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.