Those who know David Horowitz only as a fierce critic of leftist delusions and a champion of democratic freedom may be surprised to discover that he is also the author of three volumes of memoirs laced with philosophical reflections. Yet a book such as A Point in Time, which joins the earlier volumes The End of Time and A Cracking of the Heart, complements beautifully Horowitz’s other work, which focuses more practically on contemporary ideologies and the pernicious policies they create. Politics, after all, is ultimately about ideas — about human nature, the goods states should pursue, and the limits of the possible given the brevity of a human life subjected to unforeseen change and suffering. Thus, conversations about policy must start first with those underlying ideas and ideals.
A Point in Time is one such conversation, subtly interwoven with Horowitz’s reflections on his own memories of loss, sickness, and anticipations of death, and deepened with perceptive explorations of timeless classics of philosophy and fiction, such as Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, that have addressed many of these same issues. The result is a melancholy yet hopeful story of one man’s search for order, meaning, and redemption in a world seemingly devoid of all three.
Central to the book is the recognition that, as creatures who naturally seek order and meaning, humans have been left adrift by the decline of faith and thus prey to modernity’s bloody pseudo-religions that promise a future redemption on earth to be delivered by the new god, “history.” Horowitz’s memories of his father, a faithful member of the American Communist Party, recall how that utopian creed and its failures darkened his family’s life: “Much later it occurred to me that my father’s inattention to primal needs was the other side of his passion for worlds that did not exist… . He never suspected that a fantasy so remote from the life directly in front of him might actually be the source of his isolation and gloom.” Yet the wages of this failure have been much more destructive, because the drive for perfection and redemption in this world, as Dostoevsky understood and brilliantly showed in his novels, ultimately justifies unthinkable horrors: “The passion to create a new world,” Horowitz says while concluding his meditation on Dostoevsky’s Devils, “is really a passion to destroy the old one, transforming the love of humanity into a hatred for the human beings who stand in its way.”
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