David Horowitz

David Horowitz’s Archives: Willful Misunderstanding

Posted on October 15 2010 6:45 am
David Horowitz is the editor-in-chief of NewsReal Blog and FrontPage Magazine. He is the President and CEO of the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His most recent book is Reforming Our Universities

The article published in the Spectator begins, “Three Columbia professors accused by David Horowitz of indoctrinating their students with left-wing propaganda have dismissed the claims as factually incorrect and ludicrous.” What’s ludicrous is the Spectator’s assertion that I made such a claim. I didn’t. You will not find these words in my book in reference to Todd Gitlin or Eric Foner or Victor Navasky. But what does what I actually wrote matter to the Spectator and its audience? It is probable that very few people in theColumbia community have read my book or are able to check the facts. Moreover, anyone at Columbiawho has read the book will probably maintain a prudent silence lest the witch-hunting ire of leftists like Gitlin and his peers be directed at them.

The Spectator reporter also interviewed Todd Gitlin whose professorial comment was that my profile of him contained, “willful misunderstandings and distortions.” Said Gitlin: “There’s a lot of history here — he’s been going after me for twenty years. Horowitz hasn’t a clue as to how I function in the classroom. … He’s bonkers.” Well, to repeat, I didn’t focus on how Gitlin functioned in the classroom. In a post on the Internet, Gitlin did complain that I said he “immersed” students in “obscurantist texts of leftist icons like Jurgen Habermas.” While conceding that he did assign Habermas, Gitlin quarreled with the verb “immersed.” Big deal. Actually for Gitlin it was a big deal, because he told the reporter that my profile of him contained “willful misunderstandings and distortions,” among which was this.

Another “distortion” was the fact that I had referred to an article he wrote called “Varieties of Patriotic Experience” as “Varieties of Patriotism.” Sorry, Todd, I’ll correct that in a future edition. Another distortion (or is it a willful misunderstanding?) is that I placed him at a Columbia anti-war teach-in where his fellow faculty member Nicholas DeGenova called for “a million Mogadishus,” referring to the slaughter of American Army Rangers by al-Qaeda in Somalia.  Apparently Todd had already left the speaker’s platform when Professor DeGenova erupted or perhaps he hadn’t arrived yet. Professor Gitlin feels “distorted” by my profile because he doesn’t share DeGenova’s views. In fact, my text clearly acknowledges that Gitlin distanced himself from the leftist extreme: “After 9/11 Professor Gitlin wrote an article critical of leftists who opposed the war in Afghanistan and unfurled an American flag and hung it from his apartment window…” (p. 195) So who is willfully misunderstanding whom?

In his Internet article Professor Gitlin is distressed by my characterization of his patriotic feelings or lack of them: “Any reasonable person,” he writes, “may read my essay ‘Varieties of Patriotic Experience,’ and the successor in my later book The Intellectuals and the Flag, and decide for him– or herself whether ‘harboring the belief that his country is ultimately unworthy of his respect or even allegiance,’ is an accurate description of my position. In fact the burden of both these essays is exactly the contrary.” Well, readers may decide for themselves by looking at the actual passage in my book The Professors:

In an article titled, “Varieties of Patriotism,” Professor Gitlin recently reflected upon the decades he has spent harboring the belief that his country is ultimately unworthy of his respect and even allegiance. He traced the roots of that sentiment back to the fires of the Vietnam War. “For a large bloc of Americans my age and younger,” he writes, “too young to remember World War II – the generation for whom ‘the war’ meant Vietnam and possibly always would, to the end of our days – the case against patriotism was not an abstraction. There was a powerful experience underlying it: as powerful an eruption of our feelings as the experience of patriotism is supposed to be for patriots. Indeed, it could be said that in the course of our political history we experienced a very odd turn about: The most powerful public emotion in our lives was rejecting patriotism.” (Ibid.)

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