Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Generation

To order David Horowitz’s new book, Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion, click here.

David Horowitz has established himself as the radical left’s foremost intellectual nemesis, certainly in part because he used to be one of them and understands their mindset and strategies so intimately. He has attacked progressive ideology in book after book, including Radical Son, Destructive Generation, Left Illusions, The Party of Defeat, The Art of Political War, and Unholy Alliance, to name a few. His new book Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Generation, however, is less of an analysis of their ideology than personal reflections on a handful of people who have embraced that ideology.

The book’s six chapters each profile a different radical figure or figures: enfant terrible Christopher Hitchens, Marxist feminist Bettina Aptheker, black celebrity academic Cornel West, domestic terrorists like Linda Evans and Susan Rosenberg, feminist essayist Susan Lydon, and last but certainly not least, the radical left’s favorite mentor, Saul Alinsky.

The “destructive passion” of the title is the left’s utopian fantasy of human perfection, which “becomes a desire to annihilate whatever stands in the way of [that] beautiful idea.” This “fantasy of a redeemed future has repeatedly led to catastrophic results as progressive radicals pursue their impossible schemes.” And thus Horowitz begins the book reiterating a theme common to all his dissections of the left, and common to the radicals profiled here: “It is an enduring irony of the human condition that the urgency to make the world ‘a better place’ is also the chief source of the suffering that human beings have inflicted on each other from the beginning of time.”

In “The Two Christophers,” Horowitz eloquently examines the life and “unruly contradictions” of the iconoclastic Hitchens, who ultimately had second thoughts about some of his radical positions but never made the same leap out of the progressive faith that Horowitz did. To Horowitz, Hitchens was burdened by a “moral and intellectual incoherence” that overtook an otherwise brilliant mind. The chapter occupies nearly a quarter of the book, which gives some indication of the depth of personal respect and even affection that Horowitz held for the late Hitchens.

Bettina Aptheker, a professor at University of California at Santa Cruz, is an icon of radical feminism and the daughter of a prominent Communist Party intellectual who indoctrinated her into the movement. A Berkeley radical in the ‘60s, in the ‘70s Aptheker worked for the defense of fellow Communist Party member Angela Davis in the latter’s high-profile trial for her involvement in the murder of a judge in a failed attempt to free her imprisoned lover, murderer George Jackson. Aptheker went on to pursue her revolutionary work in the field of feminist studies, and even then, Horowitz notes, she “remained ideologically straight-jacketed, unable to free herself from the terrible legacy of the cause she and her family had served.”

Academic icon Cornel West, “a remarkably shallow intellect” who tirelessly promotes himself as a sort of modern-day Biblical prophet, is Horowitz’s next case history. The chapter on West is titled “Cultural Decline,” reflecting that his rise to cultural eminence is a reflection of general cultural decline, and was made possible only by his personification of progressive clichés:

While his audiences nod agreeably, treating his mumbo-jumbo as a discourse that somehow makes sense, what they really came to hear are the progressive insults to their country and their countrymen, which West serves up at every venue and every turn.

Those progressive insults are predictable accusations of racism, sexism, imperialism, Islamophobia, and homophobia against “a society that has bestowed on him so many undeserved privileges and honors.” For Horowitz, he is “the archetype of an American radicalism that has set out to destroy the American experiment, whose strength can be measured in his unmerited triumphs and ridiculous career.”

In “Pardoned Bombers,” Horowitz describes attending a Santa Monica bookstore presentation on America’s “political prisoners” by former Weather Underground radical Linda Evans. Evans, a self-described fighter against “racism/white supremacy and Zionism,” had been involved in explosives and terrorism as a Weatherman; with 24 years remaining on her prison sentence, she was pardoned by President Clinton and went on to resume her work “to develop clandestine resistance, capable of conducting armed struggle as part of a multi-level overall revolutionary strategy,” as one website approvingly characterizes her.

At the Santa Monica presentation, Evans whitewashed the violent careers of convicted radicals like Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly known as H. Rap Brown before his prison conversion to Islam), pipe bomber Kathy Soliah of the Symbionese Liberation Army, and unrepentant terrorist Susan Rosenberg. Horowitz cuts through their dishonest self-mythologizing and exposes their motivation instead as, not an ideal of social justice, but pure rage.

“Liberated Woman” is about Susan Lydon, one of the founding editors of Rolling Stone magazine whose claim to feminist fame came with the publication of an article for Ramparts magazine, which at the time was edited by Horowitz and his colleague Peter Collier. The piece, entitled (by Collier) “The Politics of the Orgasm,” was uninspired but came to define Lydon so thoroughly that the left’s obituaries upon her death in 2005 glorified her as a feminist icon but “ended up by trivializing her life”:

Through her death, they were paying homage to a political movement whose agendas they shared and which made them feel important… These reactions brought to mind the memorial service for my father twenty years earlier, where political friends who had known him for half a century could not remember any of the details of the life he had actually lived but only the political gestures with which they were all associated, and which imparted significance to their existence.

