IF THERE IS ONE THING AMERICAN LEFTISTS HATE more than America itself, it’s a former leftist. Enter David Horowitz.
In last year's powerful autobiography, Radical Son, Horowitz recounted coming of age in New York's radical community. He was a "red-diaper" baby, raised by deracinated Jewish parents for whom the millennial hope of world Communism was religion, faith, and creed. Reaching adulthood in the Sixties, Horowitz found himself at Berkeley, where he became a leader of the New Left, editor of the influential journal Ramparts, and an associate of the Black Panthers and other radical groups.
Until the mid-Seventies, Horowitz continued his work as a left-wing writer and activist. But the Panthers' brutal murder of a friend, along with the Left’s broken promises and increasingly evident failures, gave him second thoughts about the movement to which he had devoted his life.
Over an agonizing span of almost a decade, Horowitz re-evaluated his political premises and the consequences of the ideas he had championed. Astonishingly, he transformed himself into a Reagan conservative.
The author's latest effort, The Politics of Bad Faith: The Radical Assault on America's Future, gives new insight into Horowitz’s political metamorphosis. In this series of six essays, he deals with the fate of Marxism after the fall of Communism, the religious roots of radicalism, the meaning of Left and Right, and "A Radical Holocaust," the American AIDS epidemic.
Observing the catastrophic misdeeds and failures of the revolutionary left from Robespierre's time to the present, Horowitz reflects, "One might conclude from these facts that the Left is now no more than a historical curiosity, and the intellectual tradition that sustained it for two hundred years is at an end. But if history were a rational process, mankind would have learned these lessons long ago, and rejected the socialist fallacies that have caused such epic grief."
Instead, what exist in many arenas in American life today is the wolf of radical leftism in sheep's clothing, now calling itself "liberal" or "progressive or "populist" or anything other than what it actually is. Horowitz reveals that in the past twenty years the hard Left has come to permeate academia, government bureaucracy, and the Democratic Party. Far from being a "historical curiosity," the radical Left is alive and well, traveling incognito.
A marvelous example of left-wing tenacity is illustrated by the "liberal" reaction to the recent passage of the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), a ballot initiative supported by Horowitz. CCRI officially bars racial discrimination in public employment, education, and contracting. In so doing, it effectively outlaws affirmative action.
The ACLU and NAACP went to court to have CCRI declared unconstitutional. Ironically, these groups argued that CCRI—a law that bans discrimination—was itself discriminatory. The paradox begins to make sense once one recognizes that the ACLU, the NAACP, and American "liberals" in general no longer hold that the concept of "equality" means equality before the law and equality of opportunity. To them, as to the Bolsheviks and Stalinists who went before, equality means equality of outcome, i.e., if one person has more than another, conditions are unequal and unjust. With an Orwellian wink, "liberal" proponents of CCRI are really saying they want to force California to discriminate in order to end discrimination there, in the interest of racial justice and equality.
In an especially perceptive section, Horowitz examines the Left's view of the Right, and vice versa. People on the Left often ask themselves how anyone cannot be progressive and not be concerned with social justice and their attempts to better the world. Leftists conclude it is because "their conservative opponents are prisoners of a false consciousness that prevents them from recognizing human possibility . . . opposition to progressive agendas grows naturally from human selfishness, myopia and greed."
People on the Right look back at the leftists and ask, "How is it possible for progressives to remain so blind to the grim realities their efforts have produced? How can they overlook the crimes they have committed against the poor and oppressed they set out to defend? How can they have learned so little from the history their ideas have engendered?"
Horowitz suggests that this conflict of visions is rooted in a simple difference: the Right attempts desperately to understand the Left, but the Left makes no comparable effort to understand the Right. Indeed, it acts in bad faith—to suppress and ignore scholarship and opinions that are critical of the Left's ideology and historical legacy
Names such as von Mises, Hayek, Kirk, Sowell, Kristol, and Strauss are virtually unknown to the Left and are systematically omitted from university curricula. In contrast, names like Marx, Heidegger, Galbraith, Chomsky, Foucault, and those of other leftist intellectuals, while not household terms, are certainly familiar to the educated conservative.
Horowitz's new book, although penetrating, may not suit everyone. Much of this scholarly work makes for challenging reading, requiring at least a journeyman's grasp of Twentieth Century political history to be easily accessible. An exception is the illuminating chapter on AIDS.
Horowitz shows that in the AIDS epidemic's early stages, U.S. gay opposition to such measures as closing bath houses and tracing carriers' sexual contacts was based squarely on leftist rhetoric of revolution and liberation. Pressure from "liberal" gay groups stymied public health officials' efforts to rein in the disease when it was still containable. The tragic magnitude of the ensuing disaster could have been avoided, Horowitz argues, if misguided notions held over from the Sixties had not been so prevalent. Some people may wonder: Why did Horowitz become a conservative? That is, why did he go from one political extreme to the other? In answer, Horowitz would probably deny that his brand of conservatism is "extreme" in any meaningful sense of that term.
Essentially, Horowitz became a man of the Right because conservatives adhere to two core principles: the free market and limited government—which history has vindicated as superior to socialist economic planning and Leviathan state power. Having been raised to believe that the path to Communism led to justice, peace, and plenty, Horowitz became a leftist.
A lifelong process of learning made him a conservative, and The Politics of Bad Faith is a memorable exploration into the reasons behind that transformation.
Mt. Wynne is a graduate student at the University of Texas
© 1999 Independent Studies Institute