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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Professor's Post: Todd Gitlin on Horowitz' "dangerous professors"

Todd Gitlin writes, Old Whine in New Bottle:

A number of people have asked me to respond to the signal honor of being included in David Horowitz's latest self-promotional scrapbook, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.

I could think of perhaps a thousand more interesting ways of whiling away the hours, but for the record, as they say:

Aside from wild guffaws--as in this tour de force by my fellow danger Michael Berube, and, if you're really a glutton for Horowitziana, these entries on Michael's splendid blog, posted delightfully enough on Valentine's Day--here are a few observations on Horowitz's slovenly methods at work in his little blast at me, which, along with his other laughable errors and distortions, should get him laughed out of any hall except "The Daily Show" as a serious researcher, let alone an expert in what universities do and should do.

1. Horowitz has absolutely no idea what I do in the classroom. Probably he is assuming that I do what he would do had he the chance: indoctrinate innocents. So he claims that I "immerse" students in the "obscurantist texts of leftist icons like Jurgen Habermas." In fact, I have indeed assigned a book of Habermas'--along with many others--to a graduate seminar. I have also, to take only the last few years, "immersed" students in texts by Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Burke, Adam Smith, and, for that matter, the Gospels. Horowitz might benefit from any or all such immersions.

2. And by the way, if Habermas is in fact "obscurantist," how is he supposed to compel students to "understand the oppressive nature of capitalist media"? Habermas is, in fact, difficult, but the book I assign is not obscurantist. There, Habermas takes on the important question of the conditions under which communications are and are not conducive to democratic debate. To explore such questions is one reason why we have universities.

3. Horowitz notes that I participated in a March 2003 antiwar teach-in at Columbia. I did indeed. With his usual logic, he proceeds to link me with Professor Nicholas De Genova of Columbia's Anthropology Department, who at another session of the teach-in "idiotically" (to quote my fellow dangerous colleague Eric Foner) called for "a million Mogadishus." But I was not present when De Genova said this. Nor have I ever knowingly laid eyes or ears on Professor De Genova. Had I been present when Professor De Genova made his remark, or heard that he had done so, I would have expressed my disgust.

4. Any reasonable person may read my essay, "Varieties of Patriotic Experience" (mislabeled by Horowitz), and the successor in my later book The Intellectuals and the Flag, and decide for him- or herself whether "harboring the belief that his country is ultimately unworthy of his respect and even allegiance" is an accurate description of my position. In fact, the burden of these essays is exactly the contrary. In both essays, I distinguish between the country that is worthy of respect and allegiance and the government policies that are not.

Horowitz's idea of research is cherry-picking-- and he can't even be trusted to find cherries. He comes up with prunes.

The many state legislatures that have uniformly rejected his "Academic Bill of Rights" have already figured out that Horowitz gives sloppiness a bad name.

Which of course doesn't stop him from crying "censorship" and "ugly McCarthyite tactics" in his fund-raising hue and cry.

The amazing thing about Horowitz' list is that even by his standards of "danger" (which apparently does not include Holocaust deniers, white supremecists, or advocates of torture like John Yoo or Alan Dershowitz) I can think of eight or nine more dangerous NYU professors than the lone one cited in his book -- the genteel and erudite law professor, Derek Bell. And, of course, if you think Todd Gitlin is among the most troubling professors at Columbia, you have not been paying much attention.

The key to this feud goes back to the late 1960s, when Horowitz and Gitlin were both major players in the New Left in the Bay Area. One of them went crazy and started consorting with the Black Panthers and Maoist-informed groups like the SLA. The other decided that democracy and the American way had the best potential to maximize freedom and dignity.

Guess which one of these is considered "dangerous" by the radical right in America.

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