Where cowards have no names

On Amazon.com, reader reviewers can share their thoughts about books like mine, but don't expect the hardcore leftists to identify themselves.

Topics:

Through its online review section, the Internet bookstore Amazon.com offers authors a snapshot of how its audience compares with that of its rivals — especially in the political sphere.

Since Amazon takes a libertarian approach and rarely interferes with reader reviews, it also provides an excellent lens through which to view the cultural hegemony of the left. Anyone who doubts this need only surf the site and compare the treatment of hot-button conservative authors like me with comparable writers on the left.

One caveat to be noted is that in my case I have clouded the original picture a bit by complaining to Amazon that certain reader comments violated the site’s guidelines, which exist to prevent compulsive flamers from posting ad hominem smears. (The guidelines require all reviews to “focus on the book’s content and context” and declare that “comments that are not specific to the book will not be posted.”) As a result of my complaints, several particularly nasty posts about my work were removed.

Nevertheless, it is clear that many leftists believe that it is their mission to go onto sites like Amazon and warn unsuspecting surfers that authors like me are dangerous, and that our work should be quarantined.

This kind of attempt to obstruct the marketplace of ideas, which is familiar to anyone who has ever enraged the hardcore left, is carried out by people so cowardly or paranoid that they use pseudonyms and refuse to divulge their e-mail addresses. It may be that they see themselves as soldiers in a clandestine force, resisting an oppression so powerful that it will hunt them down and destroy them if their true identities are discovered.

Of course, a well-known attribute of paranoia is the capacity of the victim to project onto others his own aggression. Therefore, the flames posted against me didn’t bother me as much as the sense that their presence reflected a general erosion of civilizing standards in our culture.

But the comparative features of the Internet reveal more than the presence of leftist activists. The reviews from institutional sources on the site are also extremely illuminating. Take the Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, which purports to represent a large and diverse audience, but in fact has come under the control of partisan ideologues. Its reviews amount to little more than in-house memos to the radical left.



Other institutional reviews, from sources that would seem to be above politics altogether, have as their primary audiences libraries and retailers. These include Kirkus Reviews, Book List and the Library Journal, which though obscure, are important factors in the success of many books. Internet bookstores like Amazon post their comments at the top of their review sections, giving them extra influence in the buying decisions made by visitors to the sites.

I received a rave review from Kirkus with my first book, which was an attack on America’s role in the Cold War. That was 35 years ago. Since then, however, Kirkus and Library Journal have not looked as kindly on my work. The reason is that these services draw heavily on professors from academic institutions that have been thoroughly politicized by the left.

Now, I would be the first to admit that the concept of an “objective” review is ludicrous and that, even in scrupulous hands, reviews routinely display a political bias. But it is one thing to have a partisan agenda and quite another to systematically misrepresent that agenda as something else.

What came as a shock even to a veteran of ideological wars like me was that Amazon’s own reviewer slipped an ideological knife into the ribs of my autobiography, “Radical Son.” How could a bookstore — whose only reason for being was to sell books — deliberately set out to sabotage one of its own products? It also didn’t seem in keeping with the spirit of unrestrained capitalism that characterizes the dot-com world.

Upon making inquiries, I discovered that a favorable review of “Radical Son” by one of Amazon’s contract writers, Scott Shuger, had been spiked to make room for the negative notice. I also did a spot-check of Amazon’s reviews of leftist authors like Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, and found words like “genius,” “brilliant,” “enlightened” and so on, much like the pufferies you would expect from a merchant hyping his wares.

No official Amazon reviewer or Kirkus commentator referred to these writers’ works as ideologically biased or “doctrinaire,” as they had mine. To avoid the possibility of falling into a narcissistic trap, I also checked the page of another high-voltage conservative, Robert Bork.

Sure enough, the Amazon review denigrated Bork as a historical footnote and hypocrite, calling his book “an extended attack against everything liberal” — when, in fact, the book’s central argument is that liberal ideals are good until they are taken to extremes.

Armed with ammunition like this, I began an e-mail appeal to Amazon. On a trip to Seattle to promote my book’s paperback edition, I dropped by Amazon’s headquarters, where I met the individual in charge of reviews. He was a reasonable fellow, and when my next book appeared, it received a very fair review from the site.

