ONE OF THE MANY HATS that prolific author David Horowitz wears is columnist with the online magazine Salon. Horowitz clearly enjoys being the house provocateur on a site that many would consider liberal (though it does publish a few right-of-center views, including, ahem, those of your humble columnist).
Horowitz takes particular glee in tackling issues of race. As his best-selling autobiography, Radical Son, attests, the former lefty comes to his current positions honestly. He was there on the front lines (or perhaps we should say, "ramparts," to use the title of his New Left '60s journal) of the counterculture revolution. He hung with the Black Panthers, whom he now castigates with the venom of a reformed smoker. Actually, he goes well beyond that - he recites chapter and verse the crimes (murder, among them) of the Panthers. His current book, Hating Whitey, is largely a collection of his race-focused Salon essays.
Of course, Horowitz gets himself into a bit of trouble with today's left with the energy he brings to the racial debate. Though he has traveled from the Left to the Right, he has never lost his appetite for the polemic, which he relishes unloading on intellectual and political foes.
As one might imagine, in these politically correct times, Horowitz's views can be controversial. Last year, Time's liberal columnist Jack White (who happens to be black) called Horowitz a bigot for a Salon essay somewhat indelicately entitled, "Guns Don't Kill Black People, Other Blacks Do."
The essay was classic Horowitz: He attacked the NAACP's idea to sue gun manufacturers over the impact of gun violence in the inner city. Horowitz cited the statistics of black-on-black crime and accused the civil-rights organizations of racism of their own. White took serious umbrage at this line of thinking, thus producing the "bigot" comment.
Horowitz, in response, went nuclear. He charged that White was guilty of character assassination; he stated that being called a bigot was the equivalent of having a bounty put on his head. He got his liberal boss, Salon publisher David Talbot, to write a letter attesting to Horowitz's non-bigotry. Fellow Salon writer-provocateur Camille Paglia also rushed to his defense. One tactic Horowitz uses to questionable affect is bringing his family into the debate. His daughter-in-law happens to be black - a fact of which Horowitz reminds readers and critics a bit too often when he gets slammed. Remember, he started out on the Left.
Horowitz's latest column tackles the "reparations" debate. He notes correctly that, whereas a few years ago, only a few marginal individuals seriously discussed the idea of America paying reparations to American blacks for slavery, the idea is now gaining traction. Randall Robinson, long-time leader of TransAfrica, has written a book entitled The Debt: What America Owes To Blacks that tries to make the case.
Horowitz lists ten reasons why this is a bad idea. On the whole, he is correct. The primary objections center on the fact that most Americans alive today are descendants of immigrants - from every section of the world - who arrived on these shores many years after slavery. As a Trinidadian, this particular columnist is one of them. Should I expect some form of compensation from contemporary white Americans because of the color of my skin? Of course not.
One point that Horowitz does not mention is one that several blacks - and not just conservatives either - have raised. How do you seriously put an economic figure on the totality of the degradation that occurred during the slave trade? Slavery - and Jim Crow, which followed it - was not just a simple taking of property and unfair internment as happened with the Japanese in World War II. It was the separation of families and dehumanization on an unequaled level. To put a price on that suggests that this is simply a materialistic issue, and that today's blacks can be bought off. Robinson's notion falls apart right there, by removing the moral component from the slavery issue.
But Horowitz makes a large mistake with one of his objections: What about the debt blacks owe to America - to white Americans - for liberating them from slavery? Horowitz goes on to argue that blacks in America have a much higher standard of living than Africans or African-descendants in any other country. Given that, America has "paid" blacks here in ways that other countries have not. This is, on the face of it, not a completely unreasonable argument. In fact, I've engaged in debate with other black conservatives on that point.
However, it ultimately falls apart. Just because a given group (or individual for that matter) overcomes evil circumstances, does not mean that those responsible for that evil should be commended - or rewarded for their actions. For example, one could make the argument that the Holocaust created greater worldwide support for the creation of the modern state of Israel. But no one would suggest that the Nazis should be commended for wanting to bring about the extinction of the Jewish people.
Admittedly, Horowitz is trying to jerk some chains with this point. But it is decidedly cavalier, and undermines the overall cogent argument he is making. That, by the way, can be said for many of Horowitz's critiques on the current state of race. In order to "win" rhetorically, the polemicist in him exerts too much authority. As one observer put it, describing Horowitz's temperament, "Once a Stalinist, always a Stalinist."
Of course, the fact that he is fearless when taking on many of the racial demagogues on the Left does gain him some respect.