Saturday, June 03, 2006

David Horowitz: Half (Or So) Right

I've offered some heavily qualified defenses of David Horowitz here in the past. I don't care much for the guy, but many of the things he says about academia have more than a little truth in them. There are fairly significant parts of the academy that are fairly significantly infected by indefensible intellectual fads like postmodernism. Postmodernism is associated with radical leftist politics far more often than not. The folks who advocate such views are decidedly illiberal, and reject most of what most of us think of as liberalism. For one thing, many postmodern leftists are skeptics, nihilists, relativists or neo-pragmatists about reason, and do not recognize a distinction between rational inquiry and persuasion/propaganda. Consequently, many such folks don't have any moral qualms about attempting to proselytize students. Disciplines like anthropology, literary criticism, communications studies, women's studies etc. contain many such people.

Now, before anyone flies off the handle about this, note that I've in no way asserted that all or even most people in the disciplines listed above are postmodern leftists. But the postmodern left tends to be over-represented in those disciplines. (Given that postmodernism is a total dead end, just about any representation would be over-representation...but we can ignore that point for now.)

Because of these facts, I've often offered heavily qualified defenses of Horowitz on this site. He's at least out there drawing attention to this problem, a problem that many academic liberals refuse to acknowledge.

HOWEVER...Horowitz himself is rather a nut.

I was just watching him give a talk at Duke on C-SPAN 2. He would manage to say something true through the froth now and again, but, well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Most of the stuff I'd seen from him in the past was not nearly this bad.

He stood on stage spewing mostly nonsense as some kind of bodyguard stalked back and forth behind him scowling hilariously. As students tried to ask very sensible questions of him, he would stonewall, double-talk, obfuscate, and yammer on ceaselessly until only those with above-average powers of concentration could even remember what the original question had been. He defended Ann Coulter by saying that she was a "satirist"...but then did enough verbal ambling about that he could come back later and hint at more substantial (and even more irrational) defenses of her. One student noted that Horowitz had claimed that he (Horowitz) had personally never called the academic left dangerous--but the student then produced a quote in which Horowitz did call them dangerous. (Note: I rather agree with Horowitz about this, though I also think that one has to be very careful about calling ideas dangerous.) Horowitz huffed and puffed and postured and launched into a long series of verbal gymnastics that amounted little more than misdirection. He might as well have just told the student his shoe was untied and run away. He clearly does think they are dangerous (he's probably right about that), he clearly said that they were, but he wouldn't admit it. Very weird.

That's a guy who has obviously kind of lost his marbles about this subject. He's right about a lot and he's wrong about a lot, and it's really too bad that somebody more intellectually honest isn't addressing this problem, because I suspect that Horowitz is doing more harm than good. I have no illusions about the radical academic left, and there's no love lost between them and me...but when I finally had to turn the channels, I was actually rather more sympathetic to them than I had been before I was exposed to Horowitz's screed. Not rational, but there it is.

So, let me say in no uncertain terms that you guys (e.g. Matt C? Rilkefan?) who have been admonishing me for being too soft on Horowitz were right.

You were right. I was wrong. The guy's a menace.

Though it is important to note that he happens to be right about some important things.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There may well be a huge problem of illiberal stalinist post-modernists prosteletizing students in American Universities: Winston, you'd be in a far better position to answer that question than I. However, Horowitz doesn't have ANYTHING of substance to say on the subject. That should be clear by the contents of his latest book: "The Professors: the 100 most DANEROUS (there's that breathtakingly irresponsible word again!) academics in America." Besides being riddled with errors, the main problem with Horowitz's approach is that he tars academics as "dangerous" based on their public statements or scholarly writing. Almost NEVER does to point to any cases of in-class propagandizing. He's content to state that these professors are a menace to their students based on their views, not their classroom conduct.

And even if you think that radical post-modernism is both fradulent and dangerous to the earnest pursuit of truth (and you're probably right about that), most of Horowitz's targets are leftists, but few are po-mo types. As far to the left politically as Noam Chomsky might be, he is about as philosophically far removed from post-modernism as you can get.

I think your concern about potential bias among leftist academics is most likely justified: any environment in which the ideological balance is skewed promotes bias. I just think that Horowitz is acting in completely bad faith, on behalf of an agenda of radically changing the political landscape in universities, not for the benefit of honest inquirey and balance, but in order to enshrine rightist orthodoxy.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, as I said, I agree that DH is an asshat.

What we need to do is get some reasonable people out there addressing the problem of leftist bias in academia. That would have two very important benefits:

1. It would lessen the problem of leftist bias in academia

2. It would cut the ground under morons like DH

2:44 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

1. It would lessen the problem of leftist bias in academia

2. It would cut the ground under morons like DH

Yah, I can support that. I can live without Mr. Horowitz, altho gadflies have their role in our democratic republic. Every once in awhile they light on (and hold on for dear life, unfortunately) a truth that nobody else is saying, or at least without the proper persistence.

Mebbe Al Gore is right, I dunno.

I'm not a fan of David Brooks, either, he the conservative properly neutered enough to enter the pantheon of NYT columnists, but he wrote a good point last week about the difference between our ilk dealing with academic leftists and plain ol' Democrats.

The first is a misery, the latter is just folks kickin' it, a little this way a little that way. All Americans just the same.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Aw, now, there's no comparing Gore to Horowitz. Gore may be wrong, but he's smart, thoughtful, and undogmatic.

Wish I'd seen the Brooks column.

Academic radical lefties are approximately the biggest dumbasses I've ever had the displeasure of interacting with.

8:56 AM  

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