A review of David Horowitz’s latest screed, Indoctrination U.
Opinions, Amy Schiller, Brandeis University, Mar. 21, 2007
A review of David Horowitz’s latest screed, Indoctrination U.
By Amy Schiller, Brandeis University
While reading David Horowitz’s latest treatise, Indoctrination U, I consistently had to challenge my own implicit assumptions, previously formed understandings, and initial impressions. Exposure to conservative arguments did in fact force me to rethink my liberal positions. Sadly for Horowitz, even this noble accomplishment on his part only reinforced my prior understanding of him as an opportunistic charlatan who considers himself oppressed, even as he condemns the language of oppression when spoken by those who’ve experienced real disadvantages.
Indoctrination U is essentially a rehash of Horowitz’s career in right wing activism, calling out all the supposedly politically correct zealots who have wronged him since his conversion from radical left to hard right in the 1980s. Horowitz’s ability to co-opt the language of oppression and turn a supposedly theoretical manifesto into his personal soapbox would put even the most emo slam poet on your campus to shame.
Horowitz’s thesis is that universities pollute the minds of innocent young people, indoctrinating them into a leftist mindset. His intention is to impose a code of silence around controversial topics within academic classrooms, and to this end, he has tried various methods of imposing this agenda, most famously by shopping around a disingenuous resolution called the Academic Bill of Rights. The resolution has been introduced in dozens of state legislatures across the country and threatens professors with monetary fines or termination if they advance political arguments in class. Much like, for example, the Clean Skies and Healthy Forests Initiatives, the name of Horowitz’s legislation is completely contrary to its content and real goals: to allow monitoring of syllabi and silencing of academic discourse.
Horowitz has no faith in students to rise to the challenge of independent thought when confronted with unfamiliar ideas on topics relevant to their daily lives. But if that is true, why on Earth are students in college at all? A central purpose of higher education is to expand the critical thinking capacity of young people, to make them nimble, adaptable, and secure in their ability to form arguments and appreciate nuance. Horowitz has no interest in increasing students’ mental capabilities; au contraire, his call to “protect” young people from “indoctrination” at the hands of their “biased” professors is based on the assumption that students are intellectually feeble.
As a man without much faith in students’ ability to debate differing opinions, Horowitz makes an enormous fuss when some students are willing to do so. At Reed College, he found the exception that “proves” his rule: a historically liberal student body who, sadly for all involved, took Horowitz at face value, believing Horowitz would challenge Reed students with conservative rigor in a lecture. The bloom came off the rose, however, once the actual debate regarding academic freedom began, and Dean Peter Steinberger made his remarks. By referencing Horowitz’s earlier publications on political framing, which state the importance of co-opting liberal rhetoric for conservative electoral gains, Steinberger attempted to expose Horowitz as the political ideologue he is. Horowitz spends a chapter whining about how rude and dismissive Steinberger’s remarks were, and highlights the incident as an example of the narrow-mindedness and derision he says he is faced with from academic liberals. He misses no opportunity to mention the fact that for a time, he, Michelle Malkin, and Ann Coulter shared a bodyguard (though the image of the trio crouching together for safety is priceless).
All of this takes place in parallel to Horowitz’s intellectual crusade to rid the academia of the people he considers self-pitying wound-lickers, like African-American studies and gender studies professors. Horowitz considers the academic credentials of such scholars illegitimate, because he claims they merely pontificate on their personal grievances, trying to pass them off as critical thought. But nobody fits that description better than Horowitz himself. Since so many gender studies and ethnic studies departments promote a worldview that questions authority and power structures, the reactionary Horowitz believes they are de facto indoctrination camps. This is where the double-talk gets confusing. Horowitz decries identity politics for relying on tropes of victimization, and then turns around to paint conservative college students as defenseless victims to be pitied.
As for his pathetic defense of his 2006 book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, Horowitz falls back on that favored James Frey excuse: My publisher made me do it. In an entire chapter devoted to retroactive ass-covering, Horowitz states, “The subtitle was added by the publisher long after I finished the manuscript. … My intention was not to show extremes, but to reveal a pattern of professional behavior that was widespread.” In other words, he didn’t want to give it a provocative McCarthy-esque title—that just happened to be the most effective marketing strategy, with absolutely no bearing on the content and logic of the book itself
The most repugnant moment is when Horowitz and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander commiserate about how hard it is to get paid well in academia. The former secretary of education says, in effect, states cut funding for education (gee, I wonder who those governors could have been), therefore conservative intellectuals can’t get paid. Facing a dearth of standard-bearers on campuses, the only solution the men can agree on is to impose a top-down freeze on political expression for professors, to prevent the spread of liberal orthodoxy without any available counterpoint.
Think about that: The former secretary of education says there’s no payday in teaching and then advocates silencing other academics. Curiously, we later learn from Horowitz that the average salary at the University of Kansas is over $92,000 per year, which Horowitz feels is lavishly wasted on such subversive infidels as the professors of Women’s Studies. So, there’s not enough money for conservatives who want to teach, but the liberal professors who do teach have undeservedly cushy salaries? I’m beginning to think Horowitz intentionally leaves these contradictions in the text to bait his critics so he can bemoan their obsession with details as evidence that people like me have no argument to make against him and have to settle for nit-picking. The truth is that Horowitz’s writing is a self-parody of self-pity, a meta-commentary on opportunism, and a display of shameless hypocrisy.