David Horowitz’s Curtain Call?: Review of “Ruling Ideas” by Richard Kirk

Originally published in The American Thinker, June 23, 2018

Unlike Columbia president Nicholas Butler, who, when asked around 1913 if he had seen Progressive historian Charles Beard’s last book, responded, “I hope so!,” I myself won’t be happy to think that Volume 9 of The Black Book of the American Left, Ruling Ideas may be David Horowitz’s final salvo directed at the political left.

This work reads like a curtain call composed of a few important works that summarize the career of a man passionately devoted to two diametrically opposed missions during the first and last parts of his life.  Aside from a few edits, introductory remarks, and postscripts, all the Horowitz material in this book was published previously – the first chapter in The Politics of Bad Faith (1998), the second in Uncivil Wars (2002), and the other two chapters on Horowitz’s Frontpage website (2010, 2017).  Part Two of this work begins with an overview of Horowitz’s life and work written by the author’s friend and colleague, Jamie Glazov.  Then comes a complete bibliography of Horowitz’s writings, a list so long one wonders when this brilliant political pugilist found time to eat and sleep.  The book ends with an extensive index that locates major topics (from Academia to Zionism) discussed by the author in his nine-volume opus.

Anyone unfamiliar with Horowitz’s biography must read his classic work Radical Son in order to understand the psychological trauma he experienced after being raised in a communist home, experiencing the public revelation of Stalin’s crimes, becoming a literary figurehead of the “New Left,” then having his socialist faith undermined after his friend Betty Van Patter was murdered by Black Panther associates.

Horowitz’s break from socialism and his ostracism by former friends is the focus of the first chapter in Ruling Ideas, “The Fate of the Marxist Idea.”  Two extensive letters (the first addressed to a red-diaper friend, Carol Pasternak Kaplan, and the other to his political mentor, Ralph Miliband) explain the historical, intellectual, and personal reasons for Horowitz’s break from the left as well as his ultimate act of betrayal: publicly supporting Ronald Reagan in 1984.  The former missive is revealing of the way not only “renegades” become nonpersons to fellow leftists, but also loyal party members like Horowitz’s father, who was remembered with banal political phrases at his sparsely attended funeral.  This portrait in miniature illustrates how leftists disregard flesh-and-blood humanity for the sake of an ideology.  As Horowitz puts it, “[t]otalitarianism is the crushing of ordinary, intractable, human reality by a political idea.”

The letter to Miliband focuses primarily on the monumental failures of socialism.  In addition to the tens of millions murdered for the cause around the world, Horowitz provides scores of facts that undermine the persistent belief that the USSR nevertheless made huge economic strides.  For example, “after 70 years of socialist development, 40 percent of the Soviet population and 79 percent of its older citizens” were living in poverty – though almost 100 percent of the populace was poor by U.S. standards.  Moreover, in 1989, “the average intake of red meat for a Soviet citizen was half of what it had been for a subject of the czar in 1913.”  Amazingly, “blacks in apartheid South Africa owned more cars per capita” than citizens of the Soviet Union.  In page after page, Horowitz documents socialism’s failures, including the fact that 70 percent of the USSR’s atmosphere was “polluted with five times the permissible limit of toxic chemicals.”

As a symbolic coup de grâce, Horowitz notes that glasnost-era Russians gathered outside Moscow’s new McDonald’s “in lines whose length exceeded those waiting outside Lenin’s tomb.”  These customers waited four hours and spent half a day’s wage to enjoy this most ordinary of capitalist pleasures.  Horowitz ends the letter to his former mentor and “ex-comrade” by noting that the Iron Curtain dividing “the prisoners of socialism” from the free West has now been torn down; however, “[t]he iron curtain that divides you and me remains.  It is the destructive utopian fantasy that you refuse to give up.”

Chapter Two, “Slavery and the American Idea,” is an edited version of Horowitz’s 2002 refutation of the reparations argument.  This extended essay provides a comprehensive defense of America’s role in eliminating slavery and promoting civil rights for black Americans.  It also destroys the bogus claims that American slavery was a uniquely cruel instance of the institution and was largely responsible for creating the nation’s wealth.  Horowitz analyzes both the prevalence and severity of slavery throughout history and observes that “the responsibility of American slave-traders amounts to a fraction of one percent of the black African slavery problem.”  Additionally, the author discusses how race has become a “primary weapon” in the left’s attack on America’s constitutional system.

Horowitz’s analysis of race-based politics is expanded in his subsequent chapter, titled “America’s Second Civil War.”  In this piece, the author links the “deep division of America’s political life” to “the adoption of ‘identity politics’ as the left’s ‘progressive’ creed.”  Horowitz also deals explicitly with the “resistance” to President Trump and observes that the Democratic Party for the second time in its history “has opted to secede from the Union and its social contract.”  In this instance, Democrats have replaced Marx’s vision of warring classes with a narrative of victimized races, genders, and ethnicities.  That party now employs the banner of “social justice” to achieve its ultimate goal – a utopian, socialist, and thus totalitarian future.

Finally, the chapter titled “The Two Christophers” offers an analysis of the life and political peregrinations of Horowitz’s sometime friend, Christopher Hitchens – an analysis that draws a clear distinction between Horowitz’s decisive rejection of leftism and Hitchens’s self-regarding vacillation.  This ambivalence allowed Hitchens to retain a romantic attachment to the socialist ideals that motivated most of his life’s work and thus to keep open a few leftist doors.  Admirers of Freud will be drawn to Horowitz’s analysis of Hitchens’s family dynamics, especially Hitchens’s attachment to his “exotic” and “sunlit” mother, Yvonne, who committed suicide after (and, in Hitchens’s mind, possibly because) several calls she placed to her then-adult son went unanswered.  Horowitz thus fills in yawning psychological gaps that Hitchens tellingly fails to address in his often duplicitous memoir, Hitch-22.  Horowitz, for example, notes that Hitchens viewed Trotsky as “the arch-romantic, the incarnation of the lost Yvonne.”  Moreover, this Trotskyite pose allowed Hitchens to assert, “I am no longer a socialist, but I am still a Marxist.”  Horowitz observes, more honestly, that Hitchens’s Trotskyism meant “that he could regard himself as a Marxist and a revolutionary without having to say he’s sorry.”

By contrast, after honestly evaluating the historical and logical consequences of socialism, Horowitz’s life and writings constitute an enduring and intellectually compelling apology for actions and writings that occurred prior to his renunciation of an unspeakably destructive doctrine.

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: “Who’s to Say?”  is also available on Kindle.