Reprinted and translated from the Russian magazine Nova Dextra.
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Completely disillusioned with the Left, author David Horowitz has long been one of its main critics. The experience he gained as a New Left leader in the ’60s has allowed Horowitz to analyze the rotten nature of the left from the inside out. This was brilliantly demonstrated in his books “Radical Son” and “Unholy Alliance.” In 2012, Horowitz published a collection of essays, “The Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion,” which has no doubt caused a stir.
In the Preface, the author states that this is his latest research on the topic. Alas, the left-wing radicals and their sympathizers do not disappear — and, therefore, the need for constant reminders of their danger does not disappear either.
The essays in “Radicals” are devoted to leading figures in left-wing radicalism found in academia, journalism, and those directly involved in political activities. But Horowitz is not content with an analysis of the biographies of such unpleasant characters. The story of the far left allows the writer to show how radicalism has implanted itself into modern society, becoming a virus for which an antidote has not yet been found. Moreover, we see how society allows this virus to spread without making serious attempts to protect itself.
The main text in the book is “A Radical Machiavelli.” The story of Saul Alinsky and his book “Rules for Radicals” allows Horowitz to explain the essence of left-wing radicalism, and simultaneously compare the right-wing conservative and radical leftist establishments:
Conservative principles are about limits, and what the respect for limits makes possible. … Progressive principles are based on ideas about a world that does not exist. … [Radicalism] is a declaration of war on a democracy whose individual freedoms are rooted in the institutions of private property, due process, and limited government. … Moreover, who are the “people” in whose name the revolution would act? History tells us that once the revolution is set in motion, the “people” is whomever the revolutionary elite designates, which is invariably itself. This was nonsense when Marx wrote it — and worse, when one considers the tens of millions of individuals slaughtered by those who believed it. … The idea that the world is divided into Haves and Have-Nots, exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed, leads directly to the conclusion that liberation lies in the elimination of the former. … According to the radicals, this will lead to the liberation of mankind. In fact, it led to the murders of 100 million people in the last century, and state-induced economic deprivation on a scale never witnessed before. … What revolutionaries like Lenin and Alinsky offer is not salvation but chaos – a chaos designed to produce a totalitarian state.
Horowitz recalls the past and Alinsky, as well as his teachers. I think it is no wonder that Alinsky’s teachers were Chicago gangsters of the ’30s, especially Al Capone and Frank Nitti. It is organized crime that the leftist movement is particularly closely related to in its methods and operations.
On the example of Alinsky and his followers, Horowitz also demonstrates how radicalism rises to power by adopting a “civilized” look that allows for its destructive policies to take hold and penetrate into the system. This is supposed to replace open confrontation and establish the values and ideals of their transformation through glib pretexts and slogans. “Alinsky urged radicals to infiltrate the Democratic Party and the traditional institutions with the goal of subverting them.”
The essay “Pardoned Bombers” is devoted to pardoned leftist terrorists (such as Kathy Boudin and Susan Rosenberg). But, while Horowitz describes their crimes (in particular the “fighters against racist America” who killed a black cop and a black teacher), it is more important for him to note that the amnesty of the killers was greeted with approval in the left-liberal media (that is, in the vast majority of publications and television programs) and in academia. Journalists and academics, who to this day denounce anti-communism and McCarthyism (which did not result in mass repression and the killing of innocent people), welcomed the release of those who killed ordinary Americans. They did so because the killers were confused “idealists” who “claimed they had made ‘mistakes’ because of their passion for social justice for African-Americans. But if that had been their interest rather than a self-aggrandizing quest for revolutionary authenticity and national notoriety, they would have invested their talents and time in supporting honest, law-abiding, productive African-Americans who by the 1980s were making enormous strides towards equality with others through the democratic process and the economic marketplace.”
In “Cultural Decline,” Horowitz writes about Cornell West, a black racist and Marxist who concerns himself with alleviating “capitalism and militarism.” Horowitz does not take him to be a serious scholar:
He is the archetype of American radicalism, aimed at the destruction of the American experiment. Measured by the strength of his undeserved triumph and ridiculous career.
We see how far academic culture has fallen when a person who has made a name for himself lamenting constant harassment by the white capitalist elite is worshiped and believed to be an intellectual genius. It’s not just the fact that the success of West nullifies his ideas about the horrors of American racism and capitalism. The fact is that anything he does (such as recording a rap album) becomes a great achievement, and when conflict arises because of his neglect of teaching duties at Harvard, it is presented as persecution for his views. The academic success of West epitomizes the current university elite as having completely abandoned educational objectives in favor of dubious left-wing activism.
