Below is Richard Baehr’s review of David Horowitz’s new book, “Ruling Ideas,” which is the ninth and final volume of The Black Book of the American Left, a multi-volume collection of Horowitz’s conservative writings that now stands as the most ambitious effort ever undertaken to define the Left and its agenda. (Order HERE.)
Many people I know grew up in liberal households, and at some point in their lives, they gravitated to the right politically. Many others were nurtured in conservative homes and moved left politically. These shifts are not too surprising. What made someone start in one place and move one way or the other is a function of many things, including the political thinking of one’s spouse or partner; the community where one lives; the schools one attended; the company where one works; the political environment of the country, which has shifted left and right at different times; and whether someone was religiously observant and became more secular or moved in the other direction. In general, most people are not obsessed with politics. They may have strong political views, but they don’t choose politics as a career path or live and breathe it to the exclusion of other interests or passions.
David Horowitz has had a fundamentally different life experience. He grew up in a communist household with parents who were true believers in the superiority of Marxist-Leninist thinking and the model of the Soviet Union as a pathway to a better world for those who could break the bonds that held them captive to ruling-class capitalist ideology and government. Horowitz’s parents were committed ideologues whose allegiance to the hard left never wavered. While they were momentarily upset with the revelations in 1956 of the mass murders committed by Stalin’s government in previous decades, they considered this at worst an aberration, not a reflection of the tyranny and destruction routinely associated with Marxist regimes. Their lives were too tightly wound in the narrative of the communist collective in the Queens neighborhood where they lived as public school teachers to allow themselves to rethink or reconsider their ideological faith.
David Horowitz, on the other hand questioned things from the start of his politically conscious years. While he remained on the left for another two decades after the news of Stalin’s crimes, his allegiance was never so tight or his mind so closed as to be unable to challenge his belief system when presented with new evidence or arguments.
Horowitz’s path from left to right, and then his role as a spokesman for conservative ideas, has been documented through his enormous collection of articles and books, a full bibliography of which totals 56 pages in this ninth and final volume of his Black Book of the Left. The Horowitz catalog includes nearly 80 books authored, co-authored, or edited. While David Horowitz once enjoyed critical acclaim from the book-reviewers of America’s elite newspapers and magazines, since his shift to the right, his books are never even considered for review. Why would the New York Times Book Review waste time finding a reviewer to combat Horowitz’s arguments when it is so much easier to fill pages with laudatory reviews of those who have stayed on the left’s plantation and parrot its talking points? Ignoring someone is also a way to say that such person and his views do not matter. And certainly no left-wing media outlet cares to encourage apostasy by others.
This last volume in Horowitz’s series of books on the American left reinforces his central argument that the left is different from the right in the totality of its commitment to advancing its agenda and destroying its enemies. Conservatives are conservative not only in political orientation, but in how they do battle. Preservation of what is good requires a different kind of motivation and energy from revolution or upheaval. The battle is not between two sides who agree on ends, but see different ways of getting there. The left, according to Horowitz, is ruthless both in pursuit of victory and when given the reins of authority.
Naturally, there are gradations on the left as there are on the right. There are moderate, centrist Democrats, a declining group for sure, who remain committed to some of the same things as many on the right. These “collaborationists” are despised by the true believers on the left. The energy and the firepower on the left belong to more absolutist types, who accept far less of any consensus view of what American represents, its uniqueness, the trajectory of its history, and what needs to be preserved or destroyed. There is little or no pride in America on the left, since so much remains to be fixed and so much power remains in the wrong hands. The resistance to Donald Trump is a reflection of how grating the concept of American greatness is to the left.
Volume 9 of the Black Book series contains four chapters written by Horowitz and one chapter by Jamie Glazov, which provides a history of Horowitz’s political evolution as seen through his writings. The longest chapter, “The Fate of the Marxist Idea,” includes two letters Horowitz wrote to former friends and mentors in the communist movement, and were initially published in 1998. The first is to a member of the Sunnyside, Queens collective whose parents worshiped communism in the same “church” as David’s parents.
Horowitz’s former friend chose not to attend the memorial service after the death of David’s father in 1987, seeking to ignore any need to debate any of the political ideas that both had once absorbed and that Horowitz had since abandoned. Instead, she wrote a short letter saying the personal and the political cannot be separated, that socialism is better than capitalism, that she had abandoned Stalinism (what courage!) and socialism had not really been tried, the real reason why it had “not worked” so far. And then she added the insults, accusing Horowitz of having lost the compassion and humanism of his youth, which always motivated their parents, evidenced by his support of Ronald Reagan’s vile policies. Horowitz’s lengthy point-by-point refutation of her letter was never answered except by threat of a lawsuit.
