The Radical Son’s Progressive Daughter – by David Swindle


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In 1956 a teenage David Horowitz suffered a wound which would pain him for the rest of his life. The release of the Khrushchev Report – which revealed Joseph Stalin’s crimes – would shatter many relationships. One was between Horowitz and his father. While Philip Horowitz remained loyal to the USSR and the Communist Party his son would chart a different path in pursuit of Utopia.

For the first chapter of his adult life Horowitz would pursue his father’s dream of the “social justice” of a Marxist future while departing from the Old Left. Horowitz was one of the founding figures of the New Left, a movement which sought to rescue the socialist dream from the Stalinist nightmare. Horowitz wrote Student, the first book of the movement, and later The Free World Colossus, one of its most influential texts. By the 1970s Horowitz was editing Ramparts, the New Left’s most important publication.

And then a personal tragedy struck which forced Horowitz to reexamine the dream he and his father had pursued. A colleague was murdered by the Black Panther Party. And this “New” Left ignored the crime, just as they ignored the brutality of totalitarian governments abroad who did the same thing. And in the decades of soul searching that followed, Horowitz could come to one conclusion: a “New” Left was impossible. He abandoned his family’s dream as impossible and became a conservative.

But he was wrong. There was a way for one to remain a progressive, learn from the mistakes of the Old Left and the New Left, and pursue a practical, effective path to heal the world. But Horowitz would not be the one to find it. Instead, his daughter, the late Sarah Horowitz who passed away unexpectedly in spring of 2008, would. And in his tender memoir A Cracking of the Heart: A Requiem for My Daughter, Horowitz carefully assembles the pieces of her life and in so doing, writes his most important book since his autobiography Radical Son.


Sarah was not like other children. In one of Cracking’s most touching stories, Horowitz recalls a trip to the zoo:

Her lack of complaint was also unusual, and was a disposition that remained with her from the day she was born until the day she was gone. When she was four or five we took the family on an outing to the Oakland Zoo, and made a stop at the ice cream stand. Acting on an impulse that is intelligible to me now only as a reflection of the absurdity of fathers, I decided to make it a life lesson. Perhaps I did so because she was so willing a pupil. “It’s important to try new things,” I instructed her. “You need to broaden your horizons to see what the world has to offer. Instead of vanilla or chocolate, why don’t you try something new like that sour apple flavor, which sounds interesting.” I missed the biblical allusion at the time, but I might well have reflected on it. She took my advice without hesitating – she was always such a dutiful child — and chose the sour apple, and we went on our way.

Fifteen minutes into our walk, I noticed that the cone she was carrying had received no more than a lick. So I took it from her and tasted it myself. It was awful. A surge of guilt unsettled me, but we were too far from the stand to go back. In all the time that had elapsed she had uttered no word of reproach, and she never did. I have carried my regret over the incident from that day to this with no hope of repairing it. Of course when I brought it up to her long after she was an adult she just laughed.

What sort of child would be that serene? And into what kind of adult might she grow?

Perhaps one of the key factors in shaping Sarah was the series of physical challenges fate chose to inflict on her. She grew to be 4’7.” A kinked aorta raised her blood pressure. She was nearly deaf. She was nearsighted and had an arthritic hip which made walking painful. Despite these physical limitations she had a brilliant mind, a determined independence, and a pen as elegant as her father’s. She completed one Master’s degree and was pursuing a second toward her chosen career – educating special needs children – at the time of her death.

She remained politically progressive, though studied her father’s writings carefully, imbibing his sense of skepticism at the ability of humans to so easily fix the world. Horowitz wrote in Cracking:

In her crusades she always strove to keep a realistic perspective. She was an opponent of war but recognized that there is evil in the world and nations are sometimes forced to defend themselves. She protested against capital punishment, standing vigil on bitter nights at the gates of San Quentin, but not because she thought the condemned were innocent, as many who came to protest did. She was there because she believed that despite their crimes, which were heinous, it was still wrong for the state to take a human life.

Her primary political interests were anti-poverty, anti-death penalty, and – driven by her Jewish faith – pro-Israel causes. This last commitment helped bridge the political divide between father and daughter. Even without it, though, Horowitz refused to fall into the same trap as his own father. He sought to avoid letting political disagreements come between him and his children.


In Horowitz’s book The Politics of Bad Faith, the intellectual companion to Radical Son, he makes one of his most critical diagnoses of the Left in the second essay, titled “The Religious Roots of Radicalism.” Horowitz explains how the Jewish religious concept of Tikkun Olam – the quest to heal the world and pursue “social justice” – was incorporated by Karl Marx and other 19th century radical godfathers into the heart of the socialist cause. The religious became political. This insight has informed all of Horowitz’s work. The Left is a political faith.

