, was leaked by western intelligence agents to the public causing a crisis in the international progressive movement. Many abandoned Soviet communism and resigned from the Party, while others decided to form a “new left,” with which they hoped to rescue socialism from its Stalinist fate. Paradoxically, instead of inspiring doubts about the socialist project, the Khrushchev revelations prompted New Leftists to be even more confirmed in their political faith. They no longer had to defend the indefensible and this allowed a sentiment to grow among them that “real” socialism was achievable, and that a new radical movement was about to be born.
Horowitz was a college freshman at Columbia University when these events took place. A young man who did not have to make political choices, he devoted himself to literary studies without drawing any hard conclusions from the Khrushchev-inspired political debate. In 1959 he graduated from Columbia, married his college sweetheart, and moved to California where he began graduate studies in English literature at the University of California at Berkeley. Meeting up with other “red diaper” babies on the Berkeley campus, he began to reignite the passions of his youth and actively joined in the effort to create a new left.
While becoming more and more immersed in radical politics, Horowitz continued his studies for a master’s degree in English literature. He was an editor of a new magazine the activists created called Root and Branch, which was one of three publications that would help launch the 1960’s left.3 In 1962, he became one of the organizers of the first campus demonstration against the Vietnam War, and in that year he published Student, the first book to express the political vision of the emerging New Left.4
In this book, the young author portrayed 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, he 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.5 These deviations from the Communist line prompted an attack on the new book from the reviewer in the People’s World, the Party’s west-coast organ.
Horowitz’s intellectual work in these years reveals some of the roots of his ultimate rejection of socialism. His 1965 book Shakespeare: An Existential View,6 for example, expresses some profoundly anti-utopian ideas. The book is divided into two parts, the first of which is called “Imagining the Real,” a phrase taken from one of his philosophical models at the time, Martin Buber, a non-Marxist socialist.
In this essay, Horowitz follows the Hegelian idea that human existence is defined not just by what actually is, but also by what is potentially real. But following Shakespeare, “Imagining the Real” also explores the tension between this romance of the possible and the skeptical outlook, which constantly reminds us of the brute facts of an existence from which we cannot escape.
Even in its praise of Hegelian romanticism, Horowitz’s argument implies a very different kind of humanism than that which can be connected to Marxism. For he endorses 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.”7
Horowitz’s argument in this text is particularly incompatible with his leftist outlook. Whereas Marxism asserts that material conditions determine values and ideas, Horowitz argues for the existence of a spiritual dimension in which consciousness determines being and not the other way around. This amounts to a rejection of Marxist materialism, even though at the time and in the flush of enthusiasm created by the notion of a “new” left, Horowitz was not aware of the implications of his ideas.
After publishing Student, Horowitz left California, taking his young family (the couple had a son in 1961 ) to England and then Sweden. Spending almost a year in Sweden, 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 view of an American “empire,” and like all his leftist books was translated into several languages.8 In America, 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 leftwing indictments thereafter.9
Horowitz spent the years 1964-1968 in London, where he worked for the philosopher Bertrand Russell’s “Peace Foundation” and came under the influence and tutelage of the Marxist biographer of Stalin and Trotsky, Isaac Deutscher. In this environment, Horowitz’s writing career as a New Left Marxist flourished. He edited two books, Containment and Revolution and Corporations and the Cold War and, inspired by Deutscher, wrote Empire & Revolution: A Radical Interpretation of Contemporary History.10 This work 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 Stalinism and yet still keep the prospect of a revolutionary future alive.
Returning to America in 1968, Horowitz became an editor at Ramparts magazine, the largest publication of the New Left. He also published a collection of his writings titled The Fate of Midas and Other Essays, which spanned a period of almost ten years in his intellectual development.11 The essays attempted to integrate Keynesian economic theory with traditional Marxist analysis, develop Marx’s theory of social class, and assess the impact of the “corporate ruling class” on American foreign policy and intellectual life. The collection also featured personal appreciations of both Isaac Deutscher and Bertrand Russell and critiques of the Weather Underground and SDS.
