A Witness


lpkOriginally published by National Review Online.

I’ll tell you what the “smart” view of David is: He was a radical of the Left who became a radical of the Right. He was an extremist then and is an extremist now, with the same nasty and flamboyant style. Express this view, and almost every liberal and conservative head will nod: “Yup, yup, that’s how it is.” It is nonsense. No one will contradict you if you say it — but you’ll be a fool.

I cherish a comment that Hendrik Hertzberg, the New Yorker writer, once made to Collier & Horowitz. He said, “You were apologists for Communism then and you are apologists for anti-Communism now.” They are not merely apologists for anti-Communism; they are anti-Communists, as all decent people are (though they will not necessarily be published in The New Yorker).

If you want to classify David politically, you can call him a conservative — with a healthy dose of Hayek in him. “My life experience had led me to conclude that not only was changing the world an impossible dream, but the refusal to recognize it as such was the source of innumerable individual tragedies and of epic miseries that human beings had inflicted on each other in my lifetime through the failed utopias of Nazism and Communism.” Seldom will you read a more conservative sentence. And you will read many more like it, in David’s collected writings. He is constantly inveighing against ideologies, party lines, rigidities.

David is known as a hothead and flamethrower. A rhetorical goon. He can be that. He can also be coolly cerebral. And he can be elegiac, lyrical — as in personal memoirs such as the one about his late daughter, A Cracking of the Heart. He has many moods, many styles. And make no mistake: He can do style.

Christopher Hitchens was supposed to be the most stylish writer and polemicist of his time. But consider an exchange between him and David on the radio. David said something rude — i.e., something true — about Castro. And Hitchens, with his practiced sneer, said, “How dare you? How dare you?” David replied, “Christopher, aren’t we getting a little old for how-dare-yous?” The more stylish person in that exchange was not Hitchens (who, like Paul Berman, would do some political sobering up).

The question of David’s reputation, or standing, is interesting: He has legions of fans, and legions of detractors, some of whom occupy high places. The Left won’t deal with him, of course. He has their number, he has kept book on them — and they resent it. Writes David, “An ideological omertà is the Left’s response to its vindicated critics, especially those who emerged from its own ranks.” I’m reminded of something a liberal intellectual and policymaker once said to Abigail Thernstrom (who migrated from left to right). He said, “I don’t like debating you, Abby, because you always know what I’m thinking, and you know what I’m going to say before I say it.”

And the conservatives? Have they welcomed David with open arms, gratitude, and delight? Not really. They have often been snippy and scornful about David. Grudging about him. How to explain it? I’m sure I can’t, satisfactorily, but I will have a go:

David, they say, can be harsh, obnoxious, and generally impossible. I have no doubt he can. He can also be a peach. Furthermore, David is an activist — not just an intellectual, but an activist. And some conservatives are uncomfortable with activism. They would rather observe, opine, and sigh. David wants to take up cudgels and win. He says to lazy or defeatist conservatives, “Wake up! Fight back! The Left is eating your lunch, but it need not be so!” David is fearless in an environment marked by some fearfulness. He is an upsetter of the apple cart, and the upsetting of the apple cart is not very conservative. When David goes into a university and makes a fuss about the curriculum, some conservatives are embarrassed. They say, “Stop making a fuss. It may cause them to dislike us even more. Plus, aren’t we born to be an oppressed minority?” Some conservatives are content with dhimmitude. And, frankly, there are conservatives who have the sneaking hope that they will be approved by the New York Times et al. “Look, I may be on the right, but I’m not an extremist and nuisance like Horowitz, you know. You can bring me home to dinner.”

Willmoore Kendall once made a wicked remark about Cleanth Brooks, his colleague at Yale: “Cleanth is always the second-most-conservative person in the room.”

In a way, David is a man without a home — an independent, a republic unto himself. Speaking at his alma mater in 2009, he said, “Fifty years ago, my radical views caused me to feel like an outsider at Columbia. Returning as a conservative, I find myself an outsider still — and again it is because of my political views.”

