By Bruce Thornton
One of modern history’s most important questions is how so many intelligent, privileged people could be seduced by a political ideology so intellectually incoherent and bloody in practice as communism. An illuminating approach for understanding this phenomenon can be found in the memoirs and biographies of true believers who awoke from their dogmatic Marxist slumbers and wrote about both their sleep and their waking. In its focus on how leftist ideology warps the lives and characters of those who embrace it, David Horowitz’s Radicals. Portratis of a Destructive Passion (Regnery, $27.95) is a book that can be ranked with such classics of this genre as The God That Failed and Paul Hollander’s The End of Commitment. But unlike those other studies, Horowitz in his new book analyzes radicals who never had the “second thoughts” that lead to conversion, but instead maintained their faith in the radical progressive creed until the bitter end.
Horowitz, of course, was once one of the true believers, a leading light of the New Left that arose in the ’60s and whose baleful influence has seeped throughout the culture and poisoned the Democratic Party. His 1997 memoir Radical Son can stand alongside The God That Failed in its brutally honest examination of the seductive power of left-wing ideology and the price one pays for rejecting it. Radicals, with its penetrating portraits of six modern radicals, takes a different tack, exploring the psychological forces, failures of character, and moral idiocy that blocked the sort of awakening to self-knowledge and truth that Horowitz experienced himself.
The radicals Horowitz profiles range from celebrities like Christopher Hitchens and Cornel West to nearly forgotten terrorists like Linda Evans and Kathy Soliah. The connecting thread running through all six lives is what Horowitz calls the “utopian delusion” that is the ideal of “every believer in universal progress” and the “fantasy of a redeemed future.” But when this ideal ignores the non-negotiable, tragic limits of human action and character, it sparks a “destructive passion” that “becomes a desire to annihilate whatever stands in the way of the beautiful idea.” Radicals thus expands further on themes that have run consistently through Horowitz’s books, like Destructive Generation and Left Illusions, to discover “what prompts people to believe in world-encompassing and world-transforming myths” and “to explore the tragic consequences of the attempts to act on them.”