Modern Machiavelli Saul Alinsky is profiled in the final chapter. The author of the subversive Rules for Radicals, “community organizer” Alinsky conceived the goal of radicals to be the redistribution of power from the “Haves” to the “Have-nots,” and he created a practical and politically nihilistic guide for that progressive pursuit. The culmination of his influence now occupies the White House.

At 200 pages, Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Generation is a short but rich and essential read full of personal reflections upon radicals and their personally and politically destructive obsession.

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  • http://twitter.com/AnneKavkaz @AnneKavkaz

    Good book, I've just finished reading it.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    Wow, I'm sure some liberal will counter this with a book of all the successful communists dictators that led to a growing economies with a healthy middle class and over abundant food supply system.

  • Asher

    Remember the 60s and 70s radicals who were forever promoting violence, well they are promoting their agendas again in hopes that this time they will totally succeed and destroy the peace and prosperity of nations.

    • mlcblog

      I know!! AS one of them (then) I thought it was a lark, something we were doing that no one could possibly take seriously (I had conservative blood in my veins) and now I look around (for the last four years especially) and see that the nuts have taken over. Never in life did I dream that America would go for their bunk!! I thought I was just exercising my free speech, Actually DH is so correct. It is rage that is being expressed more often than not. Senseless rage, made to look acceptable behind a panoply of words and concepts.

  • Western Spirit

    The morals of the American people will determine their future,not the morals of their radicals. Once the morals of a people goes the rest of their blessings will follow.

    yet, people give little importance to moral issues, that are the cornerstone of freedom.

    • Fred Dawes

      Also the people and the cultural /ethnic of a people that make a nation great as it did with the old USA Or makes a nation like Mexico poor and stupid.
      You can see this nation will become just like mexico in the coming years and just look at the jews who Built a great nation and in 10 years that nation will disappear for one reason its called population.
      See people its all about the ideals of people and that people do carry a message for good or evil.

  • Phil

    These radicals were not like those who peacefully supported the end of the Vietnam war and legitimately fought against racism and discrimination. Instead, they were all disturbed people who exulted in attention and wanted to express their rage and destructiveness in the form of a cause. Bombing of the Pentagon, attacking police and supporting murderers was OK in their minds as long as they were admired and taken in by similar rage-filled characters. In essence, they are like today's radical Islamist tgerrorists who exult in the death of innocents and make no claims about justice—a term that they don't understand.

    • newcentrist

      Phil, your comments do not relate to the radicals covered in Horowitz's book. At least those mentioned in the Intro of the text. I have not had a chance to read the entire book. Hitchens, for example, did not advocate any of the things you write. Neither did Cornell West or Saul Alinsky. I am all for strong criticism but the critique needs to be grounded in reality, not ghosts in your mind.

  • Omar

    Why don't those radicals campaign against all bigotry? It is because radical leftists support black supremacy and Islamist jihadism, even though Islamist jihadists are waging war and genocide against black Africans. Once again, and end to racism and bigotry means an end to all racism and bigotry, not just a specific type. It is time for the people of America and the rest of the world to defeat the radical left-wing agenda

  • Questions

    Not everyone belongs in this gallery of rogues. I'll grant you, for example, that H. Rap Brown, or whatever he's calling himself this year, is a lifelong criminal scumbag. But putting the late Christopher Hitchens in there? Absurd. I can't think of a single contemporary public intellectual anywhere in the world who so readily defended freedom of speech on behalf of artists and intellectuals. Like his hero, George Orwell, he may have been a man of the Left, but it was the decent and courageous part. His death from cancer left the world a poorer place.

    • newcentrist

      I greatly enjoy much of Hitchens' writings as well. But it is problematic, to say the least, to be an anti-totalitarian while promoting the victory of totalitarianism in Southeast Asia. It may be the case that he rejected this position later in life, I do not know.

  • Western Spirit

    Christopher's anti God stance undermined the good he did. Because without the Judea-Christian God, of love, he hated, everything we hold dear collapses.

    For without Him we stand exposed with no guarantor for our rights to clothe our nakedness and Judea-Christian values to protect our freedom, goodness and lives, from an evil hostile world.

    Common sense tells us the importance of these values to our continued prosperity. If we had been following them we wouldn't be trillions in debt to China from following Marxism.

    • Questions

      Christopher Hitchens didn't "hate" God. He merely didn't accept the idea of God's existence. There are all sorts of people, by contrast, who are devoutly religious and who inflict terrible misery upon others in the name of their religion. Sadly, not all of them are Muslims.

      • Western Spirit

        It's hard to tell the difference between hate and not accepting the idea of God from Christoper's rants.
        But telling the difference between the "devoutly" religious who cause terrible misery for others in the name of their religion is easy.

        If their religion is Christianity and they don't follow the teachings of Christ which is peace, forgiveness, love other such principles they are fooling themselves with their "devoutness" and are not Christian at all.

  • Fred Dawes

    Radicals are fools, to understand what it is you must understand that person and where he or she is coming from in his or her life. It is a source of right and wrong it is what it is.