David Horowitz

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Jun 14 14:41:19 MDT 2000

David Horowitz is no relation to Irving Horowitz, who appears to have been
some kind of anti-Stalinist based on his association with the American
Socialist. David Horowitz was the son of CP'ers who turned against the left
when he was disillusioned by the Black Panther Party--at least that's his
story. I strongly suspect that he shifted to the right because that's where
the big money is. He is a one-man collection plate for all the big
rightwing foundations like the Olin Foundation, etc. He wrote for Ramparts,
a new leftist magazine, in the 1960s and wrote some good history in the
"revisionist" mode developed at U. of Wisconsin under the tutelage of
William Appleman Williams, another American Socialist alumnus.


Los Angeles Times, February 28, 1997, Friday, Home Edition



Scene 1. Berkeley the mid-'70s. Moe's Books on Telegraph Avenue. A short
man is facing a large wall of titles but seeing only an abyss: A life lived
according to the verities of Marxism has just turned into a menacing
question mark, a sinking feeling that three decades of idealistic devotion
might be no more true than a few books on a single shelf in an enormous
store crammed with competing ideas. Blinded by a vision of creating a
utopia in Oakland's ghetto, he had introduced a friend to a group of thugs
he had considered the revolutionary vanguard and now his friend is dead.
Fade to black, the midnight of an uncertain soul.

Scene 2. Pacific Palisades in the present. A three-bedroom, sun-filled
house with a view of the sea. His pretty young fiancee makes coffee; a
plumber puts the finishing touches on a remodeled kitchen. The only thing
disturbing this tableau of bourgeois bliss are the thick fingers thumping
on the kitchen table.

"As a conservative, I believe we are the problem"--whack!--David Horowitz
said, spittle flying from his mouth. "Government is the problem"--whack!
"You have to have checks and balances everywhere to frustrate human

"My basic change is my view of human nature," the hoarse, Brooklyn voice
continued, machine gun-like. "I see the left as being at war with human
nature. The left thinks you can change people profoundly. The liberal
culture is now the oppressor of minorities and the poor. . . . I believe in
individual responsibility. Philosophically, I'm comfortable on the right."

The certainties are back.

In the '60s, David Horowitz, who had been suckled on the milk of revolution
by his Communist Party parents, was a theorist of the New Left; he hid a
Black Panther wanted by the cops in his garage and decried U.S.
imperialism. Then he converted. In the '80s, Horowitz came out for
President Reagan, blamed '60s radicalism for shredding the social fabric of
American society and launched a holy war against the left.

Since then, Horowitz, 57, has become a right-wing ancient mariner, stalking
Hollywood to bring his born-again conservative message to the country's
counterculture capital. The ex-Marxist missionary now invites sitcom
writers to lunch to listen to Robert Bork, the gloomy failed Supreme Court
nominee, lecture them on how liberalism is ruining America. While his
mother once branded him "megalomaniacal," supply-side economics guru George
Glider lauded his change of heart as "a new dawn in American intellectual

Horowitz's long, strange, torturous trip is the subject of his absorbing
new memoir, "Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey" (Free Press). The book is
an intensely personal and painful chronicle of Horowitz's utopian
strivings, disillusionment and rebirth.

His conservative colleagues have been falling over one another to praise
the book, with fellow former radical P.J. O'Rourke comparing it to
Friedrich Hayek's capitalist manifesto, "The Road to Serfdom." In Reason
magazine, Steve Hayward was not quite so impressed, noting that the odyssey
"provides the key to understanding the fierce countenance of Horowitz's
current ventures, which even many of his ideological allies do not fully
comprehend or approve."

The book abounds in scathing portraits of New Left flamethrowers who went
on to careers inside or close to the establishment: state Sen. Tom Hayden
("an angry man who seemed in perpetual search of enemies"), Tikkun magazine
publisher and sometime Hillary Clinton advisor Michael Lerner
("intellectually slovenly" who once claimed, "Until you've dropped acid,
you don't know what socialism is") and L.A. Times contributing editor
Robert Scheer ("the talented cynic, he explored the good life on the money
he made decrying the evils of wealth").

