David Horowitz is a controversial fellow. Born into a communist family in New York and involved early with the Black Panthers, he remained on the left until repulsed by the murder of a woman friend, a killing for which he held the Panthers responsible. His transition is described in his book Radical Son (1997). Now Horowitz is routinely demonized as an Islamophobe, a right-wing extremist or even, according to right-identified but New-York-Times-compliant commentator Bret Stephens, “something of a Stalinist.” So, Stalinist or fascist, either way David Horowitz has had a hard time being taken seriously; defectors are never treated well.
Horowitz is both clear and provocative. He sometimes seems to attack unfairly. He has been accused of cherry-picking his targets. But clarity may be his main problem. I noticed years ago that many academics are offended as much by the kind of prose to which they are exposed as by the position it takes. Ad hominem argument is widely accepted but clarity itself often offends. Consequently, even perfectly reasonable proposals from Horowitz elicit knee-jerk opposition—even from groups one might expect to agree with him.
A striking example is the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) that Horowitz proposed in 2004 “in response to a growing concern that modern university curricula have become overly political and ideological.” John Ellis reviewed the ABOR in a penetrating 2011 Academic Questions article, pointing out how Horowitz had successfully exposed the utter hypocrisy of institutions, such as the AAUP, that profess to protect academic freedom and free inquiry while actually doing the opposite:
What Horowitz’s ABOR campaign has done is to force the other side to declare itself. It says, in effect: very well, if the problem is really as insignificant as you say it is, you should have no trouble in subscribing to some very simple, innocuous language that says that hiring and grading should be free of political discrimination, and courses should carefully analyze complex issues rather than simplify them through omitting everything that might impede proselytizing for one side.
Not only did the AAUP and allied organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union not accept the “innocuous language” of the ABOR, they viciously attacked it and its author. Horowitz has continued to publish provocative books and is still stigmatized by academic organizations. But the ABOR and the response it elicited should not be forgotten. The comments that follow are a footnote to Ellis’s analysis and a reminder of the problems the academy still faces.
The text of the ABOR “is based on a famous document called the “Declaration of the Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure,”/2/ published in 1915 by the American Association of University Professors. Here is a key sample from the 1915 declaration:
The university teacher, in giving instructions upon controversial matters, while he is under no obligation to hide his own opinion… should…set forth justly, without suppression or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators; he should cause his students to become familiar with the best published expressions of the great historic types of doctrine upon the questions at issue; and he should, above all, remember that his business is not to provide his students with ready-made conclusions, but to train them to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.
“These principles have long since been incorporated into the academic policies of most American research universities” wrote Horowitz. What’s not to like?
The AAUP was not flattered: “Not only is the Academic Bill of Rights redundant, but, ironically, it also infringes academic freedom in the very act of purporting to protect it,” was their curious claim. The AAUP’s beef was the ABOR requirement that universities should try to establish “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives.” They have a (small) point. No university should require faculty to support a position that is known to be wrong—flat-earth physics or astrology, for example (not that the ABOR did). But these views should certainly be open for discussion, compared to others, and if necessary shown to be wrong and the reasons given. But what are you to do when plainly many disciplines now do precisely the opposite: suppress discussion of unpopular positions that nevertheless make legitimate arguments? Current topics where dissent is risky range from climate change to sex and gender, individual and group behavioral and cultural differences and even archaeology. If these issues cannot be openly discussed in the academy, then where?
The AAUP criticism makes the point that a university should not control the relative number of Republicans and Democrats on its faculty. But the reason Horowitz made a count was simply to suggest an unusual level of political unanimity among faculty, an asymmetry which has only grown since 2004. It is hard to dispute that this disproportion makes it easy to downplay, and eventually exclude altogether, ideas perceived as contrary to a progressive consensus.
Classical-liberal and pro-capitalist points of view are most at risk. I remember some years ago discussing these issues with a distinguished and widely-read (I thought) postmodernist scholar only to find that she had never heard of Friedrich Hayek. She was, however, well acquainted with Gramsci, Derrida and Marx. Inevitably her students were denied exposure to legitimate contrary views.
One response to the ABOR, in the ironically named AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, (2014, vol. 5), was from a professor of rhetoric: Adria Battaglia: “Opportunities of Our Own Making: The Struggle for ‘Academic Freedom,’” a lengthy diatribe attacking Horowitz. She purports to demonstrate “how the link between ‘academic freedom’ and ‘free speech’ becomes a rhetorical strategy by which we can gain political and economic legitimacy”. The word “legitimacy” gives her away. In the academy all views should be open for discussion, from Marxism to libertarianism. It is not the business of a scholar to delegitimize any but direct attacks on academic values: the issue is not legitimacy but truth. Without a belief in truth real science is impossible. Yet many subdisciplines in sociology, for example, attack the idea of truth itself: “the devil of objectivity”, advocating “multiple truths”, “personal truths,” “white logic” etc. These attacks go uncensored. Yet in scholarship and science—wissenschaft—an attack on truth is illegitimate and should be proscribed.
