Irving Louis Horowitz: A Force of Nature

Steve Balch

Irving Louis Horowitz was a force of nature, a one man intellectual torrent oxygenating the waters of American scholarship, while carrying rafts of ideas, institutions, and academic careers from remote wellsprings to the oceans of public discourse. Among those institutions was the National Association of Scholars, and particularly its flagship quarterly, Academic Questions, which, as founding publisher, he launched into the currents of controversy in 1987.

Voyaging with Irving wasn’t always a pleasure cruise. He was an awesome presence, sometimes avuncular, sometimes sternly, even fiercely patriarchal. He could both bestow benedictions and hurl thunderbolts, often in rapid succession. But in whatever guise he chose to appear his cause was always the same: social science, its fulfillment, and when necessary (as it frequently was), its vindication and reclamation.

When the small band of co-conspirators behind the fledgling NAS first met with Irving he patiently explained to us how little we knew of the journal business and how difficult it would be for us to break into the academic marketplace. Time is the great limiting resource, he instructed, a precious commodity that you have to tempt, sorely tempt, potential readers to surrender. If you forgot or took this for granted you’d be professionally doomed. Looking at us, novices all, he couldn’t have been particularly optimistic about Academic Questions' prospects, typical lifetimes for newborn journals being less than five years. But Irving never gave up on us, ever ready with advice, subject and author tips, as well as contributions to our pages that graced them with the distinction of his thought and name. And we never forgot his warnings about that old devil time. Twenty-five years later, having beaten its odds, Academic Questions is still very much alive and kicking. Irving was proud of having helped make that happen, and we were proud to have had him so long at our side.           

Irving made maximum use of his own lifetime. His contributions as a thinker and publisher were protean by any standard. But what he may finally be best remembered for was his defense of the free life of reason, a defense he not only “talked” but “walked.” As head of a major social science publishing house, Transaction – the only publishing house ever headed by a major social scientist – he unleashed a flood of scholarly publications, books, and periodicals, covering vast territories of subject interest and political/philosophical inclination. His monthly journal Society was the most conspicuous forum anywhere for cross-spectrum debate in applied and theoretical social sciences. And Irving never fell silent about the persecution of intellectual dissidents under regimes that other intellectuals, for reasons of favor or fashion, saw fit to excuse. Irving had no time for excuses like those.

With Irving passes one more giant of twentieth-century American social science. There aren’t many still around. But whereas most of the others spoke only for themselves, Irving captained a host of voices. He was American social science's great impresario, discovering fresh talent, assembling virtuosi, and encouraging everyone to play pitch perfect, that is to say, to sound, as much as possible, the clear call of truth. He worked with ideas in nearly every manner possible. Few have left so many intellectual monuments behind. 


For a more detailed description of his career click here.

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