Saturday, August 19, 2006

Replies to Critics: He's Got A Little List

He’s Got A Little List


The publication of The Professors in February 2006 had the effect of flushing out the ideological opponents of the academic freedom campaign. It both frightened and enraged them to be profiled collectively so that the world outside the academy could view their agendas and assess them. This paralleled their reaction to websites like Campus Watch, whose purpose was to document the radical views of Middle Eastern Studies professors and was denounced as a “blacklist” by the academic left. The issue Campus Watch raised was not whether these professors should be blacklisted – no one was calling for that -- but whether they should be accountable for holding such views, given that they had driven peers who might be critical from university faculties, which was quite different.

Of course, the text I had written that aroused such passions was not without its provocations, in particular the notion its subtitle floated that the professors profiled were the “most dangerous” in America. Even though this was not a claim actually made in the text of my book, I am willing to accept responsibility for a provocation appended to the title page and cover by its publisher. When the subtitle was proposed, I had already completed the text under the title of The Professors – a collective profile of political activists masquerading as scholars. In selecting individuals for inclusion, the idea that they were “dangerous” had played no part in my choices.

There was an element of truth in the description, however. The academics were all ideologues of the left, which meant that their growing influence in the academy would undoubtedly influence, in a negative way, America’s war on terror. The claim that these professors might be the “most dangerous,” on the other hand, was hard to justify. Because my intention was not necessarily to show extremes, but to reveal a pattern of professorial behavior that affected a larger group than I had included, there were obscure academics such as Marc Becker of Truman State, and moderate leftists like Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin. The inclusion of these three (and a few others) under the rubric “most dangerous” was sure to raise eyebrows, and legitimately so. This was of particular concern to me because I knew that my critics would jump on the word “dangerous” to avoid engagement with the issues raised in the book and to charge that it was a “witch-hunt.”

I opposed the addition. “If we give it this subtitle” I told the publisher, “academics will regard it as a witch-hunt and no one in the academy will read it.” My publisher’s reply was this: “Who in the academy is going to read it anyway? They’ll hate this book no matter what you call it and only ten of them will buy it, whatever its title. We need to market it to a large audience, and this subtitle will do the trick, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Journalists don’t write the headlines of their articles, and most book authors don’t have authority over their book-titles. The campaign to taint me with the McCarthy brush was already extensive. If two hundred tenured radicals at Harvard could censure its liberal president and force him to resign, why would I think they could not discredit me, while discouraging academics generally from reading my book? Both the Academic Bill of Rights and I had been denounced by the major professional associations in formal statements.[1] As both a writer and an academic reformer I had little support from the media which academics respected as authorities – public radio and television, the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, InsiderHighered.com or publications like them. This was entirely a reflection of my political views, since books the books I had written before becoming a conservative were regularly and respectfully reviewed in the same venues. For example, the last book of mine reviewed by the New York Review of Books was published in 1985, just prior to my becoming a conservative. These facts disposed me to be somewhat fatalistic. If my political opponents could twist the details of the Academic Bill of Rights and turn them into their opposite, why should I think they would have any difficulty doing the same with this book, whatever its title?
So I went along with the marketing strategy, which seemed to work. In its first six months of publication, The Professors sold forty thousand copies and stimulated a national dialogue on the issues it was attempting to raise. But the strategy also facilitated the predictable attacks. Its opponents were able to draw on the image of professors as absent-minded and ineffectual to feign incredulity at its thesis: What me dangerous?[2] Of course the main attack was the ludicrous idea that the book was a “witch-hunt.”

“He’s Got A Little List” was the not-so-subtle tag appended to a piece in The Nation. It was written by a longtime editor, Richard Lingeman, who was not fazed by the fact that I didn’t have a list, or that the professors included were not profiled because they belonged to a suspect party. Of course, The Nation is not a congressional committee or a state with a firing squad. It is only a durable propaganda mill whose efforts to promote socialism in America and abroad have everywhere failed. Consequently my prospects are far better than Stalin’s victims, whom The Nation editors cheered to their graves during the Nineteen Thirties.

Lingeman’s indictment began with the article’s opening sentence, which linked me to yet another stigmatizing ghost: “David Horowitz, the right-wing Savonarola, takes an unholy interest in higher education.”

Savanarola: an Italian Dominican priest, and briefly ruler of Florence, who was known for…anti-Renaissance preaching, book burning, and destruction of art.[3]

In other words, by asking professors to adhere to standards of professional conduct, I am guilty not only of McCarthyism, but of emulating a fanatic priest of the Inquisition.

The book-burning charge was especially ripe, considering what the Academic Bill of Rights actually said: “Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate.” This isn’t Savonarola; it’s anti-Savanarola. But projection seems to be the standard reflex of radicals like Lingemann. The only Savanarolas suppressing books on campus were the faculty ideologues I was merely asking to include alternative texts on their reading lists.

