Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Comes the Revolution (Part One)

I wanted to alert readers of this site that there’s a book which was published recently which is going to be regarded in time as a seminal book in American academic history. It’s called The Professors, and it was written by David Horowitz. I will have more to say about this book in a future posting, but for now here are some comments I made on the book on the review pages.

In defense of David Horowitz, public intellectual

The enjoyment of the publication of a new David Horowitz book would not be complete without the attendant sharp-knived warfare conducted on the Amazon review pages. The pattern of the stars tends to resemble an inversion of the standard bell curve: either five stars, or one, with not much in between: Some gave all, but all gave some…thanks to Amazon’s mandatory one-star minimum. While modesty prohibits me from including myself in any such praise, one can scarcely help but notice that the five-star reviews tend to be much better written, more often than not by those who have actually read the book, and are more articulate and lucid. This as opposed to the one-stars which tend to claim – often incoherently – that the book lacks factual support or logical consistency, very often without bothering to support those claims.

The Anti-Horowitzers tend to dismiss the author as an anti-intellectual fascist crank, which he most certainly is not; but even if he were, you’d have to give him even more credit for his obvious effectiveness. The much-derided Anti-Chomsky Reader was published a year and a half ago, to the same sort of gleeful derision that we see here; published only six months after Professor Chomsky – one of the 101 – was enjoying a renascence of his sordid career, the Reader unleashed a blizzard of written attacks from a number of sources – sources who were blinded not in the slightest by Chomsky’s "brilliance" – to the extent that Chomsky’s reputation can now fairly be described as "but a shadow of (its) former self".

Of course, the publication by a non-academic of The Professors raises the subtextual question: What does it mean to be an intellectual? There are two tests that one might apply in order to answer this question. The first test is to discover how a Chomsky (or a Horowitz) approaches the assertion of truth. To Chomsky, truth is whatever Chomsky says it is. Horowitz would answer: That’s what we’re trying to find out.

The second test has to do with the most important indicator of intellectual integrity: the willingness to correct the record, and to retract. One of the one-star reviewers noted that Horowitz was "forced to retract" certain claims. "Forced?" Forced by what – a reassessment of the facts and his own good conscience? Hallelujah! That makes him a rarity, doesn’t it? In fact, I can attest to that: When the Anti-Chomsky Reader came out, someone did bring to the fore a factual error – a very minor point, but an error nonetheless – and Horowitz ran a very extensive and very public retraction of the error on his website.

Compare that to Chomsky’s propensities, which include, when presented with an error or contradiction of his own: denying that he made the statement, claiming that he was misunderstood, ignoring the charge, or using any of a variety of mechanisms in order to mislead. Interestingly, Chomsky will go after someone who so much as appears to quote him out of context, as he did last year in the case of the Guardian article, even if the miscontextualization was trivial. Chomsky doesn’t retract his own errors, which are plentiful and egregious, but if he ever does, I hope someone will notify me immediately, as I will take it as a sign that the Rapture has arrived and I don’t want to miss my flight.
An Anti-Chomsky article published by John Williamson on The Anti-Chomskyan Redoubt.