Among the firecrackers Horowitz tosses out is the contention that the New
Left was at heart destructive radicalism. "From its beginnings," he writes,
"the New Left was not an innocent experiment in American utopianism, but a
self-conscious effort to rescue the Communist project from its Soviet fate."

To his many critics, Horowitz is less an insightful survivor from the
shipwreck of the '60s than a bitter graybeard loon.

"Ridiculous, awful history; it's simply laughable," said New York
University professor Todd Gitlin, author of "The Sixties: Years of Hope,
Days of Rage" (Bantam Books, 1987). "Horowitz is off the wall. Let him deal
with his father but stop making things up. What Horowitz has done is to
remain the same while changing his costumes; his style of thinking remains
that everything is always black and white."

"He was scary then and he's scary now," Lerner said. "The irony is that
David was much more of whom he is criticizing than those around him. David
lionized the Panthers in a fashion that was way out of proportion to
others. He was committing the sins he's now reviling other people for. The
mass movement that most Americans encountered he had virtually no
connection with."

And, Scheer, who alleges a factual inaccuracy in virtually every sentence
about him in the book, says that Horowitz drastically overstates both his
own import and that of Berkeley to the New Left.

"Horowitz is basically a self-promoter," Scheer said. "He can't quite find
the enemy. He's fighting battles that most people don't care about anymore."

As a boy growing up in Brooklyn, David Horowitz and his father, Philip,
would stroll through the neighborhood, the elder Horowitz pointing out
streets named after businessmen and other enemies of the masses that would
be renamed in honor of the people's heroes after the revolution. Young
Horowitz was baseball crazy; his Communist Party father derided the
American pastime as capitalist exploitation.

Phil Horowitz was fired in 1952 for insubordination when he refused to talk
about his political allegiance. He had been a teacher for 28 years and lost
his pension. Blanche Horowitz, also a teacher and a party member, took a
disability retirement and, at 60, went back to school, joined Planned
Parenthood and founded a research library. At her retirement she was given
the first Margaret Sanger Award, which today sits in her son's study.
Although both parents drifted out of the party, they remained true
believers, and their son dedicated himself to their vision of a better
world, an idealism he took with him after graduating from Columbia and
driving his VW bug to Berkeley in 1957 for grad school.

Arrogant, shy and puritanical, Horowitz married his first love, Elissa,
when he was 20. Although he shunned the sex and drugs that defined '60s
liberation for many, he took part in one of the first protests against
Vietnam. In 1962 he went off to England, where he lived until 1968, working
with Bertrand Russell at his Peace Foundation.

Returning to the States, Horowitz became an editor at Ramparts, the
flagship publication of the New Left, where he grew close to another
editor, Peter Collier. Horowitz soon led an office coup against Scheer,
then the top editor. To stretch the editorial budget, Horowitz put half the
staff on unemployment until benefits expired, then rehired them and fired
the other half. Eventually, the magazine floundered.

But Horowitz had found a new object for his political passion: the Black
Panthers. He poured his energy into fund-raising and helped them build an
alternative school in Oakland--even as the group's reputation turned to
that of a violent shakedown gang.

In 1974, a white bookkeeper whom Horowitz had helped to get a job at the
Panther school disappeared: Betty Van Patter's bludgeoned body was found a
month later in the San Francisco Bay.

No one was ever charged in the killing, but Horowitz was convinced that the
Panthers had killed her, which he said he heard from a disaffected member
of the group. He began carrying a gun and smoldered over writers such as
Gitlin, whom he views as an apologist for the Panthers.

"Here are people who get exercised about killings in East Timor, which they
couldn't find on a map," he said. "But here was someone they knew. Nothing."

