David Horowitz is best known as a fearless in-your-face political brawler. He will literally go anywhere to debate anyone about any political topic - the more strident the opponent, the better he seems to like it. My local news and talk station interviews Horowitz once a week and I have heard a great deal of those interviews over the years. Horowitz is a formidable debater - a partisan of the first rank. To be honest, it never occurred to me that Horowitz had another gear (which, of course, is silly - we all have other interests) so when I read the description of this short book I knew I had to check it out.
In 'A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption in This Life and the Next', Horowitz waxes philosophical on time, how things change in this world (or more properly, how nothing ever seems to change), the way dogs live their lives compared to the way people live their lives, the paradox of the fragility and strength of horses, how history is not really "going" anywhere and how living in a world with no faith at all is worse than living in a world with follower that follow their faiths imperfectly.
Each of A Point in Time's three chapters have unique and overlapping perspectives. In the first chapter we are introduced to Horowitz's dogs - three little sparks of life that he enjoys immensely. He considers this to be an odd proposition because he is a relative latecomer to dog ownership. All dog owners know that every dog is unique and, sometimes, the best thing they can do for us is remind us to take joy in the moment.
From there, Horowitz moves to a quote from famed Stoic Marcus Aurelius, the "philosopher king" of the Roman Empire: "He who has seen present things has seen all, both everything that has taken place from all eternity and everything that will be for time without end..." Or, as King Solomon put it: "There is nothing new under the sun."
Horowitz's point here is not to dispute our technological advances. Instead, he is commenting that people have not changed, and life is essentially the same. This is part of a well documented dispute he has had with his father who was an avowed communist that believed the world was moving in a "forward march" toward a future workers' paradise because human nature would eventually change with the right guidance.
Horowitz moves on to Dostoevsky. As he puts it on page 35, "Dostoevsky understood the dilemma we face if our existence has no meaning." To put it simply, men need a higher power to inspire them or, if nothing else, make them fear divine judgment. This is a powerful thought from a confirmed agnostic.
Horowitz comments on a rug that President Obama had installed in the Oval Office that states in its stitching: "The arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice." He questions that. How can it when the human species keeps doing the same awful things to one another that we have always done? Are we moving forward? Horowitz insists the answer is no. Instead, "The arc of the moral universe is indeed bent, but there is no one and no way to unbend it." (p. 101)
This is a melancholy work. Horowitz mourns the death of his daughter, muses on his own serious health problems and even notes that one of his beloved dogs is now too old to take long walks with him. He notes that people die before they have all of their loose ends tied up. His daughter died and left behind a great deal of unpublished writings. He gathered the best of them together in a collection for a posthumous work. So, he notes in the last line of this book, did Mozart. Mozart died while writing Requiem - even working on it the very day he died. Perhaps, that is enough - the very stoic concept of doing what is laid before you to do and not expecting the world to change.
