Friday, February 08, 2008

The Authoritarian, Horowitz

[Cross-posted from Free Exchange on Campus]

One thing about accusations of lying: They are an excellent way of diverting attention from what had been the issue at hand. Add a little outrage at the 'insult,' and it's rare that focus ever returns to the issue at hand.

Addressing Jacob Heilbrunn (author of the new book They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons), who had recently been interviewed (subscription required) in The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Horowitz once again shows his skill at avoiding the issue, writing:

I am appalled and bewildered that you would so misrepresent what I have written and said, and falsely portray me as an "authoritarian" for trying to goad professors into presenting more than one side of issues that are controversial.

A competent propagandist, Horowitz knows how to slip things by. Start with high dudgeon and accusation of bad behavior, then add on an inaccurate and short portrayal of what you have done that led to criticism in the first place. Then the original question—your own action—gets forgotten.

Most often.

Horowitz's depiction of his campaign against public universities as simply an attempt to open up debate is laughable. It's a smokescreen for a pernicious agenda meant to help wrest control and give it to politicians. The proof for that is in the action: Horowitz focuses on legislatures, not classrooms. Were he really concerned about what goes on in the classroom, he would place his attention there. His goal is control within the political arena, so that's where his eyes turn.

In his letter to Heilbrunn, Horowitz writes:

it is outrageous of you to accuse me of "trying to establish an authoritarian system in which professors are sedulously monitored for their political beliefs." On what basis can you make this absurd claim? I have explicitly stated that professors have a right to their views and specifically to their "bias," even if it is a leftwing bias.

Here again, Horowitz is playing his little game, pretending there is a contradiction between a belief that professors can “have” views and the type of monitoring and control he advocates. More significantly, the monitoring of the classroom that Horowitz's campaign advocates presupposes an ability on the part of politicians to determine what issues are controversial, what constitutes a “side” on an issue, and when presentation of ideas slips over the line and becomes indoctrination. Due to the nature of the political creature, all such determinations are going to be made with an eye to things far beyond education, effectively strait-jacketing public institutions, turning them into just the sort of indoctrination mills Horowitz claims to want to avoid. Horowitz knows this, but doesn't want to face it, or argue it—he simply wants to institute it, though he knows full well that such control goes against the grain of the basic American vision of liberty and choice. So, he pretends outrage when someone points out exactly what he is trying to do.

The charge of indoctrination against our universities leveled by the likes of Horowitz is really a red herring, anyhow. Our universities are structured in such a way as to make indoctrination all but impossible. The real concept of academic freedom (and not Horowitz's perversion of it) insures independence of thought for professors and the structure of our institutions makes it highly unlikely that students will fall under the sway of any one professor or group of professors (each student, after all, takes classes from up to 40 professors for a BA or BS). There are plenty of problems with our universities, but the threat of indoctrination, for all the ballyhoo, is not one of them.

As always, protection of freedom of thought rests in the institutions, not in the individuals. In fact, the institutions, both political and educational, were created with this understanding in mind. In those cases where authoritarian structures have developed, it is always the case that the institutions gave ground to individuals and individual judgments. The type of oversight Horowitz wants to see promotes just that, for it is based on the assumption that the institutional structure isn't sufficient, that individual political judgment should trump it.

And that, no matter how angry Horowitz may get when it is pointed out to him, is an authoritarian approach.

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