A review of The Black Book of the American Left: The Collected Conservative Writings of David Horowitz, by David Horowitz
Does any conservative understand the American Left better than David Horowitz? A “red-diaper” baby raised by Communist parents, Horowitz was a founding father of the New Left by virtue of being co-editor (with Peter Collier) of its flagship journal, Ramparts. The Left’s indifference to Communist bloodbaths in Vietnam and Cambodia, and to Black Panther murders at home, led Collier and Horowitz to reconsider, embrace anti-Communism, and support President Ronald Reagan’s Central American policy. Their “Second Thoughts” project of 1987, a venue for other ex-leftists to criticize their old politics and its new champions, bequeathed Destructive Generation (1989) by Collier and Horowitz, and the establishment of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. After Collier became founding editor of Encounter Books, the Center was renamed the David Horowitz Freedom Center, whose activities include the online FrontPage Magazine.
Readers who seek a moving story of the intertwined unfolding of a life and a political sensibility should read Horowitz’s autobiographical Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey (1997). The author’s “fearless capacity for self-examination,” Christopher Caldwell wrote when it was published, allowed Horowitz “to forge a new career as the kind of person his parents had no doubt warned him against.” Now, The Black Book of the American Left offers, as the subtitle says, the Collected Conservative Writings of David Horowitz—articles, essays, and speeches on a wide range of political figures and topics, gathered together for the first time. Projected to fill ten volumes, two have been published: My Life and Times, and Progressives. Volume III, on America’s response to 9/11 and jihad, is scheduled for publication later this year.
* * *
Volume I begins with an article the soon-to-be ex-leftist Horowitz wrote in 1979 for the Nation and ends with a speech delivered to the Zionist Organization of America in 2012. The pages in between gather work on religion, Blaise Pascal, the conservatism of James Madison and Edmund Burke, his late daughter, and his writing partner Collier. But mostly Horowitz writes about the American Left, admitting he is “condemned Ahab-like to pursue” it. In a series of lively, provocative polemics we encounter Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden; Joan Baez; Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame; writers John Judis, Todd Gitlin, and Sid (“Vicious”) Blumenthal; and a Soviet KGB agent in London.
With essays written over several decades that connect the progressive past to the progressive present, Volume II would enhance and balance any course on modern American history. Horowitz provides an invaluable antidote to the misleading, mendacious historical narrative presented in contemporary state curricular standards, approved textbooks, and thousands of high school and university history classes. For the most part, today’s students are led to understand the Cold War in terms of moral equivalence. Leading events like the Berlin Airlift and Cuban Missile Crisis are described (in the National History Standards, for example) as the swordplay of competing superpowers, instead of being part of John F. Kennedy’s “long twilight struggle” between Communism and the Free World. Textbooks and curricula teach students that anti-Communism at home consisted largely of the “Red Scare” after World War I, “McCarthyism” after World War II, and a hysterical Cold War “witch-hunt” for imaginary Communists in government and Hollywood. They rarely convey that USSR archives and the Venona tapes—messages from Soviet intelligence agencies decrypted and translated by the U.S. government—revealed widespread Communist espionage and subversion in our political and cultural institutions. Students learn about the Hollywood blacklist, but not about pro-Stalin Communists’ attempts in Hollywood to take over labor unions, including the Screen Actors Guild, and to infiltrate and influence studios.
* * *
By contrast, Horowitz argues that what America really experienced in the last century were “Red Threats.” The Palmer raids of the 1920s, for example, led by A. Mitchell Palmer, President Woodrow Wilson’s attorney general, were “triggered by a massive domestic campaign of terror conducted by anarchist organizations” which involved a “hundred mail bombs” and attempts to kill Palmer, banker J.P. Morgan, and many others. The domestic Cold War period, the so-called McCarthy era, should instead be called “a time of fifth-column treasons.” Citing historians Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Ronald Radosh, Horowitz argues that it is now established “beyond any reasonable doubt” that almost all of the Red Scare “victims” directly served the Soviets as spies or supported Stalin as fellow travelers.
