There’s a new book out, called Exit Right, that looks interesting if you’re interested in the political or intellectual history of the middle and end of the twentieth century. It’s a new history of men who started out on the far left and then moved to the far right: Chambers, Burnham, Reagan, Podhoretz, Horowitz, and Hitchens. There are new reviews by Sam Tanenhaus in The Atlantic and Alan Wolfe in The New Republic.
Near the beginning of Wolfe’s review, he discusses his personal encounters with David Horowitz. One is related by Daniel Oppenheimer in the book under review:
before Horowitz came to this realization [the loss of faith in revolution], he “participated in a small seminar at Berkeley, on the topic of ‘Marxism and Post-Marxism,’ with a number of his fellow New Left veterans.” I was one of those participants; the seminar helped me rethink my radicalism to emerge as more of a liberal than a leftist. It was not so much the books we discussed—I can barely remember what they were—so much as our attitudes toward Cuba and the Soviet Union, neither of which, to most of us, held out any hope for progressive change.
Wolfe says no more about this fascinating fact. Who else was part of that seminar at Berkeley? How many of them left the movement around the same time? What was the nature of Wolfe’s own change (to, as TNR readers know, a form of consensus liberalism), and why? We find out something about the passions and concerns that led his former friend Horowitz to drastically change, but little about the historical context in which he did so.
We seem to know so little about the people who were involved in political debate and action over the past hundred years. We know about the people who left Communism, and we know about the people who became neoconservatives, and that’s about it. And we know even less about people who are younger. Most historians of the 1960s and the New Left have written histories of their contemporaries but almost nothing about themselves (there are scattered exceptions, like Mark Rudd, who’ve written memoirs). Younger writers, like P.J. O’Roarke, those socially but not especially politically inclined, have written of their move from a libertarian liberalism to more of a right-wing conservatism, driven apparently largely by their rejection of drug use. Even younger writers have often written narratives of addiction and recovery (culminating in the notorious case of James Frey), implicitly assimilating “growing up” itself to a certain vision of sobriety. There’s the occasional spiritual journey, like that of Elizabeth Gilbert, and perhaps, not much more. Perhaps there’s little space for other stories in the accepted and expected narratives. Why that’s the case isn’t entirely clear.