I must be very slow-witted. Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to see the worst. Despite all that I and others have written on the subject, it has taken me almost a week to see the heart of the wrong that David Horowitz has done to me. In a reply to a reader’s comment posted today in this blog entry, I write:

[I]t passes belief that Horowitz, instead of communicating with me about Mills’s quotes of my work, wrote back to Mills agreeing with him that certain unspecified statements of mine were “racist and offensive,” thus handing to this leftist enemy who was seeking to harm me a much greater weapon with which to harm me, namely Horowitz’s own e-mail saying that my positions were “racist and offensive.” It is hard to imagine a greater act of betrayal.

- end of initial entry -

Conservative Swede writes:

My awakening regarding political correctness was first about its format, before its content. It’s surprising that Horowitz got so easily trapped in this typical PC setup. I could never have acted like him. I would stubbornly have disregarded the magical impact of terms as “racist” and “fascist,” no matter what. Anyone starting this kind of PC game is immediately disqualified in my eyes, regardless of content. (If he had anything to say, he would have been able to say it in another way.) The PC format is never accepted by me. Why the hell does Horowitz accept it?

But well, I can see how it all happened. Horowitz’s life is after all just the life of an ordinary man, bringing home the bacon, and all that. Like any levelheaded older man trying to avoid a peptic ulcer, he instinctively avoids situations of too much strain. By telling David Mills, a year ago, that your positions are racist he managed to get David Mills not to bug him anymore. And by not telling you at all about the incident, he managed to avoid your bugging him. So he fed the crocodile in hope that he would eat him last, but at last the crocodile came back to eat him anyway. This is how political correctness works in practice. People who submit to PC are not bad people. They are just weak. And 99 percent of the strong ones eventually turns out to be too weak. Such is the power of PC.

People like Horowitz or the Pope look strong at first. But they are not, because they have not removed that chip from their brain, that any self-appointed PC commissar can easily trigger. “My children are asking me why I published a racist.” My oh my! I saw on the topic about bombing Iran. I was thinking: If these softies cannot take some whining from their kids when fighting a war of words with the babbling classes, how could they ever fight a real war of blood and death? “Boo-hoo, my kids called me and said that the New York Times wrote that my generals had enacted a massacre, so I’m out of this war, snivel.” The tough-talk of the neocons about fighting wars is ludicrous.

M. Mason writes:

You write: “I must be very slow-witted.”

No, you’re not slow-witted; I think you’re just too stunned by this painful personal experience at the moment to be able to step back objectively from it and also, perhaps, to take the full measure of what’s really been going on all along. As I see it, there’s enough information that’s been presented here to draw some pretty accurate general conclusions. This isn’t just about the Mills affair, it’s about the entire dynamic of your professional relationship with Horowitz over these years because of what you represent to him.

As you’ve told us, about five years ago, Horowitz agreed to begin publishing some of your columns from a traditionalist perspective online at FP to the extent that it suited his purposes. All right, so far, so good. But once he began that process with you he found himself, to his increasing consternation, also confronted with the many associated email exchanges with you and your continual questioning of him (both implicitly and explicitly) about certain very important issues which he is afraid to face because they threaten to undermine the most cherished and deeply-held liberal views at his very core. But Horowitz has evidently already decided that he isn’t going down the traditionalist conservative path, period. Your difficulties with him began, I gather, almost from the very beginning because you, sir, had the audacity to commit again and again and again the great unpardonable sin of challenging his ex cathedra, ipse dixit liberalism.

This much you already know.

Here’s what else I see going on here, though: on some deep level that he would never admit to you (and possibly not even really to himself), Horowitz somehow felt threatened by the traditionalist arguments that kept coming from you. He must have experienced that discomfort to some degree, hasn’t his actual behavior toward you revealed this? Whatever else may have passed between the two of you in those many emails, it doesn’t seem that he regards you as an intellectual equal. Why did he feel he had to resort to all the psychological one-upmanship and game-playing? The pursuit of the truth concerning these important matters is undermined and blocked, not facilitated by that sort of behavior. Yet he would not budge or drop the facade, and this is the real reason why: not because the arguments for traditional conservatism and its foundation in transcendence proves that it’s untrue, but because at bottom he doesn’t want it to be true. To accept those arguments as true along with their implications would have meant that he would have to re-lay the entire foundation of his political life (and probably his religious life as well) to align himself with them. For a Horowitz, the emotional, intellectual, political and spiritual consequences of such a thing would, I imagine, be too traumatic to even contemplate. But that is what it would lead to, and on the deepest level he knows it.

As a response to this perceived threat, what we see occur with people in this position are a series of ingrained actions activated by subconscious survival impulses. Often the person isn’t even really aware that he’s acting out of fear, but because of the magnitude of what is at stake the strange defensive behaviors they set in motion are invested with a kind of life and death energy. So it has been in this case with Horowitz. As a misguided strategy to ward off the possibility of experiencing that pain, he had to keep dropping verbal downers all along the way to deflate you and try to push you off balance. He had to dismiss and mis-characterize your writing as being “interesting, if obtuse,” because if he did acknowledge anything more than that he’d have to take seriously the parts that directly threatened his liberalism. He just had to keep getting the belittling message across that (as you’ve said) he “basically despises” you.

