David Horowitz has established himself as the radical left’s foremost intellectual nemesis, certainly in part because he used to be one of them and understands their mindset and strategies so intimately. He has attacked progressive ideology in book after book, including Radical Son, Destructive Generation, Left Illusions, The Party of Defeat, The Art of Political War, and Unholy Alliance, to name a few. His new book Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Generation, however, is less of an analysis of their ideology than personal reflections on a handful of people who have embraced that ideology.
The book’s six chapters each profile a different radical figure or figures: enfant terrible Christopher Hitchens, Marxist feminist Bettina Aptheker, black celebrity academic Cornel West, domestic terrorists like Linda Evans and Susan Rosenberg, feminist essayist Susan Lydon, and last but certainly not least, the radical left’s favorite mentor, Saul Alinsky.
The “destructive passion” of the title is the left’s utopian fantasy of human perfection, which “becomes a desire to annihilate whatever stands in the way of [that] beautiful idea.” This “fantasy of a redeemed future has repeatedly led to catastrophic results as progressive radicals pursue their impossible schemes.” And thus Horowitz begins the book reiterating a theme common to all his dissections of the left, and common to the radicals profiled here: “It is an enduring irony of the human condition that the urgency to make the world ‘a better place’ is also the chief source of the suffering that human beings have inflicted on each other from the beginning of time.”
Bettina Aptheker, a professor at University of California at Santa Cruz, is an icon of radical feminism and the daughter of a prominent Communist Party intellectual who indoctrinated her into the movement. A Berkeley radical in the ‘60s, in the ‘70s Aptheker worked for the defense of fellow Communist Party member Angela Davis in the latter’s high-profile trial for her involvement in the murder of a judge in a failed attempt to free her imprisoned lover, murderer George Jackson. Aptheker went on to pursue her revolutionary work in the field of feminist studies, and even then, Horowitz notes, she “remained ideologically straight-jacketed, unable to free herself from the terrible legacy of the cause she and her family had served.”
Academic icon Cornel West, “a remarkably shallow intellect” who tirelessly promotes himself as a sort of modern-day Biblical prophet, is Horowitz’s next case history. The chapter on West is titled “Cultural Decline,” reflecting that his rise to cultural eminence is a reflection of general cultural decline, and was made possible only by his personification of progressive clichés:
While his audiences nod agreeably, treating his mumbo-jumbo as a discourse that somehow makes sense, what they really came to hear are the progressive insults to their country and their countrymen, which West serves up at every venue and every turn.
Those progressive insults are predictable accusations of racism, sexism, imperialism, Islamophobia, and homophobia against “a society that has bestowed on him so many undeserved privileges and honors.” For Horowitz, he is “the archetype of an American radicalism that has set out to destroy the American experiment, whose strength can be measured in his unmerited triumphs and ridiculous career.”
In “Pardoned Bombers,” Horowitz describes attending a Santa Monica bookstore presentation on America’s “political prisoners” by former Weather Underground radical Linda Evans. Evans, a self-described fighter against “racism/white supremacy and Zionism,” had been involved in explosives and terrorism as a Weatherman; with 24 years remaining on her prison sentence, she was pardoned by President Clinton and went on to resume her work “to develop clandestine resistance, capable of conducting armed struggle as part of a multi-level overall revolutionary strategy,” as one website approvingly characterizes her.
At the Santa Monica presentation, Evans whitewashed the violent careers of convicted radicals like Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly known as H. Rap Brown before his prison conversion to Islam), pipe bomber Kathy Soliah of the Symbionese Liberation Army, and unrepentant terrorist Susan Rosenberg. Horowitz cuts through their dishonest self-mythologizing and exposes their motivation instead as, not an ideal of social justice, but pure rage.
“Liberated Woman” is about Susan Lydon, one of the founding editors of Rolling Stone magazine whose claim to feminist fame came with the publication of an article for Ramparts magazine, which at the time was edited by Horowitz and his colleague Peter Collier. The piece, entitled (by Collier) “The Politics of the Orgasm,” was uninspired but came to define Lydon so thoroughly that the left’s obituaries upon her death in 2005 glorified her as a feminist icon but “ended up by trivializing her life”:
Through her death, they were paying homage to a political movement whose agendas they shared and which made them feel important… These reactions brought to mind the memorial service for my father twenty years earlier, where political friends who had known him for half a century could not remember any of the details of the life he had actually lived but only the political gestures with which they were all associated, and which imparted significance to their existence.
Modern Machiavelli Saul Alinsky is profiled in the final chapter. The author of the subversive Rules for Radicals, “community organizer” Alinsky conceived the goal of radicals to be the redistribution of power from the “Haves” to the “Have-nots,” and he created a practical and politically nihilistic guide for that progressive pursuit. The culmination of his influence now occupies the White House.
At 200 pages, Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Generation is a short but rich and essential read full of personal reflections upon radicals and their personally and politically destructive obsession.
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 10/9/12)