This, however, triggered a reaction from the kind of leftists who feel the need to invade the neutral spaces in our culture, like Amazon, to sabotage those who disagree with them.

Another of my books, “The Politics of Bad Faith,” was recently published in paperback. It consists of my intellectual framework for rejecting the left, and therefore examines the main political issues confronting my generation — the Cold War, the question of socialism and whether the ideals of the left are implicated in the crimes that have been committed in its name.

As you would expect of such a book, it contains detailed analyses and invites discussion and/or refutation by opponents. It is indicative of the left’s approach to intellectual disagreement that though it has been 15 years since I first published parts of this book, I can’t cite a single attempt by any “progressive” (with one exception) to meet its challenges or engage its arguments. The one exception is the intelligent and reflective review of “The Politics of Bad Faith” in Salon by then-managing editor David Weir. On the other hand, that review (by editorial decision) was a short one and not a point-by-point encounter with the underlying theses of my work.

This silence, which is in effect an effort to pretend that such views don’t exist, contrasts strikingly with the response to writers who have conducted mirror journeys from right to left. Political writers like Michael Lind and David Brock, who offered (quite feeble) explanations for their own political metamorphoses, have not only been welcomed by leftists but critiqued in detail by conservatives, including me.

The appearance of “The Politics of Bad Faith” inspired two reviewer comments on Amazon by individuals who hated it (and me) and gave it a one-star rating (the lowest possible). Their remarks illuminate the way by which hardcore leftists approach ideological critiques of their worldview.

The first of the customer reviewers was a “D. Lamkin” from Burke, Va., who stated: “One of the United States’ many cultural factions is the one Horowitz represents so well — those who would like nothing better than to turn the clock back to that wonderful time in U.S. history when minorities ‘knew their place’ and women were (supposedly) content to tend ‘home and hearth’ while the dominant white male ‘hunted and gathered’ in the U.S. economic marketplace.”

The writer then did allow that despite our mean-spirited, reactionary and racist views, writers like me should at least be tolerated. On the other hand, he argued, if the shoe were on the other foot, “the author of ‘The Politics of Bad Faith’ would not extend the same courtesy to dissenters from his viewpoint” because “that would negate the premises he argues in this book.”

Actually, the premise of my book — not to mention everything I have done in my political life since leaving the left — is precisely the opposite of what “D. Lamkin” claims. Not only do I believe in liberty and freedom of expression, but it is my central argument that all forms of socialism, and all efforts to create conditions of economic equality, are incompatible with liberty and individual rights, and that is why I oppose them. I believe the American Founders created our constitutional covenant with this understanding, and I specifically define conservatism in those terms — as a defense of the constitutional covenant.

The attempt to identify me with a political faction in America that wants to put minorities and women in their place and preserve the dominance of the white male is typical of the way leftists attack those who disagree with them, regardless of what the facts may be. For students of Stalinism, this is known as the tactic of “amalgamation,” as when Trotskyists were lumped by Stalin with fascists and monarchists.

The accusation that conservatives want to hold back women and minorities is a pure fabrication; it is political libel. But it is one that leftists hold dear.

The second customer review of my book stated: Horowitz “is simply wrong. The roots of evil, if we can discuss such in meaningful terms, certainly are not in minorities or multiculturalism or treating women as something other than doormats. If the roots of evil exist, they are in the willingness of people like Horowitz to glorify the individual at the expense of society.”

First, to reiterate: I have never said or written anything to remotely suggest that minorities are the root of evil or that women should be treated like doormats. The truth, once again, is quite the opposite. As for my criticisms of “multiculturalism,” they are focused very specifically on the efforts of radicals to use multiculturalism as a way of first attacking and then deconstructing America’s own culture of freedom.

On the other hand, this reviewer inadvertently lets the leftist cat out of the bag. In pinpointing the freedom of the individual as the enemy of the future, he identifies the actual pivot point in the great political debate dividing left from right. It’s not about a desire by conservatives to hold women and minorities down. It is about whether submerging the individual in the state and putting society under the tutelage of a political elite is the way to liberate anyone — and, most particularly, minorities, women and the poor.

David Horowitz is a conservative writer and activist.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>