I used to believe that Timothy Leary lived the most amazing life ever lived, with or without copious amounts of LSD. Not the most noble or most honorable life but amazing in a strange and sometimes tragic way. He was a Harvard professor on the ground floor of psychology before the field lost its mystique. He butted heads with luminaries and then found himself mingling with artists, avant garde types, blue bloods and socialites. His life is marked by sudden twists and turns that finds him escaping prison with the aid of the Weather Underground, fleeing to Algeria where he is mistreated by Eldridge Cleaver. Later, he is apprehended and thrown into a cell next to Charles Manson. Ultimately Leary reinvents himself as a Hollywood party icon, a human prop who lends cool cred to the up and coming host. A beautiful person who could be rented for the evening.
David Horowitz's life is every bit as strange as Leary's. Horowitz is a red diaper baby who would lose faith in Leftism in his middle years and would ultimately become a convert to Conservatism. I became interested in American Communism after reading Paul Kengor's "The Communist", a biography of Barack Obama's mysterious mentor, Frank Marshall Davis. What amazed me is how prevalent and widespread and well-hidden Communists were in America. It's as if Joe McCarthy was right about everything and this country owes him a posthumous apology. The bogeyman was real after all.
Under any circumstances, the appeal of Marxism will be puzzling to me. Years ago, I attempted to read "Das Kapital." It was like swimming in cement. Give me any TOS, any credit card company privacy statement, any policy manual, even "Dianetics." I literally could not read Marx. Years later I still marvel that Marxism is pornography for some people. Go figure.
If you can imagine "The Americans" minus the action scenes you have some idea what Horowitz's family life was like. Whereas the Jennings live their lives in relative solitude, the Horowitzs are surrounded by like-minded people. Everyone is carrying water for The Communist Workers in one capacity or another. They move into a neighborhood in New York City that was structurally engineered to promote communal living. Soon fences are constructed and shades are drawn. The residents face moral dilemmas such as the private ownership of real estate and the profits from selling property that has increased in value.
For all of their silliness, the Horowitzs are a family of intellectuals. Young David is schooled in the classics and exposed to the great minds of history and his quality education is reflected in his writing. I have read science fiction where seven-digit creatures conquer earth and novels where simulacra become indistinguishable from flesh and blood people and none of those stories are as strange to me as the hyper-cerebral Jewish intellectual Communists who invaded America.
I can understand a heated family political discussion but I cannot imagine one that pits the defenders of the Soviet Union against the fans of the more genuinely Marxist Hungarian Communists. I can understand being philosophically opposed to all capital punishment but I cannot for the life of me understand the shedding of tears for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The Horowitzs and their friends are the most foreign people I have ever encountered.
The sins of USSR and Joseph Stalin are ignored by the loyalists. Then Kruschev releases a damning report on Papa Joe in 1956 outlining his numerous atrocities against his own people. Horowitz says that some American Communists actually committed suicide after the release of the broadside.
Lefties have a habit of changing their labels and verbiage without altering their core values. Marxists become Communists. Communists become Socialists. Socialists become Liberals. Liberals become Progressives, ad infinitum. From early adulthood till middle age, Horowitz devoted himself to the rise of The New Left.
Horowitz marries and fathers four children. Their family is like every other family except for the parents' commitment to the umpteenth repackaging of a bad idea. David and Elissa worry about the corrupting influence of popular culture on their progeny. The eldest son wants to skip out on a Black Panther funeral to watch the Oakland A's on TV. He is forced to mourn but sneaks a transistor radio to the proceedings.
As a prince of Leftism, Horowitz meets with big shots and assorted legends. R. D. Laing, Bertrand Russell, Sarte, the SDS, The Weather Underground, The Black Panthers, The SLA and a boatload of Hollywood movers and shakers. There is an amusing meeting between Joan Baez and Bertrand Russell where neither party knew exactly who the other person was but both were aware that they were meeting fellow icons.
Horowitz pulls no punches with his old friends and comrades. If you are of the opinion that Tom Hayden was the sleaziest human being of the twentieth century, this book will not change your viewpoint. There are more than bad ideas at play here. There are bad people as well.
It would be the Oakland Black Panthers and their loyal apologists who would challenge Horowitz to check his premises. A female bookkeeper is murdered and the trail leads back to the Panthers. He might be a slow learner but the author starts to see that Huey Newton and company are not revolutionaries, they are thugs. More disconcerting is the callous manner in which his Leftist friends dismiss the mounting atrocities.
Aggravated rape, extortion, probably at least a dozen murders; Huey Newton was nothing if not versatile. He consumed gargantuan quantities of cocaine. He was also shrewd. He preferred a white liberal jury because those dupes bought into his public persona whereas a black jury might not be so easily fooled. Whatever else can be said about Newton, he was the impetus for Horowitz to finally jettison his silliest ideas.
For my interest, Horowitz's childhood and early adulthood are more intriguing than his eventual conversion but the author's chaotic personal life keeps the narrative flowing. Horowitz teams up with Peter Collier to write a series of books on famous American families. The first of such is "The Rockefellers."
Horowitz interviews Abby Rockefeller and they have an affair that eventually leads to the break-up of the author's first marriage. Pain and gloom. Gloom and pain. Marriages numbered two and three don't work out at all. Wisdom and folly arrive in tandem. It is a mark of a good writer to discuss one's misery without falling into self-pity. I would say Horowitz does that pretty well.
Horowitz writes with a brilliance that only comes with experience. The Becks and Levins and Coulters might have insight into the ways of the Left, but not like someone who was born and raised at the epicenter. I cannot recommend "Radical Son" highly enough. On Amazon's scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 10.