Review of David Horowitz, The Left in the University

January 2020

David Horowitz, The Black Book of the American Left, Volume VIII: The Left in the University, Second Thoughts Books, Los Angeles, 2017, hardcover, 392 pages.

David Horowitz, president of the David Horowitz Freedom Centre and a prolific conservative polemicist, was a “red diaper baby” and former sixties Marxist radical who became disillusioned with the extreme left in the seventies, and for good reasons. One tipping point was when Black Panthers, supposed allies in the left’s “revolutionary cause”, murdered one of his female colleagues at Ramparts magazine. (See Peter Collier & David Horowitz, Destructive Generation, Summit Books, New York, 1989.)

His atonement has been to produce numerous well written and revealing books delineating the transgressions of the radical left from its sixties version to its more recent politically correct and intolerant postmodern reincarnation.

Volume VIII of his The Black Book of the American Left series, published in 2017 and comprising a collection of essays written between 1993 and 2016, takes aim at the left wing dominance found in today’s universities. The problems Horowitz cites on US campuses are also evident at Canadian universities and no doubt others throughout the western world. Horowitz gets it and does not disappoint with his summaries of what ails the postmodern campus. It is depressing to be reminded that pc perniciousness has persisted for so long with no evidence of it coming to an end. If anything, it may be gathering more and more momentum with each passing year.

Horowitz, quite rightly, I think, attributes much of today’s problems to sixties radicals navigating their way through the universities (to this, let’s add their navigation through other institutions, including the public school system), eventually working themselves into positions of authority, along the way indoctrinating generations of their students and, upon attaining positions of power, hiring others of like mind. Today the left reportedly represents an overwhelming majority of university faculty, some of whom indoctrinate their students in a left wing echo chamber where conservative voices are few and far between, and where there is significant intolerance (including intimidation and bullying) from professors and students towards those who don’t share their pc views. Examples, some of which Horowitz experienced firsthand, include deplatforming, disinviting and shouting down, even committing physical violence towards those with disparate views, plus vandalizing venues where “undesirables” are scheduled to speak.

Much of the book discusses Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights, which has generated controversy, but appropriately addresses coercion concerns. For example, a young pro-life student was reduced to tears when the professor in her women’s studies class ordered her and her classmates to stand and chant “abortion abortion”. This goes well beyond freedom of expression rights and crosses the line into evil psychological abuse. Such behavior merits a severe reprimand and, if not a firing for a first offence, at least a threat of being fired if it happens again. Of course, such a policy should also protect professors from excessively zealous students.

Yet Horowitz’s goal to achieve a more left - right ideological balance in the classroom is potentially problematic, even though he stresses that his Academic Bill of Rights will ban discrimination, including that based on ideological belief. But should universities force their professors to guarantee balance when discussing, lecturing, or assigning readings about certain topics? Hypothetically, what if there is only information on one side of an issue (admittedly rare in the humanities and social sciences), but not the other? Should this mean shelving the topic altogether in the name of balance? Despite Horowitz’s claims that professors will remain free to express their opinions, one still comes away concerned that his Bill of Rights will dictate what professors must teach or even say outside the classroom, at least to a significant degree. Here the devil that lurks (hides?) in the idea may persist through its implementation phase straight to the ultimate real world end product (never as good as the theory!), aided and abetted by flawed people, perhaps overcome by excessive zeal in their efforts to enforce yet additional sets of regulations. Alas, we all know which road is paved with good intentions. Might this not potentially make the right just as dictatorial, just as disrespectful of free speech and academic freedom, as the left?

As a case in point, Horowitz’s objections to professors expressing (controversial?) political views or posting politicized messages on bulletin boards or on their office door will, if implemented, violate their freedom of expression rights. One can argue that such behavior is unprofessional. But students often (assuming the course isn’t mandatory for one’s degree) have freedom not to take a course if they find the individual teaching it objectionable. Otherwise, best to live and let live. You don’t have to like or agree with another’s message, but you ought to learn to tolerate it, ignore it, or construct a counterargument; just as that individual has an equally important duty not to suppress your views or oppress you for expressing them, while always enjoying the right to offer other perspectives.

Indeed, speech can be counteracted with more speech, perhaps through course essays or term papers. Contrary to Horowitz, Jordan Peterson maintains that, from his experience, any student who writes well and makes good arguments will earn good grades even when his or her professor does not share the same ideological bias. We hope his takeaway is more accurate more often, although Horowitz does document abuses, including bigotry towards (indeed, the disparaging of) students who are veterans, plus a case where a conservative political science major’s leftist professor gave him an “F” on his paper discussing the Iraq war, but changed the grade to an “A” when said student resubmitted an altered paper more reflective of his professor’s biases.

The ideal solution is for professors to present all, or at least several, sides of an argument while treating everyone fairly and, indeed, many do. We must always be careful not to tar all educators with the same brush and, in fairness, Horowitz doesn’t target absolutely everyone this way.

Also, while it may be beyond the scope of his book, it is regrettable that Horowitz does not stress that university is a rite of passage into adulthood for those choosing to attend. It is therefore incumbent upon each student to take responsibility for his own education, perhaps with outside reading about people and ideas discussed in class. If Thomas Hobbes, John Locke or Edmund Burke is maligned in the classroom, perhaps the student should read some of their works so they can better ascertain whether they are as bad as left wing academics claim. Of course, this will not work if courses make no mention of these masters to eighteen year olds arriving with no prior knowledge of them and who are instead fed a steady diet of Marx, Gramsci, Marcuse, and people of that ilk. But even here, students can certainly use Google or campus libraries to research critiques of these people, as well as of Marxism, communism, socialism, postmodernism and other fashionable ideologies. If such systems are so good, why have the ones with track records been such abject failures?

Furthermore, perhaps parents of kids nearing high school completion should familiarize themselves with what is going on in universities and make it known that they will not fund politically correct indoctrination programs, but will happily help their teens with two year community college courses, which may better prepare them for the job market, perhaps with diplomas qualifying them to pursue lucrative trades. Of course, much of this is presupposed on parents not having bought into the same cultural Marxist dogma as their kids.

Finally, and despite critiques cited above, David Horowitz’s courageous works are important counterweights to what ails postmodern society and the postmodern campus. After all, airing dirty laundry is the best disinfectant. And don’t automatically believe what you are hearing or reading about him in the echo chamber. Read him for yourself (starting with Volume VIII: The Left in the University) and draw your own conclusions. You might actually find validity in much of what he writes and agree that he is certainly right to delineate and criticize the significant chill and intolerance found on many of today’s campuses, courtesy of administrators, faculty and students alike.