Irving Louis Horowitz died a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to honor him as he deserves. He was a force of nature, and you got it all from him, right in your face. Passionate affection, unbreakable loyalty, great intellectual brilliance, surprising physical strength and dexterity, lots of good humor. Or else you got derision and contempt, unrestrained criticism—well, you got that always, which was most welcome to me–and, in his younger years, direct confrontation of the sort he knew from the streets.
He never did things by halves. And if you were going to be his friend, you couldn’t get away with half measures. It was all or nothing. So when he left us—after his umpteenth heart attack and emergency surgery—it was a tremendous blow. One of the basic drivers of our lives has been removed.
His contributions to our understanding of the world are legion, from Renaissance philosophy to Cuban Communism, from totalitarianism to a brilliant discussion of C. Wright Mills, and seemingly countless and invariably significant issues.
I always told him that he wasn’t a sociologist at all, but rather an historian, one of the best. Few so well understood the passionate irrationality of the modern world as Irving did, and his great work on “radicalism and the revolt against reason” will last a very long time. He well understood the menace of myth in politics, and dreaded its consequences in our age of mass movements and totalitarians who perfected mob rule. Those same insights were brought to bear on Castro’s Cuba, on the celebrated but wrong-headed work of C. Wright Mills, and on the often controversial and internally contradictory writings of Hannah Arendt, after whom Irving’s chair at Rutgers was named.