Sunday Night Journal — October 17, 2011
The personal and the political
The interplay of the personal and the political in the book and in Horowitz’s life is interestingly illustrated in this passage.
In our second year [in Berkeley, ca. 1962], Elissa became pregnant. This was not exactly planned, but neither was it entirely an accident. We had never used any contraception except the rhythm method, which was an uncertain precaution at best. Like the vegetarian regime we had adopted after arriving in California, this was a decision Elissa made and I was happy to follow. In declaring her rejection of other contraceptive methods, she might have said something to me like “It’s unnatural.” But it was not really an idea as she presented it, and there was no argument offered to jusify it. She did not think programatically in that way. It was more like an instinct or feeling.
Once I yielded to her will, on the other hand, I felt the need to convert it into a principle. When I had worked it out as a formal position on contraception (pretty much against), I incorporated it into my Root and Branch article on meaning. But when I presented the text to [Robert] Scheer, he responded with a smirk and pretended not to understand the argument at all. His subtext was transparent: Only a reactionary, probably only a Catholic, could have a point of view so perverse. The subject itself was so personal that I was embarrassed to defend what I had written. I removed the explicit reference from my text and approached the matter obliquely. “A sign of the uncertain footing of this generation in the world,” I wrote, “is the reluctace to bring new being into it.”
He goes on to say that his ideology prompted him to feel guilty about Elissa’s pregnancy, because
A maternal state was part of woman’s oppression. I had made it harder for her to become independent and achieve a status beyond motherhood.
But he realizes that “this progressive but abstract understanding” in fact represented a denial of Elissa’s real wishes. Not until years later, after three children, did she tell him that his reaction presented itself to her as lack of emotional support at the onset of her pregnancies, and
For the first time, I began to resent the progressive ideas that had shaped my reactions and, in this instance, separated me from her.
A Catholic reading that last story naturally notes with fascination the correspondence between Elissa Horowitz’s instinctive view about contraception and that of the Church. There are several other such glancing approaches to actual religion, as opposed to the false religion of Marxism; sadly, these are never pursued.
I dedicated my Shakespeare book  “To Elissa, who brings grace to my world.” I’d wanted to call it Shakespearean Grace, but when I mentioned the title to her, she thought it “too Christian,” and I changed it to Shakespeare: An Existential View. Later I came to regret this, because the original title was more appropriate, and this was the only book I managed to write in those years that I can reread comfortably today.
There is almost nothing in the book of what might be called spirituality in any direct sense, and that is, in the end, its greatest weakness, and the aspect in which it most falls short in comparison to Witness. Horowitz never seems to see that it was the godless pride of Marxism that was at the root of its power to delude and destroy. I say “was” because Marxism and its relatives seem of comparatively little influence now, but I think less coherent and more diffuse forms of them are still widely and almost unconsciously held, and that we probably have not heard the last of them.
In the past five or six years Horowitz has written several books in which he faces the ultimate questions, and reportedly he comes down to a sort of humanistic stoicism. His most recent is A Point In Time: The Search for Redemption in This Life and the Next. I plan to read it.
Marxism, communism, and the 1960s
What [various current chroniclers of the 1960s] sought to obscure in their recollections of the past was this: from its beginnings, 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.
In 1968, Ramparts sent Sol [Stern] to Bratislava, along with Tom Hayden and an SDS delegation, to meet Madame Binh and other leaders of the National Liberation Front. For the radicals attending, this was not just a fact-finding mission. The organizers allowed Sol to be present only after Ramparts agreed that he would not report on the “sensitive” political discussions taking place. Long afterwards, Sol told me what these were: “The SDSers held a seminar with the Communists on how to conduct their psychological warfare campaign against the United States.” According to Sol, Hayden was particularly vocal in making suggestions on how to sabotage the American war effort.
At the wedding of two radicals at the craziest point of “the ‘60s,” which was roughly 1969-1970
...the couple exchanged rings made from the fuselage of a downed American aircraft. The bride had brought them back from North Vietnam. Their wedding cake was inscribed with a Weatherman slogan: Smash Monogamy. The marriage lasted less than a year.
