Horowitz's Brownshirts and “Balance” in the Classroom

In my review of David Horowitz’s book “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” (Revolution #42) I sketched a picture of the wide range of basic facts and truths that could not be spoken on campus if Horowitz had his way. Truths ranging from the fact of the genocide carried out against the native peoples of the Americas by European settlers, to Bush lying about weapons of mass destruction, would be suppressed and those who uttered them harassed, threatened, and fired. And in a subsequent article, I began to identify the close connections between Horowitz and the Bush regime—something I will address in future articles.

Here, I want to draw on, invoke, and respond to different correspondence I've gotten about Horowitz. In particular, I want to address some confusion about Horowitz's demagoguery about “sticking to the subject” and “balance” in the classroom.

Balance as a Codeword for Bullying

Horowitz claims that all he is asking for is “balance” on campus. As if the campuses are controlled by a left-wing dictatorship, and that students signing up for physics classes are getting nothing but tirades from professors about Bush being a liar. As if! The impact of this kind of distortion of reality was reflected in a comment one reader wrote in response to my last article:

“While you criticize (at times, rightly) various points in the book, I do not see you admitting that there is a significant leftist bias in American colleges and universities and that there are numerous documented and undocumented cases of liberal professors forcing their beliefs on students. There are countless incidents where conservative students are not allowed to have their own opinions (they face bad grades or worse).”

No, there is not a “leftist bias,” much less the domination of leftist “ideological bullies” on campuses. What exists on some campusesis relatively more openness (at least at this moment—but not for long if Horowitz has his way) and opportunity to explore truths that the system has been able to suppress elsewhere in society. (The strategic role and importance of that kind of atmosphere of wrestling with different ideas is addressed in the article “Welcome Ferment on ‘Elite’ Campuses”.)

You want balance? How about if we have “equal time” for the pledge of allegiance in grade school and high school classrooms, and then, balance that with equal time for criticism of and protest against the pledge, with its ode to blind obedience, patriotism, theocracy, and hypocrisy? How about equal time for both sides of the “Vietnam” war? Or the history of communism?

The real point, though, is whether what is being taught is true. And what kind of atmosphere leads to the truth. A teacher tells you something that doesn't fit into the way you've been programmed by the 700 Club or Fox News? Well then, do some research. Raise a question or disagreement and discuss it in class. The professors who Horowitz attacks are, overall, teachers who encourage that kind of atmosphere in class.

If your professor comes into math class and says Bush lied, then prove him or her wrong. You should get the chance to do that. But if you are too lazy to do the work to get to the bottom of what the truth is, why should you get a medal for that? You're not a martyr, you're mentally lazy. Students should stand up and fight for what they believe in. And, in the course of that, if it turns out you're wrong, then deal with that. If you can't make your case, don't turn in your professor. It means that either (a) you're wrong, or (b) you have to do more work to make your case. Blind obedience won't get you to the truth.

Truth Is Not Found in Little Boxes

Brownshirt student groups “inspired” by Horowitz are turning in their teachers who address issues other than the topic of a class in the classroom (and outside class as well). And Horowitz's “The Professors...” is full of ridicule and venom directed against teachers who bridge disciplines, explore content from creative angles, or who are “off the subject” in class. That rigidly categorical approach doesn't conform to or help understand the real world. Artificially imposing walls and boundaries in the learning process cuts against actually getting to the truth. How many critical discoveries in science, art, history... you name it, took place as unexpected byproducts of “straying off topic”? And advances in music, technology, science, and art have always interpenetrated and pushed each other forward. To take one example, an important discovery in geometric topology, the “mapping of space,” by Vaughan Frederick Randal Jones, a New Zealand mathematician, was based on what had been generally considered non-intersecting realms of research and study in math and physics. Good thing that Jones didn't have a Horowitz snitch with a recorder in his classroom when he wandered across those boundaries!

