After months of reading and writing about him, I think I am finally beginning to understand the mindset of David Horowitz, a rightist so extraordinarily dedicated to the destruction of the left.
Though he is not directly identified with the neo-cons (having never studied with Leo Strauss or one of his students and having avoided work in either government or academia—favorite neo-con hang-outs), Horowitz does have a great deal in common with them. Most significantly, he believes (like they do) that there will always be a hierarchy in human society and that those at the top have the responsibility for making the decisions for the whole, simply by virtue of having proved themselves by making it to the top. Taking their cues from Plato’s Republic and Machiavelli’s The Prince, they believe in the validity of the ‘noble lie’ and the necessity of seeing things in terms of big pictures, even at the expense of individuals.
I had resisted lumping Horowitz with the neo-cons, in part because I did not want to accept the extent of their influence—and still don’t. The neo-cons scare me, for the average person is reduced (in their world view) to insignificance. In an article of mine (I’m a professor of literature) that will be appearing soon in a book entitled Jabberwock I: anuario de ensayo fantástico (Madrid: Bibliopolis, June 2005) entitled (in its English version—the book, obviously, will be in Spanish), “What’s Going Down: The Lessons of Philip K. Dick’s Short Fiction for the Post-9/11 World,” I even talk about the neo-cons:
In a recent neo-Straussian text, The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know Now, Carnes Lord writes that, even in the face of the external threats from rogue states and terrorist groups, “the real problem facing the modern prince is not the barbarians at the gate; it is the barbarians within” (227)….
After recognizing the truth… that elites “may oppress,” Lord goes on to say that they “may also demonstrate farsighted leadership, engage in heroic self-sacrifice, and provide competent and honest administration of the public business” (55).
Horowitz believes that the greatest danger lies within and in his own “heroic self-sacrifice,” and he feels quite strongly that he should be among those running the United States. Years ago, he saw the left as his avenue to the sort of power he believes he should wield. That did not work out and, once he’d seen the writing on the wall about the “death” of the left, he moved to the right, where he felt he could find a way in.
He is still looking. Though his rightists are now in power, Horowitz himself is not, so has had to find reasons for his failure to gain real influence.
One of the lingering resentments from his younger days concerns academia, an arena where he did not succeed—at least, not to the level of his expectations (he did well enough—better than most—earning a Master’s degree from the prestigious University of California at Berkeley, but Horowitz expected more). Horowitz is an extremely smart man, and feels that his natural ability should be enough to convince people to follow his lead. Academics did not, however: most of them are smart, too, after all. They waited for him to prove himself, something he never did (not in academia, at least).
Of course, Horowitz sees it differently: he feels he did not succeed in academia because the academics did not like his ideas. And, in his view of the world, the academics are a monolith aligned against him: hence his claim that there are ten times as many Marxists in American universities as there are Republicans.
Think about that: let’s say that, out of 100 faculty members, nine are Republicans (taking an absurdly low percentage—I’m sure the rate is much higher than that). That would mean that another 90 of that 100 are Marxists, leaving only one for all of the other possible political possibilities. Obviously, that’s nonsense, but it is one that a person like Horowitz, who is only willing to explain his failure as external to himself, can use to explain why he is so universally rejected by academic faculties—and it also explains why he has chosen academia as the focus of his rancor.
Because he believes that the cream will always rise to the top, the fact that he did not rise to the top of academia must have an external cause (in his eyes). Like the neo-cons, Horowitz does not believe that the elite is formed through connection, inheritance, or luck—but through ability alone. Society, in all of their eyes, in inherently hierarchical and success in the hierarchy is based on talent and drive: those who make it to the top are the ones who can–and so, should be allowed to do. Horowitz has never been allowed to do so, because he is supremely confident in his ability, it must be because someone (those devious Marxists?) is stopping him.
One of the things that has frustrated me about Horowitz is the ease with which he lies, muddies issues, or switches terms for others that he knows are not synonymous. He claims huge salaries for college professors, for example, knowing full well that only an extremely small percentage even make $100,00.00 a year (I make less than half even that). He allows for Reagan to have supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s for geo-political needs but claims that wasn’t really support for Saddam (Reagan, I guess, didn’t like Saddam, so it was OK)—while claiming that those who opposed the US invasion of Iraq were, therefore, Saddam supporters (not allowing that they, like Reagan, may not “really” have liked him). And he uses terms like “Marxist,” “Stalinist,” “communist,” and “traitor” almost interchangeably, though each has a completely distinct meaning. How, I kept asking myself, could he justify such deceit?
Well, like the neo-cons, Horowitz is following Plato’s justification of the ‘noble lie,’ the lie told by the elite for the good of the nation as a whole. This paternalistic “I know better” is so un-American that I have a difficult time understanding how anyone brought up in this country could embrace it—and have tried to deny that they actually do. More and more, however, it is becoming the clear modus operandi of our ruling classes (look at the justification for the war in Iraq, just as one example among many): so why should Horowitz, who wants to be one of them, be any different?
I suspect that the people with the real power in our country recognize Horowitz for what his is, a self-absorbed man who could never really operate within any system (governmental or academic)—unless he, himself, were at the top. Therefore, they keep him at a distance, using him as an attack dog, but never allowing him to come into the house. Still, I now see that he really is simply a caricature of the neo-cons who are running our country—and, as that, is worth studying. A caricature, after all, highlights the features of the subject, making that subject a little easier to understand.