I emailed Mencius Moldbug a few months ago and asked him to recommend books on the Sixties. He recommended this book and Dreams Die Hard by David Harris. It's hard to find good history on the Sixties, so I was grateful for the recommendation (though Mr Moldbug did note the difficultly).
I was going to wait and review the two books together, but I have a surprising amount to say about this book, so I'm going to write a stand-alone review.
David Horowitz was raised by openly Communist parents. They even lived in a area with other Communists. They described themselves as progressives (which I will generally try to do), but it's important to remember that they were actively preparing for the Communist revolution. His parents were of the "Old Left" generation.
The Old Left fell apart when Stalin's crimes were revealed by Khrushchev. The lost its cohesiveness and disintegrated. Horowitz was a major player in the founding of the New Left. For Horowitz the whole purpose of the New Left was to distance itself from the barbarity and crimes of Stalin. As a member of the New Left he would not be forced to account for the crimes of previous progressives (though they still called themselves progressives).
Horowitz went to Berkeley, published Ramparts and published other progressive works with Peter Collier. He also fell in with the Black Panthers and particularly with Huey Newton. Soon, his political transformation. As he tells it in the book, the transformation was essentially a realization that the New Left was no different than the Old Left. If there was one turning point for Horowitz, it came when the Panthers killed his friend (and Panther member) Betty Van Porter (Horowitz's much later telling of the story can be found here). Just as the Old Left protected horrible crimes, so was the New Left:
In creating a protective shield around the Panthers, we [i.e. the New Left] had repeated a figure of the progressive past. Trotsky had described the Communist parties of the world as frontier guards for the Soviet Union. Their function was to explain away Stalin's crimes, put obstacles in the path of those who resisted his policies, and discredit witnesses who testified against him. The New Left had formed a similar frontier guard around the Panthers and their crimes.
Horowitz had sworn never to fall prey to the same fate as his parents – spend his political energies (for him and his parents, this was equivalent to their lives) justifying the actions of criminals. Horowitz had watched this process crush his parents. Now, he was repeating it.
There are other examples beyond the Panthers. For example, Horowitz watched as one young, New Left, woman went on TV to defend "Castro's policy of incarcerating homosexuals who had contracted AIDS." New Lefters worked to betray the Nixon/Kissinger peace plan in Vietnam. The predictable result was the Khmer Rouge, whose killings dwarfed those of the Vietnam War to which the New Left was so opposed. He also watched as the New Left defending ridiculous policies that puts gays at risk of contracting HIV and AIDS.
After his conversion, he became an outspoken conservative. Much of his energies are directed at reforming the university system. As he notes, "the American Historical Association was run by Marxists, as was the professional literature association . . ." Anyone not drunk on Kool-Aid will recognize that this has profound effects on our historical understanding and Mr Horowitz's heart is in the right place. I'm not sure if his time on the New Left helped him to truly understand why the Left has been so successful on a long time scale and why the Right has been a miserable failure.
Horowitz speaks of Conservatives as more open, which he applauds:
This as dramatized for me during the congressional hearings into the Iran-Contra affair when William Safire, the conservative columnist, wrote a piece in which he called for the jailing of its central figure, Oliver North. It was at a moment when North was at the height of his popularity on the right, their champion under attack on a critical battleground of the Cold War. It occurred to me that no one on the left could have assaulted a similar icon of the radical movement the war Safire had, without being condemned as a renegade and then drummed out of its ranks.
Of course this seems virtuous, but will such a disorganized, contradictory movement ever be able to defeat such a disciplined, tightly-controlled one? I think not – at least not on a long enough time-frame. These tactics for fighting the Left have failed. I hoped that someone with experience with the Left would have better insights about countering progressivism. Alas, Mr Horowitz doesn't have any new solutions to offer. It pains me to suggest that he went from being a useful idiot for the Panthers to being a useful idiot for progressives (in the sense that he makes the perfect enemy, i.e. one without a chance to succeed).
This was a good story of one man's realization that he had been crazy. But it doesn't explain the mass-scale craziness. This dude still gets paid by a university to teach people how to educate kids. This woman teaches law(!!!) (her comments on the murders of Charles Manson's crew: "Dig it! First they killed those pigs and then they put a fork in pig Tate's belly. Wild!"). Wild indeed. You'll forgive me for not digging it. I am still searching for an explanation as to how such a person could go so mainstream. What causes mass, prolonged hysteria?