David Horowitz was born in Forest Hills, N.Y., on January 10, 1939, the year of the Nazi–Soviet non-aggression pact, which shattered the illusions of many Communists and other members of the progressive Left. But Horowitz’s schoolteacher parents, Blanche and Phil, remained steadfast in their commitment to the party. They had met in Communist gatherings in the early 1930s and engaged in what turned out to be a lifelong “political romance,” as David later described it in his autobiography, Radical Son, thinking of themselves as “secret agents” of the Soviet future.
Horowitz was a freshman at Columbia University when the fallout from the Khrushchev revelations was causing a crisis in his parents’ circle. Opposed to Stalin but still holding firm to the socialist cause, David focused on his literary studies, taking courses with Lionel Trilling and other distinguished Columbia professors. When he graduated in 1959, he married his college sweetheart and moved to California, where he began graduate studies in English literature at the University of California, Berkeley.
Horowitz became an editor of a new magazine launched by his circle of activists, called Root and Branch, which published essays embodying the political vision of the New Left. In 1962, he became one of the organizers of the ﬁrst campus demonstration against the Vietnam War, and in that year, while still a graduate student, he published Student, the ﬁrst book to express the aspirations and worldview of the new radical generation.
Earlier, when he was seeking a publisher for his manuscript, Horowitz wrote to the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and was somewhat surprised to receive a job offer. Horowitz had only a casual relationship with Russell, but while in London he became close to and profoundly influenced by two European Marxists: Ralph Miliband, whose two sons eventually became leaders of the British Labour Party, and the Polish Trotskyist Isaac Deutscher, the famed biographer of Stalin and Trotsky. Under the tutelage of Deutscher, Horowitz’s career as a New Left intellectual ﬂourished. He wrote Empire & Revolution: A Radical Interpretation of Contemporary History, which oﬀered a New Left perspective on imperialism, Communism, and the Cold War. Horowitz returned to the U.S. in 1968 to become an editor at Ramparts magazine, the New Left’s largest and most successful publication, with a circulation of a quarter-million readers.
He thought that he had found an answer to the political paralysis of the early 1970s when he became close to Huey Newton, the leader of the Black Panther Party. Horowitz had avoided contacts with the Panthers in their overtly violent phase, but in 1970, Newton announced that it was “time to put away the gun” and turn to community activities. Seeing this as a constructive leftism, Horowitz found himself raising funds to purchase a Baptist church in Oakland’s inner city for the Panthers, which he turned into a “learning center” for 150 Panther children. In September 1974 he recruited the Ramparts bookkeeper, Betty Van Patter, to maintain the accounts of the tax-exempt foundation he had created to manage the Panther school. In December, Van Patter’s bludgeoned body was found floating in San Francisco Bay. The police were convinced she had been murdered by members of the Panther Party, but local prosecutors were unable to bring an indictment, and the federal government, under siege from the Left, steered clear of this crime, as did the press, which had largely bought into the notion that the Panthers had been targeted for destruction by racist law enforcement.
Entering what would become a ten-year, slow-motion transformation from theorist of the Left to its worst enemy, Horowitz undertook his own inquiry into the murder. As he collided with denial and threats of retribution if he continued to search, he was forced to confront three stark facts: His New Left outlook was unable to explain the events that had overtaken him; his lifelong friends and associates on the Left were now a threat to his safety, since they would instinctively defend the Panther vanguard; and no one among them really cared about the murder of an innocent woman, because the murderers were their political friends.
Forced to look at his own commitments in a way he had never allowed himself to do before, Horowitz realized that it was the enemies of the Left who had been correct in their assessment of the Panthers, just as they had been correct in their assessment of the Soviet Union, while the Left had been disastrously wrong. The Panthers were not political militants and victims of police repression. They were ghetto thugs running a con on credulous white supporters and committing crimes against vulnerable black citizens. It was the Left and its “revolution” that had conferred on them the aura of a political vanguard, protecting them from being held accountable for their deeds.