Incidentally, one of the signs of the crisis in the educational system was the planting of programs like “Women’s Studies” or “African-American Studies.” Perhaps there was some genuine academic benefit from these courses that one might have had the desire to learn, but left in the hands of radical professors, they were turned into tools of political indoctrination, and not as a way to raise the intellectual level of students.
In “Radicals,” Horowitz writes about just such a teacher, Bettina Aptheker (“Feminist-prosecutrix”). A communist activist in the past, through her leftist views she moved to teaching, turning courses into stages of political activism. Talking about Aptheker, Horowitz relies heavily on her autobiography. And the portrait proves not very pleasant, reminiscent of Reagan’s remark: “Scratch the Hollywood communist – especially ‘intellectual’ – and you will find a neurotic.” Aptheker appears hysterical, destroying the lives of people around her, while sermoning to her students about how they are to behave and treat minorities. Interestingly, one of the causes of her neuroses, tearing the radical from within, was sexual trauma in childhood and harassment by her father. Additionally, Bettina’s father is not just a pedophile, but a prominent Marxist historian and active leader of the Communist Party USA, Herbert Aptheker. An ideal family of leftist intellectuals, is not it? The result is that the sum total of the work of Bettina Aptheker was “[v]enting her personal rage on external forces and serving America’s enemies[.]”
Not all of Horowitz’s essays take an accusatory tone. In the case of such a complex person as the recently deceased writer Christopher Hitchens, the embodiment of all possible conflicts, the right intonation is generally very difficult to find. But Horowitz find it in “The Two Christophers” (due to their acquaintance and mutual hostility that crossed in friendship). The British Hitchens had always stressed his keenness for Marxism-Leninism and links to anti-American and anti-Israeli circles. However, constant communication with the aggressive left in public life in the United States forced Hitchens to take a serious look at his views. When Hitchens denounced attempts by the left-liberal media to discredit the prosecution of the immoral behavior of President Clinton, and when he found himself on the side of supporters of the war against Islamofascism after 9/11, hate from erstwhile comrades erupted. Those such as Cockburn, Gitlin and Healy (prominent left-wing figures) minced no words. Hitchens was called “Snitchens,” and threats and insults were regularly left on his answering machine. In general, this is a normal way for the left to deal with dissidents. Hitchens took up the challenge (his middle finger in the air at the leftist Bill Maher deserves nothing but respect), but perhaps the rapid deterioration of his health in the 2000’s was due to just such persecution.
Horowitz notes this was not primarily a political change of heart, but the desire to constantly shock and create controversy. Hitchens liked to be the center of attention, and sophisticated writing seemed more important with political overtones. But when talent is put in the service of narcissism and an obviously intolerant and aggressive ideology, which is the ideology of the left, everything ends with creative crisis; of the conversion into a mediocre scribbler-agitator. Hitchens was trying to escape a similar fate, and he tried to hide from personal problems in a pile of work (suicide of his mother, his own half-forgotten children, a difficult relationship with his brother, Peter – who by the way, is a conservative, but is opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). Hitchens gave readers a lot of interesting texts, but did they understand the author himself? It seems not.
The most poignant essay in “Radicals,” “Liberated Woman,” is devoted to Susan Lydon. Lydon gained notoriety in radical circles with the essay “The Politics of the Orgasm.” Once a becoming a “radical feminists,” the young married woman with a child tried to fit the image of a rebel. She became a drug addict, a prostitute, had lost family, and only after collecting a bunch of dangerous diseases could she realize the mediocre life she lived and somehow tried to rescue her last years. Simple occupations and relations with her daughter helped Lydon get rid of the yoke of radicalism. Therefore Horowitz concludes the essay with the words: “What she achieved in her life was a modest liberation, but an authentic one.”
At the end of the review we return to “A Radical Machiavelli.” Horowitz cites the dedication of “Rules for Radicals,” which Alinsky gave to Lucifer, “the first man who rebelled against the establishment and received the kingdom as a reward.” Horowitz recalls – the kingdom of Lucifer is called hell. And we are being dragged there by leftists tormented by their own demons of all kinds, as demonstrated by the history of the world. Therefore, Horowitz’s “Radicals” can be seen as a collection of well-written essays, the analysis of left-wing radicalism, but also as a warning. A warning that is worth considering.
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