Friday, July 19, 2002

Horowitz's blog is, to me, something of a disappointment... he's pretty much recycling old material from other columns, while removing any real sourcing and upping the hyperbole a little. Case in point? His newest entry is yet another complaint about how conservatives are "forced to labor in a culture dominated by the illogical, mean-spirited, verbal assassins of the left." Disproving this assertion is, of course, best left as an exercise for your radio dial.

After bringing up that illogical and wholly ludicrous shibboleth, he backs it up by extensively complaining that, yes, academe is leftist! (And therefore murderous, but anyway..) Again, not a new thing where Horowitz is concerned, and it doesn't include the whiny calls for "conservative affirmative action" that his earlier comments on this subject did, but he still misses a key point: even if Academe were universally leftist (which it is not), his calls for the inclusion of more conservative voices in academe misses a key point that Stanley Fish brought up and which remains valid: academia is not about the left-right divide and never has been. There should be debate and discussion within a field about the aspects of that field, but why on earth should the terms of debate in academia be shackled to the ludicrously simplistic notions of "liberal vs. conservative"? I could see a complaint about a particular field overemphasizing certain interpretations and missing out on other ones (although this should be "field", and not "institution", unless he's advocating that Chicago include Marxians in its economics department), but that isn't usually what he's talking about. (His complaints about revisionism in Soviet studies obscuring scholarship, for example, might actually be worthwhile ones, although at this point his credibility is such that I automatically assume he's overstating the case, and his cited source, while lengthy, is somewhat polemical and certainly partisan.)

Horowitz also misses the point that this is only an issue in the relatively isolated world of the university. Outside it, of course, there are dozens and dozens of right-wing funded "think-tanks" that can and do put out as much partisan scholarship as necessary, and that happen to be quoted, cited, and respected by the popular media and policy makers as much if not more so than the university professors that Horowitz talks about! Even if universities were universally leftist, this simply wouldn't matter in the larger picture, which is something that Horowitz continues to ignore. The isolation of academia goes both ways- even if Horowitz's complaint that it is isolated from the political debates in society is true, society is isolated from it, and I certainly don't see Horowitz decrying that.

He supports this by noting an article by Ron Perlstein that examines a scholarly society (The Historical Society, or THS) that has the reputation of being yet another neo-con playground funded by the right, but which includes non-right-wing academics as well. It is, however, extremely marginal by everybody's standards, as Perlstein points out- both marginal in the field due to the right-wing polemics it funds, as well as marginal in the conservative scholarly community because it's fairly inclusive in the views that it will support. Perlstein thinks this is somewhat of an accident... THS was originally supposed to be yet another body of conservative writers, but ended up being something that Horowitz has entirely ignored- a protest against the bureaucratic side of academia, and a sign that the culture battles between left and right in academia that Horowitz is obsessed with are grinding to a halt.

Predictably, of course, Horowitz mentions none of this, preferring to talk about how the right is more inclusive than the left, saying that the American Prospect certainly doesn't welcome rightists and therefore shouldn't be making this argument. What kills me about this argument is that Horowitz himself is proof that this isn't the case! His Frontpage site is resolutely and unquestionably partisan, yet he was a commentator for the left-wing website Salon for years, and as far as I know remains so! How can he possibly make an argument that he himself proves is nonsense??

Horowitz draws a comparison between those who are funded by the left vs. those who are funded by the right... the Scaife foundation money vs. the Schumann foundation money. As the Prospect pointed out in another column what differs between the two sides is what they're funding. The left is funding issue-based scholarship, maybe a few liberal magazines here and there, but nothing that even remotely matches what you see on the right: people and groups funding scholarship, journalism, polemics and organizations built around a movement based on one simple goal: to justify, support, and advance conservatism as much as necessary to get into power.

Horowitz, in the end, serves merely as a useful object lesson: if you repeat something often enough and loud enough, people might believe it to be true. Unfortunately, however, once you get called on it, you look like a loon. No wonder he's dismissed by most as a partisan hack, flogging Coulter's entirely debunked book (more so than Horowitz ever debunked Brock) and has been reduced to becoming yet another johnny-come-lately mainstream journalist-turned-blogger. It'd be funny, if it weren't sad.

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