In pursuing his investigation of Betty Van Patter’s death, Horowitz discovered that the Panthers had murdered more than a dozen people in the course of conducting extortion, prostitution, and drug rackets in the Oakland ghetto. And yet, to his growing bewilderment, the Panthers continued to enjoy the support of the American Left, the Democratic party, Bay-area trade unions, and even the Oakland business establishment.
In his essay “Still No Regrets,” Horowitz wrote: “A library of memoirs by aging new leftists and ‘progressive’ academics recall the rebellions of the 1960s. But hardly a page in any of them has the basic honesty — or sheer decency — to say, ‘Yes, we supported these murderers and those spies, and the agents of that evil empire,’ or to say so without an alibi. I’d like to hear even one of these advocates of ‘social justice’ make this simple acknowledgement: ‘We greatly exaggerated the sins of America and underestimated its decencies and virtues, and we’re sorry.’”
The political journey from Left to Right, of course, had been made before. But Horowitz’s change of heart was of a somewhat diﬀerent character from the conversions of the ex-Communists who had traveled to the Right before him. Unlike the contributors to The God That Failed, for instance, most of whom remained men of the Left, Horowitz made a comprehensive break with the radical worldview.
After Betty’s murder, Horowitz ceased his radical activism, and he put aside his political writing for most of the following decade. Silence about politics became his refuge, as he painstakingly reassessed his life and outlook. He was already involved in a writing project with Peter Collier, a multi-generation biography of the Rockefeller family, and this became his cocoon. In 1975, The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty appeared, to widespread acclaim, including a front-page rave in the New York Times Book Review. It became a bestseller and a nominee for a National Book Award. The success of The Rockefellers led to other books — The Kennedys: An American Drama (1984) and The Fords: An American Epic (1987). These works earned Collier and Horowitz praise from the Los Angeles Times as “the premier chroniclers of American dynastic tragedy.”
After the Communist victory in Vietnam in 1975, the North Vietnamese began executing tens of thousands of South Vietnamese and setting up “re-education camps” where ideological offenders were held in “tiger cages.” The general repression prompted an exodus of 2 million refugees. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese boat people perished in the Gulf of Thailand and in the South China Sea in their attempt to escape the Communist new order, which the eﬀorts of the New Left had helped to bring about.
In Cambodia, the victory of the Communists led to the slaughter of some 3 million peasants. More peasants were killed in Indochina in the ﬁrst three years of Communist rule than had been killed on both sides during the 13 years of the anti-Communist war.
As the Indochinese tragedy unfolded, Horowitz was struck again by how the Left refused to hold itself accountable for the result it had fought so hard for — in this case, a Communist victory. It evidently could not have cared less about the new suffering of the people in whose name it had once purported to speak. He became increasingly convinced, as Peter Collier had tried to persuade him, that “the element of malice played a larger role in the motives of the left than I had been willing to accept.” If the Left really wanted a better world, why was it so indifferent to the terrible consequences of its own ideas and practices?
In November 1984, Horowitz turned another corner. He cast his ﬁrst Republican ballot, for Ronald Reagan. Shortly thereafter he learned that Peter Collier had done the same. On March 17, 1985, he and Collier wrote a cover story for the Sunday magazine of the Washington Post, “Lefties for Reagan,” and explained their vote by describing what they had seen and done while fighting against “Amerikkka” as part of the Left. As they expected, the article inspired vitriolic responses from their former comrades and forced them to re-enter the political arena to wage what became a two-person war against the Sixties Left.
Dissecting the Left’s hypocrisy now became a Horowitz métier. As a former believer, he could attack the progressive myth with the familiarity of an insider. He and Collier delivered their ﬁrst stunning blow in Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the ’60s, a 1989 book in which they analyzed the legacy of the New Left and its corrosive effects on American culture. Destructive Generation represented the ﬁrst dissent from the celebration of the 1960s that had been issuing forth in volume after volume from publishing companies headed by former New Leftists.
