Deadly Delusions

Reprinted from  PJMedia.

To order Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion, click here.

In the work of David Horowitz, personal history and political analysis are often conjoined. Horowitz’s memoir Radical Son told how as a Marxist intellectual and activist, he came to reject the revolutionary violence of progressivist ideology along with the utopian longings and commitments that inspired it. In works such as Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties (with Peter Collier) and Left Illusions, he exposed with first-hand passion the self-deceptions and cultural chaos generated by such utopian faiths. A significant segment of his work, including The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America and Indoctrination U: The Left’s War Against Academic Freedom, has investigated the corruption of American universities by radical politics; and even here, there is a personal element as he remembers the scrupulous professors, models of disinterested intellectual engagement, who taught him as an undergraduate at Columbia. His recent A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption in This Life and the Next is exemplary in its blending of personal and broadly philosophical discussion of the spiritual roots of totalitarianism.

Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion continues this work of political reflection sharpened by autobiographical insight. It collects portraits of contemporary left-wing intellectuals, writers, and activists, all but one of whom embraced anti-American propaganda and its justification of violence, including journalist Christopher Hitchens, who worked for years at the rabidly anti-American paper The Nation, feted academic Cornell West, who has fawningly promoted the murderous Nation of Islam, and Saul Alinsky, who has embraced nihilistic destruction in the name of “the people.”

Each chapter focuses on the manner in which intelligent people accommodate the evident contradictions and brutal repressions of the ideologies to which they profess allegiance, and the personal deformations, moral compromises, and unacknowledged trauma that such allegiances often exacerbate. Red-diaper baby Bettina Aptheker, for example, endured bouts of self-hatred and Communist-inspired paranoia that never led to any thoroughgoing repudiation of the extreme causes to which she dedicated her life, and she has remained publicly unrepentant about her defense of Black Panther murders and other far-left atrocities. Becoming a radical feminist professor at UC Santa Cruz, she built a comfortable life preaching the moral equivalency between the United States and the totalitarian foes that seek its destruction. Professor Cornel West is also a successful far-left and anti-American academic, living well off books and talks that vent grievance-filled rage and obscene encomia to murderers. He has been able to elide the fact that the Nation of Islam executed his hero Malcolm X, such repression allowing him to declare his solidarity with “the fiery passion for racial justice and deep love for black people” of its leader Louis Farrakhan, who orchestrated the murder. The intensity of his hatred for white America leaves him unable to see anything good in his country or anything bad in his black brethren.

The degree of intimacy in the portraits varies, depending on the subject’s own capacity for honest self-reflection. One has little sense of psychological complexity in West’s glib self-aggrandizement, perhaps because there is none to be found or because he is someone for whom Horowitz has little personal knowledge and sympathy. More personally revealing is the portrait of Susan Lydon, product of the hippy counterculture who became famous for a widely cited feminist essay called “The Politics of Orgasm.” Lydon wrote a confessional account of her decades-long struggle with addiction and self-hatred, a struggle that led her far away from the self-destructive radicalism of her youth. Hers is the story of an individual who turned away from a damaging mindset and ultimately found some measure of personal peace.

As its title suggests, however, this is mainly a book about people who maintained their radical faith, recasting reality to fit their beliefs. Horowitz recounts attending a film and talk at a Santa Monica bookstore by released convict Linda Evans, of the Weather Underground, who had served less than half of a forty-year sentence for possession of explosives and terrorist organizing. Now she was attempting to generate sympathy for fellow criminals still in jail who needed public support. Horowitz is fascinated by the sanitized account she provided of the reasons for her allies’ incarceration as well as the warped vision that led her to label as “political prisoners” every person behind bars in America. How can one go on believing, in the midst of so much deliberate and often pointless violence (associates of Evans killed a young black police officer during a botched Brinks robbery), in the righteousness of one’s cause and the innocence of one’s fellow killers? As Horowitz shows, the remarkable upside-down logic is endemic to the hard left, in which nearly any level of violence is justifiable so long as it seeks to destabilize an evil America, seen as unparalleled in its malignancy.

Horowitz’s chapter on “Pardoned Bombers,” about Evans, Kathy Boudin, and Susan Rosenberg, all Weather Underground alumni, is a gripping story of violence, decades-long unrepentance on the part of the trio, and the collusion of journalists, politicians, left-wing do-gooders, and members of the intelligentsia such as Noam Chomsky to whitewash their crimes and massage public opinion. The three women, who sought for years to bring about so-called racial justice through bombing campaigns and armed struggle, continue to proclaim the rightness of their aims. Horowitz’s detailed analysis of Rosenberg’s self-pitying book An American Radical: A Political Prisoner in My Own Country details its failures of empathy and outright lies in a way the mainstream media, unaware of or unconcerned about the truth, has never done.

