By David Horowitz
January 8, 1998
When a man begins his review of your life by calling you a “demented lunatic,” as Paul Berman does in his bizarre comments on my autobiography Radical Son, in the Winter issue of the socialist magazine Dissent, the expectation that he will misrepresent you in ways both small and large must be high. Berman doesn’t disappoint. To avoid unnecessary tedium, and because my book is readily available, I will confine this reply to three points which illustrate his distortions:
Berman portrays me as a Leninist, not only in my adolescence in the 1950s, but as a New Left activist in the 1960s, and even in conservative middle-age, after I have passed from being a “fanatic” of the left, in his view, to one of the right. As Berman sums me up: “I think [Horowitz] feels that a ruthless disregard for truth and facts is the practical way to proceed on all political questions…” Readers of Radical Son will know that my feelings are precisely the opposite.
My break with Lenin’s duplicitous approach to politics was triggered by a sort of epiphany that occurred in 1953 and is described on p. 78 of my text. I was all of 14 at the time. As I was walking across the Triborough Bridge on my way to a Rosenberg demonstration, I was being instructed by a political mentor in the very Leninist doctrine to which Berman alludes, “that it was necessary to lie in order to advance the revolutionary cause.” I rebelled at this idea. “How could we make a virtue of lying, and still advance the cause of truth? Would the Rosenbergs lie about their innocence? In my heart, I…felt that Lenin’s instruction to be dishonest was wrong.”
In fact, it is a theme that runs throughout my book. As I make explicit more than once, this very anti-Leninist rebellion is what defined my politics as a New Leftist in the Sixties. During that time I avoided joining any of the Leninist sects then proliferating in the movement. The same urgency not to evade or suppress the truth in the service of a political idea is what later caused me to risk my life, and lose most of my friends for telling the truth about the Black Panthers (an action that Berman also distorts by falsely suggesting that Kate Coleman and others preceded me in exposing the Panthers’s crimes which, as he knows, is the opposite of what happened. I was the source for Coleman’s courageous article).
I still live with an element of risk, far greater than Berman himself has ever experienced, as a result of this political choice. Berman attaches great significance to an “article” of mine that appeared in Soldier of Fortune in January 1987, “an episode in his publishing career that [Horowitz] evidently wishes to suppress.” Here is how Berman embellishes the “episode,” in the course of adversely comparing my career to that of another second thoughter, Andre Glucksmann: “Now was [Horowitz’s] moment at Soldier of Fortune. He became a simple-minded fanatic the mirror image of his worst (and not his best) moments on the left.”
In other words, my putative embrace of the politics of Soldier of Fortune provides, for Berman, a crucial revelation of my post-radical politics. In fact, the “moment at Soldier of Fortune” is a pure figment of Berman’s imagination. The piece he is referring to was actually a “Speech to My Former Comrades on the Left” that I gave at a Berkeley “teach-in” on Nicaragua, which was held on April 4, 1986. The speech was reprinted (under that title) in Commentary in June 1986. (Berman himself replied to it in The Village Voice in August 1986, six months before its appearance in Soldier of Fortune.
After the Commentary article appeared, many journals, including the Utne Reader (a left-wing reader’s digest) and Soldier of Fortune, requested reprint rights. I granted the rights, without exception, to every magazine (and textbook editor) who requested them. Perhaps if I had realized the uses to which future detractors might put this liberality, I would have been more selective. But the idea that I embraced the politics of Soldier of Fortune at that time, or any time, is absurd. I was not a “representative of Elliot Abrams,” or an “emissary” of Elliot Abrams, when Berman and I met in Nicaragua, as he suggests. At the time, I had not even met Elliot Abrams. I was in Nicaragua with Peter Collier and Ronald Radosh on a USIA-sponsored trip.
The contretemps with Berman, and Berman’s complaint about my reporting of the encounter, have already been answered by Peter Collier in The Weekly Standard. Berman did eventually come to the ceremony that re-opened La Prensa, but an hour late and after the speech-making and tearful rendition of the national anthem were over (Berman was delayed by another, more pressing appointment with a leader of a socialist party that supported the Sandinista dictatorship, albeit deploring some of its methods). When Berman wrote about the event in The Village Voice, it was to pour scorn on those present as Americans and contra-supporters. I think my conclusion that “Berman was finally uninterested in the democratic revolution that was taking place all around him” is fair on the evidence.
Finally, the two errors (about Hiss-McCarthy and the World Series) that Berman cites from David Oshinsky’s New Leader review, were corrected in the galleys (from which Oshinksy wrote his favorable review), and did not appear in the published version of Radical Son. Berman would have known this if he had read the book instead of the reviews. I made every effort in writing Radical Son, and in preparing both the hardcover and now the paperback versions, to be truthful to the facts as I know them.