Despite evidence from these sources detailing China scholar Owen Lattimore’s strong pro-Soviet positions and close connections to White House staffer and Soviet spy, Lauchlin Currie, Jacob Weisberg wrote for the New York Times Magazine that Lattimore was “the China hand absurdly named [by Joseph McCarthy] as the Soviets’ ‘top spy’ in the United States.” Though McCarthy was wrong to call Lattimore Stalin’s top spy, Weisberg and the Times were more wrong to characterize him in 1999 as a victim of an anti-Communist witch hunt. Lattimore was, as Horowitz writes, “a devious, unscrupulous, self-conscious betrayer of his country and a willing servant of the Soviet cause who worked hand-in-glove with its underground spy apparatus in the United States.”
Horowitz is at his best when reminding us of the Left’s frauds and poseurs who have come to be lionized. Betty Friedan, for example, the author of The Feminine Mystique (1963) and founder of the modern feminist movement, is usually depicted reverently in textbooks. Though she portrayed herself as an apolitical housewife who became dissatisfied with her lot and characterized her middle-class marriage as a “comfortable concentration camp,” Friedan was, Horowitz explains, “a 25-year veteran of professional journalism in the Communist left,” whose feminist theories were recycled Marxist hackery. Her oppression was notably genteel: married to a theater producer, Friedan resided in a Hudson River mansion maintained by a maid.
Tom Hayden, a founder of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), is usually presented in textbooks as an anti-war activist and idealist. Horowitz knew Hayden well during the ’60s and tells a different story. Hayden and his then companion, Jane Fonda, did not simply want American forces to withdraw from Vietnam. Rather, they worked assiduously for Communist victory against America throughout Southeast Asia. As Horowitz puts it, they sought to provide a “propaganda shield for Hanoi’s Communist regime while it tortured American war prisoners.”
Most contemporary historians treat the anti-war movement sympathetically, but Horowitz recalls it with deep remorse. “While American boys were dying overseas, we spat on the flag, broke the law, denigrated and disrupted the institutions of government and education, gave comfort and aid, even revealing classified secrets to the enemy.” Most importantly, in both of these volumes, his comprehensive portrait of progressivism past and present delineates the ongoing ideological conflict and, thus, the needed conservative response. The core argument in America today, he shows, is not simply between liberals, who favor greater regulation and higher taxes, and conservatives, who support lower taxes and more limited government. Rather, our politics is animated by deep disagreements over core civilizational principles and human nature itself.
* * *
In short, we are in a conflict over the nature and destiny of the American regime. Since the 1960s the progressive project has aggressively sought to transform America’s institutions, ideas, manners, and mores. Indeed, one of the chief protagonists in this conflict, Barack Obama, has declared his intent to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” In a speech in October 2013, David Horowitz noted that the president and his key advisors Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod “came out of” the “same radical new left as I did.”
What then constitutes the Left? My own judgment, strongly reinforced by insights from Horowitz’s Black Book, is that leftism, first and foremost, is not liberalism. “Vital Center” liberals of the post-World War II era opposed Communism and supported individual rights, including academic freedom and free speech. The New Left ultimately won, however, and those called liberals today see the world in ways fundamentally different from Cold War liberals like Harry Truman and JFK.
The Left eschews individual rights and places group consciousness and group rights at the center of its worldview. All public and private life is seen through the prism of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Individuals are categorized as members of either the dominant oppressor group (heterosexual white males) or as oppressed victims—racial, ethnic, linguistic, and sexual minorities; women; illegal immigrants; and others.
The goal is “substantive equality,” meaning equality of result for every demographic subset of the population. If women are 51% of the population, at least 51% of all lawyers, doctors, members of Congress, etc., should be women. This utopian goal would require a radical, coercive restructuring of American society based on the illiberal premise of strengthening group rights while weakening those possessed and exercised by individual citizens. Progressivism, Horowitz argues, is an ersatz religion devoted to creating an earthly paradise. This faith-based aspiration renders it immune to evidence rebutting its core tenets.
* * *
The intellectual roots of the contemporary American Left are found in Hegelian or cultural Marxism, especially the writings of 20th-century Marxist thinkers like Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, who wrote endlessly about “dominant” and “oppressed” groups in liberal democratic societies. When 21st-century American writers and politicians decry “institutional” or “systemic” racism and sexism, they recycle Marxist canards about the illegitimacy of our social and political institutions. During congressional debate over “gender equity” legislation in education and crime in the early 1990s, for example, senators Joe Biden and Olympia Snowe droned on about the “institutional,” “systemic” nature of sexism in America. Unconscious, reflexive Marxist assumptions have become commonplace in the political discourse of what is misnamed American liberalism.
