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Horowitz' List

By Charles O'Brien

David Horowitz, still here, has lately fashioned himself into a martyr for Free Speech. He composed an ad in opposition to the idea of reparation payments for the United States' part in the trans-Atlantic African slave trade; tried, with mixed success, to place the ad in various college newspapers; and then spun that mixed success out into a series of live appearances around the country, the No Reparations Tour (accompanied, of course, by lots of self-flackery, on-line and off). The almost inescapable Horowitz swears that he is a victim of censorship.

But what is he? He is published, and published regularly to a far larger audience than his slight talents merit. Neither he nor his publishers are threatened with jail. He says that he faces physical intimidation, but so far as one can make out, this arises mostly out of the raucous party atmosphere that is the No Reparations Tour's main draw. No, what has turned him into Jan Hus is that he has had a hard time buying ad space in college papers. The David Horowitz that presented himself to these apprentice journalists was that not uncommon thing, a man with bad ideas (plainly) and good money (as he assured them). Some said no.

That is not censorship. Newspapers are allowed, expected even, to have viewpoints. And therefore what newspapers include or exclude should be determined by, you know, editorial integrity, independence, and so forth, not by the next check that comes knocking. If David Horowitz wants a quart of milk at 3 in the morning, the all night convenience ought to sell it to him. If he wants to run an ad, a paper should let him -- but only if it wants to. Falsehood has so many avenues of transmission that a David Horowitz is, in being denied publication in any one particular place (e.g., happily, here), hardly being silenced. But when a newspaper refuses a Horowitz and his money, it should do so for some good reason. It should not be that anything falling outside a strait orthodoxy may not be heard. If such a consideration did motivate Horowitz' being turned away (and, of course, his say-so is worthless as evidence), then those newspapers were wrong, if fully within their rights. Let me offer two views of the American University and Horowitz' place in each. The first is the cynical one: it's a scam, all careerism, truth is nowhere on the dance card, and the university exists to shore up -- directly, by indirection, and by misdirection -- existing power relations. In this view, Horowitz might as well be heard, as not: his raw sewage will run as easily in one gutter as another. But it hardly matters. The less cynical view is that in the existing university, for all its blemishes, somewhere a love of learning is nurtured, and disinterested pursuit of truth can be found. Assume that university, and there David Horowitz has no place. What he does is not free inquiry.

A recent sample of Horowitz at work: Paul Weyrich, a rightist pol, makes a jewbaiting remark. He is criticized by, mostly, Democrats. Horowitz lavishes excuses on the maligned good man. Joe Conason observes, mildly, that anti-Semitism is not a Republican hot-button issue. Here is Conason's sentence that so stirs Horowitz: "During the Reagan era, few on the right objected to the anti-Jewish lies of Patrick Buchanan." Now, this is a claim that is not only true (see Conason's defense of it is Salon, April 26, 2001), but carefully qualified ("during the Reagan era", "few"). A rightist might object, not rightly, but not too irrationally either: it's not the whole picture; it suggests more than it says, what about the other guy (usually, Jesse)?, etc. None of that is good enough for Horowitz. He wastes no time calling it a "bald-faced lie." Horowitz can shout, he can strike poses of outrage; reasoned discourse is not in his line. Is he pounding at the gates of institutions of higher learning? Let him wait.

And so to Horowitz on reparations:
Under the heading "The latest civil rights disaster", Horowitz advances ten spurious arguments against reparations. These, in substance, are the ten "reasons" Horowitz tried to place in various college papers. They are worth looking at, not because the underlying issue is so important -- I, like the vast majority of people, have no strong feelings there one way or the other -- but because they are a dazzling display of shoddy intellectual goods and of what passes for ideas on the Right.

Start with the fifth, since that is where the whole question originates (see Salon, May 30, 2000, for his texts). Horowitz argues that the matter of slavery differs from the Nazi campaign against Jewry and the internment of Japanese-Americans. It does, too, but the earlier cases differ from each other (who won the war, who was right in the war, continuity of government, the harm inflicted, etc.). The two earlier cases do not stand as the only permissible models of reparations, but for a principle of reparations. Some great historical wrong should be recognized; some state entity with some relation to the wrong closer than that of appalled onlooker should acknowledge that relation; and some measure, not truly compensatory, but somewhat palliative, should be taken as an acknowledgement of the wrong and to the benefit of those most nearly affected by the wrong. The payment of reparations is, in significant part, a matter of symbolism. So for instance Germany before, killer of Jews; Germany after, provider of a living to them. Reparations point up the break with the Nazi past.

