Burke Vs. Horowitz: Does the Left Hate America?
Editor's Note: David Horowitz, the editor and founder of the conservative website, FrontPageMagazine.com, invited historian Timothy Burke to review Mr. Horowitz's recent book, Unholy Alliance. Mr. Horowitz published the review and his response; both are reprinted below. (Click here for Mr. Horowitz's response.) In an email to HNN Mr. Horowitz expressed his dissatisfaction with the review and offered a reward :
I invited Burke to take on my book because I regarded him as one of the more thoughtful academic leftists. What he came up with still amazes me. Instead of a review of the book he constructed an entire article that had almost nothing to do with what I had written to put me in my (non-academic) place. If you want to run the exchange you could note that I will offer similar space on my site (with a $150 remuneration) to an HNN historian who will actually respond to the argument of the book.
When I complained earlier this year that David Horowitz’ “Discover the Network” project lacked any explanation of the political and intellectual linkages it claimed between individuals, Horowitz replied that I was ignoring the detailed support he offered for the project in his book Unholy Alliance, and challenged me to read it.
Fair enough. I hadn’t read the book, and part of being a responsible scholar is responsibly examining what others claim as evidence or proof.
I think there is an intellectual history waiting to be written that plausibly connects the New Left with some of the forms of romantic anti-Western sentiment among some American (and European) activists and intellectuals that flourished between 1980 and the present. Authors like Ian Buruma and Paul Berman have touched on this, but no one has really fleshed it out completely. For extra credit, that history could probably manage to trace a wider, more diffuse 20th Century history of connections between anti-Western ideas, texts and political commitments within Europe and the United States that would not be isolated in any simple way to “the left” (indeed, would cross over at points to authors and thinkers typically regarded as conservative).
Let’s suppose someone had written that history and also had an acute sense of the relative ideological decomposition of the U.S. left in the 1990s, when fierce ideological divides of previous generations gave way to a much looser set of prevailing tendencies and passive-aggressive implicit compacts among people with very different temperaments and political perspectives not to push too hard on their underlying disagreements. That person might also be able to claim that romantic anti-Western sentiments or predispositions (nothing so formal or worked-out as an ideology) had wormed their way into many strains of left-wing thought and action, or at least that some thinkers and activists tolerated such sentiments in the interest of getting along with potential allies, much the same way that the American religious right often tolerates the presence of small-government libertarianism within its own coalition (and vice-versa) despite profound contradictions between the two perspectives.
This history, if it ever gets written, will need to be written with a lot of specificity, humility and interpretative detail. Horowitz’ Unholy Alliance has none of these attributes. As either a descriptive account of the postwar history of the American left or supportive evidence for a database like Discover the Network, it accomplishes little. Even when Horowitz happens upon valid interpretations or legitimate criticisms, he is so fundamentally incurious, inconsistent or disproportionate in his commentary, his claims so based on half-truths or trivial details, that the book could only possibly persuade the already-persuaded.
Horowitz complains that academics do not take him seriously. When they take him seriously, he complains that they are biased against him. It feels like a rigged game: the only thing that constitutes fair treatment by Horowitz’ standards is essential agreement with him on all but a few trivial particulars. Everything else seems to be the occasion for responses heavy on the ad hominem and laden with diversionary claims. So setting out to look at Unholy Alliance in terms of its merits as intellectual and political history is something of a lose-lose proposition. I’ve tried to read it honestly and carefully. I’m prepared to take seriously an account of the genesis and significance of the critique of Western society or of the Enlightenment or of anti-Americanism in academic or left-wing thought in the United States. I think that there is something to all three arguments if made with care and precision.
Moreover, I do not want to hold general nonfiction writing accountable for failing to be academic scholarship. However, I think even by the general standards of the public sphere, this book is inadequate in a number of ways.
Horowitz is strongly driven by the need to directly connect what he views as the left’s “original sin”, communism, with anti-Western predispositions in the last fifteen years. This drive alone distorts the book’s argument beyond repair as it leads Horowitz to pound numerous square pegs into round holes. Horowitz is careful enough to at least recognize that the communist left of the 1930s-1950s broke apart in the 1960s, though right at the outset, he fails to recognize any meaningful leftist tradition in the United States outside of the Communist Party itself: non-Communist unions, the numerous socialist parties and groups that were not the American Communist Party, New Deal liberals, anarchism, and so on simply don’t exist in Horowitz’ history.
