Lest anyone one believe that such vicious partisan misrepresentation is an anomaly for Mr. Blumenthal, we wish to call our readers’ attention to the brief but telling discussion David Horowitz provides of this darling of the Left in his riveting memoir, Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, just published by the Free Press. Toward the end of the book, Mr. Horowitz describes the “journalistic firing squad” that assembled to discredit him and his longtime collaborator, Peter Collier, after their political conversion in the 1980s from radical Marxism to—well, we suppose we would have to call Mr. Horowitz’s position Neoconservative. In fact, it is what would once have been called a moderate liberalism. As Mr. Horowitz explains,
the conservatism I had arrived at could be expressed in a single patriotic idea: The revolutionary failures of the Twentieth Century had demonstrated the wisdom of the American founding, and validated its tenets: private property, individual rights, and a limited state.
For espousing such perfidious beliefs, Messrs. Horowitz and Collier have been regularly calumniated as “renegades,” “McCarthyites,” and worse by all the usual left-wing hatchet men: Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Hitchens, Eric Alterman, Todd Gitlin, and Hendrick Hertzberg. On one occasion, Susan Sontag’s son David Rieff literally spat at Mr. Horowitz. In a feature for The Washington Post, Mr. Blumenthal wrote that
when Horowitz abandoned radicalism, he also left his wife and three children, escaping into conservatism and Beverly Hills. “When I was a Marxist, I was puritanical,” he said. “Then I got loose.”
Mr. Horowitz comments: “There was hardly a detail in these sentences that was accurate. I had four children, not three; years separated my divorce from my political change of heart; I didn’t ‘escape’ into conservatism; I never lived in Beverly Hills; the phrase about getting ‘loose’ was pure invention.” Clearly, Mr. Blumenthal is someone who lives by Lenin’s terrifying dictum that the aim of political debate is not to win the argument but rather to obliterate your opponent from the face of the earth.
Radical Son is a powerful and moving book. In the deepest sense, it is a book about growing up, politically, intellectually, spiritually. The “odyssey” that Mr. Horowitz describes—from his youth as as a “red diaper baby” and his involvement with Ramparts magazine and Huey Newton and the Black Panthers to his conversion in the aftermath of the murder of a friend by the Panthers—is a journey from the destructiveness of self-infatuated utopianism to an acknowledgment that freedom without limits brings tyranny, not liberation. “The more I thought about the moral posturing of the Left,” Mr. Horowitz writes in his chapter “Second Thoughts,”
the more I saw that its genius lay not in reforms but in framing indictments. Resentment and retribution were the radical passions. In The Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx had invoked a dictum of Goethe’s devil: “Everything that exists deserves to perish.” It was the progressive credo. To the Left, neither honored traditions nor present institutions reflected human nature or desire; the past was only a dead weight to be removed from their path. When the Left called for “liberation,” what it really wanted was to erase the human slate and begin again in the year zero of creation.
Radical Son is full of harrowing personal detail—Mr. Horowitz has been through a great deal in his fifty-odd years—but the book’s real importance lies not in its anecdotal revelations or even in its political message but in its embrace of a chastened realism, a modesty not personal but metaphysical. Writing about the history of his collaboration with Peter Collier, Mr. Horowitz reflects that
our former comrades were always saying things like “smash monogamy,” and putting the family under attack as an oppressive institution. But in our work [we] had come to appreciate two things. The first was the resilience and creativity of the family, which invents and heals its wounds and endures, and finally gets its members out of the messes they got themselves into. The second was that the family was a theater for lessons about the finite nature of the human enterprise. Its reality flew in the face of the radical utopians who felt they were going to live forever. They had failed to see the tragic dimension of human nature—that the pell-mell embrace of the ineffable and the infinite, the future without consequences, is dangerous.
The idea that men can be as gods and re-create a paradise on earth is the serpentine promise of the Left. It is an idolatry that overshadows all others. When men put on the mantle of gods and attempt to remake the world in their own image, the results are hideous and destructive beyond conception.
This is a wisdom that, although fraught with political implication, goes far beyond partisan politics. In the end, the importance of Radical Son lies less in its tale of political conversion than in its frank acknowledgment of the seductive sources of human folly.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 15 Number 8, on page 2
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