077 Destructive Generation

Number Seventy-seven May 1998


One of the finest books I’ve read in the past several years is Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber (New York: The Free Press), by David Gelertner. A professor of computer science at Yale University, he received a mail bomb in 1993 which nearly killed him. He managed to survive, with a mangled right hand, a sightless eye, and other impairments; on one level, this book tells of his painful recovery process. More profoundly, however the trauma prompted him to seriously think about what’s transpiring in this nation. He hungered to discern the “truth” about our times, to somehow put his personal story within the appropriate historical context. Unlike the journalists who swarmed around him, intent on portraying both him and his assailant as “victims,” he sides with the lawmen who hate criminals and seek to bring them to justice, who honestly work to make the world a safer place.

Of those who sought to “comfort” him, it was a learned rabbi friend who half-seriously proposed they publicly hang the bomber, who helped Gelertner more than the tears of lamentation sentimentalists shed. That call for justice “put him in a different moral world from the sleazeball reporters who plagued me. A man wants to act, not be acted upon. Self-pity is a pile of bricks on your chest, and your real friends help you heave it off. Those of us who hate today’s victim culture don’t hate it because we areTeddy Roosevelts aiming to build character and toughen people up (not that there is anything wrong with that program); we hate it because it inflicts harm. When you encourage a man to see himself as a victim of anything–crime, poverty, bigotry, bad luck–you are piling bricks on his chest” (p. 46).

In short, Gelertner had suffered a very particular, vicious assault, but he also discovered that “the twentieth century is the crime scene, and I found as I struggled to regain my balance and get my bearings that I needed to hunt through it” (p. 3). What he would find, underlying the senseless terrorism he suffered, was a moral milieu incubated, like crops of mushrooms in darkened caverns, by a designing corps of ’60’s intellectuals. The “intellectuals took over the elite” (p. 63) and have been controlling our culture. These folks, he suggests, “entered the freightyard control room and toyed like children with the switches, resetting them for fun–unaware of what they were doing, except making trouble; then the excitement wore off and they slunk away. The trains started to collide before they had even gone, and are still smashing up” (p. 3).

Most destructively, “intellectuals” denigrated the dignity of truth by refusing to be “judgmental,” a word which Gelertner discovered has just appeared in dictionaries of the 1990’s. Teachers and coaches, these days, must not be judgmental, so mediocrity parades, to appropriate applause, in various stadia. Juries too must avoid judgmental verdicts, so the likes of O.J. Simpson go free. Grammar errors go uncorrected, lest students’ self-esteem slip a bit, and standardized test scores in public schools plunge as if on a water slide. Dr Spock reigns! Parents shouldn’t punish children and teachers shouldn’t grade students! A President who misbehaves glibly notes “mistakes were made” and refuses to own up to the fact he sinned! Though injustice and violence abound, we’re “constantly nagging one another not to be ‘judgmental'” (p. 12). So doing–masking the distinction between good and evil–do we not “invite criminals to attack us and terrorists to kill our children? I found myself turning this question over night and day; I had no choice” (p. 59).

The resolution to such problems can only be found in stronger homes and families, an overriding concern of Gelertner’s. He has always regarded rearing his two boys as his most important assignment. “I never had the slightest doubt that fatherhood was my most important line of work” (p. 16), and this conviction has only been strengthened by his near brush with death. His wife, a talented architect, cheerfully stopped working when children arrived, devoting herself full-time to making a home suitable for husband and boys. Gelertner’s admiration for her knows no bounds! Together they have joined in the ancient endeavor (deeply embedded in the conservative Judaism which Gelertner follows) to rightly rear the coming generation.

Thus Gelertner finds much in modern life distasteful, especially those radical feminists who denigrate both homemakers and a man’s necessary role in the home. “Modern feminism,” he thinks, “is the most dangerous consequence of the civil rights religion. Leading feminists cast women in the black victim role, men as the bigoted white oppressors. The analogy is breathtaking in its perversity and gall” (p. 94). Yet feminism has gained an alarming ascendency in our culture. “Nowadays you will hear on Sesame Street, that obnoxious flagship of elite childrearing, about mothers in every conceivable line of work but homemaking” (p. 96). What a betrayal of our true calling as human beings!

He further finds modern schools woefully lacking, failing to provide the intellectual fiber youngsters need. When home-schooled children, whose educational expenses total $546 a year, significantly surpass (on standardized tests) public school children, who cost taxpayers $5,325 a year, something has clearly gone wrong! Impartial judges, if noting a similar difference between “home-doctoring and professional physicians” would quickly conclude that such a “medical ‘profession’ is quackery and no profession at all” (p. 90). To Gelertner, public education in this country needs instant, radical reform.