Horowitz' fifth "reason" ends with a bit of mindlessness worth preserving.

[Randall] Robinson's book [on reparations, The Debt] is pointedly subtitled "What America Owes to Blacks". If this is not racism, what is? [Emphasis added.)

Wasn't this where we came in? Or have we been here at all?

And so, in his order, to:Horowitz' "Reason" #1:

It's not clear who's to blame for slavery, he says. A safe rule: If David Horowitz is not pointing a finger, his hand is in your pocket. But he is pointing the finger, after all:

It was not whites but black Africans who first enslaved their brothers and sisters. [!] They were abetted by dark-skinned Arabs (since Robinson and his allies force us into this unpleasant mode of discourse) who organized the slave trade. Are reparations going to be assessed against the descendants of Africans and Arabs for their role in slavery? There were also 3,000 black slave owners in the antebellum United States.

Point by point: "It was not whites but black Africans." But priority is not exclusivity. Joining in a bad business is still a bad business. "Dark-skinned Arabs": Well, sure, but not only dark-skinned. Arabs come in many complexions. What is Horowitz even trying to say? "Robinson and his allies force us into this unpleasant mode of discourse." But the language of racial classification was indispensable to American slavery. It was invented and flourished long before Randall Robinson was conceived. "Arabs, who organized the slave trading." So; will I be off the hook, morally, if I go on a sex junket in search of a 10-year old Thai or Filipino because dark-skinned Asians organized that trade? "Will reparations be assessed against them?" To the extent that this is an objection to the mechanics of reparations, it doesn't touch on the principle of reparations. In principle, the answer would be, Sure.1 Even Farrakhan, talking out one side of his mouth, has said as much. The same would apply to those black slave owners here. And who but Horowitz would think to portray Old Dixie as a Black Thing?2

"Reason" #2: "The idea that only whites benefited from slavery is factually wrong and attitudinally racist."3 [And he goes on] "If slave labor created wealth for all Americans, then obviously it created wealth for Black Americans as well."

Okay: the population of Chinatown is rounded up in the morning and forced for the next couple of years to work as slaves repairing the bridges over the East River. Aren't bridges in good condition a good thing for everyone? What Chinese has a right to carp? Or let's postulate an antebellum plantation. Profits are down, and so there is less food for the slaves. The malnourished slaves work less efficiently. Profits fall further. A financial analyst finds the happy solution: sell the slave children, and invest that money in the slaves' living conditions. Yield: higher profits. Everybody wins. The lavish board more than makes up for the vanished children.

He's got more. What about the black slave owners? he wonders. What about them? His objection, again, really speaks only to the mechanics of reparations. Reparations seem somewhat impracticable, and they will be, if they ever come, nobody's jackpot. Public money, raised in part (and given the current politics, disproportionately) from the descendants of slaves, will be distributed to "black" Americans, very few of whom are of undiluted African ancestry, and who are, in many cases, presumably, descended from the owners of slaves. There's nothing neat about it, but since it's almost entirely symbolic, neatness is not the point.

Horowitz complains that Randall Robinson "accuses the U.S. government of crimes against black people in advance of its existence." But there was something there "in advance of its existence," that was the ground of its existence. The U.S. Constitution is very deliberately an appropriation and a redistribution (and, in the Bill of Rights, a surrender) of the powers so recently held by the Crown of England. And at the local level, there was a continuity of laws, most clearly reflected in reception statutes. A Virginia planter who held a human being as a part of his real estate under the reign of George III held that same human being under the reign of George Washington. The master had been transformed from subject to citizen. The slave remained a slave, and precisely because he had been a slave.

Horowitz also says that Africans transported here are materially better off than those left behind. True, but is "benefit" the proper term? Ethiopians living in Manhattan are not dying en masse from starvation. Why should they be? Neither are their neighbors. Albanians are not being driven out of the Bronx by angry Serbs. Bangladeshis living in Queens don't die in monsoons there. People live in local conditions. Africa's poverty is not a wealthy America's alibi. To take example from extremity: most escapees from the Nazi camps were killed shortly after escape. Inside the camps, one had a roof over one's head, some food, steady work, free medical care (always dangerous, but then medicine is nowhere an exact science). Are we to conclude that the SS's tough love was a benefit compared to the death in the forest masquerading as "freedom" and "escape"?

