Jewish World Review May 8, 2000 / 2 Iyar, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THROUGH ITS online review section, the Internet bookstore Amazon.com offers a serendipity to authors like myself by providing instantaneous capsule views of one's audience which can be compared to those of one's literary and political rivals. Amazon is especially useful in this regard because of its libertarian approach to the views it posts—both negative and positive—which can often put the site at odds with the company's marketing goals. Anyone who still doubts the cultural hegemony of the left, or the bias this control projects into our culture, should surf the bookstore at Amazon.com and compare the treatment of hot-button conservative authors like myself with comparable writers on the left.
One caveat to be noted is that in my own case I have distorted the picture somewhat by complaining to Amazon.com about reader comments that violate the site guidelines. As a result, several nasty posts were removed. The guidelines are there to prevent compulsive flamers from posting ad hominem smears. They require reviews to "focus on the book's content and context" and declare unequivocally that "comments that are not specific to the book will not be posted." The problems arise because many leftists seem to believe that it is their mission to go on sites like Amazon.com and warn unsuspecting surfers that people who disagree with them, like myself, are really not fit for inclusion in the human race. The message they are really seeking to convey is that anyone curious about the ideas of such people is probably sick themselves and ready for quarantine.
Attempts like this to obstruct the marketplace of ideas—familiar enough to anyone who has dealt with the hardcore left—usually also display the flamers' cowardice by employing pseudonyms and failing to leave e-mail addresses. Perhaps they see themselves as soldiers in a clandestine force resisting an Oppression so powerful that it will hunt them down and destroy them if they are discovered. It is a well-known attribute of paranoia for the afflicted to project on others their own aggressions. The posted flames themselves didn't really bother me so much as the fact that their appearance reflected a general erosion of civilizing standards in our culture. If institutions like Amazon.com were not going to take their own standards seriously, who would? Happily, Amazon.com did respond to my e-mails, and graciously removed the chilling posts.
But, as the comparative features of the Internet reveal, it is not only the groundlings who throw obstacles in the path of conservative viewpoints that might otherwise find an audience. The reviews from institutional sources on the site are also illuminating in this regard. There are, of course, opinion magazines from both sides of the political divide (though mainly to the left) from which one would expect partisan perspectives. Then there are institutions that pretend to represent large and diverse publics, but too often have come under the control of partisan ideologues as well. The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review is a notorious illustration of a once proud journalistic institution that has been reduced to little more than an in-house memo to the political left.
There is a third phalanx of reviews, from sources which would seem to be above politics altogether, and whose primary audiences are libraries and retailers. These include Kirkus Reviews, Book List, and the Library Journal. These are obscure but important institutions in the life of any book and Internet bookstores like Amazon.com post them at the top of their review sections, giving them extra influence in the decisions of those who visit. I received a rave review from Kirkus with my first hardcover publication. But that was thirty-five years ago, and the book was an attack on America as a "Free World Colossus" and the bad guy in the Cold War. The reality is that all these services draw heavily on professors from academic institutions which have been thoroughly politicized by the left. It is easier for a writer like myself to get a good review from a left-leaning paper like the New York Times, which has a certain self-image to live up to, than from Kirkus or the Library Journal, although the unexpected can happen..
It may be true, as leftists argue in defense of their partisanship, that "everyone does it." I would be the first to admit that objective reviewing is problematic at best and that even in the most scrupulous hands, reviews may display a political bias. But it is one thing to have a partisan agenda and quite another to systematically misrepresent it as something else. It is devious partisanship that is the problem, along with nihilistic attacks on the very notion that one should strive for a better standard.
What was really unexpected for a veteran of the ideological wars like myself, was when Amazon's own reviewer slipped an ideological knife in the ribs of my autobiography, Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey , on its publication some years ago. I was at a loss to explain what seemed to me at the time inexplicable. How could a bookstore—whose only reason for being was to sell books—deliberately set out to sabotage its own products? It didn't seem in keeping with the spirit of unrestrained capitalism that characterized the dot.com world. I had welcomed the previous emergence of the giant chain bookstores
Upon making inquiries, I even found out that a favorable review of Radical Son by one of Amazon.com's contract writers, Scott Shuger had been spiked to make room for the negative notice. (Scott—who does not share my politics—is now the author of the witty "Today's Papers" feature at Slate.) Something was going on behind the scenes. I did a spot check of Amazon.com reviews of authors like Noam Chomsky, bell hooks and Cornel West. The notices ("genius," "brilliant," "enlightened,") read like the pufferies you would expect from a merchant hyping his wares. No official Amazon.com reviewer, or Kirkus commentator referred to these writers' works as ideologically biased or "doctrinaire," as they had mine. To avoid the narcissistic fallacy, I also checked the page of Robert Bork, a conservative whose political profile is also high voltage. The Amazon.com review on the page denigrated Bork as a historical footnote and hypocrite, whose book was described as "an extended attack against everything liberal"—when, in fact, the book's central argument is that liberal ideals are good until they are taken to extremes.