Various forms or factions of leftist politics after the 1950s get lumped together as flavors of “neo-communism”, but Horowitz indiscriminately combines quotations from the 1990s with details from the 1960s and 1970s to characterize each of the factions he perceives. The different factions he describes are an extreme kind of Humpty-Dumptyism, given arbitrary and idiosyncratic labels like “The Great Satan”, “The Anti-American Cult”, and “The Nihilist Left”. The “nihilist left”, for example, is defined by a single person, Noam Chomsky. Whether Chomsky’s views are characteristic of the political practice or ideology of many Americans, a few Americans, or just himself, is never discussed. (Nor is the reasoning behind terming Chomsky a “nihilist”.) The nature of the categorical distinction between “The Nihilist Left” and “The Anti-American Cult” (which is largely defined by Howard Zinn, Norman Mailer, Todd Gitlin, and perhaps anyone who feels that the United States has negative as well as positive aspects to its history) is impossible to distinguish in the analysis. The concrete attributes which make any or all of these individuals and factions connected vary (if they’re discussed at all), and include connections as trivial as Ayatollah Khomeini using the same translator as Frantz Fanon (with the claim that Khomeini hadn’t thought of the world as divided between oppressors and oppressed until his Marxist translator prompted him to do so. Horowitz needs a crash course in the history of Shi’a Islam, among other things.)
I’d at least expect a boilerplate account of the New Left’s infatuation with Third World nationalist movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s, or an account of how some forms of party authoritarianism made their way into normal and often unwitting practice among left-identified activists (such as “self-criticism” sessions at the end of meetings). But even that is not really to be had here, beyond a few hints or crude gestures: the procrustean bed has been fashioned to Horowitz’ very odd specifications, and everything is cut to fit it.
One of the consequences is that Horowitz doesn’t make anything of the odd fact that of those on the Anglo-American left who have shown enthusiasm for some aspect or another of the war on terror, many are Marxists (both former and still practicing). Another, and to my mind more important, is that Horowitz pays little attention to the existence, let alone importance, of an anti-Communist left in any era of 20th Century American history. This makes it particularly strange, not to mention inaccurate, when he folds in liberals into “neo-Communism”. More problematic is Horowitz’ inability to note or acknowledge the sustained antagonism between the countercultural left in the mid-1960s and the more conventional left represented by the Students for a Democratic Society and their allies. This is important because it was the countercultural or romantic left which most readily embraced late 60s forms of ethnic nationalism and identity politics, which both liberals and many radicals rejected even at the outset, often with increasing stridency. To the extent to which there is knee-jerk anti-American or anti-Western sentiment in the contemporary American left, that romantic strain is its main source.
Horowitz does not seem to be able to distinguish between ideology and sentiment, between a programmatic, thorough political philosophy with clearly delineated goals and semi-conscious attitudes which may exist alongside other very different views or convictions held by someone. Here compare him to David Brooks, who despite his clear conservatism, is able to understand that many people have attitudes or “fashionable opinions” which actively contradict other aspects of their beliefs and lifestyle, both people on the right and the left.
This is pretty much Cultural Anthropology 101, that the substance of most individuals’ everyday consciousness of the world and all the things in it is a jumble of different views held at different levels of deliberate and consistent conviction. The problem with Horowitz here is his sense of politics as contagion, that mere contact with a fully-fleshed out ideology is enough in his view to make someone a full card-carrying devotee of it. The number of Americans in any era who are consciously, programmatically devoted to a consistent, coherent and encompassing ideology is small, and smaller still in contemporary America when compared with the 1950s, even among intellectuals.
Horowitz pays very little attention to the question of whether the views he objects to are actually widely held. He at least mentions this issue when talking about American Communism, citing the work of Aileen Kraditor. The vast majority of the time he simply assumes or asserts, however, citing a handful of prominent American intellectuals as if they stand in for a sizeable constituency or cohort, and as if all of them speak with one coherent intent and voice.
This is another of the spoiled fruits that Horowitz’ determination to connect everything to Communism bears, a sense of politics not just as contagion but as conspiracy. He ends up representing all of his targets as having a clear, instrumental sense of what they are doing and saying and a clear sense of their interconnections to others within the same conspiracy. This isn’t even the “useful idiots” argument popular among some on the populist right, that people on the left are stupidly insensate to the consequences of their arguments or beliefs. Horowitz has intellectuals programmatically pursuing the same ends, with a clear and transparent sense of the implications and meaning of their beliefs.
As a result, not only does Horowitz pay no attention to often-ferocious disagreements among Americans (intellectuals and otherwise) who identify themselves as liberal or left-wing, he reduces everything that his favored targets have to say to nothing more or less than the hidden, instrumental agenda that he charges they are pursuing. Just to mention one example, Horowitz discusses the work of the historian Eric Hobsbawm as a transitional figure between the communist left of the 1950s and the “neo-communist” left of later decades. Here at least the label of Marxist is indisputably accurate, though bringing up Hobsbawm in a book that is ostensibly about the American left is emblematic of Horowitz’ lack of precision. But Horowitz reductively encompasses everything that Hobsbawm has ever written into little more than a nakedly, narrowly, ideological polemic, as if it had no content aside from its instrumental intent, as if there would be no difference between the many volumes of Hobsbawm’s world history and a five-paragraph Marxist credo. Horowitz shows far less charity or interest in any of the texts he reads or individuals he cites to build his polemic than I show to him here, and an inability to admit that people may write and say many things at many levels of sophistication in the course of a life, some of them contradictory, some of them both right and wrong. You may disagree, for example, with the lessons that Hobsbawm draws from world history (as I do) and criticize the ways in which his politics slants his account in a great many ways (as I would), but it is woefully simplistic to disregard all of the detailed, carefully written work as nothing more than a crude polemic. Just as it’s a mistake to cite Norman Mailer as if he were a consistent, careful left-wing thinker rather than a wildly contradictory and hugely fallible artist (not to mention jerk) or to ignore the important real historical issues (not to mention historical facts) that lie within Howard Zinn’s tedious and predictable framing of those issues in The People’s History of the United States. Horowitz drives a steamroller over fifty years of American life and culture, leaving everything flat, one-dimensional and Manichean.