Gelertner writes with artistic skill and ethical passion. His reflections, rooted in both research and personal observation, provide a marvelous window through which the reader glimpses truth concerning the world we live in.

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During the 1960’s, Peter Collier and David Horowitz helped energize and guide the most radical of the radicals who sought to foment revolution and install a communist regime in the United States. Editing Ramparts, they worked with most of the major leaders of the West Coast’s counter-culture and effectively publicized their positions. They “shared with the rest of the Left its most irresponsible and destructive myth: that America had become rich and powerful not through its own efforts but by making the rest of the world impotent and poor” (p. 173). Shifting abruptly to the philosophical Right in the 1980’s, they have become some of the most trenchant and knowledgeable critics of the assorted leftists who largely control the levers of power in America today. Their convictions inform Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, c. 1989, 1996). A quotation from Dostoevsky’s The Devils, printed on the flyleaf, sums up the book’s message: “We shall proclaim destruction– why? why?– well, because the idea is so fascinating! But–we must get a little exercise. We’ll have a few fires–we’ll spread a few legends. . . . And the whole earth will resound with the cry: ‘A new and righteous law is coming.'”

Such, in short, was the goal of the ’60’s radicals. “From its earliest battle cry–‘You can’t trust anyone over thirty’–until the end of its brief strut on the stage of national attention, the Sixties generation saw itself as a scouting party for a new world” (p. 14). Facts concerning human nature or traditional social customs meant little, for they had a utopian vision which needed implementation. For the good of “society,” any sacrifice of individuals and values could be condoned. Totalitarianism necessarily accompanies such radical endeavors, for “Totalitarianism is the possession of reality by a political Idea–the Idea of the socialist kingdom of heaven on earth, the redemption of humanity by political force. To radical believers, this Idea is so beautiful it is like God Himself” (p. 313).

Such religious fervor continues to motivate unreconstructed radicals such as Noam Chomsky (who actually blamed the U.S. for the ravages of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia), Paul Goodman (of Growing Up Absurd fame), Tom Hayden (Santa Monica’s perennial state assemblyman), Michael Lerner (trendy author of The Politics of Compassion) and (yes, Lerner’s compatriot) Hillary Clinton. “The utopianism of the Left is a secular religion (as the vogue of ‘liberation theology’ attests), its promise of an earthly kingdom of heaven. However sordid Leftist practice may be, defending Leftist ideals is, for the true believer, tantamount to defending the ideals of humanity itself. To protect the faith is the highest calling of the radical creed” (p. 246).

Unsuccessful in fomenting violent revolution in the ’60’s, the Left has now successfully recreated itself, seeking to slowly infiltrate existing institutions until positions of power are reached and then used to impose its agenda. It’s the strategy of Rudi Dutschke, a German New Leftist, who urged a “long march through the institutions.” The “current revival,” the authors contend, “will involve an offensive of ‘progressivism’ whose targets are the Democratic Party, the church, the universities, and various liberal institutions” (p. 244). The drums beat on, and there’s a war being waged in the heart of American society.

Collier and Horowitz, ever militant, have clearly changed sides! In part they became disillusioned with the stark reality of socialism’s ubiquitous evil. Repentant communists themselves, they understand the inner essence of socialism better than most. They reluctantly admitted that Stalin and Pol Pot were not aberrations, for such brutal leaders simply illustrate the lineaments of socialism. “The catastrophic experience of Marxist societies” was no accident; it was a logical unfolding of an evil philosophy. Simultaneously, the authors witnessed, primarily through their involvement with the Black Panther Party in Oakland, the brutality and hypocrisy of the American radicals routinely lionized by the Left. In repudiating their earlier endeavors, they give us a first-hand perspective on the real (and generally hidden) agenda of the Leftists who have infiltrated this nation’s most influential institutions.

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Ideas and events barely touched on in Destructive Generation take on deeper significance and context in David Horowitz’s powerful autobiography, Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey (New York: The Free Press, c. 1997), “one of the best political memoirs I’ve ever read,” according to P.J. O’Rourke (and me). Horowitz grew up in New York, the “red diaper” son of committed, card-carrying Communists who envisioned themselves as secret agents. They lived in a tightly-knit communist community, sharing the vision of transforming America into a clone of the Soviet Union. He was sent to the Sunnyside Progressive School, designed to develop devout socialists–though in fact it more nearly resembled scenes derived from Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Reality rarely conforms to socialist dreams!

