December 30, 2011
by Ronald Radosh
There's still time to buy a 2011 book, and my vote for Book of the Year is: David Horowitz's A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption In This Life and the Next. Many of you know Horowitz as a fearless fighter for conservatism, a polemicist and organizer second to none. But this time, you will find a very different and sober David Horowitz. Here you will come across a reflective, searching and eloquent treatise on the essential philosophical and moral issues all of us face: the very meaning of our life on Earth, how we make sense of it, what meaning we give to our short sojourn on it, and the big question of what our stay really means, especially if like Horowitz, we are not religious.
Herein, David paints a wide brush, moving from subjects like the death of his daughter, his remembrances of growing up under the tutelage of his Communist father, and discourses on the lessons to be learned from the great figures of history and literature, such as Marcus Aurelius of Ancient Rome, and the greatest novelist of old Russia, Fyodor Dostoevsky.
On one level, Horowitz's book is highly pessimistic. My wife warned me not to read it, fearing it would leave me depressed. Horowitz writes a great deal about what he has learned from his dogs, seeing their responses to all around them and their aging over the years to what our own future portends. Having very recently lost our beloved Maltese dog Sam, I certainly understand when Horowitz writes that once having lived with dogs, "they have come to seem indispensable," since they teach us so much and brighten our lives each day. But rather than make me sad, I felt a great peace and calm reading Horowitz's beautiful prose. Far more than other authors, he has been able to touch my feelings on a deep level, and cause me to reflect on whether or not I have been able to make a difference while I am among the living.
Of course, David Horowitz writes a book that has political implications. His father, as we know, was a man who substituted the chimera of the revolutionary transformation of humanity through communism as the road to salvation, rather than the religious faith shared by most earthly dwellers. For him history "was a forward march," he writes, a man whose ideology meant that there was no use for Dostoevsky, a writer who left the path of revolution for that of God, and was therefore seen as "reactionary." Unlike his father, Horowitz picked up the great novelist's works, and learned "insights that helped to wake me from the dreams that had stifled my father's life."
His pages are Dostoevsky are a tour d 'force, a guide through what we can learn from his novels, and from Distoevsky's own experience. As a man of religion, Horowitz explains, he had a "conservative view of our human lot, the very opposite of the radical faith that we can become gods, and create a new world." One is struck by Dostoevsky's understandings, made so long ago, that still have the greatest relevance to our own times. Horowitz quotes the Russian novelist on his judgment of those who seek early redemption through revolutionary change. He offers us the following words from Dostoevsky:
"Socialism is a modern incarnation of godlessness, the tower of Babel built without God, not to raise earth to haven but to bring down heaven to earth." Of those who believe in this path, he wrote: "They hope to make a just order for themselves, but having rejected Christ they will end by drenching the earth with blood."
Perhaps because David Horowitz cannot bring himself to accept formal religion, and remains a skeptic deeply admiring of those who are believers, his book has a pessimistic streak to it which his writing itself disputes. Since he cannot bring himself to accept religion, Horowitz writes that "I am left to ponder the pointlessness of our strivings on this earth and to ask impossible questions, and receive no answers."
For a moral soul who is not religious, the question raised is then whether life can have any meaning. He talks about what his daughter called "the rolling of the souls," and writes that even though she is not here, her thoughts follow him, and as he puts it, "my future takes on a memory and a face." But David's prose proves that our strivings are anything put pointless. As he learns from Dostoyevsky, the collectivist passion has no worthy end. Horowitz writes: "Even as they seek desperately for a common object to love, so they yearn for a common enemy to hate, which is why the quest for an earthly redemption has led to the greatest crimes."
That does not mean, as Horowitz thinks, that we will all forget the heroes of the past we now honor, and "history itself," which is only "a cycle of rises and falls," means life progresses on its own rhythyms. Eventually, he writes his family name itself will disappear, and that too meant little, since the name was most likely made upon his grandfather's arrival in America from Europe. Indeed, Horowitz even thinks this book means little itself, although he writes that "I still return to the security of my stories," since those of his own life make existence bearable. He writes because that is what he does. Looking forward to the publication of this very book, Horowitz writes, "few people will read it, and then there will be none."
He is not sure that his work "is important to anyone," although he acknowledges that he has acquired an audience "to whom it may seem so," and thinks perhaps his words have caused some good. But he writes primarily for himself, because "it is important to me." Yet, he has told us when he visited his late daughter's apartment, he found scores of writings, known to no one but herself, which she, like her father, was compelled to write. After her death, David saw to it that her own book culled from these papers would be published. Why did he do this, if as he really thinks, it matters not if anyone but the writer saw the results?
This unwarranted pessimism, as I suggested, is a deep flaw, and reflects Horowitz's deep feelings about how without belief in God, meaning cannot exist in life. We all know that the writings of David Horowitz have in fact mattered a great deal, as does this special book. So my advice to readers of this column is simple: Prove David Horowitz wrong. Buy A Point in Time. It will be a gift to yourself, and one that you will cherish forever.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
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