By his own account, this was Gitlin’s view of patriotism pre-9/11. And post-9/11? Gitlin writes: “By the time George W. Bush declared war without end against an ‘axis of evil’ that no other nation on earth was willing to recognize as such – indeed, against whomever the president might determine we were at war against,…and declared further the unproblematic virtue of pre-emptive attacks, and made it clear that the United States regarded itself as a one-nation tribunal of ‘regime change,’ I felt again the old estrangement, the old shame and anger at being attached to a nation – my nation – ruled by runaway bullies, indifferent to principle, their lives manifesting supreme loyalty to private (though government slathered) interests, quick to lecture dissenters about the merits of patriotism.” (p. 196)
Now who is willfully misunderstanding whom?
A lexis-nexis search will also inspire questions about Gitlin’s accusation that I have been “going after” him in the manner of an ideological stalker “for twenty years.” In the 1990s, Gitlin wrote a popular book about the Sixties. When Peter Collier and I came to write our book on the subject, Destructive Generation, we naturally took issue with Gitlin’s celebration of what we had come to regard as a “low and dishonest” political decade. We took issue with the fact that he had transformed Sixties radicals into innocents at home and, specifically, that he had failed to mention their malice, aggression and criminal deeds. Apparently Gitlin was chastened by our critique because in the next edition of his book, he did make a pathetically small concession to the effect that the left “knew sin” in the killing of a math researcher at the University ofWisconsin who was working in a lab a band of progressives targeted as part of the war machine. I would not call our justified critique of Gitlin in Destructive Generation “going after him.” It was merely an attempt to make him honest.
A few years later, in similar effort to restore an historical truth, I organized a silent vigil at the premier of Mario Van Peebles film Panther, a cinematic atrocity about the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers were, of course, an iconic gang of the Sixties, worshipped by SDS radicals, who had murdered many innocent people including Betty Van Patter, who worked for Peter and me at Ramparts magazine. I organized the demonstration at the Panther premier as a vigil to remember Betty and the other victims of Panther mayhem. The film, by contrast, portrayed these gangsters as boy scouts who were victims of a white racist power structure. The film alleged that the FBI had flooded America’s ghettos with heroin in a genocidal campaign that the on screen J. Edgar Hoover refers to as “the final solution” to deprive the Panther vanguard of its community support.
While I was occupied outfitting my offices with security cameras to protect my young staff from possible reprisals as a result of our vigil, Gitlin took time out from his busy schedule as a visiting professor at the Sorbonne to comment to a USA Today reporter, that our protest was just a case of “Panther-bashing” by Horowitz.
Since then, Gitlin has given interviews dismissing my views as demented effusions resulting from unresolved psychodramas connected to my late father. By contrast I have written respectfully – apparently too respectfully – about Gitlin’s intellectual output, not mentioning any psychological instabilities as an excuse for avoiding engagement with his ideas. In a recent book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left I used Gitlin as a case study in how a reasonably sophisticated radical, who does not share the coarse anti-Americanism of many of his Columbia colleagues, can be consumed by such hatred of his own country (or, as he would prefer it, his “government”) to write about it in terms that reinforce its image as a “Great Satan” and thus strengthen the fanatical ideology of our terrorist enemies, whom he otherwise despises. Judging by his comments, he either has not read my book, or has willfully misunderstood it.
My experiences with Gitlin and other leftwing critics of The Professors have not been unexpected, but are frustrating nonetheless. They have caused me to wonder whether there are still intellectuals on the left capable of defending their positions in the face of a conservative critique. If there are, FrontPagemag.com is open to them to argue the case, even as the magazines and academic institutions they control are closed to me.