He gave up on politics and on his lifelong habit of abnegation,
discovering, in midlife, easy love and fast cars. With his old friend
Collier, he wrote "The Rockefellers" (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1976), a
best-selling saga that was followed by similar dynastic biographies on "The
Kennedys" (Summit Books, 1984) and "The Roosevelts" (Simon & Schuster,
1994). His ever-stern father told him to stop wasting his talent and write
a book about the coming revolution. Phil Horowitz died in 1984, followed by
his wife in 1993; they were buried in a plot reserved for members of the
International Workers Order.

Horowitz's marriage, which had been strained by an affair with a
Rockefeller heiress, fell apart after almost 20 years; he moved to L.A. and
married twice more--the last time to a woman who, he writes, was a secret
crack addict.

Soon Collier and Horowitz were out of the conservative closet, supporting
aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua and a hard-line policy toward the
Soviet Union.

"I thought I would end up in the center but there was no center," said
Horowitz, who with graying but longish hair and goatee could pass as one of
his reviled Marxist professors. "In politics you have to bite the bullet."

Eventually Horowitz and Collier decided that if they couldn't get the
dominant liberal culture to listen to them, then they would have to change
the culture. So they founded the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in
an office in Horowitz's house.

"In an odd way," Collier said, "we are in the position in the '90s that we
were in the '60s, in the counterculture kicking the culture in the shins."

These days, Horowitz, who went 15 years without wearing a tie and then had
to borrow one to interview a member of the Rockefeller clan, dons a suit
and works in a glass office building on Pico Boulevard, where individual
contributions and conservative foundations such as Bradley and Olin
underwrite a staff of 17.

"When the center started it was something of a personal vehicle for Peter
and me," Horowitz said. Some might say it still is: The center's newsletter
reprints Horowitz's op / ed pieces, articles about him and advertises his
books. His six-figure salary gives him an institutional base and allows him
time to compose polemics against affirmative action.

Although his enemies accuse him of following the prevailing wind, Horowitz
said his apostasy has actually cost him money and influence. The New York
Times Book Review, which once raved about his work on its cover, started
burying his books in the back, he complained.

Last year the center helped put on an all-day conference at Paramount
Studios, where 300 industry types listened to professional moralist William
Bennett exhort them to be more responsible. The center also sponsors a
monthly Wednesday Morning Club where participants, which have included
actor Tom Selleck and "Cheers" writer-producer Rob Long, meet policymakers.

"My mission in Hollywood is just to create a civilized dialogue," Horowitz
explained. "Hollywood needs a two-party system because it needs to protect
itself from government. You have to have voices that are not attached
umbilically to Washington. I'm not on a crusade against Hollywood leftists.
I'd like to create more toleration in Hollywood for conservatives."

At the same time he fulminates that the Republican Party is too tepid in
going after the left. "The right doesn't understand the battle lines. They
don't have a mentality for battle."

In "It's a War Stupid," a pocket-sized tract that a mogul could read while
stuck in traffic, Horowitz and Collier urge the GOP to get mean. "The only
party that has vocal racists among its elected officials is the Democratic
Party," they fume. " . . . Republicans' battle cry should have been: We
seek to dismantle the death camps you have constructed in America's inner

The center's Individual Rights Foundation crusades for the First Amendment,
defending, for example, fraternities that have run afoul of university
speech codes. The center also publishes Heterodoxy, a zesty newsprint
tabloid that Collier edits from his home in Nevada City.

Things seem to be looking up. Horowitz gets along well with his four
children from his first marriage, although he doesn't talk politics with
them. He is engaged to a skin-care specialist he has been dating for two
years, and has a full schedule of interviews to promote his memoir and a
book contract for another installment on the Kennedy clan.

But Collier said his old friend just can't stop storming the ramparts.

"I don't want to make it melodramatic, but there's a burden," Collier said.
"I think that weighs heavy on David. He likes the combat. I think he likes
it doubly that he's in combat with what we were. He has a desire to put his
thumbprint on the world that's fairly awesome."

Louis Proyect

The Marxism mailing-list: http://www.marxmail.org

More information about the Marxism mailing list