Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion

David Horowitz talks about his new book with Patrick O’Heffernan

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

Below is an edited transcript of David Horowitz’s appearance on Fairness Radio with Patrick O'Heffernan on BlogTalkRadio on January 24, 2013, Thursday, 11 AM:

Patrick O'Heffernan:  I'm Patrick O'Heffernan, your host on Fairness Radio with Patrick O'Heffernan, and again, I want to welcome our radio listeners on 1490 WWPR in Tampa Bay and KSKQ-FM in Ashland, Oregon, and I want to remind everybody that they can be part of the program -- 424-675-6806, or you can e-mail us at [email protected].

Well, we often have conservative thinkers and writers on this program, and sometimes I just sort of grit my teeth and bear the books in the conversations as respectfully as I can, and sometimes I actually agree with some of their points.  But I think often that my time could be spent better on issues that need attention.

However, I recently sat down with David Horowitz's new book, Radicals: Portraits of Destructive Passions, and I was mesmerized.  This book chronicles the lives of a handful of people who founded the New Left, mostly in the San Francisco area.  David was one of those people.

As editor of Ramparts magazine, he was one of, if not the, most respected and influential thinker and writer on the New Left.  David is now one of the most respected and influential writers of the conservative movement, and the time it took me to read this book was not only well spent, but it was a delight, beautifully written stories of people and times of the New Left and some in the present.  I put this book down with a new understanding of why David Horowitz is called "the most brilliant political mind in America today and also a national treasure," and he's with us today.

David, welcome back to Fairness Radio.

David Horowitz: Thank you for that introduction.  I was thinking as you were giving it that if there were more progressives like you, my life would've been different.

Patrick O'Heffernan:  But maybe not better.  Who knows?

David, from its title, I expected kind of a harsh critique of some of the Left's intellectual leaders, but instead, this is almost a memoir, a book filled with sadness and joy and even sometimes love as it critiques people and thinking.  Was your experience in writing this a memoir experience in any way?

David Horowitz: I've written several books like this.  One was my autobiography, Radical Son. There are some pages in that book which are somewhat polemical, but most of the book is an effort to understand the characters (including myself!). It is written from what I would call a novelist's perspective.  A novelist has to have sympathy for his characters even when the characters are on the wrong side of whatever it is they are on the wrong side of.

I used this voice and perspective also in The End of Time and A Point in Time. I wish I had been able to do more of this and wasn't as engaged as I have been in political fire fights. A lot of people on the left have a greatly distorted image of me from those engagements.  Political battles leave a lot of blood on the floor, and a lot of scar tissue behind.

Patrick O'Heffernan:  Well, from reading the book, I could see that there was, but you've done a masterful job.  And I know that not all of the people have faded from the political scene -- Cornel West, for instance -- but many have, and before we talk about the individuals you write about, do you think that the New Left has passed from the scene, that there's a new generation of leaders now who have no connection to the '60s?

David Horowitz:  No, I actually don't.  The left is a religious movement, seeking to change the world. Its mission is one of redemption, and its solaces are those of a church. Consequently, the Left is very conscious of its history and its traditions, and it really hasn't turned its back on its past.  It hasn't even turned its back on its Communist forebears.  Of course, it will condemn Stalin now and so forth, but even Khruschev did that. In Oliver Stone travesty on Showtime, there's an attempt to resurrect Lenin as a put-upon and beleaguered progressive. There's great continuity in the left. In fact, that's one of the reasons that I left the left, because there was no willingness to break with a bad past.

Patrick O'Heffernan:  Interesting.  I guess we know different people. But I want to get back to the book.

The story of Susan Gordon Lydon is particularly poignant.  Now, you should know, I met Susan and Michael, but it was a surface meeting.  We spent an afternoon with a group of other people at my home in Marin.  Could you tell us about Susan and tell us, also, what the arc of her life symbolized to you and why you included it in this book?

David Horowitz: Susan was a very bright woman. She went to Vassar, and got involved in the drug culture. She was a writer who did music reviews, but she married Michael Lydon, and Michael just had a bigger reputation and she had he was writing for Newsweek and other major publications. They both wrote for Ramparts.  And Bob Scheer, who was the editor then, kind of pushed Susan into the background.  Anyway, she wrote an article which Peter Collier, who is now a conservative like me assigned to her and gave its title:  “The Female Orgasm.” And, of course, in the '60s context, “The Female Orgasm” became a political statement.  Such were the times.

Patrick O'Heffernan:  It still is (inaudible - multiple speakers).

David Horowitz:  It became a very famous article.  The chapter in my book starts off with the obituaries for Susan, who eventually died of the consequences of her drug abuse.  From the obituaries you might conclude she was world famous.  Even her fame was based on one small article, which wasn't an original article, and was put in the back of the book by the Ramparts editors at the time. It was a testament to its political correctness and hyped up political significance, rather than anything of merit in the article itself.

Susan went through a horrible drug period.  She was a heroin addict with all the personal debasement and degradation that that entails. Then she managed to come out of it, and had a second career as a knitter.  She wrote philosophical and practical books on knitting with Buddhist overtones.  She was a follower of Oscar Ichazo, a famous guru of the time.

