David Horowitz’s Enemies List
101 problems, but a professor ain’t one.
David Horowitz’s book was released February 13. The full list of his “101 most dangerous academics” can be seen here. The discussion on Horowitz and the list continues on the Campus Progress blog. And you can read Campus Progress’ bio of David Horowitz here.
David Horowitz, self-appointed watchdog of “liberal totalitarian” campuses across America, has returned with his most McCarthyesque work yet: The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. Horowitz claims that colleges and universities are sanctuaries for all kinds of terrorist-loving, freedom-hating quacks. There are several contradictory layers to this critique, for reasons I’ll explain later. These include the arguments that many prominent professors are uncredentialed or underqualified, hold political beliefs far outside the mainstream, create undeservedly cushy bases for themselves in disciplines like queer studies or post-colonial studies (just to name two) and impose their political beliefs on their classes by presenting biased material and grading subjectively. In short, Horowitz argues that colleges have become indoctrination camps for radical anti-American-Communist-feminist-terrorist-moral relativism.
Yes, you read that right. Apparently any academic who studies non-capitalist economies, women, racial minorities, GLBT people, or even history or philosophy that deviates from traditional beliefs hates America, and, of course, wants every student to agree with them. Horowitz lists his grievances with these 101 professors at the top of each profile, with derogatory bulletpoints like “Rock musician and Marxist” (Prof. Mark Levine, UC Irvine) or apparently outrageous quotes like “…most aspects of life are shaped by the racism that is integral to the foundation of the United States” (Prof. Joe Feagin, Texas A&M, who also focuses on America’s “ alleged hostility to women,” emphasis added). The Who’s Who format subsequently seems like a bitter high school outcast’s yearbook, with each photo scrawled with damning epithets. Just replace the image of “slut” and “jerkface,” with Horowitz’s insults, like “civil liberties activist” and “feminist.”
Full disclosure: your reviewer is everything that Horowitz hates. When I met him, researching this article last summer, and told him where I went to school, he rolled his eyes in disgust. One of Brandeis’ founding principles is the “pursuit of social justice” which is anathema to Horowitz’ deceptive ideal of an academy separate from politics, teaching only the so-called facts. I am also a Women’s and Gender Studies major and I have dated or befriended many a gender-queer anarchist radical, both of which apparently means I question authority, and therefore hate America and embrace supporters of terrorism. Plus, I knew before I even opened the book who from my school would appear in its pages. Sure enough, there on page 171, was Prof. Gordon Fellman, with a writeup taken almost verbatim from the biography that appears on Horowitz’s own online magazine, FrontPage. And, boy, does Horowitz tear him to bits, with critiques like “Apparently Professor Fellman views masculinity as an undesirable trait.” Oooh, burn. In fact, Gordie (as he is known to students) researches and teaches about conflict and war as one of several potential ways of organizing human relations that could include a greater emphasis on nurturing and cooperation. Only someone hell-bent on winning a made-up war of ideas (sound familiar?) would take such strong objection to Gordie’s philosophy.
The most striking irony here is that Horowitz claims that “these professors are capable of making disturbingly shallow political arguments and alarmingly crude political opinions” (xxxi) but Horowitz’s criteria for inclusion in his book seem to be the crudest of all. If Horowitz were writing about the twentieth century he would put anarchist writer and lefty activist Emma Goldman next to assassin Sirhan Sirhan. He claims that academic misbehavior runs the gamut from highly respected scholars like Eric Foner of Columbia (a guy liked even by Karl Rove) to crackpots like Ward Churchill, who called 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns” who deserved their fate. Horowitz uses Churchill as his opening gambit both because his published beliefs are so repulsive and because his former position in the bosom of the college lecture circuit demonstrates the degree of conflation that can occur between liberal critiques and hateful screeds. Yet Horowitz tries to capitalize on the Churchill example and expand on it to tar not just a few scattered charlatans but entire disciplines that question capitalism, male dominance, white privilege, and so on.
His grounds for doing so are often flimsy, such as with Prof. Michael Berube from Penn State, about whom Horowitz claims “[he] believes that teaching literature should be aimed at bringing about economic transformations.” That description is disingenuous at best, since, as Berube himself points out, Horowitz takes an essay where Berube writes “the important question for cultural critics, then, is also an old question – how to correlate developments in culture and the arts with large-scale economic transformations” and distorts it to imply that Berube uses books and movies as his hammer and sickle.
But beyond the gaps in Horowitz’s research, frankly, it’s rather circular logic to attack departments that question power relationships, whether on the basis of race, gender, or nationality, on the grounds that they are too political. That would be their raison d’etre, their entire purpose. And how can it be possible to, say, be a feminist and support terrorist groups that are rigidly hierarchical and misogynistic? Horowitz’s book falls apart when a cultural studies professor and a Louis Farrakhan proselytizer are labeled equally subversive, equally “Left” in their political orientation. Horowitz’s book is little more than a clumsy attempt to expose nonexistent ties between legitimate academics who probe at issues of racism, sexism, jingoism and militarism and terrorists who would forbid the opportunity to ask critical questions at all. In the end, Horowitz’s criticisms of crude moral equivalence and limited debate are merely projections of his own weaknesses.
Illustration: Matt Bors