A more comprehensive analysis of the failures of the left was sent to Ralph Milliband, a Marxist writer who was a mentor to Horowitz when he lived in London in the ’60s. The letter outlines the cold reality of communist-socialist rule wherever it had been tried and the enormous death toll attributable to the tyrannies and tyrants associated with these regimes – whether in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Venezuela, North Korea, or Cuba among others. These countries are not and were not similar to the social welfare states of Western Europe that emerged after World War 2. These states have moved much farther along the continuum toward higher taxes, and a larger government share, and bureaucratic control of the economy than in the United States, but they still sustain a reasonable commitment to preserving the political freedoms of individuals and the belief in democracy and a free people.
The true believers on the left say they want nothing more than equality and better lives for the masses, but communist equality has always meant equalizing the suffering, reducing living standards, and eliminating dissent or political opposition. Milliband also ignored engaging with Horowitz, obviously a lost cause in his eyes as far as rejoining the legions on the left.
Horowitz devotes two chapters to issues concerning black Americans. The first provides a commentary on the campaign for reparations, advanced by Randall Robinson, among others, 15 years back, and now getting new life from support by the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates, the current black intellectual designee by the major media and their partners in universities. Coates is the author of a commentary on the 9-11 attacks that concluded that the police and firefighters who died “were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could – with no justification – shatter my body.” So the men and women who entered burning buildings, and climbed dozens of flights of stairs with 75 pounds of equipment on their backs to try to get people out of the buildings before they collapsed, were really just biding their time until they could get on to their real task of destroying black bodies. This is what qualifies one as a thought leader in elite circles these days.
Horowitz destroys the argument for reparations, and in a second chapter, he challenges the victimization logic that offers white racism as the excuse for any “underperformance” by the black community. There is no one alive today who held any slaves or personally was a slave. Many black Americans in the country today have no ancestors in America who were slaves. A majority of Americans are descended from people who came to the United States after the Civil War and bear no guilt for the ugly practice in one region of the United States two centuries ago. Those who are descended from people who lived in the states that did not join the Confederacy have 400,000 dead Union soldiers, plus many hundreds of thousands injured, as their sacrifice to liberating the slaves and preserving the Union. Reparations for Japanese-Americans in the United States or Holocaust survivors in Europe were paid to people who had themselves lived through specific horrors or criminal behavior by governments. Must all Americans today pay for something that ended over 150 years ago and for which a bloody war was fought? Are all African-Americans equally entitled to compensation for something that impacted some of their ancestors seven generations back?
The victimization theme – that white racism is solely responsible for the economic situation of black Americans, their higher crime rates and poor academic performance, eliminates any agency for individuals to beat the odds or take advantage of the increased opportunities that are now available, including trillions spent on social welfare programs over the past half-century, much of that designed to address the needs of African-Americans. These programs include affirmative action admissions to universities and similar approaches to hiring by corporations and other firms. Martin Luther King was aware that racism and discrimination were present in 1960s America, as was segregation in large parts of the country, but he believed that these should not be an excuse for black American behavior that only worsened their plight. Charlatans and race-hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have dominated the civil rights movement since King’s death, always pushing the white racism bogeyman, while those more in line with King’s legacy, including Jason Riley, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, and Glen Loury, are ignored or condemned as sell-outs. Arguing that cultural norms within a community can be damaging to the success of future generations is simply a forbidden theme – witness the recent campaign against University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax.
Horowitz’s final chapter is a review of Christopher Hitchens’s book Hitch-22 and the British author’s political path from a Trotskyite of sorts to something a bit more nuanced and sane. Horowitz is clearly disappointed that Hitchens’s movement did not follow his own trajectory, which resulted in abandonment of the left and a commitment to fighting it. Instead, Hitchens’s politics at the time of his death from cancer was something of a confused palette: anger at Islamic extremism and hostility to Israel, appreciation for American uniqueness but fondness for the collectivist ideal. Hitchens tried to hold a place in two camps – not an easy task, and one that can lead to incoherence. Most people would not get too upset or frustrated about someone who moved some way toward their worldview, but Horowitz’s life experience has been consumed with politics, first from the left, and for the last three decades from the right, and he prefers enlightenment to cautious mush.
There is a passion among the politically most active, and when their politics shift, they often have a story to tell about the illusions and lies they encountered and addressed that motivated the change in allegiance. The nine-volume series, The Black Book of the America Left, including this final volume, is a unique outline, filled with many chapters and verses, about why the left has been consistently wrong and produced so much destruction in its wake. Someone who never started on the left, and did not understand its convictions, its messaging, and its tactics, could not have written such a series.
This article was originally published in the American Thinker