May 7, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
May 7, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
IN THE SUMMER of 1674, officials of the Dutch court carried out the recommendation of the States of Holland to ban the Theological-Political Treatise, a book that one of its more spiteful antagonists described in an anonymous pamphlet as “forged in hell by the apostate Jew working together with the devil.” It was an inauspicious debut for a work that Steven Nadler calls “one of the most important books of Western thought ever written.”
Poor Spinoza. So noble in intention, so reviled and misunderstood. Born into a Portuguese-Jewish family in Amsterdam during the flourishing years of the newly autonomous Dutch Republic, the brilliant young student “Bento” (or Baruch, as they called him at the synagogue) was only twenty-three years old when, on July 27, 1656, his own congregation on the city’s Houtgracht canal presented him with a formal ban of excommunication for his “abominable heresies” and “monstrous deeds.” The absurdity of this herem,the Hebrew term for the rabbinic ban, is that its recipient had not yet published any of the works that would eventually draw down upon his head violent accusations of atheism and immorality. The Ethics, the genuine masterpiece of speculative metaphysics that would earn him an eternal place in the canon of Western philosophy, did not appear until 1677, when its author was no longer alive. But well before this, rumor had already spread that young Bento doubted the law and denied the existence of God except in the “philosophical” sense, which is to say in the most minimal or heterodox sense that carried a whiff of heresy.
In early January of 1670, the mature philosopher published his most aggressive statement of political and religious criticism, under the compound Latin title Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Anxious to avoid personal reprisals, he published it anonymously and with a cover page that misstated its place of publication as Hamburg. The measures were prudent, but ineffective. Within about three years its author was exposed and plans were afoot for seizing and suppressing all copies of his book. By the end of the 1670s the Catholic Church, eager not to be outdone, decided that the Treatise deserved a place on the Index of Prohibited Books, together with the Ethics and other opera posthuma, including his correspondence.
Steven Nadler has written a delightfully lucid and philosophically thorough account of the Treatise that helps to explain how and why this singular text became the object of such opprobrium and why we should see its appearance as “the birth of the secular age.” The general thesis is not entirely unique. The last two decades have seen an explosion of literature that celebrates Spinoza as the prophet of modernity. In 1992, Yirmiyahu Yovel authored a two-volume study on Spinoza and Other Heretics, entitled The Marrano of Reason and The Adventures of Immanence, respectively, that explored the question of whether Spinoza deserved the title of “the first secular Jew.” Yovel’s answer was no, but then yes: Spinoza could not have been the first secular Jew because “the concept did not yet exist,” but he was “a lost and suspended Jew, his existential case preceding his explicit ideas and prefiguring forms of Jewish existence in which he could not himself participate.”
Yovel then made this very indeterminacy serve as a paradigm for modern identity. The figure of the Marrano (who suffered persecution after the Spanish reconquista and was forced by circumstance into crypto-religious practice) became for Yovel the model for a species of modern selfhood that first emerged in the seventeenth century. And according to Yovel, Spinoza laid the foundations not only for the modern self, but also for the modern conception of the universe as well. The philosophical identification of God and nature—the thesis of pure immanence—laid down a pattern of naturalistic explanation that would inspire many of the greatest thinkers of modernity, from Goethe to Einstein. In Spinoza’s work, Yovel concluded, we are witnesses to an inaugural event of both history and philosophy that passed “from the world of revealed religion into a world of secular reason and immanence.” In a more recent work, called The Other Within, Yovel deepened and broadened this thesis beyond the case of Spinoza to argue that the Marranos heralded a species of split identity and secularism that now typifies much of modern experience.
Yovel’s wide-ranging and speculative argument in some ways prepared the terrain for the publication in 2002 of Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment, the first volume of what would turn out to be an astonishingly ambitious work in serial installments on the fortunes of Spinozism in European letters and politics. Successive volumes appeared under the titles, Enlightenment Contested (2009) andDemocratic Enlightenment (2011). The guiding thesis of this herculean effort is that Spinoza’s philosophy served as the animating principle for the unfolding of a materialist and radically democratic sensibility that ultimately found its expression not only in works of philosophers and political theorists but also in the most forward looking revolutions of the eighteenth century.