I suppose that quite aside from any political disagreement I have with Horowitz, or any concern I have about his intentions or goals, this aspect of Unholy Alliance more than anything else depresses me. The book lacks even a faint whisper of human curiosity, any appreciation of either moral or empirical complexity. If there’s anyone who should be able to understand both the jumble of motivations that characterize the American left in the last fifty years, or the heterogeneity of the traditions, social character, concrete politics or cultural temperament of a wide and varying range of liberals and leftists have had, it should be Horowitz. Parts of Radical Son, which I have read, suggest that very possibility, that Horowitz potentially could be a sensitive guide to aspects of the recent political history of the United States. (Though one has to suspect that his determination to fit his history of the American left into such a narrow schema has to do an overdrawn sense of his own typicality and the same sense that most Americans of his generation have, right and left, of Boomer self-aggrandizement.)
In Unholy Alliance, Horowitz tells a just-so story instead, forcing everything to fit a preconceived conclusion and sketching out a demonic Other who is damned no matter what “they” do or say. He skims the surface of the public sphere, grabs fitfully and carelessly at a handful of quotes, bashes the usual (and admittedly bashable) suspects like Chomsky over the head, and insinuates at a frantic pace. He is distracted from his account with high-school debater diversions like whether the 9/11 terrorists are or are not “cowards”, as if cowardice is a word that is as empirically cut-and-dried in its meaning as “summer” or “automobile” and repeats various applause lines from the populist right. The book certainly doesn’t document or explain Discover the Network in any meaningful respect. It only confirms the problems with that project.
It’s perfectly true that sometimes it’s hard to document a sentiment, a common thread of feeling, a shared sensibility that connects or unites seemingly disparate individuals across time. I’m very prepared to hear that there is such a sentiment or spirit that romanticizes anti-Western beliefs and politics and produces a kind of anti-American self-loathing among some American intellectuals, which in turn has produced a blindness to the reality of the contemporary world and the challenges to human liberty. Indeed, in some much more precise and focused contexts, I’m not only prepared to believe this, but will and have argued it myself. But only with historical and substantive precision, only with intellectual care, only with curiosity, only with sensitivity, only with a sense of proportion, is such an argument worth making and worth hearing.
It is a striking fact of post 9/11 history, that following its defeat in the Cold War the American left has rejuvenated itself through its opposition to the war in Iraq. It has thus launched what will possibly be another fifty year crusade against the cause of freedom, equally as futile and potentially even more destructive than its efforts on behalf of the Communist empire.
As in the last decades of the Cold War, when it did not exactly embrace our Communist enemies but instead “critically supported” them, the left does not exactly embrace the Islamist terrorists today. But it does the next best thing by offering them critical support in the form of apologetics for their savagery (“root causes” etc.), by mounting relentless attacks on America’s defenses (our borders, the Patriot Act), by diversionary and morale-sapping propaganda campaigns over Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and even through a political movement to sabotage the military effort to liberate Iraq (the “Counter-Recruitment campaign on America’s college and high school campuses). Unholy Alliance is an attempt to understand this phenomenon: to explain the paradox of a left that thinks of itself as “progressive” but which has once again entered into practical alliances with the most reactionary and oppressive forces on the planet.
No one reading Professor Timothy Burke’s “review” of Unholy Alliance would guess that this is the subject of my book.
Since not a single leftist has attempted to respond to the analysis in Unholy Alliance -- and why should they since they have purged conservatives from the faculties they have made their political base and thus never have to confront a critical peer -- we supplied Professor Burke with a copy of the book and an invitation to review it in Frontpagemag.com. What he has submitted instead is a snotty academic lecture to an author he pretends is myself along with the critique of an imaginary book which he has confused with mine. In other words, Professor Burke has set up two straw men, so that he can proceed to the easy but meaningless task of demolishing them both.
Professor Burke’s review abounds in snide put downs like this: “I do not want to hold general non-fiction writing accountable for failing to be academic scholarship.” To what scholarship could he be referring? The ravings of Professor Ward Churchill perhaps, Professor Noam Chomsky, Professor Howard Zinn? The Communist hack intellectual productions of professors Angela Davis and Bettina Aptheker? The anti-Semtic rantings of Ivy League professors Joseph Massad and Hamid Dabashi? The "prophetic" lucubrations of airhead Cornel West, or the racist screeds of Distinguished Professor bell hooks or the bloviatons of her equally "Distinguished" colleague Stanley Aronowitz?
