Willful Misunderstanding · 05 March 2006

By David Horowitz--FrontPageMag.com--03/06/06

My book The Professors has garnered a fair share of attention. There are already 3 million web references to "dangerous professors," its subtitle. While obviously not all the Google references are to my book, a glance will show that all of the references on the first ten pages of the index are. (I leave it to my critics to check out the next thousand.) Despite all this attention, however, virtually no critical thought has been expended on the actual argument of the book itself. Attacks there have been aplenty, but the attackers have so far not felt it necessary to address what the book actually says. They have responded instead by attempting to discredit the integrity of the author. No surprise here. Beginning with Marx himself, character assassination has been the favored operating procedure of leftists when dealing with their critics.

It seems as though university campuses would offer the primary audience for a book about the intellectual corruption of university faculties. Yet, before it went to press I had a dispute over this very idea with my publisher. It was the publisher who actually gave The Professors its subtitle: "The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America." And this worried me. In writing the book, it had not been my intention to justify such a title. In fact, the adjective "dangerous" does not appear among the 112,000 words of its text. When my publisher proposed the subtitle, the book was already finished - the hundred odd professors already selected. The fact that there were obscure professors in the book like Marc Becker of Truman State, and moderate leftists like Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin, concerned me. I was sure they and other more culpable subjects would pounce on the phrase and claim, however absurdly, that it was a red flag signaling a "witch-hunt." In other words, it would provide its enemies with an opportunity to make it look ridiculous and sinister at the same time (the contradiction would not bother them in the least).

So I opposed it. "If we give it this subtitle," I said to my publisher, no one in the academy will read it." I was not ready for his reply. "Who's going to read it in the academy anyway?" he said. "They'll hate this book no matter what you call it and only ten of them will buy it. We need to market this book to a large audience, and this subtitle will do it, and that's what we're going to do."

Authors don't have authority over their titles, and I already knew that there was no constituency for reform inside the university and so I went along with this marketing strategy. The strategy has worked and the book is doing very well. More importantly it has stimulated a national dialogue on issues, with the assistance of the high school teacher in Colorado, whose determination to inflict his extremist views of 9/11 and the war in Iraq on a captive audience of 14-year-olds reflects the influence of the university culture that trained him, which I would like to change.

A principal theme of my book (unmentioned by its critics) is that faculty radicals have transformed entire departments and fields into political parties whose agendas have little or no relation to any activity that could be called scholarly. Thus Women's Studies are not about an academic inquiry into the nature, history and sociology of women. Instead, Women's Studies is the Party of Feminism on campus. Similarly, Peace Studies is not about a scholarly inquiry into the causes of war and peace. It is the Party of Anti-American, Anti-Military, Sympathy for the Terrorists. And this, by the way, is not a small movement. There are 250 such "Peace Studies" programs on campuses across the country. The one at Ball State is headed by a Professor of the Saxophone; the one at Purdue by a member of the central committee of Angela Davis's Communist Party. It think this qualifies as "dangerous" and I think the broad public who will read this book is likely to agree.

The reception of my critique of academic corruption within the academic community pretty much validates my publisher's instinct. If two hundred Stalinists at Harvard (to use Alan Dershowitz's apt description) could discredit the most powerful president in the history of the modern research university and force him to resign, why would I think they could not discredit my book?

In the event, this task is made much easier for my academic opponents by their willing accomplices in the campus student press (who, after all, are their students). When I was interviewed recently about my book by a reporter from the Columbia Spectator, I was under the impression that her article would at least reflect my intentions in writing the book. But when the article actually appeared it was not about my book, but about the complaints about my book made by three of the nine Columbia professors I profiled (Lisa Hirschman, "Professors Deny Claims," Columbia Spectator, March 3, 2006).

The three professors selected by the Spectator were "cherry-picked," to employ a term falsely applied to my own text by my critics. As I explain in my book, each tenured professor I identify has been voted on at least once and often twice by his or her entire department for promotion and tenure and has had to provide a minimum of twelve recommendations from experts in their field. So they are representative of a national academic culture, not aberrations within that culture.

By contrast the Spectator group, which included Eric Foner, Victor Navasky and Todd Gitlin, was deliberately selected to make the characterization "dangerous" appear as far-fetched as possible. Among the six that the Spectator didn't mention were several notorious Jew-haters, including one (Hamid Dabashi) who has described Jews as "physically repulsive oppressors" whose evil is imprinted on their faces, and an anthropology professor (Nicholas DeGenova) who has wished for "a million Mogadishus" and the defeat of the United States world-wide.