As I was reading My Life and Times, I kept writing in the margins, “True, true!” And as I read about David’s thoughts and experiences, I couldn’t help thinking of my own. Other readers will find the same, I’m sure. I kept thinking, “Yes, that’s what I saw, that’s what I heard, that’s what I felt.” Take the matter of human rights: The people around me constantly yelled about Pinochet’s Chile, Marcos’s Philippines, and, above all, apartheid South Africa. And yell they should have. But what about the people behind the Iron Curtain? And in China, North Korea, and Vietnam? And in Cuba? If you prick or torture them, do they not bleed? Aren’t human rights for them, too?

Obviously, no one can agree with David on every point in the hundreds of pages of Volume 1, or in the thousands of pages of the volumes to come. That would be absurd. In all likelihood, David doesn’t agree with David on every point. (Do you agree with everything you’ve said for the past 25 or 30 years?) But I always want to know what David has to say. Early in that Columbia speech, he praised a professor, saying, “He was there . . . to teach us how to think and not to tell us what to think — therefore to respect the divergent opinions of others. I am afraid this is a vanishing ethos in our culture and a dying pedagogical art in our university classrooms today.” Oh, yes. Like everyone else, David will sometimes tell you what to think. But he is more interested in suggesting how you should think.

Once he was asked, “Do you ever feel that you are wasting your breath? Do you think that truth will ever matter? No matter what you prove or disprove, in the end the truth will remain in the shadows of what people want to hear and want to believe.” David answered, “I agree more than I care to with this observation.” For my part, I can say that David has not wasted his breath. He learned important things in the first stages of his life, and has learned important things since. He has wanted to impart what he knows, and he has many beneficiaries. Everyone? Of course not. Enough beneficiaries, though — more than most ever have.

What has driven him, I think, is what drove Whittaker Chambers and lots of others who left Communism and dedicated themselves to anti-Communism: a desire to tell the truth, and to have other people know the truth. A desire to be free of lies, and to counter them. “Live not by lies!” Solzhenitsyn implored, during the long years of the Soviet Union. Lies want to govern everything, and do, if you let them. David was sick of lies: about the Soviet Union, about the Panthers, about Vietnam, about everything. And he burns to know and tell the truth, insofar as that is possible.

This quality — a respect for the truth, an aversion to lies — has always existed in him, even if it has been suppressed or superseded at times. Age 14, he was walking across the Triborough Bridge to attend a rally for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the atomic spies for the Soviet Union. A political mentor was explaining to him that lying was justified, for revolutionary purposes. David knew this was wrong — felt in his stomach that it was. “The renegade Horowitz,” even then!

“Great is truth,” they say, “and will prevail.” It will, yes — but even if it didn’t, it would still be great.

*

Don’t miss David Horowitz discussing The Black Book of the American Left in The Glazov Gang’s two-part video series below:

Part I:

Part II:

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  • truebearing

    “David is known as a hothead and flamethrower.” Outstanding! Then I am in great company.

    Excellent piece, Jay. You have humanized Mr. Horowitz in a way I haven’t seen before, and in doing, have deftly refuted the attempts by his detractors to pigeon hole him as a political extremist. His extremism is a manifestation of his quest for truth, not finding the magic, handy-dandy, one-size-fits-all ideology. Those still locked in ideological manacles are projecting their own dogmatism, and lack of clarity, when they accuse Mr. Horowitz of being a political extremist. Ideologues will always see others as they are.
    David Horowitz is better classified as a consequentialist — If one understands consequences, one understands the truth. He isn’t pushing his particular brand of conservatism, he is pushing people to see without ideological blinders. He is a political prophet, warning us of impending consequences. All conservatives should emulate David Horowitz, and some will… but no leftists will, and remain leftists.

