Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Leftover thoughts on David Horowitz

Thanks to Michael Bérubé and Mike at crooksandliars.com for linking to my review of David Horowitz's The Professors. In reading comments (the first defending Horowitz's book, which I'll get to in a moment), I had a few thoughts that seem relevant.

--The subtitle, "The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America." (On the cover, "Most Dangerous" appears in red, while the rest of the title is in black.) Horowitz claims that the publisher forced him to add the subtitle, which he didn't want. Here's his explanation, uncut and unedited:

"It seems as though university campuses would offer the primary audience for a book about the intellectual corruption of university faculties. Yet, before it went to press I had a dispute over this very idea with my publisher. It was the publisher who actually gave The Professors its subtitle: “The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.” And this worried me. In writing the book, it had not been my intention to justify such a title. In fact, the adjective “dangerous” appears only once among the 112,000 words of its text -- in reference to Professor Juan Cole's "dangerous sophistry." When my publisher proposed the subtitle, the book was already finished – the hundred odd professors already selected. The fact that there were obscure professors in the book like Marc Becker of Truman State, and moderate leftists like Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin, concerned me. I was sure they and other more culpable subjects would pounce on the phrase and claim, however absurdly, that it was a red flag signaling a “witch-hunt.” In other words, it would provide its enemies with an opportunity to make it look ridiculous and sinister at the same time (the contradiction would not bother them in the least).

So I opposed it. “If we give it this subtitle,” I said to my publisher, no one in the academy will read it.” I was not ready for his reply. “Who’s going to read it in the academy anyway?” he said. “They’ll hate this book no matter what you call it and only ten of them will buy it. We need to market this book to a large audience, and this subtitle will do it, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Authors don’t have authority over their titles, and I already knew that there was no constituency for reform inside the university and so I went along with this marketing strategy. The strategy has worked and the book is doing very well."

Interesting point. The subtitle makes the book look alarmist and reactionary. But here's why the above explanation is so ridiculous: THE ABOVE PASSAGE APPEARS ON THE WEBSITE HOROWITZ CREATED TO MARKET THE BOOK, WWW. DANGEROUSPROFESSORS.NET! (Yes, I'm aware that ALL CAPS is the typographical equivalent of yelling.)

So Horowitz objects to the subtitle, and he defends against that criticism on a website titled with that subtitle, on which the words at the top are "DANGEROUS PROFESSORS" and "Most Dangerous Academics in America." Um, Mr. Horowitz, why even defend the choice if it's one you now openly accept? And, if you're thinking that dangerousprofessors.net is simply Regnery's invention, you should notice that Horowitz prominently advertises that website on his other website, frontpagemag.com.

--Another point about dangerousprofessors.net. The first outside link it provides on the right is to ratemyprofessors.com, where the criteria for judgment are Easiness, Helpfulness, and Clarity. Horowitz's willing association with ratemyprofessors.com indicates to me, again, the shoddiness of method. Why actively associate his work with such a silly (and, I'll admit, entertaining) website?

--A few people have asked why I'd spend the time taking Horowitz seriously. I was going to explain this, but Joshua A. Matz of History News Network puts it much better than I was going to:

"It seems increasingly unlikely, however, that the critiques leveled by Horowitz will simply go away. The book is endorsed by Rep. Jerry Lewis (chairman of the House Appropriations Committee), Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom (Professors at Harvard University), Laura Ingraham (host of the Laura Ingraham Show), and a slew of state senators and representatives. With such politically and intellectually powerful backers, and a public increasingly aware of issues relating to academic freedom (a number of court cases and legislative acts have recently captured media attention), it appears possible that academia may soon be forced to take David Horowitz as seriously as he would like."

--Thanks to Art Eckstein for respectfully disagreeing with me on the comments page of my review. But I'd like to ask a question back to Mr. Eckstein because I think his response skirts several major points of my review. He presents several of Horowitz's arguments about the kinds of professors Horowitz profiles:

"1. People who are teaching in fields for which they are not academically qualified. "

"2. People who are promoted to prestigious positions far beyond the scholarly quality or amount of their published work, which is usually radical pap."

"3. Ex-terrorists who somehow get offered, out of all possible applicants being considered, prestigious positions ."

"4. Profs who get away with vicious actions against "non-protected" groups which they wouldn't get away with otherwise. "

(I've cut out a lot of what Mr. Eckstein writes, but I think what I've quoted above accurately represents his points.)

Which of the above categories includes Chomsky and Horowitz? Go to Chomsky's faculty page at MIT, and you'll find a list of his work in his field. Why doesn't Horowitz mention any of that work in The Professors? Based on the list of Chomsky's well-regarded scholarly work, what
dangerous" category does he fit into?

1 comment:

Grand Moff Texan said...

Um, Mr. Horowitz, why even defend the choice if it's one you now openly accept?

Because he lacks the courage of his convictions? Par for the course for this kind of intimidation, imho.