From Seeing Red to Writing Blind

It’s Alterman Versus Horowitz, Round Five

By Eric Alterman

Published May 14, 2004, issue of May 14, 2004.
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Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey

By David Horowitz, edited with an introduction by Jamie Glazov

Spence Publishing Company, 497 pages, $29.95.

* * *

Be advised, dear reader, this is no ordinary book review. How could it be? On p.xxxiv of the book’s introduction, entitled “The Life and Work of David Horowitz,” you can read of a “scathing review” I am alleged to have written of Horowitz’s 2000 book, “The Politics of Bad Faith” (Free Press). In it, I apparently “failed to discuss a single idea in the text.” My attitude toward Horowitz, moreover, “paralleled those that caused Soviet dissidents, such as Andrei Sakharov, to be force-fed drugs in psychiatric hospitals.” The author of this fawning introduction is the book’s editor and Horowitz’s employee, Jamie Glazov.

This is actually the fourth time I have read these words, since Glazov has written, and Horowitz has published, variations on them at least three times on his website www.frontpage.org, before finally arranging to have them printed between hard covers by Spence Publishing, a tiny, Dallas-based publishing house to which Horowitz turned a few years ago when not even conservative publishers would agree to publish his racially inflammatory text, “Hating Whitey.” The thing is, however, I’ve never written a “scathing review” of “The Politics of Bad Faith,” or any other book by David Horowitz before this one. I have mentioned Horowitz a few times in columns about other topics in The Nation and elsewhere — usually to make fun of his penchant to write about his own life in greater detail than just about anyone else on earth, save perhaps Norman Podhoretz. That’s it. The alleged “review” does not exist; Glazov, apparently unbeknownst to himself, is actually referring to a few paragraphs of jokes I made in a column for The Nation on another topic entirely.

Similarly, in a previous version of the above riff — Glazov/Horowitz have published many times the number of words about what I wrote than the few words I did actually write — Glazov explains that

Alterman remarked that, “When Horowitz finally dies, I suspect we will be confronted with a posthumous volume of memoirs titled ‘The End of History.’” The operative word here is “finally.” Horowitz has obviously not died soon enough for many Leftists’ liking. A convenient Gulag would have obviously remedied this problem a long time ago.

In yet another version, Glazov wrote,

Alterman conceded that “The Politics of Bad Faith” has some merit, because it was “shorter” than “Radical Son.” “But,” he complained, “it was not short enough.” One can only imagine the situation if Alterman were given the power to edit Horowitz’s book to his own liking. Here we would certainly stumble upon the Stalinist method of shortening an anti-Party book: shortening it into non-existence.

So get this straight, reader: You are reading a second “review” by a Gulag-loving, Soviet psychiatric technique-admiring writer who believes in the Stalinist method of censorship — or is it mass murder? — for those who disagree with my “party.” At least I think that’s what it says. To tell you the truth, I can’t really follow the thing. As I’ve said, David Horowitz likes it so much he has now published it four times and he continues to employ the man who wrote it, so it must mean something. But what it means, well, I think it may be for a doctor, rather than a reviewer, to determine.

Whenever I happen upon something Horowitz has said or written, I usually find myself taken aback not only by the outlandishness of his views — “‘The Passion of the Christ’ is a great movie” or “Ann Coulter is a wonderful human being” — but also by the strange vehemence to which he attaches himself to nearly each and every one of them. When Horowitz doesn’t like somebody, he really doesn’t like them: Noam Chomsky is a “pathological” “ayatollah of anti-American hate”; Cornel West Jr. is “an intellectual of modest talents whose skin color has catapulted him into academic stardom with a six-figure income”; Michael Lind is a “Judas-liar” and Orville Schell is a “Gucci Marxist.” There are no grays in Horowitz’s world.

Back in the days when the good guys were the commies and the bad guys were the Americans, Horowitz came to “identify,” as he puts it, with the story “that God was going to destroy the world and there were 36 just men, and if they didn’t exist at every time, the world would be destroyed. They carried the seed of the just…. I felt in my own being I carried the moral vision and that never left me.” To disagree with Horowitz, therefore, would be to disagree with justice itself, and stand in the way of world transformation. It does not matter much that Horowitz has reversed himself by 180 degrees. He is on a self-appointed mission from God. If one day God wants him to support the Viet Cong and provide succor (and money) to the Black Panthers, while on another, his heroes are Ann Coulter and Mel Gibson, well, He has always been famous for working in mysterious ways.

The thing is that one constant between the Stalinism Horowitz imbued growing up in his red-diaper household and the belligerent conservatism he practices today is that it brooks no principled disagreement; a second constant is that it is bourgeois liberals who remain the enemy. It is rather incredible, as others have remarked, the degree to which Horowitz has chosen to live out the syndrome identified by his former mentor, the Marxist historian Isaac Deutcher, with whom Horowitz studied in London as a youth. Deutcher wrote that the “ex-communist” carries to his new task the same

…lack of scruple, the narrow-mindedness, the disregard for truth, and the intense hatred with which Stalinism has imbued him….He continues to see the world in white and black, but now the colors are differently distributed. As a communist he saw no difference between fascists and social democrats. As an anticommunist he sees no differ-ence between Nazism and Communism…. [He] is haunted by a vague sense that he has betrayed his former ideals or the ideals of bourgeois society…. He then tries to suppress his sense of guilt and uncertainty, or to camouflage it by a show of extraordinary certitude and frantic aggressiveness. He insists that the world should recognize his uneasy conscience as the clearest conscience of all. He may be no longer concerned with any cause except one — self-justification.

“Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey” is yet another familiar rehash of all of Horowitz’s previous books, and it deals with the various injustices he’s suffered at the hands of everyone from his communist father to liberal book reviewers and Marxist-inspired Democratic politicians. Two things distinguish it from Horowitz’s previous rehashes: It is self-defined as a “greatest hits” package, and it includes Horowitz’s earlier, left-wing ravings alongside those which have recently become more familiar.

Should Glazov and Horowitz wish to return to the topic of my alleged “reviews” of the latter’s work, they will once again be able to make the claim that I fail to take his “ideas” seriously. Indeed, if I tried, I could give myself a migraine. I do not locate any actual “ideas” in the 497 pages of self-justification and ideological vituperation contained between these two covers, and to attempt to analyze them would be to waste not only my time but also the reader’s.

A more interesting point to ponder is whether Horowitz can be said to represent anything of significance in our society and what his considerable standing implies about our critical standards. It would be easy to bemoan the state of a critical discourse that takes such a charlatan seriously, but as Richard Nixon once said to John Dean in another context, “it would be wrong.”

While Horowitz interprets the massive yawn with which each of his (mostly self-published) missives are met in literary society as evidence of an ideological plot in which editors and columnists of The Nation magazine are thought to be all-powerful, I take it merely as evidence that you can only fool all of the people some of the time. Horowitz’s ideological apostasy carried with it a certain fascination given how extreme his involvement had been with the most violent and self-destructive elements of the New Left back in the 1970s. But the “Lefties for Reagan” label, which may have seemed like a fresh story in 1980, is about as relevant today as the observation that Michael Jackson was once a pretty cool dancer or the fact that Islamic fanaticism in Afghanistan could be exploited to make life for their Soviet occupiers exceedingly unpleasant.

In other words, the rest of the world has moved on. Before Horowitz arranges to publish yet another 500 pages of detail regarding “The Life and Work of David Horowitz,” he might consider doing the same.






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