The final chapter of Radicals provides a detailed close reading of the political theory of Saul Alinsky, a man who idolized Al Capone, Fidel Castro, and rebel angel Lucifer, and who dedicated himself wholeheartedly to destroying his country. Horowitz’s reading shows clearly that the radical’s commitment to an unrealizable higher purpose — the earthly salvation of mankind — not only excuses but also mandates disregard for law and personal morality. Alinsky’s hatred of law-abiding liberals stemmed from the fact, as he stated, that they allowed conscience and principles, neither of which he believed in, to limit their work for fundamental change: “They do not ‘care enough’ for people to be ‘corrupted’ for them,” he charged, putting “corrupted” in quotation marks to show that he didn’t believe in such a scruple. Convinced that the overthrow of the American order was an end that justified any means, he advocated the infiltration of the Democratic Party by closet revolutionaries to radicalize it from within. That Barack Obama spent years working with Alinskyites in Chicago and even teaching Alinskyan methods during his tenure as a community organizer highlights the degree to which an anti-American radicalism is now inside the White House. This chapter is essential reading for anyone who wonders why Obama’s activist connections matter to the future of America.

The book’s tour de force is undoubtedly the chapter on “The Two Christophers,” an in-depth analysis of Christopher Hitchens’s memoir Hitch-22, interleaved with memories of Horowitz’s personal relationship with him. The reading is masterly in teasing out the blind-spots, half-truths, and evasions that fill this account by a one-time Marxist radical who was able to go only so far in repudiating his leftist dreams. In a superb reading designed to show that “Loyalty to bad commitments leads to moral incoherence,” Horowitz pores over the memoir to find both the overt contradictions of Hitchens’ self-congratulation — his pleasure in having marched in opposition to the Vietnam War, his hatred of Israel and Ronald Reagan, his love for defenders of totalitarianism — and also those moments in the text where the confessing self, in detailing his formative influences, crises, and political sea-changes, reveals more than he intends. Such moments come in verbal evasions, especially a crippling refusal to examine the human misery caused by the causes he supported and to explore the psychological roots of his residual salvationist fervor.

One is struck through this book by the depth and human forthrightness of Horowitz as man and as political commentator. Always incisive, elegant, and wise, his penetrating analyses of the perils of radicalism are tempered by sadness as much as anger, and leavened by the cautious belief — bedrock of all his writing — that human beings can rethink misguided commitments in the light of evidence and reasoned argument. Though exasperatedly impressed by the fact of “how little we human beings are able to learn collectively from our experience, how slowly we do learn, and how quickly we forget,” he has kept on writing in the tempered hope that readers’ nascent second thoughts can grow into a principled refusal of violence.

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  • Mary Sue

    I've noticed that people on the far left are so delusional you have to wonder if liberalism truly is a mental disorder. It seems likely, because they accuse people who disagree with them of being insane, which smacks of projection.

    • brianrichardallen


    • trickyblain

      I'd argue that the liberalism (or more accurately "leftism") can be a manifest for actual mental disorders. You'll find zealotry in everything from religion to obsessively waxing the kitchen floor. The same mental disorder that makes a communist accuse anyone who disagrees with him of being insane or evil is the same disorder that makes those who manifest their disorder on the right accuse Obama of being the anti-christ, out to destroy America, etc.

      • Mary Sue

        If he's actually doing stuff harmful to the country, then pointing it out is not mental illness.

        • trickyblain

          This is true.

          There were those who looked at the Bush administration's actions and concluded there were bad for the economy and America's role as a leader in the world. We reasoned that he wasn't "evil," but was wrong with good intentions. On the other hand, there were those who claimed he blew up the Trade Center so he could invade the world and become a dictator (mental disorder).

          Similarly, there are genuinely concerned good American that fear Obama's policies lead to dependency. In my view, they don't have much validity — they seem more derived from emotion rather than tangible acts or proposals. But I understand the arguments and realize they are made out of true concern for our national well being. On the other hand, you have those who accuse Obama of conspiring with al Qaeda to take away our guns and initiate a Marxist Sharia-based state of which, of course he would be the dictator (mental disorder).

          • objectivefactsmatter

            There were those who looked at the Bush administration's actions and concluded there were bad for the economy and America's role as a leader in the world. We reasoned that he wasn't "evil," but was wrong with good intentions."

            No, what matters is the facts you use for your assessment. I hated Clinton, but his policies didn't hurt us until late in Bush's second term.

