In a presentation copy of Through the Looking-Glass (l871), Lewis Caroll wrote a brief note and his signature in mirror image, a nice metaphor to keep in mind when reading Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties. Peter Collier and David Horowitz were members of the New Left in the 1960’s; in the 1980’s they are Cold War warriors of the avenging Right. They have faced their past from the other side of the mirror, but they have forsaken none of the arrogance and self-righteousness that once made them anathema to the besieged forces of racism and imperialism. Their book, a collection of essays, further confuses the boundaries between liberal, left, right, moderate, and center—all terms that seem incomprehensible following the 1988 elections, during which candidate George Bush was able to becloud the traditional “liberal” in a miasma of rhetoric. The far Left and the liberal were welded together in his portrayal of the 1980’s; a generation ago, as editors of Ramparts magazine, Collier and Horowitz combined with others to accuse the liberal of being the soul brother of the reactionary Right. Wherever Collier and Horowitz appear on the political spectrum, their opponents are traitors, scoundrels, fools, and liberals.
An attempt at explaining this phenomenon is made in the third and final section of the book, where, instead of writing as a team, Collier and Horowitz offer individual self-portraits, each man recounting his political journey from left to right. Collier explains how he left Southern California in 1959 to attend the University of California at Berkeley. The Berkeley of that era, Collier recalls, was a city clean and pure, “a refuge for creative eccentricity,” a “liberated zone of cosmopolitanism within the provincial squareness of the state.” Once a great city and home to a great university it is now a sordid wasteland, marred by crime, a decaying school system, and anti-American politics. The cause of this tragedy:
“radical schemes and schemers.” Collier portrays himself as so politically naive in those years as not to know who Leon Trotsky was—so naive that he almost embarked on a private yacht to Havana to help Fidel Castro because “it seemed like something Brando or James Dean might do.” Instead he went to Berkeley and joined the march leftward. It was an impressive sojourn through the Free Speech Movement, a summer in Birmingham teaching at Miles College, and, following a failed bid to elect Robert Scheer as a congressman, a stint as a journalist for
Ramparts; all the while he was working on his Ph.D. dissertation on Jane Austen. At Ramparts Collier recognized the value of Eldridge Cleaver with his “background as a rapist” because it “gave us a certain authenticity we had lacked with radical blacks.” Through Cleaver, Ramparts formed a coalition with the Black Panther Party, a fateful act central to Collier’s and Horowitz’s peregrinations. In Collier’s account it is difficult to distinguish what he did from what the Left did—he mixes “I” and “we” continually, hiding perhaps his less than decisive role in the movement. He acknowledges that Ramparts specialized in “liberal bashing,” turning out poorly researched articles with facts shoehorned into “our view of reality.” Yet he stayed on and participated in this mock journalism, joining with Horowitz to remove Robert Scheer as editor; this was his act of war while others “stockpiled weapons” to prepare for the revolution that never came. As the Left degenerated, Collier watched many of his “old comrades apply to graduate school in the universities they had failed to burn down so that they could get advanced degrees and spread the ideas that had been discredited in the streets under an academic cover.” He and Horowitz (David more so than he) turned to the Black Panther Party, the members of which “allowed us white radicals to project our violent fantasies about ’vanguards’ onto them.”
It was at this point that Collier pulled back from “the radical brink” and found a refuge in his family. As the horrors of the crimes of the Left became apparent to him, he made peace with his father, who was dying from cancer. In a state of despair Collier turned to writing with David Horowitz. As they gained success—their biography The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty (1976) was a best-seller, and similar collaborations on the Kennedys and the Fords followed—they became increasingly estranged from their old friends and the positions they once held. In 1985 they published their famous piece “Lefties for Reagan” in The Washington Post Magazine; their transmogrification was complete. Collier told Horowitz he felt like an American for the first time in twenty-five years. Horowitz responded, “I feel like an American for the first time in...
(The entire section is 2003 words.)