This has been the Left’s problem since it began: it has sought to use political tools and government institutions to bring about religious ends. And as such it has failed repeatedly.

What Sarah did in her life was to take her family’s radical spirit even further than her father. What “radical” means is “to go to the root.” Those possessed of such a disposition instinctively dig deeper and deeper at all pursuits until they finally come to the source of their mission. In Sarah’s progressivism she did this and the conclusion she eventually came to in the way she lived her life was that political action could not be the primary method of improving the world.

The world could not be effectively changed at the level of government. Merely passing laws, smashing institutions, and electing better politicians would not work to heal the world. To do so was to not really go to the root of the problem. To pursue tikkun olam effectively, to truly be progressive, to be radical in spirit, one must operate at the level of individual people – not governments, laws, and institutions.

This approach takes the Left out of the political arena and returns it to the religious realm from which it originally emerged. Focusing on healing individual souls is the way churches and synagogues function. And here’s the secret: it works. Good houses of worship do heal people’s souls and make them better people.

Sarah understood this. That’s why she primarily worked this way: she taught autistic children, she worked with poor communities in foreign countries, she taught at her synagogue alongside her mentor the late Rabbi Alan Lew.

Both those on the Right and the Left need to understand this: the way to heal the world is one shattered human soul at a time. This is not a political task. Only we as individuals can do it. And let Sarah be our guide and inspiration as we pursue our own tikkun olam.

  • EPatrickMosman

    “To pursue tikkun olam effectively, to truly be progressive, to be radical in spirit, one must operate at the level of individual people – not governments, laws, and institutions.” This was also the true message of Jesus Christ. President Obama and others of the Left often uses Scripture to support a false claim that Jesus was a big-government socialist provider with regard to helping those in need and reducing individuals personal responsibility to simply “Love the Neighbor' and replacing it with government programs is a misreading of His message. Jesus Christ made the point “to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's” with no guidelines as to how the Romans were to spend the tax monies.
    “For you will have the poor always with you” Matthew 26.11 and nowhere in the New
    Testament does Jesus Christ lay the responsibility for caring for the poor, the sick the hungry or thirsty, the homeless or any oppressed people on any governmental body. He did not cite King Herod, the priests of the temple, the local mayor or the Roman powers as the source of Charity. He made it an individual responsibility time after time in His sermons, in His parables and in His own acts. The Good Samaritan was not an example of “Love thy neighbor” because he stopped at the nearest inn and asked that a 911 call be made but because he acted, providing aid,comfort and financial assistance to his neighbor.
    It is unlikely that Jesus would be available to negotiate or accept Obama's promises for government programs to reduce an intrinsic evil acts, abortion or euthanasia are two, any more than He negotiated with the devil's three offers made during His 40 days in the d

  • USMCSniper

    Choose a date that will be the day you honor her every year. This date could be the date of the Bat Mitzvah, the death date of the lost child, Yom Kippur, Yom Hashoah, or some other date significant to you and your family. Say Kaddish or study that week's Torah portion b’shem the child you are remembering. Make a tallit with the name of the lost child sewn on it and donate it to your synagogue or a synagogue in Israel


    Nice review, really insightful and integrated a lot of understanding of background items, I thought. Sorry, not choosing better words to describe but I hope you get the gist.

    My reflection was that Sarah had reached my same conclusion, having been down many roads politically and spiritually, namely that we effect change one person at a time and further, I would surmise from her background, displaying good character as we go so we'll have better success. Seems she was there, where I had character improvement sorely needed.

    Thanks for this review,


    Fantastic contribution! thank you.

  • Name

    The way to heal is indeed one soul at a time.

    One must realize that political institutions cannot really accomplish this sort of healing, and thus should restrict their activities and concentrate on what they do well, such as protecting innocent people from bullies, while this healing goes on through other means.

    For the economic side of social justice, the Law and the Prophets, as well as the Christian New Testament, strongly encourage care of the poor, the widow, the fatherless and the stranger. But it is always, always voluntary. They never advocate the use of any political institution to enforce compassion.

    And this is the great error of progressivism: to force a facsimile of compassion.

    Such force works against changing one soul at a time, and simply produces a society where people attempt to use the power of government to take resources from others. It fosters resentment and entitlement.

    Voluntary compassion fosters, however, contentment and encouragement.

  • joelbrave

    Wow, Marco – somebody really has a chip on his shoulder!!