Horowitz rightly complains that although the American Left is not in any sense “liberal,” it is described as such by nearly all journalists and most conservative opponents. In reality, the Left has taken on the coloration of liberalism after having routed the old centrist liberals in the Democratic Party, the media, and higher education. The New York Times describes everyone from long-time Communist Party USA activist Angela Davis to former senator Joe Lieberman as a “liberal.”
Horowitz recognizes categories of leftists, correctly describing Michael Walzer, for example, as “decent” and “patriotic.” Horowitz has in the past offered a five-part typology of the Left: totalitarian radicals, anti-American radicals, leftists, moderate leftists, and affective leftists (i.e., Hollywood airheads). Though I prefer dividing the Left into just three parts—the hard Left, the mainstream Left, and what remains of centrist liberalism—one reward for reading Horowitz carefully is the acquisition of grist that can be milled in a variety of ways.
* * *
The hard Left is hostile to free market capitalism; the “imperialism” of American foreign policy since the middle of the 20th century; and our Judeo-Christian heritage and constitutional order. Thoroughly alienated from America, the hard Left has apologized to and for America’s enemies—Communist, Islamist, Sandinista, or followers of the late Hugo Chavez—for the past 50 years. Its publicists include Hayden, Michael Moore, and Noam Chomsky. Its political base is the Congressional Progressive Caucus, while its organizational apparatus comprises MoveOn.org, the Center for Constitutional Rights, ACORN, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Code Pink, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and its bulletin boards include the Nation and Daily Kos.
Meanwhile, the mainstream Left, the most important political faction in America today, is epitomized by the New York Times editorial page, which has internalized the academic “race, ethnicity, gender” critique while eschewing the Marxist jargon. Hence, the mainstream Left strongly supports public and private initiatives that promote “substantive” equality, whether in the military, private businesses, or state universities. Further, it favors mass immigration while opposing patriotic assimilation, preferring dogmatic multiculturalism that places new immigrants in ethnic boxes.
If the hard Left is alienated from America, the mainstream Left is ambiguous about America. Deploring American “arrogance” abroad, it favors restricting American sovereignty and freedom of action through new interpretations of “evolving” international law and adherence to “global norms” developed by transnational elites, as opposed to officials elected by and answerable to American citizens. It could more accurately be described as post-American than anti-American. Thus, it looks forward, as the American Bar Association puts it, to “the global rule of law” instead of recognizing the U.S. Constitution as our highest legal authority.
It is also decidedly cool toward long-time American allies like Britain and Israel. Anti-anti-Communist in the past, it’s anti-anti-jihadist today. Whether examining foreign policy or American history, the mainstream Left, while tepidly endorsing “our ideals,” dwells on America’s past sins and emphasizes slavery, segregation, racism, and sexism.
* * *
At the center of the mainstream Left is the Obama Administration, but it includes the dominant media and major foundations like Ford and Rockefeller, which promoted the political, cultural, and economic transformation of the United States decades before Barack Obama came along. The mainstream Left consists of organizations like the ACLU, NOW, NAACP, Center for American Progress; and political leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.
What remains of the old centrist liberalism of the Adlai Stevenson-Hubert Humphrey type? Almost nothing. Centrist liberalism is a shell, consisting of a few blue dog Democrats and a handful of figures like Joe Lieberman, Senator Joe Manchin, and journalist Mickey Kaus. The interactions that matter take place on the spectrum that ranges from the hard to the mainstream Left, where relationships are, increasingly, symbiotic rather than competitive. Former Obama Administration official and environmental activist Van Jones, for example, was a self-described Communist and revolutionary, the founder of a Maoist organization. Praised by Nancy Pelosi as “one of the most innovative and strategic thinkers of our time,” he received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and currently works at the Center for American Progress.
In these volumes and throughout his oeuvre David Horowitz offers a deep understanding of the worldviews, divisions, strategies, tactics, and temperaments that define the American Left. His conservative readers will acquire new conceptual tools needed to wage the long twilight struggle for the American regime.