You will be well-rewarded if you take a break from our current political turmoil to read David Horowitz’s new book, You’re Going to be Dead One Day: A Love Story.
In its pages, you will not find the conservative warrior that you know from his speeches, books, articles, and his organization’s website. Rather, Horowitz, in this third memoir since he wrote Radical Son, presents us with a profoundly personal and moving philosophical inquiry into the meaning of life in the face of death — hence the jarring title (as if we didn’t know it already). But, it is also, as the title states, a love story chiefly about his wife April and the other people in his life he loves and treasures.
I have been friends with Horowitz for decades, since our high school days in New York City when we were comrades in arms in the American Communist Party’s youth organization. But I was not prepared for the power of his writing, and his willingness to bare his soul and inner feelings from the months of May through September of 2014. Those months, as we learn, were particularly difficult ones for his family. David, after what he expected to be a standard hip replacement operation, was left with what is called “drop foot,” a condition leaving him unable to walk and in severe pain.
A short time after, April almost died in a car accident, and his son Jonathan was rushed to the hospital having suffered a heart attack at the age of 53. Thankfully, he survived.
This was not Horowitz’s first brush with mortality. At 60, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which caused him to pass the Rubicon between a time when he enjoyed “robust health” and took it for granted to the realization that he was not going to be the exception. He could, he tells us, fill his head with happier reflections, but he won’t, writing that “thinking about our mortal condition, and the way it affects how we live in the here and now, remains as seductive to me as ever.”
Despite these setbacks and the unpleasant surprises life sometimes gives us, David Horowitz faces these tribulations as part of life, and still presses on with strength and optimism.
He has been “driven,” as he puts it, to “confront those who refused to give up [the] misguided” attempt to change the world and achieve the new socialist order that would supposedly triumph everywhere and solve all the world’s problems.
Now Horowitz tells us he is “a pessimist about humanity,” but at the same time an optimist about his own life. How can that be?
The answer, he believes, may lie in the “quasi-religious world” he was brought up in, where he was taught that “despite all improbabilities, despite the fact that our community of communist believers was tiny and hunted, the brave new world we were seeking was just beyond the horizon. History was on our side.” He admits that tragic experience taught him the “destructive folly of this faith, but habit and instinct continue to say otherwise.”
Life is indeed full of surprises. Like Whittaker Chambers, to whom Horowitz has often been compared, good came out of his youthful infatuation, and gave us a man who is now an energetic force devoted to fighting the lies of the Left.
Horowitz has tried not to inflict his passion and his own motivation on his children, who all have followed their own chosen paths. His late daughter Sarah moved to political and social action, but carried out her activist work within the tradition of Judaism. His son Jonathan became at first a musician and eventually a manager of major hit groups, and his son Ben, who opted out of “the family business” of political activism to become a Silicon Valley top executive, landed on the cover of Fortune magazine and now is a CEO of a major venture capital firm. His wife April’s son Jon, who, he raised and considers his own son, with his guidance and support became a successful researcher in immunology.
Horowitz learned to “avoid raising my own children as I had been raised,” he writes, not free to even consider another choice, which would “have been seen not as an alternative but a betrayal.”
Thus Horowitz knew he had to set his children free as they entered adolescence, which coincided with the beginning of his own doubts which eventually became overwhelming. That move to conservatism, he reminds readers, took place over a 20-year period.
I personally recall the beginnings of his transition. When I lived in New York City decades ago, Horowitz was visiting his parents and friends. I took him with me to a meeting of Dissent magazine, then both social-democratic and anti-Communist. He was looking to see if this was a potential alternative path for him that would leave him on the political Left while breaking from the old Communist left, the New Left, and the Black Panther Party.
Soon after, he wrote an article titled “A Radical’s Disenchantment” about his doubts for The Nation — then as now the major magazine of American leftists — in which he sought to explain why he was beginning to have doubts about the course taken by much of the Left. He wrote the following in 1979:
Can the left take a really hard look at itself — the consequences of its failures, the credibility of its critiques, the viability of its goals? Can it begin to shed the arrogant cloak of self-righteousness that elevates it above its own history and makes it impervious to the lessons of experience?
It would take many years for him to finally decide the answer, and he has devoted himself since — at times with superhuman effort — to continue the fight against the Left despite the personal costs it has taken.
In that journey, for the past twenty years, he has had the support and love of his wife April. Unlike her husband, April is a woman of faith, as well as someone who has reached out to save animals, especially horses. He has helped her establish a foundation called The Heart of a Horse, which rescues abandoned horses and seeks to save their lives. More importantly to her husband, she has brought dogs into their home life, rescuing many who had been abused and rejected and now brought back to life. Horowitz eloquently writes about the joy they have given him and what he has learned about life from them.
In the concluding paragraphs of his book, Horowitz writes that he feels “gratified to have composed a body of work reflecting what I have witnessed and learned; I take pride in the belief that it is good work and may be of some use to others.” In that journey, he concludes, “I have lived as fully as I was able, I have produced wonderful children and am married to a woman with a zest for living and the heart of an angel, and I am looking forward to my next walk.”
We all are in debt to David Horowitz for all he managed to accomplish after leaving the ranks of the Left, and it is my hope that he will still have good years left to complete the task he set himself to engage in so many years ago.