Israel’s indefatigable and uncompromising commitment to his bold thesis has met with admiration and (just as often) with skepticism, especially from historians who suspect that terms such as “materialism” or “radical enlightenment” may be simply too labile and diffuse to serve the explanatory purposes required in a work of this scope. One of the risks of intellectual history on the broad-scale, especially when it involves the study of phenomena as capacious as political ideology, is that the precise contours of a philosophical concept will matter far less than the vague shape it retains as it circulates across time and space. Spinozism, after all, is something far more protean, unconstrained by logic and argument, than Spinoza himself would have liked.
What makes Nadler’s book so welcome a contribution is the care and the clarity of his philosophical exposition, and his restraint when tracing the wider implications of Spinoza’s work. Nadler refrains from bold interpretation—his ambition is the more modest one of faithful reconstruction—and his success on this score is also his book’s greatest virtue. Most of all he aims to remind us why the actual argumentation of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus warrants its reputation as one of the most revolutionary and exhilarating texts in all of modern philosophy. But he also considers it important that we not lose sight of the biographical and historical questions: Why is it that the Treatise encountered such hostility? Were its claims truly that much more radical than other contemporary works of political theory and religious criticism? And if so, what could have possessed its author to write so scandalous a book?
AFTER HIS EXCOMMUNICATION Spinoza quit Amsterdam, first settling in Rijnsburg, a village near Leiden, where he supported himself as a lens-grinder, and then moving to Voorburg, a hamlet just east of The Hague. He occupied himself with a commentary on Descartes (the sole published work in his lifetime that bore his own name on its cover) and then commenced work on the Ethics, the formidable work of metaphysics that provides the most elaborate statement of his own philosophical vision. It was while he was still busy with a draft of the Ethics that Spinoza felt himself drawn toward more political concerns…
David Horowitz Is Homeless: The 1960s radical decades ago switched his politics, fleeing the New Left to become a conservative provocateur. Then the right wing left him behind
May 7, 2012
The first thing that David Horowitz wanted me to know was that he rarely leaves the house anymore. But one evening this past January, he graciously mustered the energy to meet me at a strip-mall steakhouse down the road from his home in California’s Santa Maria Valley, because he wanted to make himself clear. “I’ve been ghettoized,” he said. “My wings have been clipped.”
Just a decade ago, a National Review editor labeled Horowitz “the Most Valuable Player of the Right.” Now, sequestered on an acre and a half of land with his wife and six dogs—five of them Chihuahuas—the 73-year-old ex-Communist firebrand juggles writing projects while keeping his distance from all manner of political distraction. “I don’t read any magazines. I hardly even read FrontPage,” he told me, though he is listed on the online right-wingjournal’s masthead as editor-in-chief. “I don’t read the L.A. Times or the New York Times. I despise the Times.”
Within minutes, however, he was grumbling about an article that appeared in the Times Magazine a day before, a long and sympathetic profile of the jailed former leftist zealot Judy Clark, who currently serves a 75-year sentence for her role as accomplice to a 1981 armed robbery—committed in the name of something called the Republic of New Afrika—that left a Brinks guard and two police officers dead. The article begins skeptically but concludes that Clark has genuinely reformed. Horowitz wasn’t buying it. “What I hold against these people is their unreadiness even 40 years later to tell the truth. It’s a total deception.”
