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Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties.

They once opologized for communist atrocities. Now they apologize for anticommunist atrocities.

Hendrik Hertzberg is a senior editor of The New Republic.

* Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the '60s. Peter Collier, David Horowitz. Summit, $19.95.

No political stereotype is more banal than the youthful radical who turns reactionary in middle age. What Peter Collier and (especially) David Horowitz bring to this tired genre is an unusually vigorous strain of arrogance. The result is a book* that is almost, but not quite, as gruesomely fascinating as it is despicable.

Collier and Horowitz-or rather Horowitz and Collier, since Horowitz, though the less graceful writer of the pair, is obviously the dominant partner-are products of a small but influential section of the massive political uprising of the 1960s. From the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 1964, they moved through civil rights activism to the proHanoi branch of the anti -Vietnam war movement and from there to Ramparts, which they coedited during its extremist "revolutionary" decline, from 1969 until the magazine folded in 1973. When the New Left's disintegration accelerated during the midseventies, they gradually drifted away from it to write best-selling dynastic biographies of the Rockefeller and Kennedy families, though they continued to think of themselves as part of "the Left" until well into the present decade. In 1985 they created a minor stir in Washington with an article entitled "Lefties for Reagan" in the Post's Sunday magazine. And now the present volume, a full selection of the Conservative Book Club.

In Destructive Generation, Horowitz and Collier are a good deal harder on their former comrades than they are on themselves-their tone is accusatory, not confessional-but from incidental remarks, offhand admissions, and, above all, from their attacks on people whose actions and beliefs at the time were identical to their own, one can piece together a bill of particulars. During their radical years Horowitz and Collier, according to Horowitz and Collier, were guilty of treason. They were motivated "not by altruism and love but nihilism and hate"-specifically, hatred for their country, their parents, themselves, God, and all humanity. They were willfully blind to the nature of communist totalitarianism and eagerly embraced its Third World variants. As journalists, they knowingly suppressed and distorted facts that were inconvenient to their political views. Finally, they were guilty of being accessories to murder before and after the fact-not only the faraway murders of nameless Vietnamese and Cambodians after the communist victory they ardently supported but also, and more chillingly, the murders of Bay Area neighbors and coworkers killed by members of the Black Panther party, for whom they stored guns, hid fugitives, and, of course, made excuses,

People change their views as they go through life. There is nothing wrong with trying to learn from past mistakes. But in the case of Horowitz and Collier the question naturally arises: given their quite recent history as traitors, liars, and fools, why do they now consider themselves entitied to lecture the rest of us on political morality, patriotism, and the world situation-and to do it with such unremining self-righteousness and without the slightest trace of humility?

Witless polemics

Horowitz's and Collier's strategy for avoiding personal responsibility is to conflate the clique of Berkeley radicals of which they were the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with, successively, "the Left," the antiwar movement, the sixties generation, and finally with everybody to the left of Jim Wright. Contemporary liberal Democrats are variously dismissed as tools of "neo-Communists," "fifth columnists," and "a Left that works in behalf of America's totalitarian enemies and whose influence grows unimpeded." Horowitz and Collier are full of scorn for their moral betters. Michael Walzer, the political philospher, for example, is attacked for sharing with unnamed "splinter groups, special interest organizations, and newly minted 'minorities"' a belief that 'America" is "guilty and untrustworthy." A figure like Walzer is a special embarrassment to these two, because he is a reminder that when they were paying court to Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Huey P Newton, there existed a liberal and even a socialist Left in this country that opposed the Vietnam war without ever giving itself over to contempt for democracy o"hatred of America."

Not all of Destructive Generation is without merit. The first third of it consists of three fine pieces of narrative reporting: one about a radical Berkeley lawyer whose life was finally destroyed by the violent "revolutionary" prisoners she tried to help, one about the Weathermen and their descent into madness and criminality, and one about a pair of Vietnam combat buddies whose paths again cross when they become respectively a drug dealer and a cop. These stories are so superior to the witless polemics that occupy the rest of the book that they create a certain amount of mystery as to how they could have been written by the same authors. Horowitz offers a possible clue when he notes toward the end of the book that the three articles were written several years ago, when "we still considered ourselves part of the left community, even if we had moved away from left orthodoxy'"

The nuance and empathy that mark these reports are wholly absent in the polemics. Instead we find loony manichaeanism:

"It is often observed that a symmetry exists between the extreme ends of the political spectrum, that the fanatics of the Right are mirror images of the zealots on the Left. But once we leave the extremes, there is this tangible difference: the Right seeks to conserve (and the Left to undermine) workaday democracy; the Left seeks to defend (and the Right to defeat) the destructive fantasy of a heaven on earth."

Remember, these are moderates our authors are talking about. Or consider this, which Horowitz and Collier proudly quote from their "Lefties for Reagan" article:

"[Casting] our ballots for Reagan was a way of finally saying goodbye to all that-to the selfaggrandizing romance with corrupt Third Worldism; to the casual indulgence of Soviet totalitarianism; to the hypocritical and self-dramatizing antiAmericanism which is the New Left's bequest to mainstream politics."

It's hard to imagine anything more "selfdramatizing" than this absurd view of the issues in the 1984 election, in which, recall, the Democratic candidate was Walter Mondale, not Angela Davis. But then, in the eighties, as in the sixties, it's never enough for these guys simply to have an opinion that disagrees with other people's opinions. If Horowitz and Collier are voting Republican this year, it can't be because the Democrats' fiscal policies are wrongheaded or their defense policies inadequate; the Democrats have to be prototalitarian and antiAmerican. Twenty years ago these two thought liberals were enemies of the people. Now they think liberals are enemies of democracy. Twenty years ago they were uncritical supporters of communist jungle fighters who trampled on human rights. Now they're uncritical supporters of anticommunist jungle fighters who trample on human rights. Is there an echo in here?

Mariachi mistakes

Finally, in the one instance I independently checked, Horowitz and Collier get facts wrong. They report that the historian Ronald Radosh overheard a conversation in a Managua hotel restaurant between Alejandro Bendana, a Sandinista official, and two Americans, William Leogrande and Robert Borosage. According to Horowitz and Collier, Radosh heard Leogrande and Borosage advising Bendana about how to handle various U.S. publications, discussing with him the "reliability" of various figures on the American Left, and "telling Bendana who was 'with us' and who was 'against us"' among American liberals.

Curious about this, I called Radosh. He confirmed the overall chumminess of the conversation but said Horowitz and Collier had gotten a detail wrong. It was Bendana, not Leogrande and Borosage, who referred to the Sandinistas as "us." (In addition, Radosh told me he had difficulty hearing Leogrande and Borosage, because their backs were to him and a mariachi band was playing loudly.) How important one finds this distortion is a matter of judgment. I judge that it's pretty important.

For Horowitz and Collier, politics remains in the eighties what it was in the sixties, a persistently onanistic form of cathartic confrontation therapy which, like the dreams analysands present to their doctors, draws material from the outer world but arranges and distorts it in accordance with private needs. In Destructive Generation they leave no doubt that 20 years ago they were arrogant, mendacious know-it-alls who trafficked in hysterical hyperbole and diabolized those who disagreed with them. They haven't lost their touch.
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Author:Hertzberg, Hendrik
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1989
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