On the other hand, temptation was not lacking. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, is the most widely used American history text in universities today. It is certainly disgraceful that so crude an intellect as Zinn, who still thinks America started the Korean War and who has rallied to every Communist cause from Stalin to Castro, should be an icon of professional historians. (Among his many accolades, Zinn was recently honored by the Organization of American Historians.) Or that he should be cited as a classroom authority in universities and high schools across the country. But the fact remains that I have never asked – let alone demanded – that a single book by Zinn (or his many academic clones) be removed from a single curriculum or from any classroom in which a text on American history was appropriate.

I did object to the use of the Zinn book in a single case, noted earlier, which had nothing to do with his discredited ideas. My objection was in regard to the Social Work Program at Kansas State University where Zinn’s book was the principal assigned text in a class on “Social Welfare.”[4] But the reason I objected was that Zinn’s text was irrelevant to the subject matter. I objected because it was being taught by a faculty member not trained in history or in any field that would provide the necessary expertise to evaluate its claims. In the course of the academic freedom campaign, I have asked only that students be made aware of sources representing more than one point of view, that faculty be trained in the subjects they teach, and that their teaching conform to the standards of the profession. These are traditionally consensus positions. But one would never know this from reading Leninist critics, like Lingeman, for whom crushing a political opponent counts for everything and facts for nothing.

The false comparison to Savanarola is then followed with this claim: “[Horowitz’s] avowed aim is to muzzle lefty professors….” The word “avowed,” it should be noted, has an unambiguous meaning: sworn; declared; stated. In fact, I have never made a statement to the effect that “lefty professors” should be muzzled – sworn or otherwise. Quite the opposite. I have defended the rights of leftwing academics, including Ward Churchill and Leonard Jeffries to hold their extreme points of view without fear of reprisal. Thus the only “muzzling” that faculty leftists can be said to fear from me is my insistence on professional conduct in the classroom – an end to the use of their classes for political indoctrination, for irrelevant political speech-making and for recruitment to radical organizations and causes.

But these facts are no problem for Lingeman, who is busily stalking a heretic: “In February Horowitz tossed another log on the auto-da-fé, publishing a book called The Professors….”

Auto-da-fe – n. 1. Public announcement of the sentences imposed by the Inquisition; 2. The public execution of those sentences by secular authorities, especially by burning at the stake.

In short, not only am I accused of burning books – but my own book is said to be a log on the fire that burns people, which makes me a really bad person, worthy perhaps of being immolated myself.

Having tossed his own log on the fire, Lingeman revisits the McCarthy list to have some fun (it does not seem to occur to him that McCarthy’s witch-hunt was not fun for its victims): “A couple of our contributors reported (rather boastfully, we thought) they’d made the list. That caused us to wonder who else among our regulars made the cut. So we put intern Dean Powers on the case, and after combing the data bank he came up with twenty-seven Nation names in the Horowitz book… What a star-studded roster of names we could boast of, from Aptheker (Bettina) to Zinn (Howard).”

Well, this depends on one’s conception of stardom. Here, for example, is what I wrote about Nation writer and University of California professor Bettina Aptheker, a lifelong member of the Communist Party and its totalitarian splinters:

Although a fulltime professor of feminist studies and history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Aptheker does not have a single work of reputable scholarship to her name. Most of her books, including Intimate Politics: Autobiography As Witness and The Morning Breaks: The Trial of Angela Davis, and If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance (co-authored with Angela Davis) are frankly political. As for Aptheker’s ostensibly scholarly effort, Woman’s Legacy: Essays on Race, Sex, and Class in American History (1982), this amounts to little more than a review of Aptheker’s politics.

Aptheker, in other words, is a political ideologue with no scholarly contribution to her credit. If this is an association Lingeman and the Nation are proud of, it does not say much for them.

Lingeman cannot resist amplifying the charge of McCarthyism with the ritual claim that the witch-hunter plays loose with the facts: “We thought about suggesting to our advertising people that they take out a series of ads bragging, ‘The Nation—America’s Most Dangerous Magazine, says David Horowitz.’ But we had second thoughts. First, he never actually said that. And second, we would be basing the claim on the word of a writer we’ve always regarded as a man of questionable accuracy.”

Horowitz-fact checker! Coming from a man whose disregard for accuracy has been on reckless display, such an accusation seems imprudent at best. Coming from a magazine that described Stalin’s victims as guilty, declared there were no secret police in postwar Communist Vietnam, and published an editorial a week after 9/11 saying, “The [American] flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war,” one could probably expect anything else.

