Revisiting the Diana West Controversy

The controversy currently raging among conservative luminaries over the substantive nature and scholarly status of Diana West’s new book, American Betrayal, need not be rehearsed in detail here; its features are by now reasonably familiar to most readers of the political sites. But it will do no harm to offer a schematic overview of the broad contours of the “debate”—to give it the politest of tags.

It began when David Horowitz at FrontPage Magazine scrubbed Mark Tapson’s favorable account of the book and replaced it with Ron Radosh’s intemperate and distressingly ad hominem demolition masking as a “review.” Indeed, Radosh’s logomachic intervention read more like a personal vendetta than a scrupulous assessment. As a seasoned writer and veteran debater, Radosh should have known better. From that point on, a war of words was launched and the psychodrama shows no signs of tapering off. West published her Rebuttal and was heatedly defended by the notable historian Andrew Bostom and by many of the talkbackers to Horowitz’s own site. Meanwhile Horowitz and Radosh, and even the orotund Conrad Black, continued to pummel both book and author.

I do not wish to enter into the vortex of the dispute. I readily admit that I am no expert on the subject West’s volume addresses. Was Harry Hopkins the infamous KGB agent 19 or was it Laurence Duggan? Was American WWII policy subtly shaped and surreptitiously directed by Soviet espionage and penetration of the inner circles of the White House—and if so, to what degree? Was Eastern Europe lost to “Uncle Joe” Stalin owing to American ineptitude or to Communist infiltration of the decision-making process? I am in no position to weigh in on the matter. These issues may—or may not—be satisfactorily settled in the future, provided an honest, impartial, and intellectual debate is permitted to flourish without rancor and personal vituperation.

I can only say that Diana West’s thesis is surely deserving of scholarly consideration, whether pro or con. Whether one agrees with her conclusions or not, one must recognize that her argument is meticulously researched and abundantly footnoted. It seems to me that David Horowitz was wrong to remove a review that he had originally vetted and, furthermore, to substitute a largely personal imprecation in its stead rather than, say, to post a countervailing review and let the reader decide. Whatever his motive, the decision leaves an editorial stench that is not easily dissipated.

This is unfortunate, for Horowitz is one of the great conservative writers of our time who has done yeoman service in defending the principles of liberal democracy, in both the political and educational domains. No less unfortunate, there has been far too much name-calling on either side of the embroilment. But it needs to be candidly said that the unseemly fracas began with Radosh’s and Horowitz’s ill-advised, adversarial tactics.

What strikes me as even more important is the damage that has been done to the integrity of the conservative movement—a movement that appears to be precipitously unraveling. Is it any accident that former CIA agent and conservative stalwart Clare Lopez was fired from her billet at the Gatestone Institute after posting an article in which, inter alia, she came to West’s defense? (Like Tapson’s review, her article has been expunged from the site where it first appeared.) To range further afield, when one regards the behavior of the Republican-dominated House, which is supposed to represent the conservative side on the American political scene—John McCain and Lindsey Graham carrying out Obama’s bidding on the Syrian and Egyptian files, Marco Rubio’s amnesty gambit, John Boehner’s generally waffling leadership—one can only wonder whether Michael Savage is right when he argues in Trickle Up Poverty that there is only one political party in the U.S.—but with two faces. (I’m tempted to call this party the Democans or the Republicrats.)

I see the conflict over American Betrayal as merely a subset of a much vaster phenomenon, namely, the ongoing implosion of the conservative ethos in the U.S. When nominal allies eschew reasoned analysis in discussion about their respective positions on matters of substance, and instead resort to bilious invective, ammoniac rhetoric, and invidious claims, we know that we are witnessing the degradation of a viable and honorable—and necessary—political and cultural institution. This is nothing less than giving hostages to the enemy. One does not practice krav maga on one’s peers and colleagues, and certainly not on the author of The Death of the Grown-Up. It is time to pull in our horns, cease defaming our own, refrain from self-extenuation, and begin conducting ourselves like menschen again.