"Reason" #3: There were very few white slaveowners, he says. That great power is held by very few is an argument that it should, and can, be overthrown, not that it is unreal. The petty truth that slaveholders were few, and the great lie that therefore the Civil War was fought over something else, have been mainstays of Confederate apologetics ever since Davis was forced to surrender. Horowitz says that one white in five owned slaves. Given primogeniture and the largeness of land grants, one man could dominate the economic life of a great area. In a regime of inequality as principle, not every one is just one. So, to one plantation owner there should be added, family members, white employees, business associates etc.

"Reason" #4: Immigrants since 1865 have no responsibility for slavery, Horowitz says. But to the extent that the wealth of this New World, its start-up capital, derives from uncompensated labor, later immigrants could not help but gain from slavery. And to the extent that post-emancipation apartheid codes excluded blacks from anything like full participation in the country's life, room was made available for the newly arrived. But there's a more basic problem with this "Reason." Grant that later immigrants have no direct, individualized blame. Still, they have come to a place with some history, and some ghosts. Whether it's a matter of replacing older water mains, paying off loans, compensating Japanese-Americans, or who knows?, paying slave reparations, responsibilities collectively assumed must be collectively met. Even if you just got here, you're here now, by your choice, and you're not free to opt out.

A nice touch: Horowitz asks how "Jews (who were cowering in the ghettos of Europe at the time)" 4 can be held responsible. But many Jews, and it's not as if we hadn't heard about this before, have felt, if not responsible, necessarily, at least not free and clear. The Podhoretzes, notoriously, fret about Jewish voting patterns. It's a very human response to see in another's sorrow the image of one's own. Horowitz, it don't do much for him. He seems to have given at the office.

"Reason" #6: Horowitz says that reparations depend on a claim of persistent inequality. That doesn't necessarily follow. Each argument for reparations will have to speak for itself. A claim of post-slavery incapacitation, if true, may bolster the case for reparations. But the fact of the earlier wrong can be acknowledged even without calculation of its later consequences. Horowitz offers success stories, leading with the freakishly atypical case of Oprah Winfrey. But this "Reason" is offered immediately after his consideration of Germany's Jews and our Japanese-Americans. One could easily adduce success stories among German Jews and Japanese Americans. Reparations only presuppose atrocity. There's no means test.

He asks, "And howÉare blue-collar whites and ethnics expected to understand reparations payments to the black middle class?" A few answers. They're not likely to take it well. But reparations, if they're given at all -- and in what form? -- won't come to much, not compared to other programs. If the promise of 40 acres and a mule were made good today, a black cardiologist wouldn't want it. But even an impoverished urban black family couldn't do much with it. "Blue-collar whites" should object to a black bourgeoisie; not because it's black, but because it's a bourgeoisie. I'm partial to class war. Horowitz, the fervent Bushite, abhors it, except whenever it's useful.

"Reason" #7: Reparations will cause "a renewed sense of grievance", and a consequent backlash. Thin stuff, even by Horowitz' standards. The grievance is there now. Horowitz prefers that it be ignored.5 And to his question, "How is this going to impress other communities?" the answer is: as long as there's a David Horowitz around to stir the pot, very, very badly.

"Reason" #8: Reparations have already been paid, Horowitiz claims. He refers to the "trillions of dollars in transfer payments made to African-Americans." This is largely an attack on Lyndon Johnson. This "Reason" conflates everything; The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, The Great Society, affirmative action, and welfare benefits. But these are quite different things. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act have to do with implementation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, not with the "transfer of funds." Affirmative action is certainly open to criticism. But a "transfer of funds"? Only welfare benefits, of the items on his list, actually involve the payment of money. But this is not a racial preference. And if those qualified to receive welfare benefits have been disproportionately black, the majority of those qualified have not. Welfare benefits are not a gift. To qualify for them is to be the least preferred, not the most. It is misfortune, modestly alleviated. Give Horowitz time: eventually he'll be complaining that blacks take up all the cushy beds at kidney dialysis centers and tuberculosis wards.