Stanley Aronowitz is actually one of several of Professor Burke’s academic betters (Andrew Ross and Frederica Jameson are others) who are editors of the famous “peer-reviewed” journal Social Text, which a few years back published the now infamous article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Its thesis was that gravity was merely a social construct, an instrument of phallocentric hegemony, and not a real world force. Physicist Alan Sokal, submitted the article to Social Text to prove that its academic editors would publish nonsense if it was “politically correct.” He was successful. Perhaps this is the scholarship to which Burke is referring.
He is correct that my work is not academic in this sense. Reality is important to me. Unfortunately, Professor Burke has no interest in the realities that I discuss in Unholy Alliance. He is only interested in how politically incorrect I am and in discrediting rather than confronting the substance of my argument. Consequently, there is hardly a sentence in Burke’s “review” that is not so distorted in its report of what I have written (there is not a single passage actually cited in his commentary) as to be either irrelevant or simply false. Taken as a whole the result is such a travesty for a writer as serious as Burke claims to be, that it makes me wonder whether he has read the book at all, or just a few select passages that interested him and guessed at the meaning of the rest.
A large swathe of Burke’s review proceeds on the assumption that my book aspires to be an intellectual history of the left. “I think there is an intellectual history waiting to be written that plausibly connects the New Left with some of the forms of romantic anti—Western sentiment among some American (and European) activists and intellectuals that flourished between 1980 and the present.” Of course “Horowitz’s Unholy Alliances has none of [the] attributes” necessary to do this in a way that an academic like Burke would approve.
But unlike the book Burke purports to review, however, the Unholy Alliance I wrote is not an intellectual history of the left or a history of the left, and doesn’t make the slightest pretense to be one. Consequently, every observation he makes about my alleged failures to adequately do that (as in the first several paragraphs of his piece) is criticism aimed at a wholly fictitious book and is therefore entirely beside the point and irrelevant. In writing about this imaginary book, Professor Burke makes statements, that give maliciously false impressions. I will leave his comment about my lack of “humility” aside, but when he suggests that there is no “specificity” or “detail” in what I have written (“Unholy Alliance has none of these attributes”), he is making a statement that is demonstrably false.
Unholy Alliance is specific, and full of detail. It refers to more than 400 individuals and organizations and its comments are buttressed by more than 400 footnotes anchoring its commentary in a specific and detailed real world context. But far more important is the fact that the entire text is built around a detailed narrative of the specific events that took place between September 11, 2001 when the country was attacked by al-Qaeda and the fall of 2003, when the Democratic leadership, under pressure from the left, split the country over the war. This, by the way is something that had not occurred in American politics since the Civil War itself. (In Vietnam a comparable split took place but the issue was how to leave the war, not whether to win it). The narrative of the build-up to the war and the development of the split frames all the issues that organize the book. Burke simply ignores this narrative, which is like ignoring the book itself. There is no real excuse for Burke’s ignorance, moreover, since the text itself alerts the reader to what it is about:
Why have American radicals actively obstructed the war on terror..? Why have liberals opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom whose goals are the overthrow of tyranny and the establishment of political democracy and human rights—agendas that coincide with their own? Why have Democrats turned against the policy of regime change, which they had supported during the Clinton administration in both Kosova and Iraq? Why has the Democratic Party declared political war on the President’s war and thus made foreign policy a point of partisan conflict?...
These are the questions the current inquiry seeks to address. In doing so, it necessarily must confront others: What is the nature of the American left? How does it think about the world? How did it come to ally itself with Islamic jihad? How significant is the threat posed by its opposition to the war on terror? How powerful is its presence in the Democratic Party? What is its role in shaping the American future?
Is there a question in this menu whose answer Burke addresses in his review? Can a reviewer be said to review a book if he does not address its core issues? If, instead, he criticizes a book the author never intended to write? Because he has decided not to review my book, but to take on an imaginary text of his own creation, Professor Burke makes many statements that are simply false. I will pick the two that are central to what I wrote (and Burke ignored):
· It is false that I view the left’s “original sin” as communism, or that this is what drives me or my account. The left’s “original sin” (I don’t use the phrase myself) is utopianism, as any one seriously reading this or any other text I have written would know. It is the left’s utopianism that has produced its “anti-Western predispositions in the last fifteen years” (as Burke puts it), not its connection to Communist parties or states, something I have said more than once in this book that Burke has so carelessly read, and in so many words.
· It is false that I fail to recognize the non-Communist left or New Deal liberals, as Burke claims. The climactic narrative of the book is about the devolution of the Democratic Party from its pro-war position into its posture as saboteur of the war effort, and about the left’s influence on liberals in general. Two entire chapters are devoted to this. “New Deal” liberals like Richard Gephardt are specifically praised. It is hard to imagine that Burke actually read this text.