  • Judahlevi

    David is one of many on the right who fight the good fight every day. He had a epihany when his friend was murdered in San Francisco, but there were good conservative patriots who lost their lives in Vietnam while David joined in protesting against them.

    I am happy that David has turned into a warrior of the right, but even his opinions here are not always on the mark. I don’t believe conservatives are too “lazy” to fight or are “content with dhimmitude” and it is a bit insulting and simplistic to say that this is why conservatives have a hard time with him. I have disagreed with him several times on this site because he was wrong about certain issues.

    I wish him all the best, but I have always believed he was human.

    • truebearing

      You don’t believe that their are conservatives who are lazy and defeatist? Have you listened to conservative pundits spend more time criticizing our candidates then those of the Left? Have seen conservatives consistently attending Tea Party rallies in truly impressive numbers? Have you watched the Republican Party for the last 20 years?

      I have attended Tea Party rallies where there were 10,000 of us…but 60,000 leftists surrounding us. I live in a state where there were enough conservatives to elect Scott Walker, twice, yet they don’t go to rallies where they can be seen and heard in a way that scares the Left and sways the “me-too” voter. Call it laziness or call it cowardice, or both, but Horowitz is right, whether it hurts feelings or not.

  • mo up in the northeast

    David is one of the few who will explain the word, “islamocommunist”. When Ariel Sharon died, some jerk named PTH on Breitbart said “good”. I replied, because I have learned so much from Mr Horowitz, and I received, I think 50 up votes- so what I said, resonated. Thanks David, and here’s my reply to PTH:

    “Will you, Pth, shed a tear when some beheader in Syria
    meets his demise? For I will not. It’s easy to see what Israel does NOT
    do: It does not stab infants, and then celebrate with candy, as the
    Palestinians do. And I think what’s telling in the above article is the
    Russian-made arms used against Israel.
    Was not Arafat in bed with the KGB? The appropriate term to use is
    Islamocommunists. The far left in the US is closely aligned with the
    socialism that is intrinsic with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. There
    IS no Hezbollah Chamber of Commerce. There IS no Hamas businessmens’
    association. What these leftist Muslims want is “reparations”. The
    dopes at Occupy Wall Street, crudely waving 6 pointed stars are
    “educated” in useless leftist universities, to hate
    Capitalism whether it serves the US, or Israel. Obama can easily support
    Islamocommunists, for that fits into his plan of the obliteration of upward
    mobility through the private sector. Do not lose sight that freedom comes from
    self actualization, which comes from entrepreneurship, which comes from
    capitalism. Theocratic socialist dictatorships run contrary to that, and always
    will.”

  • Texas Patriot

    As the title to the article suggests, the greatest contribution David Horowitz has made to political thought in America is his role as an eyewitness to the inner workings of Marxist/Leninist/Bolshevik/Leftist/Communist political operatives in America over the course of his lifetime, now approaching 75 years. It’s a stunning accomplishment, and future historians as well as present historians are deeply indebted to him. At this point, I’m sure the Left hates him with a passion, and for that reason alone we should all love him, even if he hasn’t left all of his Leftist tendencies and ideas behind.

    From my perspective, if Horowitz wants to be thought of as an Authentic American Conservative which above all is about individual freedom, economic prosperity, and universal human rights, I think he needs to reach out and apologize to Diana West for the unprovoked and unprofessional trashing of her book “American Betrayal”. Although I think he has effectively distanced himself from Ron Radosh who was apparently the prime mover behind the attack, I have yet to hear that Horowitz has actually apologized to Diana West. I’m not holding my breath, but it’s something he ought to do.

    It’s one thing to leave the liberal camp. It’s another to really join the conservative camp. Horowitz has definitely left the liberals behind and now constitutes one of their most determined foes. Maybe someday he will actually become a conservative in the tradition of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson. I hope so.

    • monostor

      I think about DH very much the same way. I commented on the day when his book was published and I was booed out of paradise… You are absolutely right, the road to conservatism is a bumpy one and detours of the kind that the attack on DW was, are not welcomed for they shouldn’t happen not even in their – the reformed leftists – dreams.