This sense of an ongoing total deception—the word “total” is the crucial descriptor–perpetrated by the American left has animated Horowitz’s tireless crusade over the past four decades. A Queens-born red-diaper baby turned architect of Berkeley’s New Left, he spent three decades behind enemy lines; as a result he sees himself as the man best positioned to discover the opponent’s hidden agenda. As chronicled in his gripping, anguished 1996 autobiography Radical Son, the seeds of his political disillusionment were planted by his father’s reaction to Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 “secret speech” detailing Stalin’s crimes; instead of prompting a candid reassessment of his father’s loyalties, it merely confirmed the obstinacy of his Communist faith. Moving to Berkeley for graduate school, and later serving as editor ofRamparts magazine, Horowitz hoped that the New Left could advance a socialist agenda without the encumbrances of the God that failed. But David would eventually loosen the grip on his own deeply rooted dogmas in response to another leftist moral abdication: the support of brutal dictatorships in Cambodia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. “I thought to myself, would I rather be a prisoner in the hands of LBJ or Ho Chi Minh? It’s a no-fucking-brainer.”
Though the intellectual edifice of the revolutionary movement was already crumbling, it took the 1974 killing of Betty Van Patter, a friend he recruited as a bookkeeper for a Black Panther education center, to bring Horowitz to an emotional breaking point. Her murder remains unsolved, but Horowitz has mustered plenty of evidence suggesting that the killing was orchestrated by the Panthers, many of whom he had counted as colleagues and friends.
Rebranding himself as a Whittaker Chambers-style convert, Horowitz has since waged a compulsive rhetorical assault on new left icons like Kathy Boudin, Bill Ayers, Angela Davis, and Tom Hayden, who remind Horowitz of his former self and have built productive lives (and earned university sinecures) without fully reckoning with the enormity of past sins.
Atoning for his own youthful credulity with reactionary firepower, Horowitz has spent the past quarter-century in a mode of permanent apocalypse. “Being in the battle is kind of what I do for a living,” he said. He adopted an Al Pacino growl and likened his role to that of Mafia don: “I try to get out, but they keep pulling me back in.”
If what was once labeled extremism is now mainstream GOP boilerplate, then Horowitz deserves at least some of the credit. In a widely distributed 2000 pamphlet called The Art of Political War, praised by Karl Rove and endorsed by 35 state Republican party chairmen, Horowitz wrote: “In political warfare you do not fight just to prevail in an argument, but to destroy the enemy’s fighting ability. Republicans often seem to regard political combats as they would a debate with the Oxford Political Union, as though winning depended on rational arguments and carefully articulated principles. But the audience of politics is not made up of Oxford dons, and the rules are entirely different. … Politics is war. Don’t forget it.” If you can remember a time when conservative discourse sounded like an Oxford lecture hall, then you have a sense of how far Horowitz has helped to steer this ship off course.
Certainly he must have followed the recent Republican debates with glee, right? He looked at me with disgust. “They make me fucking ill. Politics makes me ill now.”
For Horowitz to remain authentic, and to keep the enemy on its heels, he must cloak himself in paradox. He has made a sport of provoking racially divisive confrontation, but three of his grandchildren are black. He still travels the country making the case for a muscular Zionism, but he has never visited Israel. He rejects economic determinism as a discredited Marxist method of interpretation, but on climate change his “leftist instincts are very suspicious. There’s too much money going to scientists to say there’s global warming.”
Yet in a media climate fueled by one-dimensional sound-bites, both Horowitz’s taste for scholarly provocation and his appetite for paradox no longer match the temper of the times. When not under direct attack, liberal commentators have mostly learned to tune him out, and, more painfully, no university archive has asked to collect his papers and reminiscences, a failing he understands as “a reflection of the ideological debasement of our institutions of knowledge by a movement whose hallmarks are narcissistic self-absorption and intellectual intolerance.” His most deeply felt grievance, however, is a perceived lack of encouragement from mainstream conservative institutions. (This is not necessarily a financial issue: His foundation, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, is underwritten by the Bradley, Olin, and Scaife foundations.) In his turn-of-the-21st-century heyday, shortly after publishing Hating Whitey, an assault on affirmative action and race-based quotas—or “the anti-white racism of the left”—that preceded his campaign against reparations for slavery, Horowitz appeared on op-ed pages, talk radio, and television nearly every day. (He even wrote a bi-weekly columnfor the liberal Salon.com.) But in 2012, his books are not just ignored by the New York Times, but by the Weekly Standard and National Review. “There are plenty of conservatives who don’t like my manner,” he admitted. “It’s too aggressive, too Jewish, too leftist.”
