Review of ‘The Black Book of the American Left’ by David Horowitz

the-black-book-of-the-american-left-the-collected-conservative-writings-of-david-horowitz-2 David Horowitz, The Black Book of the American Left: The Collected Conservative Writings of David Horowitz, Vol. 1: My Life and Times (New York: Encounter Books, 2013). Hardback / Kindle

David Horowitz was a Red diaper baby, born in 1939 to and raised in New York City by card-carrying members of the Communist Party USA. In 1956, on the cusp of reaching the age of majority, he, along with his parents, learned of Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech to the Soviet Union’s Communist Party leadership, which revealed the magnitude of Josef Stalin’s crimes against humanity. It was a dispiriting event for partisans of the Old Left, such as Horowitz’s parents, which had defended Stalin against all critics.

It also sowed the seeds of the New Left, a younger generation of social and political radicals—often Red diaper babies—who dedicated themselves to the advancement of various liberation movements, identity politics, socialism, and participatory democracy. Horowitz was a leader in this movement, organizing the first protest against the Vietnam War at Berkeley in 1963; serving on the staff of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in London; writing the New Left’s first critique of American foreign policy, The New World Colossus; editing the leading New Left journal Ramparts with his friend and lifelong collaborator Peter Collier; and helping the Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party establish the Oakland Community Learning Center in Oakland, California.

In 1974, he hired Betty Van Patter, a friend, as accountant for the Learning Center. She was murdered in late 1974, and through contacts, Horowitz learned that her murderers were Black Panther enforcers. She had been killed because she asked Panther leaders too many questions about irregularities in their finances. For Horowitz (and his friend Collier), this crisis event precipitated a decade of withdrawal from political activism, their departure from the New Left, and their (eventual) enlistment in the ranks of political conservatism.

Their coming-out can be dated to 1985, when they wrote an article titled, “Lefties for Reagan,” for the Washington Post (titled “Goodbye to All That” in this volume). As can be seen from the title, Horowitz and Collier still considered themselves men of the Left, but they voted for Reagan because of his support for the Contras against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua’s civil war. They had seen the devastation wrought by Communist governments throughout the world (including in Vietnam and Cambodia), and men of the Left though they were, they were no longer willing or able to support governments of that ilk. In 1987, they organized a Second Thoughts Conference that brought together former partisans of the Old and New Left to air their doubts about the wisdom of both those movements. Since then, the politics of both Horowitz and Collier have steadily moved rightward, to a “conservative”—perhaps better, “libertarian”—point of view.

Conversions—whether in religion or politics—are often bitter affairs, for both converts and their circles of friends. This is certainly true of Horowitz. His former comrades duly noted his apostasy and demonized his new self accordingly. In response, Horowitz documents in the essays in this volume the willing support of New Left partisans for various movements—the Viet Cong, the Black Panthers, the Sandinistas—whose atrocities they willfully downplayed or simply ignored. Throughout this book, he repeatedly cites a 1969 cover of Ramparts as emblematic, on which an American child holds a Viet Cong flag and the headline declares, “Alienation is when your county is at war and you want the other side to win.” That, Horowitz argues, was the New Left’s credo, consistently though ironically confessed—ironically because the New Left made use of their political freedoms to critique the very institutions that sustained them.

The Black Book of the American Left is a projected 10-volume series of David Horowitz’s conservative writings, that is, his writings after 1985. Volume 1 focuses on his “life and times,” as the subtitle puts it. Its essays—dated from 1985 to the present—are largely autobiographical, apologetical, critical, and score settling. Horowitz is sharply critical of contemporary Leftists who downplay or paper over the radicalism, anti-Americanism, and support for violent liberation movements that were intrinsic features of much of the New Left in its time. Given the New Left’s “march through the institutions,” its prominence in academia and politics, and its recrudescence in the contemporary antiwar and Occupy movements, Horowitz’s writings serve as both a memory and a warning: Those who forget the past  are indeed doomed to relive it.

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3 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Black Book of the American Left’ by David Horowitz

  1. Very nice, a friend of mine gave me a whole Horowitz package. Good for those that wish to fight fire with fire, however it still misses the issue of left-right paradigm. Even Nolan misses the depth and range of political ideology. I think you and I would agree that there is at least a three-dimensional politic. I see Social issues, economic issues, and diplomatic (or foreign policy) issues all being important and being judged on a scale of Authoritarian/Libertarian. I might even think another degree of private versus public may increase accuracy on judging someone’s political ideology and increasing our efforts of knowing who our friends and our enemies are. See, the way I gage it, only about half of the right is on my side; it’s not a matter of exclusion, but accuracy.

    1. No spectrum is perfect, of course. Not the left-right spectrum, not even the authoritarian-libertarian spectrum. Even Horowitz’s self described “conservatism” and right-wingery is libertarianish. Anyway, a good book.

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