    • truebearing

      So, the requirements of being an “Authentic American Conservative” include apologizing to Diana West for disagreeing with her, eh? I thought conservatism was about free speech and not censorship of one’s opinion, or tone. I guess authentic conservatives should all submit their thoughts to you and Ms. West before making them public.

      Once again, you pretend to compliment Horowitz, but essentially call him a bully and strongly imply he lacks integrity. I’m not surprised. You are nothing if not a rigid ideologue and Horowitz is opposed to thinking with one’s ideology instead of their brain.

      • Texas Patriot

        TB: “‘David is known as a hothead and flamethrower.’ Outstanding! Then I am in great company.”

        Every time you open your mouth you further cement the case that you have no idea what it means to be authentically conservative whether in thought, word, or deed.

        • truebearing

          As I have stated unequivocally before: I don’t want your idiotic stamp of conformity. You don’t understand conservatism in the least. You are a dogmatic, self-righteous, dogmatist who suffers from double-barrel idelogical delusion.

          • Texas Patriot

            You’ve been listening to Rush Limbaugh way too much. At this point, I think you may be even worse than he is. But it doesn’t matter. Pseudo-conservatives have had their day and everybody sees them for what they are. Thanks for playing.

          • truebearing

            I hate to disturb your delusions, but you aren’t the arbiter of who is legitimately conservative. Also, you need some memory supplements. I have told you three times now that I don’t listen to Limbaugh, unless I catch something he said on Fox. He’s a smart guy though, so thanks for the compliment.

          • Texas Patriot

            He’s an idiot and a buffoon with a multi-million dollar clown act that he’s been peddling to gullible troglodytes for the past 30 years, and if you think he’s smart politically, you’re in more trouble than I thought.

          • shannon oakley

            Your on the mark there

          • truebearing

            You couldn’t spot the mark if it was painted on your nose and you were surrounded by mirrors.

          • Texas Patriot

            TB: “You couldn’t spot the mark if it was painted on your nose and you were surrounded by mirrors.”

            My hunch is that you may well have a significant level of expertise in the area of looking in mirrors and seeing painted noses. Thanks for sharing.

          • shannon oakley

            Rather hostile reply TB. We’ve not even met via comment forums, yet you make an unkind remark with nothing to go by. Please, be patient, you may soon have reason to make such an accusation with what you consider proof.

          • truebearing

            Yeah, Limbaugh is an “idiot and a buffoon” but you know everything. You, who once made the brilliant claim that Barry Goldwater and Albert Camus were somehow compatible. Of course, you’ve never read Camus, or at least nothing that you understood.

            You always attack Limbaugh but can’t intelligently articulate what it is that you dislike about him. I suspect that is in part because you want to keep your own radical political beliefs hidden, probably because you have been beaten too many times trying to ham-handedly defend them, and partly because you aren’t up to the intellectual task of taking Limbaugh down.

            The same goes for your formulaic, idiotic attacks on Horowitz. The closest you get to a polemic is innuendo, self-righteous posturing, and blathering about your conspicuously undefined “Authentic All-America Conservative” which is nothing more than your incoherent, contradictory definition of conservatism.

            You claim to be a Christian, but won’t forgive Horowitz for criticizing your idol, Diana West. You refuse to acknowledge the innate honesty and integrity in the examination of conscience that led to his rejection of Marxism. You deny his redemption and falsely judge him, with no factual or moral justification, just your delusional and ill-considered opinion. You are a self-righteous fool and live in a delusion of moral superiority.
            The repetitive use of the various forms of the word “delusion” was in the hope that you will do some of your own self-examination and recognize that you are a rigid ideologue,and that isn’t a good thing.

          • Texas Patriot

            TB: “You, who once made the brilliant claim that Barry Goldwater and Albert Camus were somehow compatible. Of course, you’ve never read Camus, or at least nothing that you understood.”