Before Collier and Horowitz turned on the Left, they had enjoyed front-page reviews in the New York Times Book Review and bestseller status for their multi-generational biographies. But Destructive Generation marked their eclipse in the literary culture. As Horowitz later recalled, “Our books, once prominently reviewed everywhere, were now equally ignored. With a few notable exceptions, we became pariahs and un-persons in mainstream intellectual circles.” The last review of a Horowitz book in The New York Review of Books was in 1985, the very spring that he and Collier announced they had voted for Reagan.
Horowitz’s next work, Radical Son, published in 1997, was powerful enough that even his enemies had to admit that it called up comparisons to Whittaker Chambers’s Witness and Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. George Gilder called it “the ﬁrst great American autobiography of his generation.” In this memoir Horowitz provided an account of his life, the details of which were already being distorted by his political enemies, and described the intellectual process of his political change of heart.
Horowitz’s next book, The Politics of Bad Faith (1998) was a collection of six essays that provided what he called “an intellectual companion piece” to Radical Son — analysis counterpointing the earlier book’s narrative. A central theme of The Politics of Bad Faith is the refusal of radicals to accept what the implications of the collapse of Communism are for the future of socialism. “For radicals, it is not socialism,” Horowitz writes, “but only the language of socialism that is ﬁnally dead. To be reborn, the left had only to rename itself in terms that did not carry the memories of insurmountable defeat, to appropriate a past that could still be victorious.” Thus leftists now called themselves “progressives,” and even “liberals.”
Horowitz’s next book, Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes, published in 1999, quickly became the most controversial work the author had written. It addressed the new cultural dimensions of the radical cause, specifically the determination to make race function the way class had in the traditional Marxist paradigm. White males were demonized as an ersatz ruling class responsible for every social disparity between racial groups and genders. Behind the idea that all blacks are victims all the time, according to Horowitz, lies the desire to perpetuate the failed Marxist vision and the social war it justifies.
In 1996, Horowitz, who had gradually embraced the cause of conservatism, was approached by a disaffected Democratic strategist. This began a relationship that resulted in a new theme in Horowitz’s work: advice to conservatives on how to win electoral battles and, more broadly, how to combat progressive ideas with a positive vision. Horowitz’s first effort in this vein was The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits (2002). In The Art of Political War Horowitz observes that progressives have inverted Clausewitz’s famous dictum and treat politics as “war continued by other means.” By contrast, conservatives approach politics as a debate over policy.
Horowitz’s political strategy is to turn the tables on the Left, framing ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ as the actual oppressors of minorities and the poor.
Conservatives generally, and Republicans in particular, either fail to understand that there is a political war taking place, or disapprove of the fact that there is. Conservatives approach politics as a series of management issues, and hope to impose limits on what government may do. Their paradigm is based on individualism, compromise, and partial solutions. This puts conservatives at a distinct disadvantage in political combat with the Left, whose paradigm of oppression and liberation inspires missionary zeal and is perfectly suited to aggressive tactics and no-holds-barred combat. Horowitz’s political strategy is to turn the tables on the Left, framing “liberals” and “progressives” as the actual oppressors of minorities and the poor. In How to Beat the Democrats and Other Subversive Ideas (2000), Horowitz returned to these themes.
In the spring of 2001, Horowitz put his own advice to the test by launching an effort to oppose the Left’s campaign to secure reparations for slavery 137 years after the fact as “bad for blacks and racist too.” Horowitz conducted his opposition by taking out ads in college newspapers across the country — or attempting to. Forty college papers refused to print the ad, generating a furor over free speech. Donald Downs, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, summed up the reaction: “The Horowitz controversy has laid bare the cultural and intellectual splits that rivet the contemporary university.” When Horowitz was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley, university officials assigned 30 armed guards to protect him. Subsequently, and for the rest of his career, Horowitz was unable to speak on campuses without a security presence. In the fall of 2001, he published an account of these events, which he called Uncivil Wars.
The reparations campaign exposed the hostility of American campuses to ideas that challenged the orthodoxies of the Left. One consequence of this was the absence of any interest on campus in Horowitz’s own work. To provide a guide to the growing corpus of his writings, he decided to publish a representative selection of his articles and excerpts from his books along with a bibliography of his writings. The book, titled Left Illusions: An Intellectual Odyssey, was published in 2003.