Following high school, Horowitz attended Columbia University, graduating with a degree in English in 1959. He and his new bride then packed up their VW “bug” and set out for Berkeley, California, where he entered the graduate program in literature, though his passion, like that of his parents, was social revolution. This devoutly desired “revolution” bound together the “New Left” of the ’60’s. Young advocates of “free speech,” members of the SDS such as Tom Hayden, self-consciously committed themselves to restructuring the U.S. along Communist lines.

Horowitz himself, wearied of graduate study, took his wife (and young children) to Europe where he plunged into research and writing, applying the party line to Cold War conditions in The Free World Colossus, an indictment of the U.S. and her activities in places such as Guatemala and Vietnam. The book became a staple for New Left rhetoric, forever lambasting America’s misadventures around the world. In England, he made contact with the likes of Bertrand Russell, who served as the figurehead for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which was shrewdly manipulated by a young Marxist, Ralph Schoenman, to advance Marxist causes. He also met Isaac Deutscher, biographer of Trotsky and other prominent Marxists, under whose inspiration he wrote Empire and Revolution, trying to rescue and rehabilitate Communism, then tarnished by the Khruschev Report and Hungarian Revolution.

He also met Bob Scheer, a well-traveled and influential Leftist, who offered him a position at Ramparts magazine, the flagship of the New Left in the United States, then reaching some 100,000 readers. So it was back to Berkeley in 1968, where anti-war and revolutionary rhetoric was plenteous. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, riots in major cities as well as the riotous Democratic Convention in Chicago, marked 1968 as a pivotal year in American history. Given the influence of Ramparts, Horowitz made contact with an assortment of influential radicals–SDS, Weathermen, and Black Panther leaders, intellectuals and incendiaries. He pretty well knew all the movers and shakers of the New Left–Huey Newton, Michael Lerner, Brit Hume, Tom Hayden, et al.

In the midst of all this activity, however, Horowitz became deeply troubled by the cause he so zealously promoted. Part of his struggle stemmed from the reality of his own family life. Father of four, he found, generally speaking, that childless adults remain forever children! His wife and home constantly reminded him of realities which varied dramatically from socialist rhetoric. In time the marriage failed–Horowitz blames himself and his constant absence while promoting the “cause” for its dissolution. But his home in those days was a center of sanity and health. He was also troubled by his growing conviction that the Black Panthers, with whom he was deeply involved, were criminals rather than social reformers. That conviction became concrete when one of his friends, Betty von Patter, was brutally murdered because of what she knew concerning the Party’s financial irregularities. Horowitz’s discussion of the Black Panthers is enlightening on two counts: 1) the white establishment embraced and fawned over the likes of Huey Newton–the noted psychologist Eric Erickson even asked him to co-teach a class with him ; 2) how brutal and criminal they actually were–Dick Gregory met briefly with some of them and perceptively declared: “They’re thugs.” Anyone harboring illusions concerning the integrity of the Black Panther Party need only read Horowitz’s detailed account to have his faith shaken!

By 1975, Horowitz concluded he could no longer support the New Left. So he and his colleague, Peter Collier, turned to writing some best-selling biographies: The Rockefellers and The Kennedys. And by 1980, he began, as he calls it, “coming home.” He renounced the Left and embraced the Right, voting for Ronald Reagan and declaring, most courageously, his opposition to all he’d earlier espoused. Radical pipe dreams were replaced by honest accounting, the resolve to deal with real issues in the real world. “The conservatism I had arrived at could be expressed in a single patriotic idea: The revolutionary failures of the Twentieth Century had demonstrated the wisdom of the American founding, and validated its tenets: private property, individual rights, and a limited state. Becoming a conservative turned out, ultimately, to be a way of coming home” (p. 397).

This book describes a generation as well a man. I found myself, in peculiar ways, identifying with Horowitz’s story, despite the utter disparity of our journeys. No one coming of age in the ’60’s could avoid that decade’s influence. The hippies’ hopes, the radicals’ zeal, the apparent ills of America’s institutions, the glamour “change” and “liberation,” all seemed most alluring. Yet for some of us, like Horowitz, the truth must be declared: the ’60’s generation has gravely harmed this nation. If there’s hope at all, we must repent, reverse our trajectory, recover some of the decency and order of earlier generations. Well-written, provocative, persuasive, Radical Son takes its place alongside Whittaker Chambers’ Witness as a revelation and rebuke of Marxism of all stripes.