"A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption" by David Horowitz (2011). For those of us who have read Mr. Horowitz' articles over many years, we know that in his youth he championed the socialist cause, but became disenchanted with its collective excesses, and returned to the `conservative' individualist-freedom fold. The author suffered prostate cancer, but survived. Nonetheless, the author seems to be writing his `swain song' about the ending of his mortal self. Initially he talks about his family's dogs, but despite their advancing age: "I am always impressed at how the dogs, familiar with every sight and smell along our way, come at these walks with renewed enthusiasm each time we set out" (p. 6). I do not own any dogs, the author does, therefore it is difficult for this old Army officer to become misty-eyed over canine sentimentalism (I'm just too stoic, and cold-leaded heart). But it is obvious that the author is comparing his advancing, but declining, "Golden Years" to that of those of his faithful dogs. The author reviews his growing up reading various `classics' of Marcus Aurelius, Cassius, Gibbon, Proust & Gorky; mine were: Grant, Sheridan & Patton - cold, military `mission accomplish' oriented. The author wrote: "I have spent the last thirty years of my life trying to understand why it is that so many people living in the greatest and happiest country on earth should be permanently and irretrievably at war with it. What is it that drives otherwise good people to be hostile to civilized democracies like the United States and Israel on the one hand, and sympathetic to barbarian societies and creeds who have sworn to destroy them on the other? This little book I have written - "A Point In Time: The Search for Redemption in this Life and the Next" - is my attempt at an answer. After "RADICAL SON", it is, I think, the best book I have written. "A POINT IN TIME" refers to us -- our brief moment in the march of eternity. The text is partly a memoir of my aging years and the reflections I have had on their approaching terminus (don't be alarmed, I plan to be around for a long time; I wouldn't give my enemies the satisfaction...). The rest of the book addresses those larger questions through the lives and writings of Marcus Aurelius and Fyodor Dostoevsky." Mr. Horowtiz is still too young to think of slowing down. I suggest a reminder from Dylan Thomas: "Do not go gently into that good night" and Robert Frost's "The woods are lovely, dark and deep... [but I have] miles to go before I sleep." Mr. Horowitz still has so much to offer to us still seeking his enlightenment. I am torn in reviewing this book, a high-5-star ranking will garner many votes; fewer will diminish a reviewer's rating. I find Mr. Horowtiz' book too melancholy, too end-of-the-road right now. I ask Mr. Horowitz to contemplate D. Thomas' admonishment to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light". Mr. Horowitz has written this book reflecting upon his `past' life too soon. This book does not reflect in great detail about his past intellectual battles against the statist elite. Not his autobiography. An all too short book, all too reflective, all too soon. I'll have to await the 'fireworks' until his next book. Mr. Horowitz, follow your dogs...with "renewed enthusiasm."
on September 20, 2011
Horowitz writes something of the story he lives by. As he says, we all live by stories to give our lives significance. "The audience of others, real or imagined, is the way we persuade ourselves that our drama has no end, and what we do matters" (38). This statement reveals something of the skepticism that pervades the book -- accepting the narratives we live by may just be our own creativity, our own way to deal, not the truth itself. Chapter I.XV is a very brief representation encapsulating peoples' use of narrative, just as authors write, with the belief that someone will read it. Horowitz does not affirm someone will read it, but questions whom. Accepting narrative as justification, he writes, "I still return to the security of my stories, and am content to live in their worlds"( 123).
Horowitz writes of other authors whose works have contributed to his own, such as Marcus Aurelius' Stoicism and Dostoyevsky's dystopian vision of socialism -- the sacrifice of freedom for the security of the state provider. Beside the philsophical segments Horowitz includes the personal experiences with mortality, those being the death of his daughter, Sarah, and his own health issues. The book, as a whole, is coming to terms with mortality.
on November 21, 2014
Reading David Horowitz's "A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption in this Life and the Next" is like taking an autumn stroll with a gray-haired elder encountered at a family reunion. You were expecting his usual social, political, and economic rants that sometimes alienated you, and sometimes frightened you. Sometimes you saw some shaft of insight in his words, an insight you defiantly resisted because his worldview was so different from your own. You see the world through rose-colored glasses of universal brotherhood and a brighter tomorrow. This guy insistently reminded you of failed utopias.
Before you set out on your stroll, though, he made sure to bring his three pooches along. The tenderness he showed the dogs gives you pause. You realized that as different as you are in age and worldview, you both love dogs.
As you step out into the gray light, suddenly crepuscular so early in the afternoon, the elder speaks. You're accustomed to clipped who-what-when-where-why-style headlines. Today the rhythm and care of poetry shimmers just under the surface of his prose.
He's talking about death. Well, yes, that would make sense; he is a septuagenarian. He has had a cancer scare and one of his children has pre-deceased him.
You slow your steps and listen. His words seem, like the moldering leaves, fading light, and the migrating geese overhead, to be arising organically out of the autumnal scene. You'll be pondering what you hear today for a long time.
"A Point in Time" is a meditation on death and mortality, morality, religious faith, and the Utopian urge. Horowitz uses Marcus Aurelius' and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's works as touchstones.
