From Firebrand Left to Pop-Culture Right

By Lehrer, Eli | Insight on the News, November 16, 1998 | Go to article overview

From Firebrand Left to Pop-Culture Right


Lehrer, Eli, Insight on the News


David Horowitz, a retired New Left radical and now active-duty conservative in darkest Hollywood, discusses with Insight what's good about the left and what's right about the right.

By the mid-1960s, self-described "red-diaper" baby David Horowitz was one of the nation's foremost young radicals. Educated at Columbia and then the University of California at Berkeley, he became a leftist firebrand first by playing a major role in Students for a Democratic Society and then as editor of the far-left Ramparts magazine. Following the murder of a friend by Black Panthers, he became disillusioned with the left and withdrew from politics. During this period he began writing books chronicling America greatest family dynasties.

In the mid-1980s, Horowitz reentered political life, this time as a conservative. Although he has taken an 180-degree turn on just about every issue, he still is a savvy operative skilled in the organizing strategies and political tactics of the New Left. He also has been one of the right's most prolific authors, writing or editing a book nearly every year In 1988, he and Peter Collier founded the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Los Angeles.

Horowitz tells Insight that a meaningful difference still exists between right and left. "Left and right identify two fundamental outlooks, two ways of dealing with the social problem. The right is the party of the American founding; it defends the principles of private property, of individual rights, of limited government, of market economics," he says. "The left is the party of Rousseau; it believes that individuals are essentially molded and constructed by society. The left is looking to reshape humanity and solve all of our social problems through the powers of the state."

Insight: You've often said that your experience in the New Left helped you to learn organizing techniques and moral strategies that have been useful to the New Right. What does the left do right? And, conversely, what's wrong with the right?

David Herowitz: There are two things that are most basic to the New Left. First, the idea that politics is war continued by other means. The second is really a corollary to the first: In war you need troops; you need, in other words, to win over the mass of the people. The Communist Manifesto provides a good example. It says to Americans a few interesting things: First, even though we live in a democracy, we are ruled by an alien power -- the ruling class. Second, it says that all people concerned with justice and decency have to wage a war against the power. That's the essence of leftist thought.

On the whole, the Republican Party and conservatives don't speak to the people. Here you have the sleaziest, most corrupt, most damaged president in the history of the country and, right now, it isn't clear that the Republicans will sweep the congressional elections. This is because of the way that the left understands politics and because of the way the right doesn't.

Insight: How can Republicans do a better job of getting the people on their side?

DH: The basic issue with the way the right faces the political problem is that it doesn't set itself up as the champion of women, children, minorities and poor people. The left has a vested interest in keeping poor people and minorities as captives in a welfare system that is destructive to these groups' real interests.

Insight: Your new book is called The Politics of Bad Faith. What does the title mean? What are the politics of bad faith?

DH: By the politics of bad faith, I am referring to the fact that the schemes of the left have been shown to be incredibly destructive and bankrupt over the course of the 20th century. Yet those schemes are alive and well in today's Democratic Party.

Today the same people who were pushing the interests of communism during the Cold War are calling themselves liberals. Second, liberalism and leftism are a pseudo-religion, a "bad faith" that's impervious to logical argument. …

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