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Reading Horowitz enables one to appreciate Ronald H. Nash’s Why The Left Is Not Right (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, c. 1996), for the churches, as well as the universities (where 10,000 professor identify themselves as Marxists) and political structures, have endured a sustained assault from the Marxist-inspired Left. Nash, a professor of philosophy and theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, argues there is a Religious Left as well as a Religious Right, and it’s the Left which truly endangers the Church. In Mainline churches, “Protestant Modernism,” with its Social Gospel and diluted doctrine, trumpeted by avante garde clergymen like William Sloan Coffin, has largely triumphed. In Evangelical churches, the same ideas are muted but still influential.

Three Evangelical Leftists concern Nash: Jim Wallis; Ron Sider; Tony Campolo. To each he devotes considerable attention, seeking not to vilify or destroy their credibility, but to awaken readers to the veiled sub-text of their endeavors. Jim Wallis, in his college days at Michigan State University, joined the SDS. When it collapsed, Wallis renewed his Christian faith and launched a magazine, The Post-American, which was renamed Sojourners when Wallis and friends moved to Washington, D.C. A careful study of Wallis’s writings, Nash says, reveals a steady Marxist-Leninist line: forever critical of the United States and forever forgiving of Communist atrocities. Aligned with Richard Barnett and the Institute for Policy Studies and apparently deriving funding from Joan Kroc and the Pillsbury Corporation (mainstay supporters of leftist movements), Wallis steadily supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and other Marxist movements abroad while assailing socially conservative evangelicals at every opportunity.

Early supporters of Wallis, such as the distinguished theologian Clark Pinnock, who served on the board of editors for several years, became disillusioned. Wallis apparently “underwent a paradigm shift–a total transformation,” Pinnock says, ending in an enthusiastic embrace of Marxist movements wherever they appeared. Evaluating a document drafted by Wallis in 1989, The Road to Damascus, which declares the Sojourners Community as one devoted to defending the poor and oppressed, Richard John Neuhaus declared that “‘a new church has been founded, The People’s Church of the Anti-Imperialist Struggle. According to this document, “the truth of the Christian faith” has little or nothing to do with faith in Christ, Scripture, or the classic creeds, and everything to do with a socio-economic analysis of class struggle. The creedal key . . . is “the preferential option for the poor”‘” (p. 72).

Evaluating Wallis, Nash thinks he is an unreconstructed radical, but one who cannot be accused of deceit or guile. Basically, he notes, “Wallis is a person who excels in combining bad information with bad judgment” (p. 79). Neuhaus, himself once aligned with the radical Left, “warns that Sojourners ‘represents a politically extreme, profoundly self-righteous, and virulently anti-intellectual version of [what Jim Walls calls] “biblical politics”” (p. 80).

Turning to Ron Sider, Nash finds much more to praise. Sider launched the Evangelicals for McGovern organization in 1972, and thenceforth he has championed the McGovernist social agenda. In 1974, he founded Evangelicals for Social Action, which continues to function and promote the cause. More importantly, he published, in 1977, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, a book which “became the manifesto of the evangelical Left” (p. 84). The book sought to blend biblical theology with social justice politics. Ten years later, responding to scholarly critiques, Sider admitted the error of some of his biblical positions (i.e. Lev. 25 and the jubilee principle), and by 1995 he had substantially revised his views, even acknowledging that capitalism, not socialism, seemed to best benefit hungry peoples. Importantly, he has moved away from the coercive redistribution of wealth (welfare state socialism) to an appeal to Christians voluntarily to share to alleviate suffering.

Tony Campolo also gets good marks in many spheres. Though clearly aligned with the Democratic Party, routinely espousing its more leftist programs, resolutely supporting its leaders, Campolo has nevertheless retained his roots in evangelical theology and his ministry has positively touched thousands of believers. In Campolo, Nash finds a person who can actually work with both liberal and conservative Evangelicals in solving those social problems for which both camps deeply care. However, some of Campolo’s statements regarding homosexuality, feminism, and environmentalism, should give Evangelicals pause. He seems, all too often, to embrace popular, politically correct movements without concern for their philosophical core. Campolo too often takes as “truth” notions which seems dubious at best, and when he popularizes them a decidedly non-Christian message may appear!

In sum, Nash’s deepest concern regarding Sider and Campolo is this: “What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You (and Others, Too).” They venture into realms of economics and political theory, making unfounded claims and dangerous projections, tenuously liking them to biblical faith or Christian doctrine. Doing so in the name of “Evangelical Christianity” distorts the Gospel and misleads believers. Those of us who have trusted and followed leftist Evangelicals would profit from reading Nash’s book!