David Horowitz: Points in Time
An overview of one man and his work.
October 15, 2011 - 12:02 am
One of the more difficult problems a reviewer faces when dealing with a Horowitz book is how not to go on indefinitely, for each new release takes its place in a qualifying continuum compelling awareness of the whole. In other words, Horowitz has reached the point in time in his career when, as T.S. Eliot said about literature in general in his seminal essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” a new work involves “the presence of the past.” “The existing monuments,” Eliot writes, “form an ideal order…which is modified by the introduction of the new (or nearly new).” The new not only reconfigures the present but alters our perception of the past as well.
At the level of Horowitz’s “individual talent,” we might propose, analogically speaking, after the publication of a veritable library shelf of books and pamphlets, that he is not only a writer but a literature, that is, he now constitutes his own tradition which each new production both adds to and revises. We know Horowitz as a committed political commentator anatomizing the left’s ideological control of the media, the electoral process, the common discourse and the classroom. From Radical Son to The Politics of Bad Faith to Unholy Alliance to The Professors to Indoctrination U to One-Party Classroom, and, indeed, a bibliography that spans more than 40 years and approximately the same number of books, including over a dozen which he co-authored, Horowitz has established himself as one of the major political authors of the era.
With the publication of his latest offering, A Point in Time, the third in a meditative trilogy following upon The End of Time and A Cracking of the Heart, the perspective has begun to shift. These are intensely personal volumes, lamentations on mortality, the inevitable dissipations of time, the futility of the quest for meaning and coherence, the losses that afflict us every step of the way on our journey toward the mausoleum that closes on every human purpose. But the lien between the personal and the political is clear. Reviewing A Point in Time in National Review Online, Bruce Thornton also remarks on the complementarity between the “the three volumes of memoirs laced with philosophical reflections” and “Horowitz’s other work, which focuses more practically on contemporary ideologies and the pernicious policies they create.”
Connecting to this earlier work, A Point in Time exposes how the redemptive quest of the “social redeemers” for an earthly paradise leads not to “the kingdom of freedom but the totalitarian state.” The kingdom of freedom is predicated on the assumption of a world beyond this one and a divinity without whom moral conduct has no guarantor. Right action is based upon individual choice to accept the existence of a moral domain that precludes the shedding of blood to attain a collective utopia. At the same time, this higher reality remains just that, an assumption, not an incontestable truth, rendering us — if I may quote Martin Heidegger, an otherwise unlikely authority — unbehaust, unhoused, roofless, insecure. Such is the human situation.
The question that Horowitz confronts is how best to come to terms with our condition, for “if the world is to be redeemed it will be one individual at a time,” certainly not one collective movement after another. But we must be prepared for the fact that the voyage on which we embark will be tempestuous, erratic, and not a little preposterous. “And what is the alternative?” he ruefully asks. Horowitz would probably agree that we are like the characters in the absurd Edward Lear poem, who “went to sea in a sieve.” The answer, if there is one, is to accept without cynicism or despair, so far as we can, the fragile adequacy of the narratives we construct to give shape and continuity to our lives, while avoiding the temptation to enlist in violent collective schemes of auto-transformation. It is, citing Peter Wood in his prefatory attestation to A Point in Time, to espouse “the fictions we cannot wholly believe or wholly escape.” This is what Horowitz has done in spades, determined “to embrace my own circular horizon and accept it.”
But in so doing he has achieved even more. He has created his own literary horizon both for himself and his readers, embracing past and present within its expanding circle. A Point in Time, like The End of Time and A Cracking of the Heart, positions the reader to see his work as forming a virtual tradition, which each new book recasts, re-orients, and partially transmutes. The previous work is, so to speak, backlit by the subsequent, creating an effect of textual and contemplative seamlessness. For as I’ve indicated, Horowitz has become his own inheritance and mythos, a literary institution in his own right.
The same can be said of the living archive which is Horowitz’s published oeuvre, the calendar of his literary achievements which tracks a developing itinerary. “I am impelled forward in my writing,” as he says toward the conclusion of A Point in Time. Every new book not only confers momentum on those to come after but is the result of those that came before, requiring us to re-evaluate the precedents under the sign of his latest contribution. When I go back to Radical Son or Unholy Alliance, for example, it is as if I’m now making the acquaintance of a somewhat altered David Horowitz, a writer who differs from the one I first met. I’m reading (or re-reading) the same books but they now carry a different valence, seem more layered and complex, enriched by an aura of personality I could not have originally intuited but which was always there, however subliminally. There is a sense of something evolving toward new insights and conclusions captured in every succeeding publication.
This is a unique experience one does not find in most other writers, accomplished as they may be, who either repeat a favored theme with new evidence to substantiate an argument or produce a series of eclectic volumes, recognizable as the product of the same author by the accident of name, thematic interests, stylistic quirks, and phrasal mannerisms. But with Horowitz there is a feeling of gradually accreting unity, a quality of the organic and holistic implicit in his work that renders it not merely consecutive but continuous. It is like an increasingly elaborate manifold. This is what I mean when I say that his work resembles an evolving order à la Eliot, a kind of self-adjusting literature in its own right.
When I first began reading Horowitz, I found myself thinking that I had come across an interesting writer. As I continued to read him, the impression grew that he was not simply an “interesting writer,” but a significant authorial force in the political and academic amphitheater. At this point in time, cresting with his latest works, I believe we must acknowledge David Horowitz as one of the major writers of the modern era. Although in his latest book the focus falls on Horowitz himself and his spiritual education, the subtitle identifies his most transcendent theme: “The Search for Redemption in this Life and the Next.” The audit and catechism proceed along the entire scale of human experience.
People may tend not to see this because they define Horowitz exclusively as a writer in a politically conservative mode or as a polemicist for a cause. But he is much more than that. He is, as I’ve suggested, something like a tradition in the making, as well as a fluent stylist and an authentic thinker who addresses the important questions of our existence across the gamut from the practical to the metaphysical. And in so doing, he has also built his own sustaining narrative.
What Horowitz has given us, then, is not only a series of notable books but, as I have argued elsewhere, a kind of wisdom literature in itself, changing and deepening with every new addition to the procession. A Point in Time will yield to other points in time, each signaling the next with inaugural premonitions and modifying the previous in novel ritornellos. Horowitz is one of those rare writers who are both memory and prelude, and we are lucky to have him.