The three professors selected by the Spectator were included in the book, as I told its reporter, because they were either comfortable with or actively supported the political corruption of the university.

Todd Gitlin (who can stand in for the others) is a former president of the 1960s radical student organization SDS, and an apologist for Sixties radicalism. In two interviews with the reporter, I stressed to her that my book was about the intellectual corruption of the university, and that I had no direct knowledge of how Gitlin and the other two conducted themselves in the classroom. For all I knew, I said their teaching methods might be perfectly appropriate and scholarly. I included in the book not because of any classroom improprieties I had detected, but because they countenanced or supported the political abuse of the university by their peers.

Here is what I actually wrote about Gitlin in The Professors: "Todd Gitlin explained the achievements of faculty radicals in an essay that appeared in 2004. After the Sixties, Gitlin wrote, 'all that was left to the Left was to unearth righteous traditions and cultivate them in universities. The much-mocked 'political correctness' of the next academic generations was a consolation prize. We lost - we squandered the politics - but won the textbooks.'"

We won the textbooks; we established a politically correct party line on university campuses. Gitlin is apparently comfortable with this result. He has not protested the fact that there are no conservatives on the journalism faculty at Columbia or, for that matter, at NYU where he previously he taught. He has not called, as I have, for the enforcement of traditional standards of scholarship to reign in the abuses of colleagues like Professor Manning Marable, which are documented in my book. The destruction of academic standards at Columbia -- once one of the best liberal arts schools in the country - by radicals intending to convert it into their political base is apparently all right with him. That - and that alone -- is the anti-intellectual "sin" that got him included in my book. I told the Spectator exactly that. I could have saved my breath.

The article published in the Spectator begins, "Three Columbia professors accused by David Horowitz of indoctrinating their students with left-wing propaganda have dismissed the claims as factually incorrect and ludicrous." What's ludicrous is the Spectator's assertion that I made such a claim. I didn't. You will not find these words in my book in reference to Todd Gitlin or Eric Foner or Victor Navasky. But what does what I actually wrote matter to the Spectator and its audience? It is probable that very few people in the Columbia community have read my book or are able to check the facts. Moreover, anyone at Columbia who has read the book will probably maintain a prudent silence lest the witch-hunting ire of leftists like Gitlin and his peers be directed at them.

The Spectator reporter also interviewed Todd Gitlin whose professorial comment was that my profile of him contained, "willful misunderstandings and distortions." Said Gitlin: "There's a lot of history here - he's been going after me for twenty years. Horowitz hasn't a clue as to how I function in the classroom. ... He's bonkers." Well, to repeat, I didn't focus on how Gitlin functioned in the classroom. In a post on the Internet, Gitlin did complain that I said he "immersed" students in "obscurantist texts of leftist icons like Jurgen Habermas." While conceding that he did assign Habermas, Gitlin quarreled with the verb "immersed." Big deal. Actually for Gitlin it was a big deal, because he told the reporter that my profile of him contained "willful misunderstandings and distortions," among which was this.

Another "distortion" was the fact that I had referred to an article he wrote called "Varieties of Patriotic Experience" as "Varieties of Patriotism." Sorry, Todd, I'll correct that in a future edition. Another distortion (or is it a willful misunderstanding?) is that I placed him at a Columbia anti-war teach-in where his fellow faculty member Nicholas DeGenova called for "a million Mogadishus," referring to the slaughter of American marines by al-Qaeda in Somalia. Apparently Todd had already left the speaker's platform when Professor DeGenova erupted or perhaps he hadn't arrived yet. Professor Gitlin feels "distorted" by my profile because he doesn't share DeGenova's views. In fact, my text clearly acknowledges that Gitlin distanced himself from the leftist extreme: "After 9/11 Professor Gitlin wrote an article critical of leftists who opposed the war in Afghanistan and unfurled an American flag and hung it from his apartment window…" (p. 195) So who is willfully misunderstanding whom?

