David Horowitz in Historical Perspective

David Horowitz’s book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America has caused quite a stir. It has been a very hectic week as numerous members of the Horowitz 101 have contacted me. Some have been distraught, some ebullient, some defiant, some insouciant. I have been through this kind of auto da fe before and it is part of the price one pays for advocating positions that challenge the status quo and the privileged status of the power elite–to borrow C. Wright Mills’s phrase. I was interviewed by a progressive newspaper that I will produce in more detail if published, and attempted to analyse David Horowitz and his latest publication within the context of war and its impact on civil liberties and robust debate within a democracy.

During war, America has become increasingly ethnocentric and intolerant of dissent. During World War I, America began exhibiting characteristics that had features of a quasi-dictatorship. These included mass arrests, violent interference with legitimate assembly and efforts to redress grievances, the Palmer Raids and a general intolerance against German culture and antiwar advocates. Unions such as the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World) were violently suppressed. Militant opponents of war such as Emma Goldman were deported. States such as Montana had draconian sedition laws and virtually any German-American in that state that uttered a dissenting comment on America’s entry into the war was arrested. The clear and present danger gag order was introduced by Justice Holmes in several draconian Supreme Court case rulings. The Cold War produced a Senator Joe McCarthy, Republican from Wisconsin, who used his bully pulpit to suppress, destroy and intimidate progressives who may have associated with radical causes and articulated an alternative to the absurd Manichaean struggle between communism and democracy.

War is barbarism. Humans are organized to kill other humans. War causes humans to become desensitised to the notion of respect, caring and justice. The “enemy” is called terrorist, or gook, or slant, or godless atheistic communist, or infidel, or collateral damage, or Hun, or Jap. War is not conducive to contemplation or reform but killing. The act of killing is used by the state as a means to perpetuate or enhance its power. Opposition that is legitimate is marginalised as unAmerican, antiAmerican, “dangerous,” a Fifth Column as opposed to being respected as a legitimate voice that seeks a more humane application of American power.

Whether Mr Horowitz is a historic figure remains to be seen. For now, I see him as a significant one but unfortunately a rather predictable one. He is using or perhaps is unwittingly a captive of the matrix of war in which the state, or its minions, demand total allegiance and support of its cause. Democracy is not predicated on total support or blind nationalism EVEN in time of war. Those who wish to suppress dissent are not building or ironically strengthening America. Those who exert censorious tactics to silence opposition to government policy in times of war are creating greater threats to American democracy and society than the alleged “enemy” allegedly represents. Blind patriots and blind nationalists who seek a conformity of thought in the classroom, or utter silence outside it may underestimate the value of dynamic debate and citizen engagement as a positive manifestation of a liberal democracy.

I have learned that America is becoming increasingly intolerant of critical thinking or the articulation of a radical politics that seeks to move America toward a more just and irenic direction. I think one of the chickens that is coming home to roost is the dividend of decades of American imperialism and growing adoration of military might: The loss of perspective, the demand for conformity, the desire to see America as an imperial hegemon without a sense of obligation to the international community.

For those who recognise the value of purifying and reclaiming America, do not be intimidated, do not allow yourself to be silenced and continue the struggle for an ethical and more peaceful country.

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