Tilting at Academic Windmills

Bruce Bawer

Before there was Milo Yiannopoulos, there was David Horowitz. Before the YouTube video had become the default medium for controversial content; before student rebels against the tyrannical academic Left had recognized that they not only weren’t alone but, indeed, that they likely outnumbered their tyrants’ ideological disciples (and, moreover, that they had the facts and the U.S. Constitution on their side); before Milo was able to enter a university lecture hall and receive a standing ovation from an overflow crowd of conservative, libertarian, moderate, and classical liberal fans (who, thanks to the internet, had been inoculated against leftist flummery)—before all that, there was David Horowitz, who, whenever he crossed the threshold of a college auditorium, was, with few exceptions, walking into the lion’s den, and, like Gary Cooper in High Noon, doing it all alone—singlehandedly confronting rabid mobs of Marxists, anarchists, and defenders of jihad whose profs had crammed their craniums with calumnies about him.

Some of these encounters have been preserved in videos that can be found online; many have not. Fortunately, Horowitz has provided vivid and illuminating accounts of several of them, which have now been reprinted in The Left in the University, the eighth volume of his landmark series The Black Book of the American Left.

A word about this series as a whole. If there were any justice, these volumes—which began coming out in 2013—would be widely recognized as definitive studies of the politics of modern American life. Each of them would have received prominent, respectful reviews in publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. And they would be required reading for students in a range of disciplines. But chances are you won’t see them any time soon on the shelves of a college bookstore. The Left in the University makes it clear why.

Bluntly put: The fix is in, and it’s been in for decades. Today, to an alarming extent, young Americans pursuing studies in the humanities or social sciences at pretty much any college in the country aren’t being educated—they’re being indoctrinated. And even though the truth about the radical perversion of higher education is a few keystrokes away on any number of websites, many of them still don’t get it.

Horowitz was perhaps the first truly major figure to venture repeatedly onto American campuses and to try to help them get it. It was an all but thankless task. As he recounts in The Left in the University, Horowitz traveled to colleges all over the U.S., including some you’ve never heard of—colleges whose administrators and faculty should have been thrilled to host a man of his stature—to give earnest talks in which he spelled out the difference between being brainwashed and being exposed to all sides of an issue and taught to form an intelligent opinion.

Now, these were places that routinely rolled out the red carpet for communist ex-jailbirds such as Angela Davis. Some such speakers walked away with five-figure fees. Horowitz, by contrast, very frequently spoke for free—because he wasn’t out to make a buck, he was out to make a point. He knew that these kids whose parents were paying through the nose for them to attend college weren’t getting anything remotely resembling a proper education. And this, he knew, represented a danger both for their personal futures and for American freedom.

The situation was dire. Instead of being exposed to some of the great works of history, students were spoon-fed Howard Zinn. They were told little or nothing about the evils of Stalin or Mao, but a lot about the supposed evils of McCarthyism. They’d been encouraged to respect Marx, but were innocent of Hayek. They’d heard about the Hollywood blacklist, but not the Gulag. They thought that the U.S. was the only country that had ever had slavery, and that pre-Columbian America had been an Eden. How could they grow into responsible custodians of liberty when they were being turned into America-hating socialists?

Horowitz himself knew something about being an America-hating socialist. Raised by parents who were devout Stalinists and active Communist Party members, Horowitz went on to be a leader of the New Left, a friend of the Black Panthers, and a supporter of Fidel Castro. But he could not blind himself forever to the damage that had been done all over the planet by the ideas he espoused. He snapped out of it all in time to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980, and in a way everything he has done professionally since then has been an act of atonement for his youthful admiration for leftist totalitarianism.

So Horowitz dragged himself to one college after another and gave his talks. And at virtually every one of these places, the craven, careerist, ideology-addled mediocrities in charge couldn’t even bring themselves to demonstrate simple civility in the presence of this guest who, ethically and intellectually, stood head and shoulders above them. Many of them, unburdened by a conscience or a sense of shame, publicly claimed he was doing exactly what they, in fact, were doing: promoting despotism, defending autocracy, trying to shut down debate.

When Horowitz called out professors at these places for grading students on their degree of readiness to echo the profs’ own opinions, they accused him of intellectual tyranny. Disgracefully, many of the brats who showed up for his lectures queued up during the Q & A and took the opportunity not to learn a thing or two but to jeer and sneer—proving that (1) they’d never been taught any manners, and (2) they’d been so successfully trained to parrot their teachers’ falsehoods that they couldn’t even recognize the truth when they heard it. And Horowitz—as can be observed in YouTube videos of these events—endured it all with gentlemanly grace, persevering in his effort to edify these dolts when lesser men would have thrown up their hands and headed for the door.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media all but ignored Horowitz’s warnings about the authoritarian ideological uniformity that was steadily destroying the American academy. Thanks to their unwillingness to heed his alarm, the problem has grown steadily worse, leading to the current madness of “microaggressions,” “safe spaces,” and violent riots by fascistic “anti-fascists.” For years now, America’s colleges have been sending out into the world innumerable graduates who disdain freedom, are historically illiterate, lack any comprehension of economics, don’t know how to put together a logical argument, and see everything under the sun through the lens of identity politics.

There’s a great deal in The Left in the University that makes you think—and a lot that makes you want to scream or punch a wall. And every now and then there’s a poignant moment—such as the anecdote about the black female student who, after attending one of Horowitz’s talks, said to her roommate: “Everything I have been told all my life has been a lie.” How impressive that, thanks to David Horowitz, she could experience that epiphany; how sobering to realize how many young (and not so young) people have yet to grasp that their heads, too, have been stuffed with lies.

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