It is also false to claim, as Burke does, that “the only thing that constitutes fair treatment by Horowitz’s standards is essential agreement with himself in all but a few trivial particulars. Everything else seems to be the occasion for responses heavy on the ad hominem and laden with diversionary claims.” I have no idea what these diversionary claims might be, but I can say with reasonable certainty that I have never in the course of any of my responses to any writer, adversarial or otherwise, judged his fairness on the basis of ideological agreement or substantive agreement, or ever initiated ad hominem attacks such as Burke claims. Readers of my defense of Christopher Hitchens when he was a still a leftist (and was someone who had viciously attacked me), or of my treatment of Todd Gitlin, Sherman Alexie, Michael Walzer and others whom I have disagreed with over the war in Iraq (and who in Gitlin’s case still treat me viciously and ad hominem ad nauseam) will know that this claim by Burke is malicious and a lie. A reader of Unholy Alliance, which analyzes the writings of leftists like Gitlin and Paul Berman at length and respectfully would know the same.
Timothy Burke entirely misreads (or has failed to read) the most important section of the book, which I have called “The Mind of the Left” as an homage to a classic text by W.J. Cash called, The Mind of South. This section consists of eight sub-chapters and constitutes about a quarter of the text. It is, I believe, the first detailed attempt to describe and understand the continuities between the Communist left and the current left, which might be described as a post-modern “progressive” coalition. This coalition appears to the outside observer at first to be ideologically inchoate. Yet it acts in unison on the most crucial issue of our time, which is the war on terror in Iraq.
The left coalition is unified by its opposition to the war in Iraq and more particularly by its antagonism towards the United States and Israel. The task I set for myself in Unholy Alliance was to explain this unity, to identify the coherence of the leftist worldview amidst all of its apparent cacophony and conflict. I believe I did this. Because Professor Burke views this analysis of the “mind of the left” as a species of intellectual history, which it is not, he spends a lot of time belaboring me for not writing descriptive accounts of the varieties of leftism. My purpose was to explain why the varieties can work in common, why a democratic socialist like Todd Gitlin and a totalitarian radical like Howard Zinn both oppose an American effort to overthrow a fascist dictator like Saddam Hussein. It’s an interesting question – too bad that Professor Burke has not one word to say about it in his entire review.
What is it about the left that causes it to hate America and Israel, two multi-ethnic democracies which in the practical environment of international politics are arguably the most decent societies on the face of the earth? The first part of my answer is that the left is a religious rather than a strictly political formation and that its organizing principle is a redemption myth. This myth is rooted in a psychological need that is common to all individuals who make up the left and is so powerful as to render them impervious to the historical experience that refutes all such utopian aspirations. I use the figure of Eric Hobsbawm, one of the most respected academic historians in the world as an example of how this psychological need overpowers historical reason and experience – and does so by his own admission.
Here is how Unholy Alliance describes Hobsbawm’s post-9/11 account of how he became a Communist: “It was in Berlin in the 1930s that the young Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party and embraced a faith which has never left him. 'The months in Berlin made me a lifelong Communist, or at least a man whose life would lose its nature and its significance without the political project to which he committed himself as a schoolboy, even though that project has demonstrably failed, and as I know now, was bound to fail. The dream of the October Revolution is still there somewhere inside me.'
And here is my commentary: “Hobsbawm’s reflection is striking in a way that provides profound insight into the mind-set of the radical left. Even though he now 'knows' that the Communist project 'was bound to fail,' the dream of Communism still lives inside him. In other words, the belief in an alternate world to replace the one into which he has been born is not really connected to any reality. Even worse, the belief in the utopian future is impervious to its failure in practice, even at the cost of a hundred million lives. This is to acknowledge, in effect, the religious dimension of radical belief. In Hobsbawm’s own words, his life would 'lose its nature and its significance' without the revolutionary project. Without, that is, the project of first destroying the world he has been born into.”
The second part of my answer to the questions I pose about the left is that this utopian aspiration includes a nihilistic ambition and that the strength of this nihilism has become more pronounced in the left since the failure of the Communist project. Even in the 19th Century Doestoevsky and other writers understood that nihilism was integrally connected to the utopian vision. In my commentary on Hobsbawm in Unholy Alliance I explain its implications: “The destruction [of Western democracy] is justified by the desire to create an alternative future, notwithstanding that the practicality of that future is not an important issue for Hobswbawm or for the millions of leftists like him, who proceed with the destruction without regard for what will follow. So strong is the psychological need for the utopian illusion and its project of destruction, that it does not matter to Hobsbawm (and to radicals like him) that the noble future to which he actually dedicated his life did not work and could not have, and in fact created monstrous injustice in its place. After it was all over and the corpses of the victims were laid to rest, Hobsbawm still clings to his revolutionary fantasy and remains a dedicated enemy of the system it intends to destroy. Even though the utopian future is only an impossible dream, and has been the cause of immeasurable tragedy, it is still the center of his intellectual and political life.”
In the era of Communism the left’s unity and coherence was defined by the attitudes of its factions towards the positive agenda of what they thought of as “the revolution.” Communists, for example, identified with the socialist “experiment” in the Soviet Union. Trotskyists and Social Democrats did not. Consequently some Social Democrats offered critical support to the democratic West as against the Communist states. The head of NATO, Paul Henri-Spaak was a member of the Second Socialist International.
