4.05.2005

Right on the Nose

This guy is absolutely on the money! Nice work, Mr. John Wylam. I couldn't agree more!

Horowitz showed off weak writing

By John Wylam
GUEST COLUMNIST
April 05, 2005

I attended the David Horowitz event at the Union last Wednesday, saw protests from the right and left, and wanted to mention a couple of things. First, it was interesting that an individual who admonishes his adherents to go into classes and purposefully disrupt couldn't see the same strategy at work in Olscamp.

He should've recognized that what people on the left were doing was really fairly simple: showing him how this approach works in practice. If he recognized the approach, I didn't see any evidence of it. It would've been better for him to acknowledge that dissent by defusing it rather than stoking it as he did, but to be honest I believe he wanted loud, boisterous dissent. He struck me as someone who feeds off such things, which I found quite abnormal.

The second point is Horowitz's lack of true intellectual rigor. I don't often see public work so bereft of depth. I'm not referring to his speech, although its rambling, pointless, me-monkey sensibilities should've made people cringe. I refer instead to his writing, which is shallow and steadfastly refuses to do the very thing he insisted that teachers on all sides in turn insist upon from their students' essays: that they use credible sources, argue well, use counter-argument and refutation without demeaning the other side.

His own attempts are slow-witted; he lacks the enthusiasm for even risking a challenge to his own preset beliefs; and on a stylistic level, his writing is a horror show.

As an ACS instructor, I find serious value in conservative argument. In fact, the idea of checks and balances in the classroom are important, but what's needed in class more immediately than Horowitz's Stalin-esque notion of purging academia of its liberals is for conservatives to speak up more often in class, challenge liberal assertions through evidence to see whether they hold up and if they don't, find ways to strip that argument.

If you bring me that type of essay, well-written and serious, I'll notice. Sadly, Horowitz as a writer quite simply doesn't have game. I'm sorry about that. At least he understands the need to provide argument, as he mentioned in his speech. On that point, at least, we agree. Most likely agreement ends here.

I understand the feelings of students on the political Right. Those of us who teach here have to apprehend this, because we all ought to know who we're working with. Personally, I never presume a liberal tendency in the classroom; that's a terribly dangerous idea. As to ideology, I'm not interested in changing your mind about who to support in the next election but in helping hone your skills in argument and hopefully give you more than one new view of the country in which we live.

I might be able to get you thinking in ways you haven't before, but if so, that means I'm doing my job as a teacher, not as a political operative.

There are intellectual voices on the right who I respect and admire. Tucker Carlson's surely one, and if I might make a public request of the campus Republicans, he'd be a fascinating and engaging speaker, far better read than Horowitz and fully capable of nuanced argument.

Someone like Carlson would not only attract a good-sized audience, in my view, but there wouldn't be nearly the vituperative reaction Horowitz received.

And why did he get that reaction? Again, I think he invited it, so the inevitable reaction was his own fault, not the left's and certainly not the Campus Republicans, who by the way raised the $5,000 speaking fee themselves. My respect to them all, because that was anything but easy. I'm honestly grateful to them for bringing Horowitz; I may think little of him myself, but as a public voice (notice I do not refer to him as an intellectual) he still ought to be heard.

And if he invites political theater, particularly at the university he ridiculed online, maybe we shouldn't be terribly surprised. In any event, it remains vitally important to know what the other side has to say, no matter which side you're on.

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