"Reason" #9: "What about the debt blacks owe America -- to white Americans -- for liberating them from slavery?" What follows is Horowitz' brief, and disingenuous tour of American history. Slavery, he notes correctly, had been a commonplace. But he goes on, "until white Englishman and Americans created an anti-slavery movement." Even the grammar is sleazy here. Does "white" modify "Englishmen" only? But that would be a little superfluous. Before 1860, isn't white what just about any Englishman is? Or does "white" also modify "Americans"? In that case, Horowitz' dishonesty becomes too transparent. Abolitionism was not a black movement as such, but blacks were at all times prominent in it. It is also a Fiction that "white Englishmen and Americans" were the first to challenge slavery. While Lincoln and Douglas were debating, chattel slavery had atrophied in Continental Europe. The French Revolution, in its day, took steps against slavery. But, for Horowtiz, good things are just what people like us (here, anglophones) do.

"If not for the sacrifices of white soldiers and a white American president who gave his life to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks in America would have remained slaves indefinitely." It's hardly that simple, but what happened is no concern of Horowitz', only what can be twisted to advantage. Yes, the War was about slavery, despite neo-Confederate apologists (like John Ashcroft, whom Horowitz has defended vociferously), but it was not only about slavery. It was initially about the fact that the slaveholders, the very real Slave Power, seeing the end of their domination of the entire nation, set out to dismember the United States. It is often forgotten that, for example, the burning of Washington was always a Confederate war aim, and that Robert Lee was stopped at Gettysburg6 before he could take Philadelphia, and presumably New York City (prosecuting what Patrick Buchanan, among many others, likes to call the War of Northern Aggression). And yes, white American soldiers did fight to end slavery. So did black American soldiers. They were killed in particularly large numbers in Grant's last campaign, before Richmond. It was also standard Confederate practice to murder black prisoners of war out of hand.7 And what of the white American soldiers who fought to preserve slavery (and to extend it, the great issue leading up to 1860)? You won't find them in Horowitz. Instead, you will learn, in a column with the rather intemperate title, "Bush's political lynching", that "Thousands of free African-Americans actually fought for the Confederacy." Well, yes, in exchange for their manumission, they put on their enemy's uniform, itself an indicium of how odious their condition was (and, of course, most slaves rejected the offer). In another column, he approvingly cites Ann Coulter to the effect that "Slavery, existed longer under the Stars and Stripes than under the Stars and Bars." A true fact, no doubt, but it proves (a.) that the United States was something less than lily pure (and correspondingly less deserving of the black gratitude that Horowitz demands), and (b.) that the chivalric gentlemen of the Lost Cause would, by the end of it, do anything to escape the gallows (and, in that, alas, they succeeded). It does not prove that the slaveholders were not fighting for slavery. What sort of war would this be, the North waging a Great Crusade against slavery, and the South with no slaves? No wonder Sherman thought war was hell. In "Reason" #3, Horowitz had written, "What about the descendants of the 350,000 Union soldiers who died to free the slaves? They gave their lives." Well, yes, and subject to qualification, yes. But in the midst of it, Abraham Lincoln said that the blood drawn by the lash had as its price the blood drawn by the sword (and he plainly meant, on both sides). That largeness of vision only underscores the thoroughgoing dishonesty of a David Horowitz.Horowitz continues,

If not for the dedication of Americans of all ethnicities, and colors to a society based on the principle that all men are created equal, blacks in America would not enjoy the highest standard of living of blacks anywhere in the world They would not enjoy the greatest freedoms and the most thoroughly protected individual rights. Where is the gratitude?
Point by point: Many have fought for equality, but in the forefront has always been the black freedom movement. And the principle that all men are created equal has been held more as aspiration than commitment. The present has a hard time judging the present, but for most of the country's history, equality has been, as has been said, a dream deferred. Many of the individual liberties enjoyed by all have arisen from racially charged cases. Where is the gratitude? I note in passing that the linking of equality and high standards of living is just ideology. The greatest suffering has often fueled the greatest amassing of wealth. But Horowitz, no doubt, has his mind on his moneyÉ8

And Horowitz' "Reason" #10, in full:

The final and summary reason for rejecting any reparations claim is recognition of the enormous privileges black Americans enjoy as Americans, and therefore of their own stake in America's history, slavery and all.

