David Horowitz

David Horowitz’s Archives: How Liberals Get Conservatives Wrong

Posted on December 1 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

Nor is the charge that I regarded slavery as a benefit to African Americans even the worst misrepresentation of what I have said on the subject: “Horowitz’s move from endorsing the Black Panther Party to saying that blacks should be grateful about slavery because it brought them to America – that trajectory serves conservative intellectuals well today.” Notice how while I am the immediate target it is all conservative intellectuals that are in his sights. In fact, I have never said that blacks should be grateful for slavery. What moron would? Yet because this claim – never attached to an actual quote — appears on leftwing websites, and Mattson has not thought it necessary to read what I actually wrote – whether in Uncivil Wars or in my original article on reparations, which appeared in the leftwing magazine Salon without objection from the editors — he repeats the falsehood and uses it as a stick with which to beat the entire conservative movement.

Most importantly, since it is a focal point of Mattson’s portrait of me, I have never sponsored any bill calling for state legislatures to police classrooms for liberal indoctrination or, for that matter, to monitor any kind of classroom content. On the contrary, I have stressed and supported the independence of academic institutions. I have never supported a legislative statute to enforce the Academic Bill of Rights. I specifically opposed legislation sponsored by others that would have required professors to provide students with alternate texts if the ones they were assigned “offended” them. I opposed this – as I explained in a published article available on my website — because this would take classroom authority away from the teacher.

But although I have a public record of defending the independence of the university and opposing a measure that would have put students and professors on an equal footing, Mattson inexplicably describes me as a “populist” fomenting the overthrow of faculty authority. It is true that I sponsored academic freedom legislation four years ago, but the bills I supported were exclusively resolutions to encourage university administrators to honor and enforce academic freedom standards that they themselves had established and that were part of the academic freedom tradition of the American Association of University Professors. There were no enforcement mechanisms in these bills and they did not have the force of law. My purpose was simply to draw attention to the problem. Having been successful in that — these resolutions put the issue of university indoctrination and academic freedom on the political map — I haven’t sponsored any legislation since.

In the sentence about my academic efforts Mattson also writes, “[Horowitz] does not sound conservative when he talks about defending right-wing students from left-wing bias.” Mattson is right that I wouldn’t sound conservative if I had said that. But I didn’t say that. In fact, I am on record as saying the exact opposite. I never attack leftwing “bias” because bias is another word for perspective and everybody has one. (I have attacked leftwing ideas because they wrong-headed. But that is different from attempting to expunge a political “bias.”)

My academic campaign is central to Mattson’s analysis of my impact as a conservative. One might think, therefore, that the one book Professor Mattson might have read is The Professors. One would be wrong. In the introduction to The Professors I wrote: “This book is not intended as a text about leftwing bias in the university and does not propose that a leftwing perspective on academic faculties is a problem in itself. Every individual, whether conservative or liberal, has a perspective and therefore a bias. Professors have every right to interpret the subjects they teach according to their points of view. That is the essence of academic freedom.” What could be clearer? What could be more opposite to the view Mattson claims I hold?

Even if my words had not been so clear, my actions were. I defended Ward Churchill’s right to hold reprehensible views and still be a professor. I defended the appointment of leftwing law professor Erwin Chemerinsky as dean of the new law school at UC Irvine when it was withdrawn by the administration because of complaints about his political opinions by prominent donors. I have defended leftwing students against conservative professors. Yet Mattson ignores the clear public record of both my words and deeds in order to misrepresent what I believe and attack me.

Mattson accuses me of being the “chief organizer” of efforts to have the state police university classrooms. This is absolutely false but it is not a trivial accusation. Repeated enough times it is the kind of stigma whose effect will be to drive its target from decent intellectual society. In particular, it has made me toxic enough that prominent liberal intellectuals who respect and agree with my work have told me in so many words that they would not be writing a blurb for my books on the university or reviewing them favorably because they “still have articles they want to write for the New York Review of Books” and fear that they would be blacklisted for any positive association with my ideas. Accusations like this, lead otherwise intelligent individuals who regard themselves as scholars to think they can get away with writing about me without reading my books and putting words in my mouth.

Mattson associates me, for example, with advocates of Intelligent Design theory who want it included in the biology curriculum. I have publicly opposed this. He refers to me as an anti-foundationalist, post-modern relativist, which I am not: “Conservative intellectuals today can even sound ‘post-modern,’ making arguments that you expect from an English professor stoked up on deconstruction and relativism.” Mattson justifies this characterization with a single sentence from The Academic Bill of Rights (the sentence was actually written by Stephen Balch): “Human knowledge is a never-ending pursuit of the truth [because] there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge…” But what “post-modernist” would write that there is a “truth” that can be pursued in the first place? The Academic Bill of Rights statement is a very careful worded, limited observation. It says that because no individual, faction, or party is in possession of absolute truth it is important that more than one side to controversial issues be heard. Who would object to this? Yet Mattson does.

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