YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 5, 2012

Unity and utopia: the case of David Horowitz

Akiva Gottlieb

( See a review of DH’s latest book Radicals here: http://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.)

Tablet magazine, an online periodical dedicated vaguely to “a new read on Jewish life,” hired a liberal  journalist  Akiva Gottlieb, to “profile” David Horowitz, who famously switched his politics in the early 1990s, after a decade of relative silence and depression. You can find Tablet’s heartfelt hatchet job here, with a cartoon that declares its willingness to deploy Satanic, possibly antisemitic,* images against its opponents: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/98401/david-horowitz.  I am beginning this blog with a reference to David H. because 1. it is my view that no young writer (such as Gottlieb) can comprehend the lives of those in my age group, who have lived through the second world war, the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the counter-culture revolt, and the rise of the New Right; not to speak of chronic illness, the loss of energy as we age, the loss of our parents and possibly other family members (or family members with different politics); and 2. I suspect that most people spent their lives in a fruitless search for “unity”. The premise of the blog is that the search for unity is a fool’s errand, though it is understandable as a [regressive] longing to be reunited with protective, ever nurturing and inexhaustible parents, even to live our lives over again, without errors in judgment or crimes against the truth that divided us from our better angels.

In thousands of Catholic paintings, baby Jesus is lovingly watched over by benevolent protectors, and the Child has no siblings with which to contend. Nor will he ever have to contend with a “blended” family as the child of divorce or other forms of estrangement from the idyll of perfect familial unity. But if the soothing-seething emotions of “the perfectly happy family” color many of our political preferences across the political spectrum, then why do we appear to be nonplussed in the face of factionalized politics and party platforms that are fraught with internal contradictions, here or elsewhere?

Raphael, The Holy Family

Akiva Gottlieb wants to paint David Horowitz as friendless and hopelessly alienated from politics, alienated even from his own magazine. But DH has suffered multiple losses in his life (some but not all noted by Gottlieb), has looked death in the face, and neither political party offers a coherent political vision of past and present, or what social policies would best serve both individuals and the public at large. Indeed, hoping for such an outcome of American history is on the face of it, absurd, as I pointed out in my last blog (http://clarespark.com/2012/05/04/3957/, “Charles Murray Dreaming.”  (Murray’s overall project in his latest book was to reinstate his imagined unified civic culture among white people.)

Moreover, we are in the predictably violent throes of modernization in a globe noted for its uneven development and hostility to the American experiment; America itself is unevenly developed, and the phrase “E pluribus Unum” is a wish, not a fact. To imagine an “international community” is equally delusional. Still, artists make sculptures and paintings that reflect this longing for something more in what they depict as a coldly heartless, handless age of the machine. Like baby Jesus, this sculptor has outstretched hands reaching for succor.

*See Joshua Trachtenberg’s 1943 volume The Devil and the Jews. Even friends of “the Jews” may associate them with modernity and its anomie, predilection for demagogues, narcissism, Jacobin bloodthirstiness, etc. For a comprehensive survey see http://clarespark.com/2010/11/14/the-abcs-of-antisemitism/. For a blog that treats disunity within ourselves, see http://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/. For a valuable talk on attachments and how parental stress affects the development of children’s brains see http://tvoparents.tvo.org/video/177892/dr-gabor-mat-parental-stress-and-its-impact-kids.

shoebox sculpture

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5 Comments »

  1. The key to being a radical is not only a strong belief in the justness of your cause, but also the confidence that your struggle and sacrifice will eventually prevail. Mr. Horowitz is probably a more serious social critic than any of his New Left brethren. When his views changed, his intensity and lust for combat did not. He comes across as a broken man because his confidence in the success of his struggle against lies and criminality has proven illusory. I admire him for his integrity–he deserves better than to be publicly ridiculed by an untried smart ass. There is nothing quite so irritating as being lectured to by a twenty-something moron. Let the young man think through a moral issue and change sides to his personal detriment before he calls anyone else a fool.

    Comment by Erik Anderson — June 2, 2012 @ 11:26 pm | Reply

  2. Human nature will never catch up to all the information in the world or be able to use it, so that useful idiots and useful thinkers will always be with us. Sometimes for the most petty of reasons will someone decide to ignore obvious information and contradictions in their heated defended positions (Mike Bloomberg decrying sodas one day and the next celebrating National Donut Day is my recent favorite). It’s inexplicable except that we are humans and flawed, capable of goodness and evil. That is one overriding consideration for limited government. When the resources of government are turned to efforts that suppress individual freedom, “coerce people out of their cars” and “force you to think”, evil has the farthest reach and the most impact.

    Comment by harryschell — June 2, 2012 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

    • I tend to be skeptical of arguments that rest on “human nature” (or the search for power, a supposedly demonic impulse). What we do know is that human beings are adaptable and have adapted to drastically different environments and challenges. Their differing life experiences push them toward explanations that make their world comprehensible. Alien explanations are treated with scorn and often fear and loathing. I am not minimizing the capacity for social destructiveness or self-destructiveness. I just don’t like the Manichean good versus evil explanation for historical events and change. We need explanations that more fully reconstruct the past and present, and how different individuals and groups view that history, which is not easy to discover.

      Comment by clarespark — June 2, 2012 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  3. You are trying to justify Gottlieb and the like, but I will be less kind. I believe one can be born privileged and still be able (or at least try to be) compassionate and decent. We don’t live in the Middle Ages when kings lived in isolation (and without the Internet), were told that they were divine and it was easy to believe then. There is no justification for modern kings (and much smaller “privileged). I will never understand the Gottliebs: I will never understand Ronda (a red diaper “Jew”) who went to Iran on Iranian TV to denounce …. you guess it … Israel; I will never understand Sarah (a 22 year old graduate of Columbia who babbles on the pages of Dissent about … Jewish power). All these people have access to all the knowledge in the world. Instead they have chosen convenient posturing, convenient catering to the crowd, they wish accepts them. Yes, they are and they will be accepted as long as they remain useful idiots, or more correctly useful scoundrels.

    Comment by anna — June 2, 2012 @ 1:09 am | Reply

    • I wasn’t trying to justify Gottlieb at all, but was protesting his piece. He is too young to comprehend the phenomenon of a David Horowitz or neoconservatives in general. Mostly the piece was about the desire for unity, that encompasses all individuals of all societies. It is very hard to stand alone, and especially to be a combative Jew, whose tradition is filled with challenges to the written text, especially when most other belief systems are authoritarian in one way or another.

      Comment by clarespark — June 2, 2012 @ 1:27 am | Reply


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