Horowitz lashes out at new fields of study, like ethnic studies, women's studies, or peace studies. Guess what, Horowitz—things change. Understanding evolves. New fields of study develop as people learn new things. And these new fields often develop through struggle with entrenched interests that would rule investigation and discovery in the realm of the history of Black people in this country—to take a salient example—off the agenda. Horowitz, for example, attacks Eric Foner and other scholars who have done groundbreaking work on Reconstruction—exposing the truth of what took place during that period in the U.S. South, after the Civil War—in opposition to the often blatantly white supremacist “established wisdom” on this topic that was taught in the academies before the 1960s. And this is in line with Horowitz's unapologetic defense of, yes, slavery—a point which I will return to in future articles.

Besides, the world is more complicated, diverse, and unpredictable than a class syllabus. There does need to be space in society—and this will apply in a revolutionary socialist society that is aiming to get to communism—for highly focused, intense, academic inquiry that is somewhat “isolated” in a sense. But that cannot be made an absolute. There are also times when even highly focused academic inquiry has to be “interrupted” by events in the world, including major events in other fields of inquiry, but also by eruptions of political protest and other challenges to injustice.

There is a political agenda behind Horowitz's attacks. But there is also an epistemological agenda. In a world governed by Horowitz's draconian attacks on academic inquiry and critical thinking, academic inquiry and critical thinking per se are ruled out of order. To put it another way: what's so good about teaching students to be sheep? If you don't learn biology in a biology class, that's one thing. But if you are learning biology and the teacher talks about the Iraq war, what's wrong with that? Why should things be rigidly compartmentalized? Teachers should allow and encourage challenges to what they are saying, of course, but the professors Horowitz is going after make a principle of that, that's part of how they teach.

Upholding the right to dissent is urgently needed now. Beyond that, promoting dissent is a necessary part of the wild-and-woolly atmosphere of challenging authority that a society ruled by the proletariat must foster if it is to fulfill its mission of being a transition to a world free of all exploitation and oppression (see, for example, “Bob Avakian in a Discussion with Comrades on Epistemology—On Knowing and Changing the World,”).

Fascist Repression Is Not Free Speech

Horowitz says if you try to shout down Bush you're violating the 1st Amendment. That you're stepping on someone's freedom of speech.

In a pamphlet Horowitz prepared that was adopted as a manual for the Bush “re-election” campaign in 2004, he makes an extensive argument for consciously distorting and turning upside down concepts and terms that people believe in, twisting them into their opposite. And that is what he has done by calling his movement one for “free speech” and defending the First Amendment. The First Amendment is supposed to be about protecting people from the government, not the government from the people. Of course that is a hollow promise in this capitalist society, where any serious challenge to the established order results most often in suppression, censorship, or worse. But Horowitz cannot run around invoking “free speech” when in fact his mission is operating as an instrument of repressive censorship.

Horowitz and those he is a stalking horse for are not victims of a left-wing dictatorship at the universities. The “bottom line” in Horowitz's argument is “disagree with me (and—fundamentally—the agenda I'm representing) and you're fired.”

Horowitz is a thug and coward. If he wants to argue on the basis of the merit of his arguments, then he should stop demanding all that all his opponents get fired! He should stop trying to legislate his arguments. And stop sending his brownshirts into classrooms to snitch on his opponents. And, stop relying on Pat Robertson's inflammatory rants to create a pogromist atmosphere around professors you don't agree with.

In future articles on Horowitz, I will pursue his connections to, and role as a self-described “battering ram” for the agenda concentrated in Bush. And, I'll address a central political theme of Horowitz's agenda (and that of the forces behind him)—his fascist claims that, rather than being owed reparations for slavery, Black people owe a debt to this society for being enslaved. In the meantime, I encourage readers to continue to send correspondence on the issues I'm addressing.

Several of the professors attacked in Horowitz's book sent comments on Alan Goodman's original review of “The Professors...” and on the ensuing controversy around responding to Horowitz. Those comments can be read at revcom.us. Read the original review of “The Professors” at revcom.us.

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