Fact: The Nation has not always regarded me as “man of questionable accuracy,” – and how could it, since I used to write for it. (How quickly we forget.) The Nation did once target my credibility in the past, but its motivation then as now was clearly political, while its regard for the evidence was equally shabby. Six years ago, Nation writer Scott Sherman took aim at errors he claimed I had made in one of my books. Sherman’s comments occurred in the course of a 6,000-word Nation cover feature, titled “David Horowitz’s Long March,” which was devoted to my life and work. Considering Lingeman’s charge that I had “an accuracy problem,” it is perhaps worth noting that these were the only comments Sherman made about the veracity of my work, although he mentioned many texts that I had written. Not surprisingly, the text he singled out was one the left had found most outrageous and politically incorrect: Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes:

The book is littered with inaccuracies large and small. Writing about the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Horowitz says he saw Nation columnist Christopher Hitchens, who was “showing his parents around the event.” (Hitchens’s parents are deceased.)[5]

Again, it is worth nothing that while Sherman dropped a fairly expansive charge, (“littered with inaccuracies”) he Sherman managed to actually identify only two, the second of which I will get to in a moment. This was the first -- that I had misidentified an elderly couple accompanying Christopher Hitchens at a Los Angeles Times Book Fair. In preparing a reply to Lingeman, I emailed Christopher to ask him about the episode, and received this answer:
March 30, 2006

dear david,

i can’t believe that this has come up again. i thought i had nailed it ages ago, and that [Nation writer scott] sherman understood.

it’s been my custom for years to call [my wife] carol’s parents by paternal and maternal names, since that is the way i feel about them, and since i have no living parents of my own, and since that is also how they (especially my father-in-law) refer to me. i can distinctly remember introducing you to them in that manner at the LA Times event.

please feel free to show this to anyone.

as always
Christopher
In other words: Christopher Hitchens had personally informed The Nation six years earlier that Scott Sherman had made an error—not me. (Or to be technically accurate, my error was innocent and out of my control.) The book I had written, Hating Whitey, was completely accurate in recounting what Christopher had told me at the time. Yet, six years later, Lingeman and The Nation were repeating the charge they knew to be false, and using the falsehood to claim that I was a writer “of questionable accuracy.” Unfortunately this casual disregard for evidence and reputation, when dealing with opponents, is not unusual in the regions of the left.
Sherman’s second, charge (the large one apparently) is this:
More troubling is the way Horowitz wields statistics. “In 1994,” he writes, “there were twenty thousand rapes of white women by black men, but only one hundred rapes of black women by white men” – a statistic he lifted from Dinesh D’Souza’s book The End of Racism. D’Souza's assertion, however, is based on a gross misreading of Justice Department figures.”
By Sherman’s own account this not even an error for which I am culpable in the first instance. Perhaps I should have checked the D’Sousa statistic – and would have had it been an important element of an argument I was making. In fact it was merely one of half a dozen similar examples of black on white crimes I was using to refute the absurd claim of academic radical bell hooks that there were “few reported incidents of black rage against racism leading us to target white folks.”[6] This is the grand total of inaccuracies which two Nation writers were able to locate in my work. That’s a record I can live with. Of course, leftists misreading this chapter will accuse me of employing the same tactics I criticize in Lingeman – using guilt by association to link him with Stalin and other purveyors of slander. The difference is this: the views I attribute to Lingeman and The Nation, that establish those links, are not made up.
[1] Including the American Historical Association, the Modern Language Association, the American Anthropological Association, the American Philosophical Association, the American Library Association and of course the American Association of University Professors.
[2] For samples, see the articles on, and responses of, professors Caroline Higgins and David Barash posted at http://www.dangerousprofessors.com/
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girolamo_Savonarola
[4] See chapter two, above.
[5] Scott Sherman, “David Horowitz’s Long March,” The Nation, June 15, 2000
[6] David Horowitz, Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes, 2000 p. 41

3 Comments:

Anonymous Mark said...

Dave,

I just wanted to thank you for being alive. You have made a dent in my typical Republican way of thinking. I just read a good portion of "How To Beat The Democrats" and think that using emotions to disarm them is a very good idea! I came up with it before, but it was you who made me feel like it was worthy enough to use.

And I have already done so.

Thank you!!!!



Mark

3:17 PM  
Blogger Wah said...

ummm,

I opposed the addition. “If we give it this subtitle” I told the publisher, “academics will regard it as a witch-hunt and no one in the academy will read it.”

Says the guy writing on a blog with the subtitle...wait for it..."Most dangerous academics in America"

...on a url of "http://dangerousprofessors.net/"

I guess it's o.k. though as "intellectual honesty" is a liberal ideal, and something that conservatives need not deal with.

12:30 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Interesting post. I was struck by the fact that the tagline was so out of line with the main book. I wish you had done more to resist letting the publishers add it. Something like "patterns of infiltration" would have been better.

As for Savonarola, as I recall he was reacting to the despotism of the Medici in both Florence and the Papacy. Savonarola was part of the effort to restore the Florentine Democracy after its collapse. The Medici were the ones who looted the Papal treasury and sold indulgences to support their high living.

It is interesting that the Left uses essentially the same arguments as Savonarola when denounce the papacy, then turn around and use Savonarola's name as an insult.

Also of note Machiavelli thought that the Christians who tried to restore their democracy were not forceful enough.

I am not a fan of Savonarola. The left seems to love the guy. They can project their methods on this weak-kneed Dominican in public, while calling his methods too weak when they conspire in private.

8:00 AM  

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