David Horowitz Is Homeless
The 1960s radical decades ago switched his politics, fleeing the New Left to become a conservative provocateur. Then the right wing left him behind.
In his gestures toward the spiritual, Horowitz drew considerable inspiration and feedback from his daughter, Sarah, the subject of his most poignant and challenging memoir, A Cracking of the Heart (2009). Born with Turner Syndrome, a debilitating illness that impaired her hearing and eyesight, Sarah was a Democrat, a crusader for human rights and social justice, a poet, and an observant Jew. Despite her physical frailty, Sarah stolidly refused the role of victim, while devoting her life and resources to any individual or group she perceived as less fortunate. Sarah died unexpectedly at age 44 in her apartment, the day before Nextbook.org, the previous iteration of Tablet magazine, published the first interview with the activist poet.
Sarah’s passions made her one of David’s most spirited interlocutors, and at times A Cracking of the Heart serves as an object lesson in political empathy—making it a poignant outlier in Horowitz’s oeuvre. In an earlier memoir, he attested to his inability to internalize the monotheistic religious prophets’ agreement that all human beings, no matter their trespasses, are incarnations of the divine spirit: “[I] cannot embrace this radical faith. I feel no kinship with those who can cut short a human life without remorse; or with terrorists who target the innocent; or with adults who torment small children for the sexual thrill.”
Sarah, who respects her father but harbors little patience for his bluster, hand-writes a response that aims to cut him to the quick. “First, have a little humility,” she begins. “You are not smarter than Moses, Jesus and Buddha.” She continues by articulating as eloquent a plea for understanding across ideological lines as I’ve ever heard:
If you see someone in the fullness of their humanity, you see how they are acting out their own confusion and suffering. This does not justify hurtful or evil acts. It doesn’t even always inspire forgiveness. But if you see someone this way, you respond more in sadness than in anger. And that is simply a more excellent state of being. Even if you’ve never had this experience (and more’s the pity), respect the experience of those who have.
She did not send her father these words. “Or if she did,” he writes, “I failed again to understand them.”
While a magazine profile from 2000 describes Horowitz’s corner office in “a tony highrise … which affords a stunning view of downtown Los Angeles from the twelfth floor,” and mentions a staff of 15 plotting the cultural counterrevolution in a “war room,” the comparably spartan David Horowitz Freedom Center I visited on a sunny January afternoon testifies to diminished circumstances. Having abandoned the West Side for modest quarters in an unmarked, nondescript two-story building in Sherman Oaks, the current Freedom Center is decorated with blown-up Horowitz book covers and posters of Islamofascism Awareness Weeks of the past—and not future: As one employee told me, despite a few successful campus campaigns, the brand eventually “got stale.”
Other than Horowitz, I counted only three full-time staffers, plus an armed security guard.
David Horowitz does not keep an office at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Instead, he met me in the windowless boardroom, sitting between a framed poster of the Italian Communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s revolutionary slogan “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” and a signed original print of one of the notoriously incendiary Danish cartoons of Muhammad.
Satisfied with my progress on his more sober texts—the ones he said he would prefer to be writing—he handed me a collection of Freedom Center pamphlets—“the ones I have to write.” Recent pamphlets that Horowitz has written or co-authored include “Islamophobia: Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future,” “From Shadow Party to Shadow Government: George Soros and the Effort to Radically Change America,” “Barack Obama’s Rules for Revolution: The Saul Alinsky Model” (which he called his best-selling book of all time), “Obama and Islam,” and “Obama and the War Against the Jews.” (“Obama: The Anti-Israel President” is available as a slickly produced, 10-minute DVD.) Each pamphlet costs $3, but the Freedom Center often sells them in bulk.
In 2009, Horowitz wrote a FrontPage column warning his fellow right-wingers not to fall prey to “Obama Derangement Syndrome,” calling the new president’s speeches “eloquently and cleverly centrist and sober … hardly in the Huey Long, Louis Farrakhan, Fidel Castro vein.” He lightly chastised a fellow conservative thinker for getting “swept up in the tide that thinks Obama is a ‘transformative’ radical.” That temperate language has since been tossed out the window. By 2011, he was calling Obama’s “the most dangerous administration in American history.”
At dinner the previous night, Horowitz had even alluded to the specter of “death panels,” citing health-care reform as proof that “government now controls human life.” He added, “I also believe that there’s an element of his radicalism that likes bankrupting the country. I see Obama as a radical like myself. The same Left. Except the worst part. The Billy Ayers part.”
When I mentioned the fact that Obama’s administration located and killed Osama Bin Laden, Horowitz could only see an improbable and deeply cynical political maneuver: “He understood that he had to protect his national security flank.”
Though Horowitz has an obvious partisan imperative to oppose President Obama, and can certainly market himself as the conservative best equipped to root out a secret Marxist master plan, I find his criticism of Obama, the world’s most prominent radical son, somewhat confusing. Despite his campaign rhetoric, the president is hardly a utopian, and his administration has repeatedly demonstrated its aversion to radical solutions. On questions of race, Obama, like Horowitz, is publicly skeptical of policies based on entitlement and victimhood.
Horowitz never stops testifying to his own break from progressive idealism, but he sees anyone else as irrevocably tainted by past associations. There is only room for one radical convert, and political sympathy has no place in hand-to-hand combat. But Horowitz can no longer deny that his origin story and its lessons have lost much of their cultural explanatory power. And the story was always the point. Horowitz pieced together a philosophy from the wreckage of personal disappointments and lost illusions, yet he knows that fatalism isn’t an easy sell.
“I came out of the left through a lot of pain and a sense of enormous waste,” Horowitz said. “I was an emotional powder keg. I had gotten to age 35—and I’m a very hard worker, and had written a lot—everything that I had done was a waste.”
This is the part of the story when the apostate sees the light. Horowitz isn’t sure he still does.
“Now that I’m older, I see that it’s all a waste. I gotta live with that.”
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What remains of Revisionist Zionism, the ideology of the late Benzion Netanyahu, is its 11th commandment: Don’t be a fool.