These three books placed Horowitz at the intellectual center of the New Left, but a careful reading of The Fate of Midas reveals that he already stood outside radical orthodoxy in significant ways. Writing about Deutscher, Horowitz referred to “The Message of the Non-Jewish Jew,”12 an essay in which Deutscher describes rejecting his orthodox upbringing and how he became a heretic to communism as well. Horowitz would eventually reprise his mentor’s alienation. As Deutscher had become a heretic to communism, Horowitz would become a dangerous heretic to the New Left.
By 1969 the great hopes of the 1960’s left had disintegrated in futile acts of violence and extremist rhetorical postures. Horowitz was gradually coming to realize that social engineers could not reshape human nature. But his loyalty to the cause prevented him from recognizing the implications of his thoughts. He now reflects,
"I pretty well realized even at that time that you couldn’t sit everybody down and re-educate them, make them good parents and good citizens. This meant 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.
The difficulty of coming to terms with one’s own insignificance—which is a consequence of this realization—is why so many leftists can never leave the faith and are leading the same lives they did thirty and forty years ago. To give up the progressive fantasy would be too great a blow to their amour propre and beyond that, their raison d’etre. When I look at my former comrades today, it is as though all that has happened to them and all they have witnessed have had no effect on their expectations or illusions or real life choices. It’s really quite sad."13
In the early 1970’s, while Horowitz was editor of Ramparts, he was introduced to Huey Newton, the leader of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The Panthers were a group of radical blacks that had made a point of carrying weapons in public and had been anointed the “vanguard of the revolution” by SDS leaders like Tom Hayden. They were supported and defended by the entire New Left. Now Newton announced that it was “time to put away the gun” and turn to community activities. Soon Horowitz found himself raising funds to purchase a church in Oakland’s inner city, which he turned into a “learning center” for 150 Panther children. In 1974 he recruited his Ramparts bookkeeper, Betty Van Patter, to maintain the accounts of the tax-exempt foundation he had created to manage the school. In December 1974 the Panthers murdered Betty. This event had a traumatic impact on Horowitz, changing him and his politics forever.
The discovery of Betty Van Patter’s bludgeoned body adrift in San Francisco Bay threw Horowitz into a state of despair that was to last nearly a decade. The police knew who Betty’s murderers were, but local prosecutors were unable to bring an indictment, and the federal government seemed decidedly uninterested in the killing of a white woman by radical blacks. The press, too, lacked any interest. This was the opposite of what progressives themselves constantly claimed: that “racist” law enforcement and a willing press were constantly witch-hunting militant blacks.
Pursuing his own inquiry into the murder, Horowitz 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 (even though they were people who made a point of their “social conscience”) because the murderers were their political friends.14
To 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 themselves. It would have been the same as implicating the socialist vanguard in the murder of innocents during the heyday of the communist regimes.
Thus, the death of Betty Van Patter forced Horowitz to look at the Panthers and the left in a way he had never allowed himself before. He 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 wrong. The Panthers were not victims of police repression because they were political militants. They were common criminals who were dangerous to others. It was the “revolution” that had conferred on them the aura of a political romance, which protected them from the consequences of their deeds.
As Horowitz considered how insignificant Betty’s life was in the eyes of his comrades, he recognized a familiar historical reality being played out in the events of his own. Real human flesh and blood had been sacrificed on the altar of utopian ideals. A collusive silence had followed.
Having been forced to face the sordid reality of a political movement to which he had dedicated himself, Horowitz began to ask whether there was something rooted in Marxism or in the socialist idea that had led to socialism’s worldly horror. In so doing, the repentant revolutionary made a leap that others could not. He faced the possibility that his entire life until then had been based on a lie. He was willing, further, to connect what had happened to him to the crimes his parents’ generation of the left had defended, and thus to accept the fact that there was no “new” left, and that his generation of radicals had repeated their parents’ guilt:
“It had been forty years since Stalin’s purges.The victims were dead, their memories erased. They were unpersons 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.”15
Everything Horowitz had previously believed, everything he had built his political life on now crumbled before him. Like Whittaker Chambers, a figure of the previous generation, he began to experience a conversion. In a vignette that Horowitz wrote for the New York Times Magazine (which they predictably failed to print16 ) 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.”17
Abandoning this romance took a heavy toll on the writer, who had no choice but to shed the sides of his personality that demanded a belief in the utopian future. “Like all radicals,” he wrote, “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.”18
Unlike his former comrades, who now shunned him, he refused not only to turn a blind eye to Betty’s murder, but also to the mass murders that socialist ideals had spawned around the world. He perceived that just as his progressive friends were indifferent to Betty’s death, so too the left as a whole had 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 simultaneously exonerated themselves from complicity in socialism’s crimes.
