Barbara Kay: For culture warrior David Horowitz, deplatforming is no deterrent

David Horowitz and Dr. Halleh Seddighzadeh speak at Politicon in Pasadena, Calif., on July 29, 2017.

An opinion columnist nowadays could take campus disruptions or deplatformings of conservative speakers as his or her sole weekly topic and never run out of material.

The latest example comes to us out of New Hampshire’s elite Dartmouth College (tuition US$75,000 a year), where formidable conservative polemicist David Horowitz — soon to celebrate his 80th birthday — was recently invited to speak for Dartmouth’s College Republicans and Students Supporting Israel association.

Things went exactly as any informed person might expect — badly. Leaflets circulating prior to the event accused Horowitz of being a “racist, sexist and ignorant bigot.” During his presentation, the Dartmouth Socialists reportedly played loud porn videos, displaying banners with slogans like “ICE is the Gestapo” and talking over Horowitz. What Horowitz had to say was lost to all but the most distraction-resistant students.

Beforehand, a gender studies professor had tweeted, “Islamophobe and anti-intellectual David Horowitz is speaking today … He is a hater of the first order.”

“Anti-intellectual?” That struck me as especially mindless, as she clearly has never read a word Horowitz has written. Horowitz’s publication bibliography runs to 50 pages, much of it a deeply informed, scholarly unpacking of the radical left’s American odyssey. As for his 1997 opus, Radical Son, George Gilder called it “the first great autobiography of his generation.” Other critics rank it at the same level for style and substance as Whittaker Chambers’ Witness and Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.

The rest of what the professor tweeted is also a lie. Horowitz has a 50-year history of civil-rights activism. Horowitz only hates Marxism, including the cultural Marxism of identity politics, so he never assigns collective guilt to individuals. (Ironically, he has both a black and a transgender grandchild.)

Needless to say, Dartmouth did not subsidize this visit. According to an open letter he published on Nov. 9 to Dartmouth president Philip Hanlon, Horowitz had to underwrite all the costs for his appearance, even though a previous Dartmouth talk “by notorious anti-Semite and terrorist supporter Linda Sarsour” had been subsidized, including a reported $10,000 honorarium, by Dartmouth’s “Office of Pluralism and Leadership” (a title Horowitz describes as “Orwellian”).

The chances that Dartmouth’s administration will feel remorse or change its policies in response to Horowitz’s eloquent indictment of its double standards are approximately nil. He surely knows that. This is not Horowitz’s first experience of campus disruption — or his 10th — or the first time he has publicly denounced a university administration. It is remarkable, given his lack of success in changing the campus culture (indeed, it has gotten much worse since he started campaigning for intellectual diversity on campus decades ago) that Horowitz’s righteous indignation remains as robust as ever.

Horowitz is particularly loathed by the left because, as a former radical of influence — Ramparts, the voice of antiwar protest that he edited at Berkeley in the late 1960s and early ’70s had a circulation of 250,000 — who later defected rightwards, he is well schooled in leftist hypocrisy and, in the parlance, “knows where the bodies are buried” (in the case of the Black Panthers, this is almost literally the case).

On the other hand, the consistently high-octane rhetoric he brings to bear on the Marxist delusion tends to make even those conservatives who agree with his principles leery of close association with him. In a 2002 interview, former Commentary magazine editor Norman Podhoretz — no slouch himself in combating toxic leftism — said of Horowitz, “Some conservatives think he goes too far, and my guess is that some also believe his relentless campaign against the left focuses too much on the ‘pure’ form of it that has become less influential than its adulterated versions travelling under the name of liberalism.”

I have followed Horowitz’s writings for many years and reviewed most of the books in his nine-volume series, The Black Book of the American Left, including the latest and last volume. (My review of it will soon appear in the Dorchester Review.) In it I write, “Horowitz is not what the estimable Heterodox Academy would consider a clubbable colleague. But in the light of what is happening on campuses today — indeed, in the light of what is being passed into Canadian law today — will history judge him an ‘extremist?’ ”

My own pessimism regarding freedom of speech in the academy, which I see diminishing every day with no end in sight, combined with the overwhelming evidence Horowitz brings to bear, on a case-by-case basis, against the left’s betrayal of democratic ideals, inclines me to believe that Horowitz will be vindicated.

One day, The Black Book of the American Left (if extant copies haven’t been burned, and all digital traces expunged) will be required reading for those who seek to understand how the decline and fall of individual rights and America’s precious First Amendment came to pass.