With ammunition like this, I began an e-mail campaign to Amazon. (My publisher, one of the largest in the world, had refused to even write a letter about the unfair and incomprehensible treatment of my book.) On a trip to Seattle to promote the paperback, I even had occasion to visit Amazon.com's headquarters in Seattle, where I met the individual in charge of reviews. He was a reasonable fellow and when my next book appeared, it received a fair review from Amazon.com.
Why do leftists feel the need to invade even the neutral spaces of our culture to sabotage those who disagree with them and promote their political agendas among the innocent and the unsuspecting? Why would leftist booksellers regularly refuse to stock conservative books? Why do leftists who gain control of university departments feel they must purge every last conservative from their faculties? Why do leftist book fans feel it is their duty to go on sites like Amazon.com and stigmatize authors they disagree with in order to prevent others from considering their views? You might as well ask why birds sing, or cars have wheels.
I should preface what follows by noting that The Politics of Bad Faith is my intellectual explanation of why I rejected the left. It examines the main political issues confronting my generation—the Cold War, the question of socialism, and whether the ideals of the left are implicated in the crimes that have been committed in its name. As you would expect of such a document, it contains detailed analyses and invites discussion and/or refutation by opponents. It is indicative of the left's approach to intellectual disagreement, that though it has been fifteen years since I first published parts of this book, I can't cite attempts by any "progressive" (with one exception) to meet its challenges or engage its arguments. The one exception is the intelligent and reflective review of The Politics of Bad Faith in Salon by its managing editor David Weir. On the other hand, David's review (by editorial decision) was a short one and not a point-by-point encounter with the several theses of my work.
This silence, which is really an effort to pretend that such views don't exist, contrasts strikingly with the response of conservatives to mirror journeys from right to left. Political writers like Michael Lind and David Brock, who offered (quite feeble) explanations for their own political metamorphoses, were answered in detail by a crowd of conservative critics, including myself.
Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey The first of the customer reviewers of The Politics of Bad Faith was a "D. Lamkin" from Burk, Virginia, who opened his comments this way: "One of the United States' many cultural factions is the one Horowitz represents so well—those who would like nothing better than to turn the clock back to that wonderful time in U.S. history when minorities 'knew their place' and women were (supposedly) content to tend 'home and hearth' while the dominant white male 'hunted and gathered' in the U.S. economic marketplace." The writer then proceeds to the suggestion that despite their mean-spirited, reactionary, and racist views, writers like myself should nonetheless be tolerated. On the other hand, if the shoe was on the other foot, "the author of The Politics of Bad Faith would not extend the same courtesy to dissenters from his viewpoint" because "that would negate the premises he argues in this book."
And that, in sum, is the comment.
Actually, the premise of my book, and its principal argument, and its conclusion—not to mention everything I have done in my political life since leaving the left—is exactly the opposite of what Lamkin claims. Not only do I believe in liberty and freedom of expression, but it is the argument of my book that all forms of socialism, and all efforts to create conditions of economic equality, are incompatible with liberty and individual rights, and that is why I oppose them. I believe the American founders created our constitutional covenant with this understanding and specifically define conservatism in those terms—as a defense of the constitutional covenant itself.
The attempt to identify me with a political faction in America that wants to put minorities and women in their place and preserve the dominance of the white male is typical of the way leftists attack those who disagree with them, regardless of the real premises of those disagreements. That is the way all leftists I have encountered and publicly debated lump opponents of racial preferences with traditional American racists. For students of Stalinism, this is known as the tactic of "amalgamation," as when Trotskyists were lumped by Stalin with fascists and monarchists. In fact, it is the supporters of racial preferences on the left who more closely (and uncomfortably for them) resemble the familiar racists of the KKK and other hate groups.
The accusation that conservatives like myself want to hold women back and minorities down, is a fabrication; it is a political libel. But it is undoubtedly one that leftists believe.
The second customer review of my book, for example, treads revealingly similar paths. "[Horowitz] is simply wrong. The roots of evil, if we can discuss such in meaningful terms, certainly are not in minorities or multiculturalism or treating women as something other than doormats. If the roots of evil exist, they are in the willingness of people like Horowitz to glorify the individual at the expense of society…"
First, to reiterate: I have never said or written anything to remotely suggest that
minorities are the root of evil or that women should be treated like doormats. The truth,
once again, is quite the opposite. As for my criticisms of multiculturalism, they are
focused very specifically on the efforts of radicals to use "multiculturalism" as a way of
first attacking and then deconstructing America's own culture of freedom. On the other
hand, the effect of this reviewer's blunt comments is to let the cat out of the bag. In
naming the individual as the enemy of the future, what he identifies is the actual pivot of
the great political debate that divides right from left. It's not about any desire of
conservatives to hold women and minorities down. It is about whether submerging the
individual in the state and putting society under the tutelage of a political elite is a way
of liberating anyone—let alone, minorities, women and the
JWR contributor David Horowitz is editor of Front Page Magazine and the author of several books, including, Hating Whitey, Art of Political War, Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey . Comment on this article by clicking here.
05/01/00: America's Totalitarian Shame
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