Adria Battaglia on David Horowitz: Politics is War

This excerpted from the Rhetoric Society of America’s “Blogora” (

Communicating About David Horowitz

Submitted by Adria on February 22, 2008 – 4:41pm.

Inside Higher Ed has an article out about NCA’s decision not to invite (or to take back the invitation to) Horowitz.

I feel a bit confused about the portrayal of both the events and of Cloud’s involvement in the matter (leaving the comments section of the article aside for now). Mostly, I’m troubled by the implicit assumption that there are no real consequences to even the most rhetorically-sanctioned public sphere for “deliberative discourse.” To assume that Horowitz would speak and there would be or could be no effects goes against everything I understand discourse to be and do.

Consequently, I’m also troubled by the suggestion that a counter-demonstration to Horowitz would have been inapprorpiate. Some suggested the protests could be a threat to his safety. As someone who voiced her support of a counter-demonstration to his potential presence, I find this suggestion demonstrates a lack of understanding of the role of protests, as well as a complete lack of acknowledgment of the ideological assumptions in free speech, academic freedom, and deliberative discourse. Not all protests, even those that question the privileging, legitimating, and naturalizing narrative of “academic freedom” and of “free speech” in general, are meant to create violent disruptions. (The guy is going to be a chapter in my dissertation–if anything, I would very much like an interview with him).

Furthermore, why must Horowitz’s presence be the only means for NCA scholars to engage concepts such as political indoctrination and academic freedom? In my research for the comps question on academic freedom, I came across an interview with Stanley Fish, who, for those of you who would have liked Horowitz to be in attendance, wrote:

“[Horowtiz’s] strong suggestion is that academic freedom and intellectual diversity go together, but in fact they pull in opposite directions. Academic freedom is the freedom to go wherever an intellectual inquiry takes you without regard to directives proclaimed in advance by a regime of prior restraint. Intellectual diversity is a prior restraint; it tells you where to look and what you must look at—you must take into account every point of view independently of whether you think it is worth considering—and it tells you what materials you must include in your syllabus.” (Stanley Fish, “Think Again,” New York Times, 2 May 2006.)

Of course, I think Fish generously assumes Horowitz’s intentions to be legitimate, which I do not. But regardless, is not the negative response to NOT inviting Horowitz an assumption that we need to look in a particular direction to a particular person and consider his outrages attacks against (and the subsequent implicit harassment of) numerous scholars as a legitimate perspective?? I don’t think we need Horowitz to provoke an intellectually rigorous conversation about what is academic freedom (which, for the record, although the Supreme Court still can’t figure out, should NOT be conflated with free speech…which, it should be pointed out, advocates the right to hold counter-demonstrations without violence or disruption).

The article ends with: “Horowitz said of the turn of events: ‘It is obviously a rejection of the idea of by the NCA — the idea being that after five years David Horowitz should actually get to present his ideas to an academic association…. The fact that no academic group has had the balls to invite me says a lot about the ability of academic associations to discuss important issues if a political minority wants to censor them.'”

You know, in a 2000 interview with Scott Sherman of The Nation, Horowitz discussed his feelings on another what-he-hoped-to-be turn of events: “Lapsed radicals like ourselves are always condemned to regard the left as their Great White Whale. This book is a record of our sighting of the beast. We may not yet have set the final harpoon, but we have given chase.”

“Politics is war. Don’t forget.” –Horowitz, The Art of Political War: And Other Radical Pursuits (Texas: Spence Publishing, 2000), 11.

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