We invited Kevin Mattson to present his ideas about conservatives on Frontpage and, at the same time, to promote his new book Rebels All! We did so to initiate an intellectual dialogue with an academically prominent critic of conservatism. In Rebels All! Mattson describes himself as a “liberal” and praises liberal virtues – civility, tolerance, reason, and respect for parties who disagree over fundamental issues. He accuses conservatives of thwarting such dialogue through their “shrill” attacks on the left.
We deliberately provided Professor Mattson with a platform to present his ideas and his book first, waiting two days before posting my response. We then offered Mattson the opportunity to reply to the specific criticisms I made of his work, offering him as much space as he might require to defend his positions. We did this to create the most favorable ground for a fruitful exchange. The response he sent us was disappointingly brief and is included in the text that follows.
In my comments on Mattson’s book, I pointed out that Frontpage in the past has featured numerous leftwing intellectuals (including himself on a previous occasion). We treated these guests civilly and provided them with a platform for leftwing ideas. I also pointed out that this outreach -- this liberality if you will – has not been reciprocated by the leftwing magazines for whom Mattson normally writes nor by his academic colleagues. Mattson has not addressed this claim either to refute it or to concede that it is correct.
The criticisms I made of Mattson’s book focused on the fact that Mattson had misrepresented my views and had done so in a fashion that was particularly egregious. Moreover, he had ignored published writings of mine that contained refutations of the very distortions he was repeating, evidently from leftwing websites where they are rife. Mattson’s insistent misrepresentation of my views is no small matter, since he portrays me as an exemplar of “post-modern neo-conservatism,” which is the primary focus of his book.
Instead of responding to such serious charges, Mattson sent us a terse email in reply. The email addressed only one claim -- that he had not read my books. He denied this while providing no evidence to support the denial. Here is his response in full:
“I’m not surprised I didn’t convince David Horowitz of my argument. I was surprised that he claims that I have ‘not read’ his ‘work.’ I quote and cite his numerous books throughout my final chapter on postmodern conservatism.
“I stand by my argument that there is a deep postmodernist ring to recent conservative arguments against ‘objectivity’ in the media, academe, and science. And I’ll let readers decide for themselves if this interpretation is substantiated in my book.”
That is his entire communication.
Mattson’s claim to have quoted and cited “numerous [Horowitz] books throughout my final chapter” is untrue. As I have already pointed out in my previous response, Mattson quotes --- or misquotes -- from one book, The Art of Political War. Even that quote is misrepresented. Using the tired deception of an ellipsis, he attributes to me a strategy of turning politics into war.
Unfortunately for this argument, which is central to Mattson’s thesis about conservatives, The Art of Political War was explicitly written as a response to the political war that leftists had launched. The actual argument I made was that electoral politics already is war because that’s the way leftists have conducted it. Mattson simply ignores my correction, which I had already made in responding to other leftists in my book Indoctrination U. That is why I concluded that he had not read Indoctrination U.
The same may be said for two of my other books --The Politics of Bad Faith and Uncivil Wars – which refute false claims Mattson repeats in his book -- claims that invented by the left for the specific purpose of stigmatizing the author and tarnishing his reputation. Mattson’s failure to even comment on these points makes him collusive in that effort.
In his book, Mattson accuses me of saying that African Americans should be grateful for slavery. This an idiotic, morally repugnant view that I have never taken or supported. It is also a damaging accusation should anyone be credulous enough to believe it. The fact that I have already refuted the falsehood and that Mattson refuses to correct his error can hardly re be regarded as innocent.
To claim as Mattson does that he is not surprised he failed to persuade me of his “argument” is fatuous and is a perfect example of how academic radicals refuse to engage conservative arguments and are contemptuous of those who disagree with them. Minimal respect for an opponent would require a response to one or two points before dismissing an entire argument. Mattson makes no such gesture.
If the argument between us were about an external event like the Iraq War, Mattson’s peremptory exit would be insulting, but not be as ludicrous as it is in this case. For this is not an argument about my opinion of some external fact. It is an argument about what I think. Who is the authority on that subject?!! Unless Mattson can show that I have publicly expressed a point of view that is different from the one I claim to hold, there can hardly be two sides to this question. When Mattson says that he is not surprised that he failed to persuade me what he is actually saying is that he is not surprised that he has failed to persuade me that I don’t know what I think.
I certainly am not one to conceal or dissemble what I think. That is something leftists like Billy Ayers and Barack Obama do to hide their leftwing agendas. Leftists say they are for liberalism and civil discourse when their actions show they are not. In contrast, most conservative intellectuals are in the habit of writing what we think. I did not say, as Mattson claims, that blacks should be grateful for slavery. I said that while Americans did not create slavery or the slave trade, along with Great Britain America led the world in abolishing slavery and the slave trade, and African Americans, can be proud of that aspect of their American heritage. But no matter how many times I say this, leftists will distort what I say because their agenda is not to argue the point but to inflict maximum damage on the conservative who is making the point. I have explained my views on slavery at length in Uncivil Wars and other writings. Since Mattson will not concede his error when confronted, this is no longer a matter of incompetence; since the accusation is tantamount to calling me a racist, it is malice.
Why does Mattson think he can get away with this? In fact he knows that he can. The intellectual world he inhabits, and from which he draws his affirmations and receives his validation has been so purged of a conservative presence that what he says or does not say in these pages is of no consequence to him. The editors of the academic journals whose approval he needs to get published, the members of the academic committees which hire and promote him are controlled by leftists who share his disdain for conservative values and ideas. If the exchange between us had occurred in the American Historical Review or in a magazine of the high culture such as The New York Review of Books, Mattson would have been compelled to respond to such serious questions about his scholarship and his intellectual honesty. As it happens my work has never been noted in academic journals, while the last review of a book written by me to appear in The New York Review of Books was in 1985, which was not coincidentally the year I cast my first Republican vote – for Ronald Reagan. This is a marker of the way in which serious intellectual dialogue has been killed in this country by leftists like Kevin Mattson, who will nevertheless go on pretending that they are liberals.
To read Frontpage’s interview with Kevin Mattson, click here.
To read David Horowitz’s response to the interview, click here.