Later on, as this present controversy developed, Horowitz found new ways to express his anger toward you for troubling him so. But his personal style is often to act out more indirectly, so he derived further satisfaction in diminishing you by postponing and “forgetting” to give you very important information that you were entitled to. He had to resort to “triangulating” by using Mills and even his own children to carry the message for him that you’re a “racist” as the convenient pretext for severing his ties with you, even as he denied that he believed that charge himself. When the matter finally did blow wide open publicly, he then had to escalate the tension even more by larding his correspondence with blame-shifting deflection that you were “causing [him] trouble” … you were “piling on” him … giving him “the third degree” and so on. “Poor put-upon me. What a relief it is to lay this entire mess at your doorstep, Auster, and avoid any responsibility for my own behavior!” And at the climactic finale of this spectacle when he was cornered, he had to walk out abruptly so he wouldn’t have to face personally your challenging of not only his actions during this entire affair, but also the very core of his political philosophy anymore. If he’d already determined that he wasn’t going to be intellectually open and honest about this from the beginning … well then, to soothe the irritating, painful cognitive dissonance induced by your continued troublesome presence in his professional life these last few years, he simply had to do all those things, didn’t he?

I understand why you’ve described this latest episode as a “betrayal” of your professional association with him, but really, your personal history with this man as you’ve related it here looks as though it’s essentially been adversarial all along. When at the end Horowitz finally said, “I want you to go away Lawrence,” that was probably the truest, most honest, and most self-revealing statement he ever made about the relationship.

LA replies:

Well, this is very interesting and I thank Mr. Mason for it. I am honored that he put this kind of high-quality thought and writing into my problem.

I was about to say that there is a simpler explanation for Horowitz’s behavior: that he simply disagrees with my politics, and found it annoying to have to keep dealing with me. But that wouldn’t explain the one-upmanship and constant put-downs, reaching a climax in the exchange he had with me last week. If he just thought I was wrong, he could have said he respectfully disagreed, as colleagues say to each other all the time. So that’s where Mr. Mason’s theory starts to seem plausible. And it seems even more plausible when it comes to Horowitz’s intense blame-shifting last week.

The Mason theory also makes it likely that Horowitz will never tell what statements of mine he found racist and offensive, since that would mean opening up a public debate with me on the fundamental questions on which I am always challenging liberalism and “conservatism.” He knows that if he wrote that this or that position of mine was racist, i.e., morally wrong, I would be able to explain cogently why it is not morally wrong. For him to allow a debate with me would mean treating my non-liberal ideas as the equals of his ideas, whereas his driving desire here, as Mr. Mason has persuasively argued, is to expel those ideas from his world.

M. Mason continues:

Of course, it’s often a matter of what someone has to go through before he is willing to listen. Generally speaking, it usually takes a personal crisis of some sort or other in most people’s lives to break their defenses. That’s good because it brings them to the point where they’re ready to stop the game-playing. On the other hand, for society as a whole, the out-working of that process is often frustratingly slow.

We simply don’t have the time to wait until the majority of Americans still “sitting on the fence” about the issue of immigration, for instance, experience one of their children suffering a serious accident caused by an illegal alien without a driver’s license who couldn’t read our road signs and drove the wrong way down a one-way off-ramp on the freeway before those people finally understand the reality of the issue.

And I’d rather that it doesn’t take simultaneous dirty-bomb terrorist attacks in a number of our major cities carried out by scores of people previously considered “moderate Muslims” (along with the eerie silence of the rest of the Islamic community that follows) before the assembled brain trust at NRO finally decides that at that point it might be a good idea to think about the possibility of maybe convening a symposium to address what some might consider to be the potential problem of the presence of great numbers of the followers of Islam in this country.

LA replies:

I once strongly rejected the idea that only disaster could turn people around. I also thought it was morally wrong to think in those terms, instead of just trying to persuade people, because it would put us in the position of positively wishing for bad things to happen. Also, if it were only a disaster that made people change their minds, then their minds really would not be changed, they would simply be reacting emotionally in the moment. But the total grip that liberalism has on the people of the West has persuaded me that only great disasters and sufferings can make it “ok” for them to leave their liberalism. (In other words, the only way they are capable of leaving their liberalism is not through rational insight into the falseness and badness of liberalism, but through a huge unprincipled exception to liberalism.) That doesn’t mean that our side doesn’t keep making arguments showing why liberalism is wrong. The more a rational alternative to liberalism is set up and available to people when liberalism crashes, the better. If no such alternative belief system exists, then the ex-liberals will simply turn to irrationalism.

M. Mason replies:

Yes, that’s a very good insight about the trauma of experiencing personal disaster that finally grants people (in their own minds) the “permission” to escape the total grip of liberalism in the West. The other beneficial thing that going through a personal crisis or disaster can accomplish is that once the hindering mental and emotional defenses are broken, the mind can finally begin to think clearly and thus actually become a prepared seed-bed for the necessary rational thinking process you describe. I’ve witnessed real, long-lasting transformations in people that began in a relatively short period of time under such conditions.

LA replies:

Fascinating. In other words, what begins as an unprincipled exception to liberalism may turn into a principled, non-liberal position. Maybe there’s hope for the West after all. :-)

Irv P. writes:

You write, “I am honored that he put this high quality thought and writing into my problem.”

It’s OUR problem. All of us who give a damn about the “inmates running the asylum” share in this. Two extraordinary people (LA & DH) are at odds when they should be close allies. It’s distressing!

This isn’t really even a problem. It’s a bump in the road. It will improve you and hopefully DH.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 10, 2007 02:18 PM | Send

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