The anti-reparations ads that Horowitz placed listed “10 Reasons” for the view that reparations were a bad idea at a time when there were no slaves and the majority of the population were descendants of people who either opposed slavery or arrived in America after it was abolished. But the spring term of the anti-reparations campaign went by without a single response by Horowitz’s critics to the arguments and evidence presented in his ad. The only responses were epithets and slanders.
Horowitz viewed this as a troubling commentary on the state of the contemporary university. As a result, in 2002, he launched a “Campaign for Fairness and Inclusion in Higher Education” to foster a pluralism of ideas and viewpoints, and in the spring of 2003 he drafted an “Academic Bill of Rights” based on the classic 1915 statement on academic freedom by the American Association of University Professors. Over the next seven years Horowitz attempted to persuade universities to adopt a code to ensure that students would have access to views on more than one side of controversial issues and that faculty would conduct themselves professionally in the classroom, and refrain from using their authority to indoctrinate students in partisan agendas. To advance these principles Horowitz wrote four books analyzing the situation he encountered on the several hundred campuses he visited during the seven years of his campaign: The Professors (2006), Indoctrination U. (2008), One-Party Classroom (2009; co-authored with Jacob Laksin), and Reforming Our Universities (2010).
Having himself once been part of a progressive movement that identified with America’s enemies, Horowitz was struck by the Democrats’ reluctance to stop Saddam Hussein’s aggression during the first Gulf War: Only ten Democratic senators supported the coalition that George H. W. Bush had assembled to reverse Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait. This was a sign of the commanding role the Left had assumed in the Democratic party. Since Saddam Hussein was one of the true monsters of the 20th century and did not justify his atrocities by appeals to “social justice,” it also revealed the disturbing lengths to which the Left would go to act on its hostility to America.
While he was writing his account of the reparations controversy in the summer of 2001, Horowitz was diagnosed with prostate cancer. That fall, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he underwent a radical prostatectomy and radiation treatments. While recovering, he wrote a long essay titled, “How the Left Undermined America’s Security before and after 9/11,” which traced the leftward march of the Democratic party and its defection from the War on Terror. This essay became the background to two important books on the war in Iraq and the continuing transformation of the Democratic party into a party of the Left.
The first of these volumes, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left (2004), described the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq and set out to explain how a secular Left that championed Enlightenment values had aligned itself with the Islamist enemies of those values and of the West. Unholy Alliance also described how the radical Left, which organized massive demonstrations against the war, had dramatically influenced the course of Democratic policy and caused a break in the bipartisanship that had characterized American foreign policy over the previous half-century.
Unholy Alliance was the first book to trace the evolution of American radicalism from its support for the Soviet bloc to its opposition to the War on Terror and to explain how the Left and Islamist movements share a mindset that creates a bond between them. For the Left, America is the hated seat of global capitalism and individualism. For Islamists, America is the hated seat of Western values, a bulwark against the global domination of Islam, and a wellspring of spiritual iniquity. Consequently, these two destructive movements have a shared conception of, and contempt for, the “Great Satan” — America — which they identify as the primary source of evil in the world. They find common ground in their desire to annihilate or “fundamentally transform” it.
Four years later Horowitz followed Unholy Alliance with a volume written with Ben Johnson, called Party of Defeat: How Democrats and Radicals Undermined America’s War on Terror before and after 9/11 (2008). Eighteen Republican senators and congressmen endorsed the book, including the ranking members of the committees on intelligence, foreign relations, and military affairs in both houses. Party of Defeat examined in detail what Horowitz was later to call “the great betrayal” — the unprecedented defection of a major political party from a war in progress that it had voted to authorize.
In pursuing his efforts to document the Left’s infiltration and eventual control of the Democratic party, Horowitz found his attention drawn to a recently formed network of funders and apparatchiks that the Washington Post had already described as a “shadow party,” taking a term from the British political lexicon to describe the government-in-waiting of the opposition party. In this case, however, the government-in-waiting was being formed inside the opposition party itself. With co-author Richard Poe, Horowitz published The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party (2006).