Horowitz's parents had been members of the American Communist Party. Horowitz himself was close to the Black Panthers. In 1974 their bookkeeper, Betty Van Patter, was murdered. Horowitz was convinced that the Panthers were responsible. In 1985, Horowitz publicly broke with the left. My former comrades spoke of Horowitz as if he were the devil incarnate.
I went to heckle Horowitz ten years ago. He said something that silenced me, and that I pondered repeatedly: Camden, Newark, and Paterson have had Democratic leadership for decades. I grew up among people who vividly remember Newark and Paterson as thriving, even enviable cities. That they are now slums breaks many New Jerseyians hearts. Horowitz's comment was a significant paving stone in my own turn away from the left.
Even so I did not expect a book like "A Point in Time" from Horowitz. It is meditative, serene, and stoic. It is not a Christian book, but it treats Christianity and its impact with respect.
Horowitz talks about death using dogs, pet ownership, homes, and writing. Dogs live for about a decade, much shorter than the average human lifespan. We must watch our beloved four-footed friends age and die at a more rapid rate than our own. Homes are our carapace. We experience them almost as extensions of ourselves, renovating them with a sense that our lives might go on forever. Moving into, and then out of a home, also reminds us of mortality.
Horowitz's daughter Sarah was a writer who never married. She died relatively young, and having published relatively little. Horowitz contemplates her one bedroom apartment, and her writings, her most significant material legacy. Medical diagnoses, too, remind us of mortality. If we go on living long enough, eventually we will get cancer, or diabetes, or something. We will fight the illness as long as we can. We lose the fight in increments, as Horowitz has in the amount of walking he can do before fatigue reels him back home.
We turn to bookcases. Marcus Aurelius provides a stoic model; Dostoyevsky a Christian one. Horowitz's selection of quotes from Dostoyevsky convinces me that I need to read more of him, or at least about him. The quotes Horowitz selects are stunningly apropos to American college campuses today. Horowitz positions Dostoyevsky as the antidote to atheist nihilists and Utopians.
Horowitz considers faith, but acknowledges that he is an agnostic. He briefly describes a few unspeakable crimes from current headlines. With a few spare sentences, he describes the kind of sadism that occurs every day. How do we believe in God in a world in which not just children, but even dogs, are subject to cruel and meaningless tortures? If God is omnipotent, how do we avoid assigning responsibility to God for horrible events?
Rejection of God has been for many a sort of religion of its own. Horowitz's father did not believe in God, but he did have a myth and a telos. "When he read his morning paper it was not to gather tidings of events that actually affected him - prices rising, weather brewing, wars approaching - but to parse the script of a global drama that would one day bring history and its miseries to an end."
Similarly, Dostoyevsky's fellow conspirator Nikolay Speshnev said that his political hope "is also a religion only a different one. It makes a divinity out of a new and different object, but there is nothing new about the deification itself." The difference between Dostoyevsky and men like Speshnev is acted out on college campuses in America every day, and on the international stage. Dostoyevsky describes how radicals justify "wading through blood." One need only look to the former cradle of civilization to find examples.
The book's intimacy is typified by a lovely passage on page 22. Horowitz lays awake at night, "haunted by reflections of death." Kissing his wife, or petting "the small bodies curled like furry slippers at my feet" provides him with a reprieve from "this emptiness."
The book's cover by Bosch Fawstin depicts the scene at Dostoyevsky's mock execution by czarist police: three erect stakes. I cannot help but think of the anachronistic reference to Christ - "three pale figures led forth and bound to three posts driven upright in the ground" - in W.H. Auden's poem "Shield of Achilles." Horowitz's book, like Auden's poem, like Marcus Aurelius, recognizes that each generation must confront, struggle with, and then lose, "The mass and majesty of this world, all that carries weight and always weighs the same," whether we live under the House of Atreus, or the Pax Romana, or the reign of Obama.
Death gave us this David Horowitz. If mortality were not knocking on his door, I don't think he would have written this book; if it were not knocking on ours, however faint the sound, we could not resonate to it. Death "focuses the mind" and awakens the heart. The myth of, or perhaps the evidence for, immortality gives us the determination to apply death's lessons.