In pursuing answers to Betty’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.
To Horowitz’s surprise, the mainstream press also protected the killers; local media refused to cover the story. Horowitz began to realize that the establishment that shaped the culture and determined the parameters of political discourse was sympathetic to the left rather than to the ruling class interests that Marxism had postulated.
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 leftwing journalist named Kate Coleman, whom Horowitz had approached and provided with information.19 In a 1986 piece in the Village Voice, Horowitz himself identified the Panthers as Betty’s killers,20 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 1960 s, there would have been a holocaust in this country,” he said. 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.21
But for the most part, progressive keepers of the historical record were determined to take their secrets to the grave. 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 have never written a word about Panther crimes in the thirty years since. Former SDS president Todd Gitlin’s history of the 1960’s fails to acknowledge Panther criminality or mention Betty Van Patter, or the murders of police officers for which the Panthers and other leftist groups were responsible.22 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.23 Other academic works follow this pattern familiar from progressive silences of the past.
In his essay “Still No Regrets,” Horowitz writes, “A library of memoirs by aging new leftists and ‘progressive’ academics recall the rebellions of the 1960’s. 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.’”24
In accepting responsibility for what the left did, Horowitz is almost alone among its public intellectuals. Only a handful of others, including Peter Collier, Eugene Genovese, and Ronald Radosh have taken his path.
The journey from left to right, of course, had been made before. But Horowitz’s conversion took on a somewhat different and more acute character than those of the ex-communists who had traveled to the right before him. Unlike the contributors to The God That Failed,25 most of whom remained socialists, Horowitz made a comprehensive break with the radical Weltanschauung. This was because 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.
His comrades who remained on the left continued to believe that the idea could succeed by transcending the failures of “actually existing socialism.” This was the disposition shared by the writers of The God That Failed. For them, Stalinism was a socialist aberration. For Horowitz, the roots of Stalinism—of totalitarianism—lay in socialism itself. Thus, in his momentous personal journey, Horowitz moved from Communist26 to New Leftist to a conservative position in which he rejected the utopian idea. His odyssey would cause him to see the left from a unique perspective, enabling him to make an important contribution to its historiography in the works he subsequently wrote. In particular, Horowitz played a seminal role in rescuing the history of the New Left from the distortions of leftist historians who had come to dominate the academic profession.
After Betty’s murder, Horowitz ceased his radical activism and his political writing for most of the following decade.27 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. 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 its success 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).28 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, TheIndian Wars & America’s Origins:1607-1776, (1978),29 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.” 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.30 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."31
As the Indochinese tragedy unfolded, Horowitz was struck by how the left was unable to hold itself accountable for the result it had willed—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.”32 If the left really wanted a better world, why was it so indifferent to the terrible consequences of its own ideas and practices? He reflected:
The more I thought about the moral posturing of the Left . . . the more I saw that its genius lay not in reforms but in framing indictments. Resentment and retribution were the radical passions. In The Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx had invoked a dictum of Goethe’s devil: “Everything that exists deserves to perish.” It was the progressive credo. To the left, neither honored traditions nor present institutions reflected human nature or desire; the past was only a dead weight to be removed from their path. When the left called for “liberation,” what it really wanted was to erase the human slate and begin again in the year zero of creation. Marxism was indeed a form of idolatry, as Berdyaev had written, and Creator/Destroyer that the left worshipped was itself.33
Horowitz’s reference to Nicholas Berdyaev was indicative of the course that his own anti-radical philosophy had taken. After the Russian Revolution of 1905, Berdyaev wrote that communism was a form of idolatry in which the radical vanguard worshipped themselves as gods. Like the inhabitants of Babel, the communists proposed to build a tower to heaven. Berdyaev warned that, in perpetrating this dangerous spiritual crime, communists had unleashed demons they would be unable to control. In the attempt to build heaven on earth, Marxists would inevitably create a hell. Berdyaev’s prophetic vision of Marxism became a central component in Horowitz’s new outlook.
In 1979, Horowitz wrote a column for the Nation 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?”34
He already knew, however, the answer was no.
To be continued. . . .