And that's it?

The rights-privilege distinction may have some tenuous validity at law, but in the world it's all just rights. It's what everybody has and it deserves no special recognition from any individual. If your water is turned off, that's a big deal; but turned back on, it's just tap water. And now, says Horowitz, just be Americans! As if the right to just be Americans hadn't been won -- at great cost -- within living memory, and then only in principle. Separation was imposed. And the invocation of "their own stake in America -- history, slavery and all" is half 4th of July speechmaking, half psychobabble. I could throw lye in your face and tell you that you must learn to cherish the scar tissue, that it's you. Friends again?


Free speech is oversold. As the opposite of censorship, it's commendable. But most of the notions that are trotted out in the name of free speech -- "more speech", "better ideas", "the marketplace of ideas" -- are pretty specious. The "ideas" of David Horowitz have currency not because of any intellectual content but because he is a well-subsidized celebrity right-wing journalist. He is the Ex-Radical. He was born a Red Diaper Baby: a species of no interest embracing its parental heritage, of limited interest repudiating it. He was an Insider at the Grand Ball of the Sixties. But the point of the 60's was that there were no insiders, no velvet rope, no VIP lounge. David Horowitz was once the Radical Author. Some books from the 60's have lived on, either because they really are good (and so their 60's provenance is easily forgotten) or because they are so redolent of their time (not fresh flowers, but cheap perfume, sharp, and kind of captivating). Horowitz' earlier Radical output is neither: pulp to pulp, quickly. He hobnobbed with the Black Panthers. But then he hooked them up with an accountant he knew, and she turned up dead. Either she knew what she was getting into, in which case, his story is murky; or she didn't, in which case Horowitz is, not a murderer, but a blander villain. At the very least, he has demonstrated himself not a man with wisdom to impart, but a monstrously, fatally bad judge of character and situations. But it turned out to be a brilliant career move.

David Horowitz' pronouncements do not begin to do justice to the world. They are only moments in a career. What debate is he owed? His words are lighter than air, and as swiftly blown away. The substance of his work is the willingness to deceive and the means to publicize the deceit: not ideas, only brute facts.


1 Of course, here is the moral Horowitz at work. He looks at Africa today: wars, famine, plague, missing limbs. And he looks at this country: blessed, the greatest concentration of wealth in history. And he says, Let them pay.

2 The opinion of Roger Taney, of Maryland and the United States Supreme Court, was different. He summed up the law of slavery, and of the United States, as he found it then: "The black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect."

3 "Racist" is a term to be eschewed. It usually only means, we don't agree. And it seems to enjoy less currency these past few years. But Horowitz is so enamored of it. There's actually a kind of period charm to his spitting racist-racist-racist. After his CPUSA upbringing (see Dorothy Gallagher's How I Came Into My Inheritance), what a thrill it must be to him to hurl the term at any black in sight!

4 Cowering in the ghettos of Europe? Which Jews, where, and when? Certainly, there was no shortage of pogroms in the 19th Century. But did the Jews of Europe all live in ghettos? One thinks of German Jews and Sephardim, so prominent as the earlier Jewish immigrants here. Not Theodor Herzl, not even Alfred Dreyfus ever "cowered in a ghetto"; Horowitz, so eager to qualify slavery to minor irritant status, serves the most lurid melodrama up as history, with careful imprecision.

5 And Horowitz, of all people, is not the one to say how black Americans are to feel about anything.

6 In a particularly distasteful bit, Horowitz introduces an account of a heckling of Ann Coulter with the words, "The world took little note of the incident." Lifting the phrase from the Gettysburg Address suggests some equation between Ms. Coulter's martyrdom -- those "multicultural thugs" were mean to her -- and the dead at Gettysburg. And for once, he means what he says.

7 The Confederate general, Thomas Jackson, had advocated at the beginning of the war that all prisoners of war should be murdered. He is today honored with a holiday.

8 Very much so. After Princeton's paper ran his ad, Horowitz stepped his check, on the grounds that the paper not only ran the ad but criticized it. Of course, in First Amendment ideology, speech ought to counter speech, good ideas presumably driving out bad. Here, Horowitz could educate the students: where Free Speech ideology governs, those will speak most freely who can afford it.

From August, 2000