Today the left is still divided over its plans for the future, but these plans pale into insignificance in the face of its real passion which is its nihilistic antagonism towards the United States the metropolis at the center of the global capitalist system, and Israel, its imperialist pawn in the Muslim world. The left's overweening hatred of global capitalism – “globalization” – which is its energizing force, explains how it can make alliances with Islamic fundamentalists who share the same enemy. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the targets of Osama Bin Laden are not coincidently the very symbols of globalization and the American-led world capitalist system.
It is true that Tony Blair is America’s closest ally in the war to liberate Iraq is also a member of the Socialist International. But Blair is an anomaly. The bulk of his party opposes the war and so do the majority of social democrats – in Spain and elsewhere. How does the progressive left which is committed to "social justice" oppose Operation Iraqi Freedom, a campaign to liberate the people of Iraq? It does so because it regards America as a greater threat than the forces that oppose America in Iraq. It does so, because it regards the priority of toppling Saddam to be far less than that of thwarting American power. America is the Great Satan, responsible for the social evils that beset the planet, and of course Israel in this perspective is the “Little Satan,” the root cause not only of the misery of the Middle East but of the terrorist threat (which is a movement made up not of homicidal fanatics but "desperate people who have no other option"). In other words the nihilistic vector, which emanates from the idea of a social redemption and is blocked by the United States and Israel is today what defines the left. Interestingly, the same conclusion has been drawn by a leftist historian named Andre Markovits, writing in the Winter 2005 issue of the social democratic journal Dissent.
In the section of Unholy Alliance called The Mind of the Left, I show how this psychological trope distorts and energizes the vision of leftists across the political spectrum, so that the negative views of the United States held by figures like Noam Chomsky and Todd Gitlin – who despise each other politically – are as indistinguishable as they are irrational. Instead of confronting my analysis, say of Gitlin – which is crucial to this case -- Burke preposterously accuses me of ignoring the differences within the left. In fact, I not only don’t ignore them, I explain how the left’s religious need for a social redemption overcomes such differences and forges the coalition which includes both Gitlin and Chomsky, and the Islamofascists as well. This coalition is most obvious and visible in the global crusade of Islamist fundamentalists and secular leftists to produce a second Holocaust of the Jews in the Middle East.
Perhaps Professor Burke has another explanation for this phenomenon. We’ll never know because even though it constitutes the core argument of Unholy Alliance, he doesn’t seem to have noticed it. Instead, Professor Burke insists on viewing my analysis of the mind of the left as a failed intellectual history or a deficient account of the left's political organizations. This misunderstanding leads to some risible moments. Thus, Professor Burke is concerned because I haven’t distinguished clearly enough between the “Nihilist Left” and the “Anti-American Cult” so that he can tell who belongs to which faction. “The different factions he describes are an extreme kind of Humpty-Dumptyism….” But I wasn’t describing factions. There is no “Anti-American Cult” faction of the left. The left is an Anti-American cult. The same is true of its nihilism, which is universal in the left. I picked Chomsky as an exemplar of the nihilist strain in the left because for him it is obsessive. Todd Gitlin would not describe the United States as worse than Nazi Germany, the way Chomsky does. But I demonstrate from his own words (a privilege Professor Burke does not offer me) that he comes close enough. In particular, his view of America is so negative as to justify his opposition to a war for the freedom of 25 million Muslims and the future of democracy in the Middle East.
In sum, what I argue in this book is that it is the religious character of the left -- its utopian hope and its nihilistic rage -- that determines the political choices it makes, like opposing the war in Iraq. This is the actual point of my book, which seems to have gone directly over the professor’s head.
“I’d at least expect a boilerplate account of the New Left’s infatuation with Third World nationalist movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” Professor Burke complains, “or an account of how some forms of party authoritarianism made their way into normal and often unwitting practice among left-identified activists (such as ‘self-criticism’ sessions at the end of meetings).” This is that imaginary book again that I didn’t write. Why on earth would one want such an account in a book like Unholy Alliance, which is not a history of the left but an explanation of the way the messianic vision of the left produces the paradoxical and otherwise inexplicable political commitments that we have been witness to of late?
How would an “account of some forms of party authoritarianism” explain why Todd Gitlin, a democratic socialist who has publicly denounced the Leninist authoritarians of International ANSWER is nonetheless content to work in a movement headed by a Sixties Stalinist like Leslie Cagan and the Coalition United For Peace and Justice, which is itself perfectly happy to work in a coalition with the Leninists of International ANSWER? The answer I give is that these alliances are the result of the fact that they are all working against Uncle Sam, so demonized by them as to appear to them as the Great Satan. That is the point of my book (insofar as it can be said have one point). That is the paradox my book sets out to explain. It is a point that Professor Burke has missed.
Professor Burke says my text lacks a treatment of the Marxists who support the war in Iraq. Who is he referring to? Christopher Hitchens, Norman Geras and Kenan Makiya? Is this a political movement I missed? These are three pitifully isolated individuals one of whom is in Washington, another in England and the third in Iraq. Hitchens is actually quite uncertain who he is politically. He imagines that Bush’s war in Iraq is a leftist war, which allows him to embrace it, even though he is virtually alone in this conception. I have great affection for Christopher Hitchens and admiration for his intellectual courage. But I am not going to build an analysis of the left around an eccentric contrarian with a handful of followers, thank you very much.