My view of her story is that she was derailed by the political – by “the personal is political” idea of the time, the notion that your personal life should be governed by political precepts. In accordance with those precepts she liberated herself from her marriage to Michael. I say it was political because she was a member of a feminist group in Berkeley, where all the women did this and ended up destroying their marriages. I'm not saying that feminism is the only cause of a broken marriage, but in this case, it was pertinent.

I saw her as a victim of the political universe she inhabited and her life as a struggle to recover who she was, her authentic self, as opposed to the one that conformed to the political correctness of the hour.

Patrick O'Heffernan:  Do you see the arc of her life as having any parallels in the arc of the New Left?

David Horowitz:  Well, I think there were a lot of people who suffered similar fates. The chapter in my book on Bettina Aptheker shows how extreme such an intermingling – destructive intermingling of the personal and political can be. This is a woman who has no solid knowledge of herself really but preens as a political guru and thinks that she has found the key that unifies the political and the personal.

She wrote a memoir which was the basis for my chapter. It is one of the contributions that feminism has made to leftist autobiography to actually put in the details of a human life. Usually, if you read Communist autobiographies or really any leftist autobiographies, they skip over the personal, and really never try to assess the relationship between the two realms in their lives. There is no introspection. Oddly, Christopher Hitchens, intelligent as he was, falls victim to this myopia.

Patrick O'Heffernan:  Yes, I was going to ask you to talk about that.

David Horowitz:  -- Christopher managed to write a 400 page memoir without mentioning the mother of his first two children. His second wife, Carol, is never properly introduced and barely referenced. Christopher never looks inside himself.

Patrick O'Heffernan:  David, since you brought up Christopher, I was going to ask you about the Christopher Hitchens -- the Christopher Hitchens chapter is one of the, I think, the softest chapters that you wrote, although it has deep critique in it.  Why did you start the book with Christopher Hitchens?

David Horowitz:  It's called “The Two Christophers.” As everybody listening to this show would know Christopher had some second thoughts about his Leftism.  He was an articulate and courageous supporter of the war against Saddam Hussein and his monster regime, which made him quite a few enemies on the Left. But Christopher remained a leftist to the end.

In my autobiography, Radical Son, I set myself the task of answering the question how could someone like me, someone who had been as committed to the left as I had, become a conservative? And there was Christopher, who had made some changes, but not all. So for me, looking at his life was a way of examining the whole idea of second thoughts. It was a way of looking at what being a member of the leftist church do to you intellectually and politically. And I think in Christopher’s case it led to intellectual and moral incoherence.

Patrick O'Heffernan:  David, we have to take a quick break, and when we come back, I have sort of a basic philosophical question for you, but don't go away.  Stayed tuned.  You're listening to Fairness Radio with Patrick O'Heffernan, and we'll be right back with more of David Horowitz.

Patrick O'Heffernan:  And we're back.  This is Patrick O'Heffernan on Fairness Radio with Patrick O'Heffernan.  We're talking with David Horowitz.  We're talking about his new book, wonderful new book, called Radicals:  Portraits of a Destructive Passion, and it's available everywhere.  You can get it online and in bookstores.  Go to Amazon.com.  That's called Radicals:  Portraits of a Destructive Passion. 

David, we only have about four minutes left, and I wanted to ask you about a statement that's in your chapter six on “A Radical Machiavelli”:

"Conservative outlooks spring from observations about the past, and as a rule, therefore, are pragmatic.  Whatever first principles comprise such beliefs, they are or should be propositions that encapsulate the lessons of experience.  By contrast, progressive views are built on expectations about the future.  Progressive principles are based on ideas about a world that does not exist.  For Progressives, the future is not a maze of human uncertainties and unintended consequences but a moral choice."  And you've written elsewhere that Progressives are constantly trying to change or improve upon a world that doesn't exist.

I think, in general, you're right.  I agree with that, but I draw some different conclusions from it.  I'd point out that it's absolutely true that progressives are constantly trying to change America.  We're trying to make it better, but I think we're following our Founding Fathers, who set up this enterprise to form a more perfect union, and I agree with you that there are first principles that do need to be determined but also that drawing your experience from the past can also mean that you embed past mistakes and that if you're not progressive, you don't try to change them.

And I think that America is successful because we blend Conservatives and first principles and the progressive movement to constantly improve and form a more perfect union.  We shouldn't criticize either one; we should try to bring them together.

David Horowitz:  Well, this is a conversation I sure wish I'd been able to have over the years.  It's the right conversation, and it's too bad we have like whatever it is, three minutes, to do it. I would disagree with you about the Founders. The Founders were very conservative, and that's why they created a system of government to frustrate the desires of people to change everything in a big way and in a hurry.  That's why we have a system of checks and balances.  That's why senators once were appointed. To insulate them from the popular will. Everything that the left hates about the Constitution was designed specifically by the framers to keep the left in check.

In the opening of the book I observe that the utopian aspiration to change the world is the chief source of the misery that human beings inflict on each other.  Certainly in the last 100 years, the horrific movements, genocidal movements of Nazism and Communism, were spearheaded by political missionaries, socialists attempting to defy everything that we know about human nature to make a “better world.” That's why they killed so many people – to remake the world as it should be, ignoring what it is.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.