A Point in Time: An Interview with David Horowitz
"Our quests for happiness, for fame, and especially for a 'better world' are efforts to distract ourselves from the fact that our lives are meaningless."
September 8, 2011 - 12:33 am
Be not troubled, for all things are according to nature and in a little while you will be no one and nowhere. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
People usually associate David Horowitz, former radical leftist and founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, with the intellectual pugilism that has made him the nemesis of the left, in books such as Indoctrination U: The Left’s War Against Academic Freedom and Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left. But his new book A Point In Time caps an unofficial trilogy of lyrical meditations that began with The End of Time, then progressed through A Cracking of the Heart. In his latest, he uses the works of Marcus Aurelius and Fyodor Dostoevsky as starting points for his own intimate reflections on meaning and mortality.
Mark Tapson: How does this new book relate to your previous work?
David Horowitz: Most of my writings are engagements in the battles of our time. They are books designed to defend free societies in the face of the assault the left has mounted against them. I have written books to support individual rights and therefore property rights, and racial tolerance, and to uphold intellectual standards and intellectual freedom. My new book has a different inspiration, and in that way is a kind of sequel to another I wrote in the wake of 9/11.
A month after the Islamic attacks, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which brought me up against the wall of my own mortality. I was fortunate enough to survive this round in a war we are all destined to lose, but it changed the way I looked at myself and the world. It caused me to step back and take in our human predicament, and to think about how we address it. The book I then began to write about these matters was different in both substance and tone from the other books I had written. I called it The End of Time. It was partly memoir and partly a reflection on what I had learned.
My new book, A Point in Time, is also partly memoir and partly reflections. It attempts to look at who we are as transient actors in all these dramas, and to consider what they mean to us. It is a summing up of what I have learned over the course of a lifetime.
The subtitle of this book is “The Search for Redemption in this Life and the Next,” which is the way I sum up the escapes we attempt from the no-win situation that mortality imposes on us. Our quests for happiness, for fame, and especially for a “better world” are efforts to distract ourselves from the fact that our lives are meaningless, and that life is meaningless, and that one day all our achievements and all of the achievements of mankind itself will disappear and be forgotten.
MT: You begin by describing your daily interaction with your dogs and horses, and return time and again to them in the book. Why did they serve as inspiration and points of reference for the meditations in this book?
DH: Our predicament lies in the fact that while we are animals and share in their fate, we alone among living creatures are aware of it. My dogs are my connection to my animal self. Observing how they go through life brings me to earth along with my all too human illusions.
MT: Marcus Aurelius and his Stoic acceptance of the stark reality that one day we will all die and be forgotten was “a practical wisdom,” as you call it. But “in his heart of hearts,” you write, “not even a Stoic can live with the thought that all his efforts are without meaning and that every trace of him will one day vanish.” The best way to make sense of our lives is “by inhabiting stories that have no end.” Can you elaborate on that?
DH: If we were to really face the fact of our irrelevance — that we are going to disappear without a trace and everything we do and know and care about will come to an end and be forgotten — if we were to keep that in front of us every minute of every day we would be completely paralyzed. Nothing we did or felt would matter. How could we get on with our lives? We couldn’t. So we tell ourselves stories that have no end, and we live inside them. “I will love you forever,” “we will never forget you,” “history is a progress towards better tomorrows” — all lies. But all necessary to sustain an ordinary human existence.
MT: The book’s cover illustration, by artist and FrontPage contributor Bosch Fawstin, is a sobering sketch of three posts planted upright before a wall — posts to which the condemned are tied to face the firing squad. The reference is to Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky’s own experience, which you relate in the book, of being hauled in front of a firing squad for a mock execution. Why choose this image for your cover?
DH: Because it is an encounter with death followed by a resurrection that changes Dostoevsky’s perspective about everything. Before this event, Dostoevsky was a political radical, a socialist. Afterwards, he understood that radicals are atheists who think of themselves as gods. Everything we suffered from progressive totalitarians in the 20th century, Dostoevsky foresaw. And nobody listened. For me Dostoevsky is an emblematic figure of the prison we cannot escape.
MT: Your father was an atheist who believed fervently in the progressive vision of an earthly utopia. This vision requires “mortals, fallible and corrupt, to assume powers that are god-like.” But as you write in A Point in Time, “a God who becomes human and suffers in the flesh to redeem human sins is one thing; ordinary human beings acting as gods to purge others of their sins is quite another.” Explain how “the quest for an earthly redemption has led to the greatest crimes” and becomes “not the kingdom of freedom but the totalitarian state.”
DH: If you think of yourself as a missionary whose goal is to create an earthly paradise — to end oppression, racism poverty and war — what lie will you not tell then and what crime will you not commit? If your goal is to transform the world, which was made by corrupt and fallible human beings, how can you accomplish this without the power to force them to be something other than they are, and therefore to control every aspect of their lives?
MT: You mention that in President Obama’s Oval Office there is a rug with this progressive testament woven into it: “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Your response is, “The arc of the moral universe is indeed bent, but there is no one and no way to unbend it.” What do you mean by that?
DH: Just that. That it is bent but not towards justice. Who could possibly argue that the world is more just, safer, more morally decent today than it was fifty or five hundred years ago? There have been dramatic changes but they are scientific and technological, not moral. Scientific advance is the only true progress. But in the hands of human beings, technology makes life worse as well as better. In the entire history of mankind, there is no century bloodier than the 20th. And who would bet that the 21st will not surpass it?