In his Internet article Professor Gitlin is distressed by my characterization of his patriotic feelings or lack of them: "Any reasonable person," he writes, "may read my essay 'Varieties of Patriotic Experience,' 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 or even allegiance,' is an accurate description of my position. In fact the burden of both these essays is exactly the contrary." Well, readers may decide for themselves by looking at the actual passage in my book The Professors:

In an article titled, "Varieties of Patriotism," Professor Gitlin recently reflected upon the decades he has spent harboring the belief that his country is ultimately unworthy of his respect and even allegiance. He traced the roots of that sentiment back to the fires of the Vietnam War. "For a large bloc of Americans my age and younger," he writes, "too young to remember World War II - the generation for whom 'the war' meant Vietnam and possibly always would, to the end of our days - the case against patriotism was not an abstraction. There was a powerful experience underlying it: as powerful an eruption of our feelings as the experience of patriotism is supposed to be for patriots. Indeed, it could be said that in the course of our political history we experienced a very odd turn about: The most powerful public emotion in our lives was rejecting patriotism." (Ibid.)

By his own account, this was Gitlin's view of patriotism pre-9/11. And post-9/11? Gitlin writes: "By the time George W. Bush declared war without end against an 'axis of evil' that no other nation on earth was willing to recognize as such - indeed, against whomever the president might determine we were at war against,…and declared further the unproblematic virtue of pre-emptive attacks, and made it clear that the United States regarded itself as a one-nation tribunal of 'regime change,' I felt again the old estrangement, the old shame and anger at being attached to a nation - my nation - ruled by runaway bullies, indifferent to principle, their lives manifesting supreme loyalty to private (though government slathered) interests, quick to lecture dissenters about the merits of patriotism." (p. 196)

Now who is willfully misunderstanding whom?

A lexis-nexis search will also inspire questions about Gitlin's accusation that I have been "going after" him in the manner of an ideological stalker "for twenty years." In the 1990s, Gitlin wrote a popular book about the Sixties. When Peter Collier and I came to write our book on the subject, Destructive Generation, we naturally took issue with Gitlin's celebration of what we had come to regard as a "low and dishonest" political decade. We took issue with the fact that he had transformed Sixties radicals into innocents at home and, specifically, that he had failed to mention their malice, aggression and criminal deeds. Apparently Gitlin was chastened by our critique because in the next edition of his book, he did make a pathetically small concession to the effect that the left "knew sin" in the killing of a math researcher at the University of Wisconsin who was working in a lab a band of progressives targeted as part of the war machine. I would not call our justified critique of Gitlin in Destructive Generation "going after him." It was merely an attempt to make him honest.

A few years later, in similar effort to restore an historical truth, I organized a silent vigil at the premier of Mario Van Peebles film Panther, a cinematic atrocity about the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers were, of course, an iconic gang of the Sixties, worshipped by SDS radicals, who had murdered many innocent people including Betty Van Patter, who worked for Peter and me at Ramparts magazine. I organized the demonstration at the Panther premier as a vigil to remember Betty and the other victims of Panther mayhem. The film, by contrast, portrayed these gangsters as boy scouts who were victims of a white racist power structure. The film alleged that the FBI had flooded America's ghettos with heroin in a genocidal campaign (which the on screen J. Edgar Hoover actually referred to the script as "the final solution" in order to deprive the Panther vanguard of their community support.

While I was occupied outfitting my offices with security cameras to protect my young staff from possible reprisals as a result of our vigil, Gitlin took time out from his busy schedule as a visiting professor at the Sorbonne to comment to a USA Today reporter, that our protest was just a case of "Panther-bashing" by Horowitz.

Since then, Gitlin has given interviews dismissing my views as demented effusions resulting from unresolved psychodramas connected to my late father. By contrast I have written respectfully - apparently too respectfully - about Gitlin's intellectual output, not mentioning any psychological instabilities as an excuse for avoiding engagement with his ideas. In a recent book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left I used Gitlin as a case study in how a reasonably sophisticated radical, who does not share the coarse anti-Americanism of many of his Columbia colleagues, can be consumed by such hatred of his own country (or, as he would prefer it, his "government") to write about it in terms that reinforce its image as a "Great Satan" and thus strengthen the fanatical ideology of our terrorist enemies, whom he otherwise despises. Judging by his comments, he either has not read my book, or has willfully misunderstood it.

My experiences with Gitlin and other leftwing critics of The Professors have not been unexpected, but are frustrating nonetheless. They have caused me to wonder whether there are still intellectuals on the left capable of defending their positions in the face of a conservative critique. If there are, FrontPagemag.com is open to them to argue the case, even as the magazines and academic institutions they control are closed to me.