            I’ve read Camus and I’ve read Goldwater, and I find in both an incredibly strong dislike of the inhuman nihilistic spirit of the Twentieth Century.

          • Texas Patriot

            TB: “You always attack Limbaugh but can’t intelligently articulate what it is that you dislike about him.”

            What I don’t like about him is that he’s an attack dog who’s in politics to entertain and make a buck, but could care less about finding real solutions to the severe problems facing the American people.

          • Texas Patriot

            TB: “The same goes for your formulaic, idiotic attacks on Horowitz. The closest you get to a polemic is innuendo, self-righteous posturing, and blathering about your conspicuously undefined “Authentic All-America Conservative” which is nothing more than your incoherent, contradictory definition of conservatism. You claim to be a Christian, but won’t forgive Horowitz for criticizing your idol, Diana West.”

            It is obvious that David Horowitz was sucked into a disingenuous and ungentlemanly attack on Diana West by Ron Radosh, and he should apologize. Horowitz didn’t sin against me, so I have nothing to forgive him for. If he is any sort of gentleman, he will apologize. Personally, I like David Horowitz, and I sincerely appreciate his work in exposing the Communist Left in America. But I am not the only one who thinks he falls short of becoming an authentic American conservative. He probably doesn’t even think of himself in that way.

          • Texas Patriot

            TB: You deny his redemption and falsely judge him, with no factual or moral justification, just your delusional and ill-considered opinion.

            “I am not aware that David Horowitz claims to be “redeemed” in any sense of the word. He saw the light and departed the Leftist ideologues of his youth, and now represents one of their most knowledgeable opponents. I commend him for that, and I applaud him for that.”

          • Texas Patriot

            TB: “You are a self-righteous fool and live in a delusion of moral superiority. The repetitive use of the various forms of the word “delusion” was in the hope that you will do some of your own self-examination and recognize that you are a rigid ideologue,and that isn’t a good thing.”

            There is nothing delusional about the moral doctrines of truth and love as found in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and from my point of view, they form the very essence of what it means to be an Authentic American Conservative.

            David Horowitz talks a lot about truth, but he doesn’t talk very much about love. And neither do you. Which is why I am more than happy to direct to look in the mirror and try to take the plank out of your own eye. Then maybe you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter in my eye. Thus far, you’ve completely missed the mark.

          • shannon oakley

            Never would I have correlated Camus and Goldwater. Camus having abandoned Communism when witnessing the brutality of Stalinism — thus the break between him and Sartre. I do see as you claim, the shared abhorrence both men had for the nihilism prevalent in the 20th century

    • laura r

      a great american, & educator.

    • shannon oakley

      Thomas Jefferson a conservative? Hah! Did they teach you that in a Texas school? Same school-system where some Texas politicians want to have Creationism taught as fact?

      • Texas Patriot

        The greatest conservative of all time was Jesus Christ. Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson worked out some nice modern corollaries, but there has really been nothing new about conservatism since Jesus rose from the dead.

        • shannon oakley

          Jefferson was a Deist. His cut-up of the Bible, leaving only the good teachings Jesus offered is available to read. Jesus was a man for the poor, quite the opposite of what is offered in today’s version of conservatism. And with Ted Cruz’s daddy preaching that his son is the “anointed” one, should daddy Cruz be condemned as a heretic?

          • Texas Patriot

            If you want to understand modern day conservatism at its finest, read Barry Goldwater’s book “The Conscience of a Conservative”. Most of what passes for conservatism today is off the mark and counterproductive to authentic Conservative values.

          • shannon oakley

            Yes, it is a good book. I have it in my library. I read it last, about 15-years ago. Thanks for recalling it for me. It is perhaps time to reread it.

  • Fred Campbell

    As a Christian and a conservative, I welcome David as a Comrade in Arms.
    May God grant him a long and productive life.