            You will have no clue why I said that because you don't know how to analyze facts.

          • objectivefactsmatter

            "There were those who looked at the Bush administration's actions and concluded there were bad for the economy and America's role as a leader in the world. We reasoned that he wasn't "evil," but was wrong with good intentions. "

            OK, I'm calling your bluff. How did you "reason?" More bluntly, what reasons did you have to decide Bush's administration was "bad for the economy?" Popular opinion among your peers? Do you know what we call that?

            The criticism of Obama is far more detailed than, "It happened on his watch." Pay attention and you might learn about facts and analysis. There's quite a bit of subjectivity involved, but at least make some attempt at making a case based on facts rather than implying you have some knowledge that is really no more than the sum of hearing people bitch about their perceptions.

    • Mike

      When the far Left talks about and accuses the right on matters they are actually pointing to themselves of what they are achieving in this country.

  • sononthe_beach

    Liberals tend to think subjectively. That is why Horowitz is spot on in his assessment that liberals generally do not consider the consequences of their actions. Liberalism is an ideology that elevates belief over rational thought. In that sense, liberalism is more akin to religion than its acolytes would ever acknowledge. Horowitz has spelled it all out: the contradictions, half-truths, evasions, distortions, moral incoherence, self-delusions, et al, of the liberal mind.

    • Mary Sue

      what's weird is they ONLY consider the actions of conservatives!

  • Steve Chavez

    ALL THESE RADICALS, INCLUDING HOROWITZ AND OBAMA, AND THEIR RADICALISM CAN BE TRACED TO ONE GROUP: THE COMMUNIST PARTY USA and their thousands of front organizations with direct ties to the Soviet Union and their KGB.

    The CPUSA though is left out of public discussion and analysis as they divert any criticism against them with "You're a McCarthyite; Reeks of McCarthyism; Red-baiter; Communism's over." As a result they stay in the shadows. TODAY THEY ARE OPENLY PROMOTING "SOCIALISM" which is really a PC Term for Communism. Obama and his "Circle of Communists," the media, and universities are promoting "Socialism" but this type of Socialism is different than European Socialism. Theirs is SOVIET SOCIALISM!

    HOROWITZ KNOWS THAT SOVIET SOCIALISM was his path and the path of his parents. This is the ideology of the radicals he writes about and that of BARACK OBAMA! Notice his whispering to Medvedev and then relayed to KGB PUTIN.

    WE MUST EXPOSE THE COMMUNIST PARTY USA and their ties to the Democrat Party and Democrats in Congress, and ultimately, BARACK OBAMA and his "CIRCLE OF COMMUNISTS" who he are his advisers, in the DOJ, State Department, Homeland Security, and CZARS!

    • objectivefactsmatter


      I agree totally, but it's a very hard sell until you correct the lies of history. We've almost got to go back to the true history of the founding of this nation, the 19th century explosion of alternate ideas, and where these ideas led to in the 20th century through today.

    • Mike

      I would recommend a video if you have not already seen it called Agenda Grinding America Down

    • Sandra

      You are right and we need to shout COMMUNIST at every opportunity.

  • brianrichardallen

    Astute. Although, given its soullessness, more a zealotry – a fanaticism – than a religion.

  • BLJ

    Liberals suck.

  • JakeTobias

    Reading David Horowitz's "Radical Son", and thinking of his conversion, I recalled a quip from a movie review from years before. It said; how many best friends need to die, before the hero finally takes action? I liked the remark, but it seemed too flippant to apply to real life. Or Betty Van Patter.

    But thinking of recent Egypt, I recall an HBO movie about Anwar Sadat, where it suggests he woke up to the folly of war, because of his brother dying in the Yon Kippur war. What worries me, are radicals who do not seem to care about friends, or family, dying for the horrifying folly of socialism. What's more, I just read on Wikipedia (which does not mention any family), that it was Anwar who ended the suppression of Islam in Egypt. Which of course led to his assassination.

    Blood may be thicker than water, but is Red thicker than blood? In Islam, the answer is yes. What will the answer be in America?

  • clarespark

    I agree that the chapter on Christopher Hitchens is not only penetrating, but moving, but I had differences with the last chapter. I reviewed DH's book here:…. "Materialist History and the Idea of Progress."

    • Richard McCargar

      Although I was aware of him through his writing for a couple of decades, I only came to know Hitch shortly before he became aware he was sick.

      I am an unabashedly pro-capitalist libertarian, and built an international semiconductor design and mfg co., finally growing to 3.5K employees before I sold it.