Horowitz continued this work with another book, this time co-authored with Jacob Laksin: The New Leviathan: How the Left-Wing Money Machine Shapes American Politics and Threatens America’s Future (2012). The new book documented and analyzed what no other work of scholarship had even noticed: that the Left had successfully built the richest and most powerful political machine in American history. The authors’ findings upended the conventional wisdom that the Republican party represents the rich and powerful, while the Democrats are “the party of the people.” The New Leviathan reveals how a powerful network moves radical ideas like Obamacare from the margins of the political mainstream and makes them the priority agendas of the Democratic party.
In 2014, Horowitz resumed his strategic lessons for Republicans and conservatives in Take No Prisoners: The Battle Plan for Defeating the Left, which is a summary statement of his 20 years of thinking about political warfare. According to Horowitz, conservatives fail to employ a political language that speaks to voters’ emotions, and fail to highlight the moral imperative of opposing policies that are destructive to the poor and the vulnerable, and ultimately to all Americans. Progressives view themselves as social redeemers, as missionaries seeking to transform the world, which inspires their will to win. Conservatives are pragmatists whose goals are specific, practical, and modest by comparison. But it is only by embracing an inspiring mission as defenders of freedom and champions of the victims of progressive policies that conservatives can confront the fire of the Left with a fire of their own.
In 2012 Horowitz published what with one large exception was to be the final episode in the work of the second half of his life — to understand the pathology of the Left, its hatred of America, and its destructive agendas. He gave it the title Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion. Among its six chapters is a portrait of his friend Christopher Hitchens, whose incomplete second thoughts about his radical commitments became for Horowitz a measure of what it means to be of the Left, and what it means to have left the Left. This poignant rendering of both the man and his evolving ideology explores the seamless fabric joining radical ideas and lives, and the destructive consequences of both.
The large exception alluded to is the series of nine volumes called The Black Book of the American Left. It can be said with reasonable certitude that this is the most complete first-hand portrait of the Left — as it has evolved from the inception of the Cold War through the era of Barack Obama and the Islamic jihad — that is likely to be written.
Along with his political books, Horowitz began publishing in 2005 a series of four volumes of philosophical memoirs that reveal a different side of his personality and writing. Always known for his strong, cerebral prose, in these volumes he shows a lyrical introspection that is unexpected. All four books engage issues of mortality and faith, and along the way show how the progressive quest for perfect justice, as Horowitz puts it, “is really an attempt to deny the permanence of injustice of which death is the exemplary case.”
The first of these volumes, The End of Time (2005), is all at once a meditation on the religious angst of the 17th-century physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal, a journal of his own battle with cancer, a look into the mind of 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta, and the story of a romantic relationship that Horowitz never expected to have. Literary critic Stanley Fish wrote of the book: “Most memoirs only mime honesty. This one performs it. Beautifully written, unflinching in its contemplation of the abyss, and yet finally hopeful in its acceptance of human finitude. And as a bonus, it gives us a wonderful love story.”
The second book in this series, A Cracking of the Heart (2009), is a moving tribute to his beloved daughter Sarah, who died in her San Francisco apartment in 2008 at the young age of 44 from a genetic disability called Turner Syndrome. A Cracking of the Heart is witness to an extraordinary human being who rejected self-pity and complaint, and who chose instead to live a life of perseverance, hard work, and independence.
Horowitz describes the next volume in this meditative series as “a summa of my life’s work.” Subtitled “The Search for Redemption in This Life and the Next,” A Point in Time (2011) is about the all too human fear that our existence will vanish into oblivion — and the consequences of coping with this fear by acting as gods and trying to remake the world.
In his fourth book of reflections on faith and mortality, You’re Going to Be Dead One Day: A Love Story, Horowitz takes us on an inspirational journey inside his personal world, sharing his remarkable and unlikely love story with his wife, April, his relationship with his children, his philosophical reflections about gratitude and perseverance in the face of adversity and illness, and his evolving thoughts on death. This book is about the choice each of us faces — whether to embrace this world we are given and make the most of it, or to live a life of bitterness (the fate of Horowitz’s own father) because we cannot live in a world of utopian fantasy that does not exist.