  • http://www.abay.vn/Ve-quoc-te/ve-may-bay-di-tay-ban-nha Nhóm Đào Tạo

    His extremism is a manifestation of his quest for truth, not finding the magic, handy-dandy, one-size-fits-all ideology.

    ve may bay gia re di italia
    ve may bay gia re di Thuy Si
    gia ve may bay di Paris

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ Jason P

    Nordlinger gives us a honest tribute, not without noting David’s rough edges. But David’s right–conservatives need a kick in the a** to get them to fight. Surrender is not an option.

    I think of my youthful flirtation with leftism in high school. I would have loved to be able to access the information found in “Discover the Networks.” I’m 100% certain that there are silent readers who are finding this venue, coming out of their left-wing coma, and developing into tomorrow’s leaders.

  • Bob Almighty

    An awesome man and very gifted writer. He never forgets the humanity of everyone he writes about.

  • shannon oakley

    Hitchens could have Horowitz as an appetizer after a bottle of scotch. Horowitz is small ball to Hitchens’ major-league pitching.

    • truebearing

      Hitchens was very bright and a great writer, if a bit ostentatious. If he was truly a great thinker, however, he would have rejected Marxism, in its entirety, much sooner, but at least he finally did.

      You are mistaking style over substance. Hitchens abandoned Marxism and somewhat embraced neo-conservatism before he died. He was quite conflicted on a lot of things, but always very eloquently. It seems to me that Horowitz is more thoroughly grounded in his thinking.

      • shannon oakley

        Trotskyist to be precise, Hitchens was a Trotskyist. Never was he a neo-con, he only supported the invasion of Iraq, He did so because of his hatred of fundamental Islam, and of the tyrant Saddam. He advocated preemptive strikes against theocratic nations he saw as threatening secular freedom. I will concede to your point of me perhaps mistaking style over substance.

        • Texas Patriot

          Horowitz and Hitchens are similar in many ways, but I think it is fair to say that neither made the complete transition to conservatism which at the end of the day is not about attacking Communists or Democrats, but rather nourishing and supporting the great American economic miracle. Unfortunately, there are very few recent examples of that in recent history by politicians on either side of the aisle. Instead what we have seen is an almost wholesale “rush to the exits” by American industry and the unprecedented shift to deficit-spending in order to finance the huge cash needs of the American economy.

          The closest thing to an authentic American conservatism since Barry Goldwater was the team of Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman but they clearly failed to stem the tide of deindustrialization and deficit-financing, and the dual tragedy of that catastrophic philosophy was worse during the last ten years than at anytime in American history. What did Hitchens have to say about it? Virtually nothing. What about Horowitz? The same.

          It’s a dismal tale, and the chickens will soon be coming home to roost unless we are prepared to make radical changes to re-industrialize America and attract new industry and new high-paying jobs. Unfortunately, no politician on either side of the aisle is talking about that.

          • shannon oakley

            This is probably the most articulate comment I have ever read in a political forum. Though I disagree with you, on how this country can once again rise to the top, your views have given me reason to review my own — thus I will not at this time, give my take on how we can reattain our position as the world leader, economically.

          • Texas Patriot

            Thanks. I hope to see your comments on the matter in due course.

          • shannon oakley

            I will check it out. Just bookmarked it.

          • Texas Patriot

            So, what do you think?

  • http://www.abay.vn/Ve-quoc-te/ve-may-bay-di-tay-ban-nha Nhóm Đào Tạo

    ot finding the magic, handy-dandy, one-size-fits-all ideology. Those
    still locked in ideological manacles are projecting their own dogmatism,
    and lack of clarity, when they accuse Mr

    ve may bay
    ve may bay gia re
    Gia ve may bay

  • laura r

    wrong. american interests first.

  • truebearing

    Hogwash. I suspect that you are an anti-semite projecting your bigotry onto Horowitz.

    Why shouldn’t Jewish people have “Jewish interests?” They are Jewish, duh.