Battaglia freely attributes sinister motives to her target: “[activists] historically have sought ways to divide, delegitimize, or dissuade political participation that questions institutional legitimacy. David Horowitz is just such a political strategist….Horowitz [is mobilizing] a political campaign in a cultural war….Horowitz adopts the camouflage of “freedom” in order to make headway among academic administrators and legislators…” Ad hominem ad nauseam.
Now the AAUP argues that:
A fundamental premise of academic freedom is that decisions concerning the quality of scholarship and teaching are to be made by reference to the standards of the academic profession, as interpreted and applied by the community of scholars who are qualified by expertise and training to establish such standards….When carefully analyzed, therefore, the Academic Bill of Rights undermines the very academic freedom it claims to support….The AAUP has consistently held that academic freedom can only be maintained so long as faculty remain autonomous and self-governing.
This sounds reasonable, but it does not take into account the fact that the modern ‘university’ really isn’t universal at all. There are no “standards of the academic profession” to which all agree. There is not even a consensus on truth-seeking as a core value.
Social science, for example, has subdivided into more than one hundred subdisciplines, each with its own political spin and standards of evidence and essentially immune to criticism from others. A consequence of this fissiparousness is that views that are either absurd (“sex is a spectrum”) or blatantly political (“color-blind racism”) can flourish in their own little hothouses, shielded from independent criticism. (These and other threats to the unity of science are documented in my book Science in an Age of Unreason.) Can such a balkanized and politicized faculty be trusted with total autonomy? Some checks and balances are needed.
AAUP author John K. Wilson begins his comment on a subsequent Horowitz book (One-Party Classroom (2009), with co-author Jacob Laksin) with a lie: “[the book] expands upon [Horowitz’s] long-running war on academic freedom [emphasis added].” Wilson went on to accuse Horowitz of trying to impose a “vast repressive apparatus”, having “vast political influence on the far-right” and thus creating “an atmosphere of fear.” And “[Horowitz] objects to women’s studies classes dealing with the ‘unproven’ claim that gender is socially constructed, apparently unaware that biology is not the sole determinant of gender differences.” Well gender and sex are admittedly now defined as different, but it was not always so. Fans of the “spectrum” idea also confuse sex and gender: many women’s studies programs seem to be unaware of biology, for example. (I recall that in my own university when a supposedly “interdisciplinary” women’s studies program was instituted many years ago, biology was in fact one of the few disciplines not represented.) Horowitz has argued that “An open academic inquiry would not be ‘for’ or ‘against’ anything”, would be agnostic about all values save “truth,” a claim with which many scientists and philosophers, from David Hume to Charles Darwin, would surely agree. But Wilson, along with a majority of sociologists, thinks it is fine for academics to advocate political causes as part of their teaching. The difference between teaching and indoctrination seems now to elude many academics.
I could go on. The point is that David Horowitz has been effectively marginalized as a right-wing extremist. Hence his suggestions can be ignored. But sometimes they should not be. His most recent booklet, with co-author John Perazzo, is Internal Radical Service and it makes a simple point: that dozens of non-governmental organizations—charities—violate the terms of their tax exemption by directly or indirectly supporting political causes. The booklet reprints multiple sections from the Internal Revenue Code that he thinks are routinely violated by dozens of NGOs. For example:
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. [emphasis added].
The prohibitions seem pretty explicit, but H & P provide many examples where they seem to be violated by ostensibly charitable organizations. The best-known is Mark Zuckerberg’s $400+ million donation to two left-wing tax-exempt foundations, which may have had the effect of tipping the result to Biden by launching ‘get out the vote’ campaigns focused on democratic precincts in battleground states.
Do these, and many other examples in the book, constitute a failure by the IRS? I don’t know, but perhaps some public-interest law organizations should take a look.
Unfortunately, they are unlikely to do so because Horowitz has been so very effectively stigmatized. His reputation for seriousness is unlikely to be helped by his entertaining new booklet, with co-author Mark Tapson: The 20 Dumbest Hollywood Hatemongers, which ranges from Jane Fonda (communism is great) through Michael Moore (America was founded in the backs of slaves) to Robert de Niro (“F**k Donald Trump”). Laugh, but don’t ignore David Horowitz. He still has much to teach.