David Horowitz has established himself as the radical left’s foremost intellectual nemesis, certainly in part because he used to be one of them and understands their mindset and strategies so intimately. He has attacked progressive ideology in book after book, including Radical Son, Destructive Generation, Left Illusions, The Party of Defeat, The Art of Political War, and Unholy Alliance, to name a few. His new book Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Generation, however, is less of an analysis of their ideology than personal reflections on a handful of people who have embraced that ideology.
The book’s six chapters each profile a different radical figure or figures: enfant terrible Christopher Hitchens, Marxist feminist Bettina Aptheker, black celebrity academic Cornel West, domestic terrorists like Linda Evans and Susan Rosenberg, feminist essayist Susan Lydon, and last but certainly not least, the radical left’s favorite mentor, Saul Alinsky.
The “destructive passion” of the title is the left’s utopian fantasy of human perfection, which “becomes a desire to annihilate whatever stands in the way of [that] beautiful idea.” This “fantasy of a redeemed future has repeatedly led to catastrophic results as progressive radicals pursue their impossible schemes.” And thus Horowitz begins the book reiterating a theme common to all his dissections of the left, and common to the radicals profiled here: “It is an enduring irony of the human condition that the urgency to make the world ‘a better place’ is also the chief source of the suffering that human beings have inflicted on each other from the beginning of time.”
In “The Two Christophers,” Horowitz eloquently examines the life and “unruly contradictions” of the iconoclastic Hitchens, who ultimately had second thoughts about some of his radical positions but never made the same leap out of the progressive faith that Horowitz did. To Horowitz, Hitchens was burdened by a “moral and intellectual incoherence” that overtook an otherwise brilliant mind. The chapter occupies nearly a quarter of the book, which gives some indication of the depth of personal respect and even affection that Horowitz held for the late Hitchens.
Bettina Aptheker, a professor at University of California at Santa Cruz, is an icon of radical feminism and the daughter of a prominent Communist Party intellectual who indoctrinated her into the movement. A Berkeley radical in the ‘60s, in the ‘70s Aptheker worked for the defense of fellow Communist Party member Angela Davis in the latter’s high-profile trial for her involvement in the murder of a judge in a failed attempt to free her imprisoned lover, murderer George Jackson. Aptheker went on to pursue her revolutionary work in the field of feminist studies, and even then, Horowitz notes, she “remained ideologically straight-jacketed, unable to free herself from the terrible legacy of the cause she and her family had served.”
Academic icon Cornel West, “a remarkably shallow intellect” who tirelessly promotes himself as a sort of modern-day Biblical prophet, is Horowitz’s next case history. The chapter on West is titled “Cultural Decline,” reflecting that his rise to cultural eminence is a reflection of general cultural decline, and was made possible only by his personification of progressive clichés:
While his audiences nod agreeably, treating his mumbo-jumbo as a discourse that somehow makes sense, what they really came to hear are the progressive insults to their country and their countrymen, which West serves up at every venue and every turn.
Those progressive insults are predictable accusations of racism, sexism, imperialism, Islamophobia, and homophobia against “a society that has bestowed on him so many undeserved privileges and honors.” For Horowitz, he is “the archetype of an American radicalism that has set out to destroy the American experiment, whose strength can be measured in his unmerited triumphs and ridiculous career.”