The Politics Of Bad Faith

David Weir reviews 'The Politics of Bad Faith' by David Horowitz

By David Weir
Published February 16, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

| In this oddly compelling little book, Salon columnist David Horowitz has combined essays and letters from the past decade with original pieces, in an attempt to elevate his central passion -- attacking the left -- to a new level. Horowitz has already recorded his personal odyssey (from red-diaper baby to New Left activist to conservative commentator) in earlier writings, most notably his autobiography, "Radical Son." In this book, he strengthens the intellectual underpinnings of his one-man jihad against leftists.
Horowitz asserts that while the left has lost most of the political battles since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has managed to attain cultural hegemony in the United States as it pursues a socialist future based on utopian premises. To make his case, he works his way along a somewhat obscure spectrum encompassing Hobsbawn, Heidegger, Kolakowski and Hayek. But when he turns to the more familiar terrain of the personal narrative -- in the form of several long appeals urging former comrades to join his crusade -- the book gains momentum.

It is in this intimate voice that Horowitz is strongest, bringing to the surface the buried hopes and assumptions of the left, piercing some of the psychological defenses of modern leftists, discussing the tragedy of his father's life ("The Party was everything to him, but to the Party he was nothing"), mourning the death of a friend who, in the service of her politics, took troubled black youngsters into her home and was murdered by one of them. He is an extremely effective witness to the massive disappointments of the left in recent decades, and these personal pieces make it clear that his primary audience is and always will be the left, which he can challenge and outrage as few others can.

But his essays are less persuasive. Occasionally, he undercuts his own arguments with hyperbole: "In our lifetime, the revolutions of the left have created despotisms and oppressions that dwarf all others on human record." (What about Genghis Khan? Tamerlane? Hitler?) Still, despite these lapses (and a certain redundancy), he gradually builds his case: that Marxists, unable to achieve any substantial gains in the real world, have thoroughly infiltrated most of the disciplines taught at American universities; and that even though we now know that Marxism inevitably leads to totalitarianism, leftists refuse to acknowledge this failure -- in part because Marxism is the first form of social organization ever dreamed up solely by intellectuals, and intellectuals consequently are loath to abandon it.

Capitalist democracy in the second half of the 20th century, Horowitz points out, has vastly expanded the reach of education, health and access to wealth, while the Marxist alternative represents a return to a primitive, pre-industrial world of clans and tribes, where such concepts as equality, social justice and "from each according to his abilities, to each according his needs" were more socially appropriate. In his view, all those progressives yearning for a utopia that will never come are standing in denial of our very human limits. Ultimately, the book is really a deeply passionate plea to his former comrades and current enemies: "Leftists of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your (unrealistic) dreams."

"The Politics of Bad Faith" ends on what Horowitz presents as a "hopeful idea": that conservatives may provide an alternative to all this discredited, corrupt leftist thinking. Among conservatives, he writes, there is no "party line" but, rather, tolerance -- really a form of liberalism based on moral choice. (This view may be hard for readers to reconcile with the spectacle of partisan politics currently playing itself out in Washington.) It struck me, as I closed the volume, that Horowitz had effectively deconstructed the left but had not yet articulated a compelling case for the right.

Perhaps that will come in his next book.

David Weir

David Weir is Salon's Washington bureau chief.

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