Here and After


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Reprinted from City Journal.

A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption in This Life and the Next, by David Horowitz (Regnery, 128 pp., $24.95)

Death is every life’s inevitable denouement, but La Rochefoucauld told us that we can no more stare it in the face than we can stare at the sun. For the most part, we continue our daily round in a state of presumed immortality, and because we are so unfamiliar nowadays with death—it having been carefully put out of our sight by a host of professionals—we treat it as an unwarranted intrusion into our affairs rather than as an existential limit to our brief earthly sojourn. For many, death has become anomalous rather than inevitable, something to protest against rather than accept. For them, the concept of a good death is entirely alien or antipathetic.

David Horowitz tries to stare his own death in the face. Now 71, he has had cancer of the prostate, and he has diabetes and angina; his diplomatic immunity from death, which we all grant ourselves, has been unmistakably withdrawn. His short new book, which it is both necessary and a pleasure to read in one sitting, is a meditation on the meaning of life, sub specie aeternitatis.

Horowitz begins by reflecting on the nature and character of his dogs, whom he takes for regular walks. Perhaps those who don’t love dogs will think this an odd way to begin a book on the meaning of life, but it seems entirely natural and fitting. Indeed, I was struck by how Horowitz’s meditations paralleled mine, occasioned by my relationship, and walks, with my own dog—a relationship intense and happy, at least on my side and, if I don’t delude myself, on his also. The dog, of course, has no intimation of his own mortality, while the owner’s pleasure in the animal’s company is increasingly tinged with a melancholy awareness of his swiftly approaching dissolution. Yet the dog maintains his passionate interest in the little world around him, his small-scale curiosity in his immediate environment. In the face of the physical immensity of the universe and the temporal vastness that both preceded and will follow his oblivion, is a man in any fundamentally different situation?

As far as we know, we are the only creatures to demand of their existence a transcendent meaning. This can be supplied by various means, most commonly religious belief. Horowitz is unable to accept belief in a personal God, but wishes he could and, unlike many in his position, does not scorn those who do. He is decidedly not the village atheist.

More than most, however, he has reason to know that politics can also give, or at any rate appear to give, transcendent meaning to life. The secular religion of Marxism was particularly adept at supplying this meaning, though nationalist struggles could do the same. To believe that one was a soldier in history’s army, marching toward the predestined final victory when mankind would become terminally happy, and that one’s participation would help bring forward that consummation, was to know that one did not live in vain. Even personal suffering can be lessened by adherence to a political cause: either such suffering is experienced as a consequence of the struggle, or it is at least ameliorated by an acceptance of its pettiness by comparison with the greater goal.

Horowitz offers brief but moving glimpses of his father, a true believer in the ability of Marxism (in what he considered its indubitably correct form) not only to interpret the world but to change it. The preposterous intellectual grandiosity of this belief contrasted comically, and sadly, with Horowitz senior’s position in the world. His son’s depiction has an elegiac quality, portraying the tragicomedy of a man who thought he had penetrated to the heart of existence’s mystery but was really quite weak. Though he embraced a doctrine that had done untold evil in the world, he himself was a gentle soul. His son writes in sorrow, not anger.

The author has reason to know better than most the religious nature of the revolutionary creed. In 1971, when still under the influence of leftism, he edited a book of essays dedicated to the life and work of the Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher. Like Horowitz’s father, Deutscher kept his faith in the immaculate conception of the October Revolution, a revolution that was, alas, subsequently to be corrupted—just as Rousseau thought naturally innocent mankind was corrupted by society. One of the essays in this book, by the Economist’s former Paris correspondent, Daniel Singer, contains the following passage:

Could one trust the statement of a Komintern ready to distort in such a fashion? Isaac was driven to question all authorized versions, to go back to the October revolution, to study the conflicts that followed Lenin’s death. The German heresy thus led him logically to an understanding and rejection of the Stalinist system.

The religious nature of Deutscher’s belief in revolutionary Marxism could hardly have been clearer. Authorized versions give rise to, or at least are the precondition of, heresies. Deutscher went back to the October Revolution, and to Lenin’s words, as Muslim fundamentalists go back to the Koran, for a source of undoubted and indisputable truth. Inside every heretic, it seems, a dogmatist is trying to get out.

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  • mrbean

    We are but one of a multitude of forlorn creatures existing for brief moments of time in a chaotic universe and we shall all come and will go as though we had never been. Ultimately we are all dead men, and our hopes for an afterlife may or may not be a fantasy. No one knows.

    • Vivi Andersen

      Then be-live in an afterlife.

      If there is none – You will never know.

      So be-live and be happy in this life !

  • Amused

    How sad , for to in the latter days of ones life ,conclude that all meaning boils down to …….politics , political ideology , and the search for meaning and redemption therein . The search for these is borne of guilt , and frought with futility .Whether one be an atheist or deist , to be unaware of the intangibles in life , but for only "walking a dog " is truly tragic . Although I have found great companionship in , and grieved the loss of a dog , it only accentuates the fact that this is but one of the many intangible things in a lifes experience . It merely scratches the surface . In these things there are no politics nor ideologies Unfortunately the existence of , or non-existence of G_D will never be proven beyond the minds of the holders of each view .The great irony of course , is that most human behavior is based on one or the other , regardless of whether we care to admit or not .