Why does any of this still matter? I can say from direct personal knowledge that not all those who actively opposed the war in Vietnam, or participated in any of the broadly left-wing movements of the 1960s, had any particular sympathy for hard-core Marxist communism. I am pretty sure that the preceding sentence would still be accurate if I substituted “most of” for “not all.” Even those who might be accurately described as communists, in that they had some wooly-headed idea of everyone sharing everything, were certainly not interested in (much less capable of) establishing a totalitarian state, or for that matter any other kind of state. So why does it matter if their views on the war and other matters happened to coincide with those of communists, or if they were unknowingly influenced by communists?
Because there is a world of difference between opposing a war because you believe it to be immoral and/or unwise, and opposing it because you want the other side to win. I don’t know that my own opposition to the war was even coherent enough to fit the first description, but it most certainly did not fit the second.
Because the left, and to some extent our culture as a whole, at least at the most prestigious and influential levels, still has not faced the truth about communism, and the influence of communism, at least on the emotional level. Yes, there were the Gulags, the famines, the liquidation of whole populations, but that was all done by crazy foreigners far away and has nothing to do with what my socialist history professor teaches. If you credibly accuse someone of having actively participated in a fascist movement—or substitute “racist,” since real fascists are very rare in this country—you disgrace him, and if the participation was earnest and direct, you may ruin him in the eyes of much of the public, and certainly in the circles which would give him access to wide influence at the higher levels of society. But if you accuse him of being a communist, you’re more likely to damage yourself, at least in the eyes of sophisticated people. They’ll laugh and call you McCarthyite, a Bircher, un-American (with no trace of irony), and so forth. Only if, in a case like that of Van Jones, there is an outcry from the unsophisticated public will the accused be inconvenienced. The groom in the wedding described by David Horowitz above was Michael Lerner, who is now editor of the leftist, but respectable, Tikkun magazine and was at one point influential enough on Hillary Clinton that she referred to him as her “guru,” until so much sport was made of her Lerner-derived “politics of meaning” that she distanced herself from him. The point is not that Lerner cannot have changed, but that his extreme left-wing past has been no great barrier to his subsequent success and influence on very powerful people.
Because when we hear someone say he is an activist for “social justice” we need to know if his idea of justice involves the forcible imposition upon the nation of a utopian fantasy, under an absolute state in which the consent of the governed has no place. Because we need to know whether he would, if he could, suppress Christianity and any other unprogressive elements that rival the state’s claim to final authority over every aspect of life.
Because communism and fascism are rival siblings in the same totalitarian family, and we would never dismiss as irrelevant a comparable fascist presence in any political movement.
Because it is difficult enough for human beings to learn the lessons of history even when the facts are clear, and much more so when some facts are deliberately ignored or suppressed.
Horowitz the polemicist
The following passage provides, unfortunately, an explanation of the difference between the tone of the book and the tone of Horowitz’s everyday opinion writing. After quoting from a speech made in the 1980s to “two hundred Berkeley radicals at a pro-Sandinista conclave to which I was invited as a token conservative,” he says
The rhetoric was heated, but by the time I reentered the political battle, I had made a decision to speak in the voice of the New Left—outraged, aggressive, morally certain. I would frame indictments as we had framed them, but from the other side.... I wanted my former comrades to be put on the receiving end of accusations like those they had made against everyone else. I wanted them to see how it felt. Evidently it did not feel good. When I reached the point in my speech where I said “It is no accident that the greatest atrocities of the Twentieth Century have been committed by Marxist radicals in power,” my words were shouted down and the microphone was cut off.
Well, perhaps you have to be that way to have an effect in the world, but it certainly doesn’t appeal to me. Does it appeal to anyone who doesn’t already agree with you? Does it ever result in anyone on the other side re-examining his views? I doubt it, but maybe I’m wrong. There must be some incentive for it, since so many people on both sides do it.