      There is no doubt in my mind that given another decade, Hitch would have finished his growth from communist to capitalist. He was well on his way by the time of his death. But, we'll never know.

  • Western Spirit

    The Left, I can't bring myself to call them liberals because they are in fact illiberal, clothes itself in the religious ideology of the West, like the big bad wolf the better to appeal, not to little Red Riding Hood, but to their enemies in the free West.

    For instance, paradise lost is a familiar theme in the religion of the West, and quite possibly is a distant memory of our race as well. So the Left dangles Utopia, as the desired goal, a paradise restored by man alone. And the saviors of our race is also man alone.

    In short the Left is promoting a religion that has replaced God with man. And since Man is deeply flawed it is a religion from hell.

    • Mary Sue

      yeah the terms got hijacked and switched around.

    • Questions

      In all fairness, Christian millenialists have their own version of paradise to come following an earth-shattering (literally!) event. Think not? Read the Book of Revelations.

      • Mary Sue

        yeah but that's not technically caused by people nor brought about by them.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        "In all fairness, Christian millenialists have their own version of paradise to come following an earth-shattering (literally!) event. Think not? Read the Book of Revelations."

        Um, you do know that these Christians expect that in the afterlife. They don't expect a dictator to perfect the world himself by killing undesirable classes of people and ruling from a central office.

    • clarespark

      Milton's Paradise Lost is widely misunderstood. It is a poem about the Fortunate Fall, and is empowering to mortals. Communists took the book and undermined it, promising the communist utopia, but trashing the Romantics as hyper-individualists and narcissists. That was not the message of Milton, not at all.

      • Questions

        I was referring to current-day millenialists, not John Milton. Hal Lindsey ("The Late, Great Planet Earth") and Tim LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins (the "Left Behind" novels) especially come to mind.

        • objectivefactsmatter

          You know they're talking about what they expect of God, not man, right?

  • Ghostwriter

    I read this book a little. It was interesting. I'm amazed that many of these people are still alive,even after all they've been through.

  • riverboatbill

    This interesting form of mental degeneration resembles both rabies and Alzheimer's. Like rabies,it is contagious, like Alzheimer's it can take a while to fully develop,although there are early signs. And like both diseases, it can be fatal to the host.

  • twotwins

    Just finished Radicals! All thee years. . . . And no Republicans ever had the nerve to tell us the truth about who has been running my country. I am sick reading the truth. Who are these people? They have no love for America. I can't believe how many years have been lost. . . . so many men afraid to tell us our country was being stolen by Russian loyalists. I wish they would go back.

  • Anthony

    I found this review interesting enough to consider reading the book. In her review, Ms. Fiamengo gives details of Mr. Horowitz’s mighty attempts to get inside the minds of the various characters he discusses, but he is not a psychoanalyst for example.

    I tthink convening a panel of psychiatric experts to do an I depth psychological profile of all the main honchos of he left would be useful. Something that for example the FBI did I think on Hitler, for the first time such a technique was employed on a major figure in the effort to help win WWII.

    Consider that a psychological profile might reveal what we intituitively know, that the adherents of leftism are in possession of certain characteristics, namely they are immature, prone to suggestion, easily manipulated, prone to unprincipled exceptions, at at the top of their organization, their leaders have all shown a tendancy for mass murder and tyranny.

    It is highly possib a profile of Comrade Barack Hussein Obsma exists by the CIA or FBI. I wonder what it would reveal.

  • tuffone3

    "…that human beings can rethink misguided commitments in the light of evidence and reasoned argument." Such a fantasy is no different from the foundations of the radicals he exposes. Apart from the knowledge of the Living God there is only wisdom that is earthly, sensual and devilish. God's wisdom reveals His Holiness and in light of that Holiness we are given eyes to see our sin. Until and unless a man bows to the God of all creation, he simply creates his own god, in his own image and after his own likeness. Such a god cannot save any man because that god is limited in its understanding of evidence and its ability to create a sufficiently reasoned argument to change anyone.

  • Western Spirit

    Thus intelligence is not the answer to anything but devotion to the truth is everything.

  • Western Spirit

    Let there be light and there was light as recorded in the Scriptures. Truth is light, not a purely subjective opinion, but fact. The way the Left distorts facts is neurotic and sick. Light as truth makes the way clear, the factual way we should go, that's why lies are so dangerous to our mental health, our physical well being, and our spiritual.

    During Clinton's time in office the Left made lies acceptable and unimportant, such as white lies for example, yet lies are the evil ones method of operation.

  • weroinnm

    Communist Party Leader: Obama Victory “Dawn of a New Era”!
    “Food For Thought”
    Semper Fi!