If you can do some heavy lifting and abstract his achievements from their corrosive consequences, David Horowitz has led an extraordinary American life. He is an authentically passionate and informed public figure standing at the intersection of autobiography, history, manners, and polemic, who has also managed to aggravate the entire American intelligentsia over the course of a long career in part because he can be such a crude and unapologetic propagandist. One need not subscribe to the lurid pamphlets sold by his Freedom Center to get the sense that Horowitz has sacrificed his intellectual capital to devote himself more fully to the movement.
Radical Son, which I would not hesitate to rank among the key political autobiographies of the 20th century, positioned the born-again Horowitz as a potential emissary to post-sixties progressives who had quietly lost hope in the idea of a liberated future. Though the book eventually seizes the opportunity to settle personal scores, most of his “generational odyssey” is charged with sympathy for those who felt that revolutionary ends could justify the most unsavory means. Horowitz’s riveting portrait of Huey Newton—at one time a close friend—paints the tempestuous, drug-addled Black Panther Party co-founder as both personally seductive and actively repellent—and by extension, renders the author almost criminally credulous. “I was naïve, always a slow learner,” Horowitz told me, but in Radical Son he chisels a kind of intellectual currency out of a postwar mass of accumulated disenchantment and trauma. This largely nonpolemical cautionary tale offers the same moral to radicals of every ideological stripe: The collapse of certainty is a universal constant.
But if Radical Son failed to provoke a collective mea culpa from Marxists and liberals, Horowitz’s public airing of his “second thoughts” also didn’t earn him a permanent front-row seat at the table of right-wing punditry. “There’s no solidarity among conservatives,” he said. “They don’t think of it as ‘Horowitz is a real asset, and we have to support him.’ That bewildered me. If I hadn’t created my own platform, I wouldn’t be able to function as an intellectual.”
He will say anything to get a rise out of the politically correct but is generally careful not to alienate his ideological compatriots. There is considerable political daylight between Horowitz and Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann, but both have accepted invitations to speak at recent Freedom Center retreats. Horowitz pointedly does not endorse candidates. The prospect of an unregulated free market does not enthrall him, and he does not vocally oppose same-sex marriage. The Freedom Center, until 2006 known as the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, rarely pretends to offer policy expertise. His experience with radicalism has left him suspicious of clarion calls to social progress…
May 7, 2012
In recent months, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has come under attack for its counterterrorism intelligence activities, including its alleged efforts to “map” ethnic communities and its surveillance of religious groups. It is easy to view this controversy in familiar terms of security versus privacy or non-discrimination. Seen in those terms, the natural solutions seem to lie in tightening and enforcing substantive restrictions and guidelines that govern police intelligence activities and investigations.
The natural and important focus on substantive restrictions on police surveillance and intelligence collection, however, should not obscure the broader structural and institutional issues at stake here: What role should local police agencies play in terrorism prevention, and how should their cooperation be organized horizontally (among local police agencies) and vertically (between the federal and local governments)? How much discretion should state and local governments have in performing counterterrorism intelligence functions? And how can counterterrorism tasks be integrated with other police functions?
The NYPD is a special case. It has a large intelligence unit and about 1,000 officers dedicated full-time to counterterrorism—far more than any other municipal police department—and New York City faces unique threats. That said, involvement of local police in counterterrorism intelligence tasks is not a unique phenomenon. That involvement may even grow in the future, as threats and counterterrorism strategies evolve.
Police powers are constitutionally divided vertically in the United States, so some key counterterrorism competencies and resources reside at the state and local level. A major architectural challenge, therefore, is integrating counterterrorism intelligence with local policing. The solution will not be one-size-fits-all; instead, the U.S. domestic intelligence system should embrace local government variation, input, and oversight.
OUR COUNTERTERRORIST FEDERALISM
Following the September 11, 2001 al Qaida attacks, governments at all levels—federal, state, and local—recognized that local police would play a significant counterterrorism role going forward. Many of the informational “dots” comprising the September 11 plot sequence had occurred and had been detected by someone, somewhere, at some level of government in the United States; others should have been seen and passed on, but were missed. Perhaps the attacks could have been averted with better systems and policies to discern, analyze, assemble, and act on such “dots” throughout the country.
Who would perform these functions, though? The FBI was reoriented after 9/11 toward intelligence functions and counterterrorism, but it is a relatively small domestic security agency for a country this size, and there is no American appetite for a new domestic intelligence agency along the lines of Britain’s MI-5. A significant part of the answer therefore had to be state and local law enforcement, where much of the human resources for intelligence functions reside.
Unlike most other democracies, though, the United States has a system of policing that is highly localized and heterogeneous. As a constitutional matter, the federal government may not “commandeer” state and local legislators or executive officials, such as police agents. Police scholars generally regard the U.S. system as the most fragmented in the industrialized world.
The result is that there are more than 700,000 local police officers from about 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies who may conduct relevant activities such as surveillance, profiling-based investigation, and data collection and sharing. Most of this activity is done in the service of broad local law enforcement and policing mandates, but it also contributes to a national security policy principally led by the federal government. These activities, moreover, are governed by a complex web of law: not just federal law, but also state statutes and state constitutional doctrine, municipal legislation and regulations, judicial consent decrees, and state and local administrative guidelines.
How effective are state and local counter-terror programs?
With a post-9/11 policy imperative of collecting, analyzing, and connecting informational dots to prevent terrorist attacks, the federal government launched a set of initiatives designed to enlist state and local partners. The FBI, for example, has invited state and local agencies to participate in joint investigative task forces, and the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security have provided grants and training to support the establishment of local intelligence capabilities, state and major urban area intelligence “fusion centers,” and data-sharing programs.
These efforts to mobilize and link together federal, state, and local agencies are still evolving, not only because working through the details is tricky, but also because the terrorist threat has been shifting, as have strategies for combating it. Some of the continuing architectural challenges in preventing terrorism include combining federal terrorism expertise with local knowledge, reconciling intelligence activities with community policing, and harnessing local, bottom-up learning to inform and improve our national efforts.
As to the issue of specialized expertise and local knowledge, a common mantra since 9/11 has been that local police are the “eyes and ears” or “front line” of the domestic war against terrorism. But there remains a dearth of systematic study of the effectiveness of state and local counter-terrorism programs. Critics argue that widely enlisting local agencies and agents into national counter-terrorism intelligence initiatives is, at best, inefficient because they lack the necessary expertise and institutional priorities to identify, investigate, and track the most significant terrorism threats; some local police forces also exhibit ethnic and religious biases that undermine their intelligence effectiveness (though recent controversies regarding federal training programs suggest that this problem is marbled through all layers of the law enforcement community).
Counter-balancing these concerns, local police are better suited than federal counterparts to perform some intelligence functions because of their superior familiarity with their local communities. This deep familiarity accrues because of local police agencies’ broad public service and community order mandate and because police forces and their leadership are generally drawn from the local area.
Moreover, the strategic wager to invest in local police intelligence architecture versus centrally-managed capabilities is related to the structure of the terrorism threat it is built to combat. International terrorist networks—especially those like al Qaida that are controlled or supported by a central core—are often detectable through technological and institutional capabilities that only exist at the federal level (like large programs to monitor communications, significant cooperation efforts with foreign government agencies, and centralized analysis of seemingly disparate bits of information). By contrast, the more that terrorism threats include domestic, and perhaps homegrown, dangers, the more dependent the government will be on tips and observations generated and analyzed locally….