    • mrbean

      The intangibles of life? Sounds like so much babble squawk. The power of discrimination that distinguishes us from animals is available to human beings only by rational thought. The power of discrimination… the power of forgiveness… the free will… the determination to just to know, to succeed in life… all speak of the intangible portion of the Cosmos that has been made available to mankind through rational thought! Carl Sagan once said, the Cosmos is all that ever was, is, and ever will be.

      • Amused

        Intangibles mr.Bean , although by my observation are far above you and your damaged character , these things are called Love , Empathy ,Compassion , the ability to give love , and the fullfilled desire to recieve love .So yes , I guess they are indeed "babble-squawk " to a person of your character . Carl Sagan ? And is that statement supposed to be profound ? Why dont you get Scotty to beam you up Mr.Bean , you would do well in an alternate universe .

  • tarleton

    David is an apostate from the secular religion of class and will never be forgiven by his former comrades
    The human mind craves order and meaning in life and will not suffer a vacume of ''nothingness'' …you could say that it is ''hardwired'' to believe in a God , regardless if God ever existed …the atheistic 20 th C is a fine example of what happens when traditional religions are undermined by science and are replaced by secular ones ….Lenin , trotsky , Mau and Pol Pot were all religious ''true believers'' in secular form …religious psychopaths to be exact

  • sononthe_beach

    Too maudlin, David. Look at it this way, you and I and everyone are going to croak and there is nothing we can do about it. Plan ahead, have a goal, and live it up as best you can.

    • Amused

      that's right , no one gets out of this alive .

  • Randy CA

    You may forget the contents of this article in a week, but there are parts and points that will stay with me for a long time.

  • evy

    For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:..Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish [from] the way…Blessed [are] all they that put their trust in him…. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man…For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts…For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God [did] from his. ..For the word of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart… all things [are] naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out….Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

  • Amused

    The argument for a brain that is hardwired by evolution to a belief in G_D ,is just as futile as arguments for and against the existence of G_D. It cannot be proven .No one knows the true mechanism of the synapses taking place in the brain .Just like the Universe , which we can make attempts to describe , derive physical laws and even make a few predictionas based on observation , we still have absolutely no idea of HOW the Universe came into being , WHY it came into being , WHERE it came from or Where it is going .So too the e xistence of G_D , or the existence of an afterlife .Matter cannot be destroyed buty only transformed , something that leaves alot of room for debate .
    So to attempt to extract some meaning to or value of a life lived , from politics practiced or ideologies held or expressed is just plain foolish . In addition, to boil it all down to walking a dog …even more so .This is not atheism but nihilism I bear no animus to those who holdfsuch views….they have my pity , for I do not envy anyone who lives their life in such a manner . But of course , they are free to do so .

  • S. Petersen

    I'm shocked by this info about David H. I had assumed that he was an observant Jew. There's little of less use than a secular Jew–you might as well be a gentile and a modernist-materialist one at that. If Israel doesn't have a destiny in respect to God and to eternity, what greater right has it than, say, Iran to survive? Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper who love thy walls. Criminy–to whom is David praying? What's he want? To be remembered for 5 generations? 10? I'm shocked, shocked …

  • http://DebRollin@yahoo.com Asher

    I am very sorry to hear of David’s illnesses. I just want to say that it is not how we die that matters but how we live…Did we help our fellow man, and how did we treat humanity. Did we live our lives peacefully and honorably…David has certainly been an advocator for Freedom, honesty, and Fairness…..I don’t push my faith on people, however, there is no peace like the peace that comes from believing in Jesus, the Water of Life, The Alpha and the Omega, The Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. John 1: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the World to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

  • Amused

    lol ….you know a tree by its fruit ….and by seeing some of the fruit HERE ,that brings many a thing into question , regarding the tree .

  • Lightning Jack

    IMHO:

    Everything a person owns is in fact merely a loan, he may use it, cherish it, but he must know that he may have to return it at any moment.

    A persons death is not something G-d leaves to chance. if one has any awareness of G-d's reality whatsoever, then he understands that such a drastic event as dying cannot be a matter of chance.

    Actually, the irony is that everyone is a believer. Even those who have no faith are believers. For "to believe" means to accept and acknowledge something that cannot be known, and there are things in this world which cannot be known, or can be known only partially.

    Human reason is not the only criterion for deciding whether something exist or not. Can we accept somethings existence not because we can prove it absolutely, but because it is very plausible, and indeed evident, beyond denial? Reason may indeed go far to make the existence of G-d plausible and highly probable, but It is extremely improbable that G-d does not exist.

    People who deny G-d's existence say they do not believe, but their formula is simply wrong. They actually do believe: they believe in the non-existence of G-d. And just as I believe in His existence and try to make this plausible and highly probable, virtually evident, so too must the person who believes in the Creators non-existence. He too must find ways to support his unbelief with ironclad arguments.

    He must explain the origin and organization of the world. He too must find causes for the origin and survival of his own people. He cannot evade the task, or declare that science will eventually explain all this. If he does, then he merely has shown that, in his own way, he too is a believer.