In You’re Going to Be Dead One Day, we see how far Horowitz has escaped from the destructive discontent that lies at the heart of the radical creed.
In You’re Going to Be Dead One Day, we see how far Horowitz has escaped from his father’s shadow and from the destructive discontent that lies at the heart of the radical creed. While looking unflinchingly at human limitations and the death that awaits us all, his story is nonetheless one of tenuous hope, even joy.
So how, finally, to measure David Horowitz’s life and work? This question is complicated by the fact that in having second thoughts about the Left and its catastrophic impact on American life, Horowitz has alienated the literary and cultural establishment that once showered him with acclaim. Eric Alterman, a commentator for MSNBC and a columnist for The Nation, wrote a scathing review of The Politics of Bad Faith in which he failed to discuss the ideas in the text, but instead passed on to readers Paul Berman’s unhinged claim that Horowitz was a “demented lunatic,” a charge made in the course of a bitter attack in the pages of the socialist magazine Dissent. “When Horowitz ﬁnally dies,” Alterman wrote in the same review, “I suspect we will be confronted with a posthumous volume of memoirs titled ‘The End of History.’” The operative word here is the wishful ﬁnally. Leftists like Alterman now face a double bind: Not only is Horowitz still with us, but, in The Black Book of the American Left, he has given them the living summary of his work they dreaded.
Some sectors of intellectual conservatism have kept a distance from Horowitz, reﬂecting a discomfort with his aggressive political and literary style. Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary, observes: “There’s his polemical style, which still resembles the one invented by the left. Even though it has made the left its target, there are conservatives, I think, who feel uncomfortable with it.”
The historian Richard Pipes agrees: “It may have to do with style and decorum. Conservatives do not like aggressive argumentation — they prefer to stand above the fray. For the same reason they ignore Rush Limbaugh, for all his enormous success and inﬂuence. It is a weakness of the conservative movement, this fear of giving battle.”
Yet while some conservatives have kept him at arm’s length, it cannot be denied that Horowitz has enjoyed signiﬁcant support in the conservative movement generally and even from the conservative media. While his later efforts may not always have received the attention they merit, Radical Son rated a cover story in the Weekly Standard, Ramesh Ponnuru wrote an elegant and appreciative review in First Things, and the book received very favorable notices in National Review and other conservative publications.
To overcome the many obstacles he has faced, Horowitz has been forced to create his own institutional base to carry on his work. He has done this with the help of a handful of conservative foundations and over 140,000 individual supporters who contribute to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which he unabashedly describes as “A School of Political Warfare.”
The Left’s hatred for Horowitz’s achievement in exposing and crystallizing the pathology of radicalism is his reward for a quarter-century of argumentation. It has drawn the following appreciation from Norman Podhoretz: “David Horowitz is hated by the left because he is not only an apostate but has been even more relentless and aggressive in attacking his former political allies than some of us who preceded him in what I once called ‘breaking ranks’ with that world. He has also taken the polemical and organizational techniques he learned in his days on the left, and ﬁgured out how to use them against the left, whose vulnerabilities he knows in his bones. (That he is such a good writer and speaker doesn’t hurt, either.) In fact, he has done so much, and in so many different ways, that one might be justiﬁed in suspecting that ‘David Horowitz’ is actually more than one person.”
Academic and social critic Camille Paglia, herself an independent leftist, calls Horowitz “one of America’s most original and courageous political analysts,” reflecting that “as a scholar who regularly surveys archival material, I think that, a century from now, cultural historians will find David Horowitz’s spiritual and political odyssey paradigmatic for our time.”
Anyone who has traced the arc of David Horowitz’s life cannot help thinking that, despite all the efforts to silence him, he will ultimately be vindicated by history and that the principles behind his work, to use William Faulkner’s famous words, will not only endure but prevail.
— Jamie Glazov is the editor of Frontpage Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in history with a specialty in Russian, U.S., and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror.