Blogs > Cliopatria > David Horowitz: The Paul Revere of Fear?

May 11, 2005 2:33 pm

David Horowitz: The Paul Revere of Fear?

David Horowitz's evolution from extreme left to extreme right is worth pondering as much for what it tells us about him as about the rest of the country.

He is a perfect symbol of the extremes to which Americans on the margins swing in times of war. While most remain in the middle, some swing left and some swing right.

In the 60s he swung left, aligning himself with the SDS and others of that ilk. Now in the war on terrorism he has swung right, aligning himself with the Old Right (i.e., the people who in the 50s believed that America faced an enemy within that was every bit as dangerous as the enemy without).

How one makes the transition from one extreme to the other is puzzling to me even after reading several of his books. Is there something about his personality that inclines him to reach for extremes? I don't know. Though we have corresponded numerous times I cannot even make an educated guess.

Oddly, while it is difficult to determine why an individual would swing from extreme to extreme, it is easier to determine why a country as a whole would. By now it is a commonplace that millions of Americans in times of danger and insecurity are susceptible to appeals based on the fear of enemies from within. From our earliest history this has been a pattern. When war with France loomed in the late 1790s High Federalists demanded a crackdown on sedition. In speeches on the floor of Congress they demanded that suspect aliens be rounded up and deported.

Horowitz's demands therefore sound a familiar and unfortunate ring. We've heard it before. And always in retrospect these appeals to our fears result in ill-considered public measures.

Why Horowitz wants to be this generation's Paul Revere of fear is beyond me.

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Mike A Mainello - 8/29/2005

Not sure if you will read this, but if you had read Mr. Horowitz's biography you would understand he did not swing to the extreme left in the 60's. But, he was raised in the extreme left from birth and lived the life until he saw the hypochrisy of the movement and he changed.

If you read his books with this knowledge you can understand his books better.

Ed Schmitt - 5/12/2005

I have long thought a study of 60s radicals who became Reaganites would be a fascinating study - and there are a good number of them. Doing some research on an institutional history for my graduate school I ran across current conservative California Congressman Dana Rorabacher in his 60s manifestation as student radical leader. Is it a puritanical need to claim moral high ground and be with the winning side? I don't know. There is some substantive similarity in terms of fear of an overgrown, unrepresentative federal government between the New Left and the New Right. SDS and other New Left leaders demanded localized, participatory democracy, and greater economic democracy, including community control of resources. The New Right also embraced some of those principles, but of course they didn't have the same suspicion of corporate capitalism. Can you go so far left you end up on the right? I haven't read all of Radical Son so I don't know what Horowitz sees as the key elements of his conversion, though I know he ultimately felt the Black Panthers and SDSers were personally corrupt. I'm also not sure the key factor is wartime - many of the radicals became Reaganites in the early 80s. There's a case study right here at HNN - I don't think Tom Reeves ever considered himself a radical, but he made the move down the political spectrum, though his line is that he didn't change, the whole political calculus of the country moved left. It all makes me want to listen to that great Johnny Cash song, "The One on the Right is On the Left" ("...and the guy in the rear...burned his driver's license").