It is false therefore to say that “Horowitz pays very little attention to the question of whether the views he objects to are actually widely held.” In fact the opposite is true. I actually pay a lot of attention. I picked the intellectual figures I did – Hobsbawm as the most widely respected historian of 20th Century history, Chomsky as the most popular public intellectual, Howard Zinn as the author of the most widely read and assigned text on American history, Norman Mailer as a popular writer representative of the broad progressive movement going back to the Wallace campaign of 1948 and so forth. I cite the number of buyers of Howard Zinn’s book (one million) and the number of visitors to Moveon.org (1.4 million). I note the number of demonstrators mobilized in the streets. I even write sentences like this: “In England, Prime Minister Tony Blair, the staunchest supporter of President Bush’s Iraq policy, came under heavy attack from the political left, climaxed by an anti-war demonstration in Hyde Park with 750,000 demonstrators, a proportion the equivalent of several million in the United States.” What is Burke talking about?
Here’s another thing I miss according to Burke: “Horowitz pays little attention to the existence, let alone importance of an anti-Communist left in any era of the 20th Century.” First, to reiterate: my book isn’t a political history of the 20th Century left or even an intellectual history of the 20th Century left. It is historically focused on the window of 9/11-Iraq. Secondly, the phrase “anti-Communist left” immediately reduces the faction to which Burke refers to minimal numbers. The Social Democrats of America, a movement of 1,000 individuals is virtually the only group I know who would have referred to themselves as an “anti-Communist left” during the heyday of Communism. The Dissent crowd – also a miniscule presence within the organized left – might at some points in its history have describe itself this way. The rest of the left is either Communist, or some species of neo-Communist or like Todd Gitlin and the New Left “anti-anti-Communist.” I deal with them all. If Burke wants to include the “non-Communist left,” I deal with them as well. This, like the rest of Burke’s criticism refers to a book I have not written and never intended to write.
Burke relentlessly misconstrues my agendas: “The problem with Horowitz .. is his sense of politics as contagion, that mere contact with a fully fleshed-out ideology is enough in his view to make someone a full card-carrying devotee of it." In fact, the opposite is true. One of the innovations of Unholy Alliance is that it hardly discusses ideology as such at all. In my text (and this should be obvious to anyone who has read it) ideology is almost irrelevant. In fact that is the puzzle that the book sets out to solve. How can political actors as diverse in ideology as the jihadists of Hamas and academic progressives work in such concert against the state of Israel? How do women-hating Islamists get such support from American feminists? In my analysis of the left it is almost irrelevant whether an individual believes in the dictatorship of the proletariat or in decentralized socialism or in the restoration of the Islamic caliphate. If they believe in a social redemption and regard America and Israel as political actors who stand in the way of their redemption then they will work in concert to achieve a common political end: the crippling of American power and the destruction of the Jewish state. This is the thesis of my book which like every other important detail Professor Burke has misstated or missed entirely.
Burke would like me to survey the entire intellectual output of the figures I discuss like Eric Hobsbawm and faults me when I don’t, accusing me of lack of interest. But no writer is interested in everything and since I am not writing an intellectual history of the left, Hobsbawm’s intellectual career is irrelevant. What interests me in Hobsbawm is his iconic status for leftwing intellectuals and his religious need for a socialist future that is so powerful that he doesn’t care that his political commitments have led to the deaths of 100 million people, and that it couldn’t work in the first place, and – even worse – that he is prepared to renew the commitment to this false God and encourage the next generation to do so as well. What is important is that in Hobsbawm’s eyes the United States that liberated a billion slaves of the Communist empire he served – is nonetheless Evil incarnate. Is all this important in understanding the anti-American left? Not to Burke, who doesn’t even notice it.
What interests me is that Eric Hobsawm is a blind man who is a leftist king. He is a revered historian who is blind to the history he has actually lived through and, moreover, doesn’t care. This blindness is directly the result of the fierce power of his commitment to an historical fantasy. This is not the blindness of Eric Hobsbawm alone, but the blindness of the left generally. The utopian sun is so crucial to its being that it must always look towards the light itself and thus can never see the reality staring it in the face. This is Timothy Burke’s problem too. It is why an intelligent man has written such an ignorant review, a review blind to the central argument of a book that is addressed to people precisely like him.
Professor Burke may consider this response a bashing. If so he would be wrong. It is a dissection, which can be much worse.
 See Andrew Kopkind’s classic “One-and-a-Half (Strangled) Cheers for the USSR,” which is discussed in Unholy Alliance, pp. 130-131.
 Interesting Times, op. cit. Cf. also Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s review of the autobiography in the New York Times, September 5, 2003, titled “Still Saluting the Red Flag After the Flag Pole Fell.”
 Unholy Alliance, pp. 61-62
comments powered by Disqus
Arnold Shcherban - 8/16/2005
<Why have American radicals actively obstructed the war on terror..? Why have liberals opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom whose goals are the overthrow of tyranny and the establishment of political democracy and human rights—agendas that coincide with their own? Why have Democrats turned against the policy of regime change, which they had supported during the Clinton administration in both Kosova and Iraq? Why has the Democratic Party declared political war on the President’s war and thus made foreign policy a point of partisan conflict?...>
I'll try to very briefly answer the questions asked by allegedly
intellectually puzzled Mr. Horowitz,
just to show that they have been repeatedly answered (directly or indirectly) many times by many Leftists, the fact allegedly passed unnoticed to otherwise very attentive to all the Left say and do right moralist Horowitz.
It's very difficult to pinpoint with sifficient precision whom Horowitz labels "radicals", but here are the couple reasons many folks did obstruct the so-called "war on terror" recently proclaimed.
First, and perhaps major, that the Iraq's invasion was not considered by them part of this war, even if they
agreed with the main definition of
Second, because, as it becomes clear
to every more or less educated in politics soul, the current administration's "widened" and "deepened" means of prosecuting
that war through large-scale military
operations and all over the world is nothing more than the new spiral of
the US gehemonic(though not newly
designed) and imperialistic foreign policy, a-la-new-phase.
For horowitzs the Iraqi invasion (read - agression) was Operation Freedom, for all honest people of the world of different ideologies (albeit with brains), it was the war for oil and establishment of the US permanent and extensive presence on Middle East.
These perceived by them goals don't coincide with the any truly democratic or human rights ideas.
Democrats would not turn against the policy of regime change, if the regime change had been made by Iraqis
themselves, just with ideological, political and financial help from this country, not through the wide-scale invasion against the will of the only international body that could sanctioned such military operation - UN, and the will of the
great majority of the world, plus completely destroying the already sufficiently spotted US reputation in the Middle East.
The latter response even taken on its own simulatneously answers the last Horiwitz's question, not mentioning the "internal" sins of the Bushes.
If responses submitted here seem not quite satisfactory for Mr Horowitz, I can add at least a dozen more..
david horowitz - 7/26/2005
Thanks for posting the reviews. The point about the window was not that I didn't attempt a portrait of what the I called The Mind of the Left, which obviously extended back through Hobsbawm's career as I made clear in my response, but that my intent was to make a statement about the entire anti-war left (obviously there will be exceptions) Burke included. Burke side-stepped this by pretending that the book was about some anti-western romantics in the left, himself clearly excluded. This was an evasion of what I had written. It is my impression strengthened by the Burke experience and by Ralph Luker's silly petulence that the intellectual left will not engage this issue because (collectively) they cannot. That is why I offered my pages to Burke, and offer them again to the historians on this site: to engage this issue. I'm not holding my breath.
Adrian Seath - 7/25/2005
Notwithstanding Horowitz's insistence that the book Burke reviewed is not the one he intended to write, here is what two (friendly!) Amazon.com reviewers had to say:
"I had long wondered why people on the Left had the propensity to speak more positively about people who would slit their throats than they do about their own country, which affords them more freedom and opportunity than anywhere else. David Horowitz has answered that question thoroughly and convincingly in his Unholy Alliance. Where I felt bewildered and confused, I now feel crystal clear. Unholy Alliance is such a great book.
"It begins with the leftist movements at the beginning of the 20th Century, and works its way up to the present day, exploring the anti-American attitude of these movements in detail. Horowitz shows that the enemies of the US back then are largely the same group today, operating under the same misperceptions, making the same mistakes, and pursuing the same impossible utopia."
"Part I of the book is a brief history of 9/11 through the end of major combat operations in Iraq, and the Left's behavior during this time... Part II is the heart of the book: a history of the American and international Left."
Burke apparently was not the only one to believe that the book was meant to focus on the 20th-century American left, not simply the 18 months between September 11th and the beginning of the Iraq War. It hardly seems malicious that his review is written from that standpoint.
Ralph E. Luker - 7/24/2005
I'm wondering why Professor Horowitz does not interrogate those who have the "intellectual pretensions" enough to "intrude" on this debate at his own Front Page Rag in order to "pronounce an anathema on one of the participants" about whether they have actually read the book.
david horowitz - 7/23/2005
It never ceases to fascinate me how people who have intellectual pretensions (enough to visit this site) will intrude on a debate without even knowing what they're talking about (I assume that if Mr. Green actually read the book he would have at least one comment about the subject) and pronounce an anathema on one of the participants and do it in the name of princple no less.
Michael Green - 7/23/2005
It never ceases to fascinate me how Mr. Horowitz's believes in freedom of speech for everyone who agrees with him and that anyone who disagrees with him is necessarily lying or inaccurate.
- New PBS DVD From Henry Louis Gates Jr. Explores African Influence on the Caribbean
- The Council on Foreign Relations Honors Kissinger Critic
- Architectural historian discovers Chartres Cathedral has started faking it
- Rick Perlstein hits back at a critic of his book on Reagan
- So Historians Are Surprised by What DNA Can Tell Us?