David Horowitz was more deeply invested than most. Raised as a “red diaper baby” in New York by his communist parents—who were so wretchedly Stalinist they forced him to watch Soviet propaganda films rather than mainstream US fare—Horowitz followed them into a career of far-Left activism.
This led him, during the early 1970s, to become aligned with the Black Panthers, who used Marxism and Black Power as covers for what was essentially a criminal gang run by a sociopath. When Black Panthers killed a female bookkeeper who had become an obstruction to their activities, Horowitz was astonished by the activist Left’s lack of concern.
Betty Van Patter’s slaying — that’s her in the thumbnail above — provoked something of a political re-evaluation for Horowitz. “The existence of a Murder Incorporated in the heart of the American Left is something the Left really doesn’t want to know or think about,” he later wrote. “Such knowledge would refute its most cherished self-understandings and beliefs. It would undermine the sense of righteous indignation that is the crucial starting point of a progressive attitude. It would explode the myths on which the attitude depends.”
A wonderful section of Horowitz’s autobiography, Radical Son, tells of the precise moment all of the Left’s hypocrisies, deceits, corruption and dishonesty came together for him. Having worked for his whole life on leftist causes, Horowitz realised in one shattering instant that his life to that point had been in service to a lie:
Until now, I had been guided by a vision of the future in which an unjust world would finally be put right. It was the prism through which I judged the reality around me, and whose spectrum provided the justifications for everything I did.
Like all radicals, I lived in some fundamental way in a castle in the air. Now I had hit the ground hard, and had no idea how to get up or go on. I was, in fact, like a person who was already dead.
Horowitz survived, thank God, and since the mid-1980s has been an energetic warrior for conservatism.
For other ex-leftists, conversion is less dislocating. US satirist P.J. O’Rourke jokes that all it took for him to swing rightwards was seeing how much tax was deducted from his first pay cheque. A Jewish friend says he switched to conservatism “about one second after the first jet hit the World Trade Center”.
In my case, having been raised in one of Australia’s safest Labor seats and dutifully voted Labor in every election from 1984 to 1991, conversion was a gradual multi-step process. My fellow leftists got the ball rolling, as is so frequently the case in these matters.
In 1983, during my solitary year at university, a boring but worthy anti-war left-wing film was followed by a young feminist speaker who declared there would be no violence if women led the world’s governments.
“What about Margaret Thatcher?” I asked, this being only a year after the Falklands War.
“She’s a man,” the speaker shot back. I laughed, but she didn’t, and neither did anyone else in the screening room. Small note to self: my comrades are not inclined to face awkward facts.
In 1984, living in a Carlton share house with a batch of leftists, it was decided that the household as a collective would march against nuclear weapons. We earnestly stomped through the city behind a banner depicting planet earth and asking to preserve it for future generations.
This column appears in the June edition of Quadrant
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One week later it was decided we would march again. (I have no idea how these decisions were made. I just recall coming home from whatever work I could find at the time and discovering some sort of edict had been handed down. The house was run much as Kim Jong-un runs North Korea, and on much the same economic platforms.) This time we were set to march for abortion rights, but I was disinvited on the morning of the demonstration after asking what I thought was a reasonable question.
“Why,” I’d wondered aloud over breakfast, “are we worried about future generations being killed by nuclear bombs but not worried about future generations being killed by abortion?”
I might have added something about abortion victims being far closer to becoming future generations than were any unborn theoretical humans from decades forward. In any case, no march for me. I didn’t last very long at that joint. Small note to self: my comrades are not inclined to consider possible contradictions.
Little moments like that kept adding up, incrementally nudging me away from leftism but not yet to full conversion. In 1988, watching a John Pilger documentary with lefty friends, another such moment occurred.
Pilger, as usual, was complaining about colonialism and racism and Aboriginal injustice, so naturally we—uniformly white, urban and privileged—were lapping it up. The documentary then shifted to the former nuclear testing site at Maralinga in South Australia, where seven British bombs were detonated in the 1950s and 1960s. Pointing to a sign warning of radiation danger, Pilger observed mournfully that it was written in several languages—“but not in the Aboriginal language”.
Startled by this claim, I looked around the room. Everyone was silent, including a few who had studied Aboriginal history in considerable depth, and so must have known that Pilger’s line was completely wrong. So I just said it: “There is no single Aboriginal language. And no Aboriginal language has a written form.”
I didn’t last long with that bunch of friends, either. Small note to self: my comrades will deny even their own knowledge if it runs counter to a preferred leftist version of events.
Within another four years my conversion was complete. The best part of adopting conservatism after years of leftism, by the way, is how much easier life becomes. If you’re a conservative, facts are generally all you need to establish a case or mount an argument. If you’re a leftist, however, you always have to find a way around the facts, which is why combative lefties always sound like lawyers knowingly representing a guilty client.
Also, when you’re a conservative there’s a lot less marching. And the movies are better.
SPEAKING of political journeys, Mark Latham’s has been one for the ages. In the space of thirteen furious years, he’s gone from being a potential Labor prime minister to a man so scorned by his party that it’s banned him for life.
Entertainingly, many of Latham’s angriest critics would have voted for him in 2004. Then again, in an election against John Howard, your rusted-on Labor types would have voted for an animatronic flesh robot programmed to speak in a form of English known only to itself.
In fact, three years later they did.
Anti-Latham forces online are worth following for their sheer vehemence alone. “All those years of wishing for a chance to vote against Mark Latham,” wrote one Laborite after Latham announced he was joining the Liberal Democrats. “Thank you Mark for making an old man’s dream come true.”
Well, he could have made that dream come true thirteen years ago, but that would have meant voting for a candidate opposed to Labor. Certain boundaries must never be crossed.
It’s just a theory, but the Labor fans who are now so consumed by Latham hatred would probably not react so wildly if either Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard were to abandon the party. Neither of those two former Labor prime ministers are possessed of personalities that allow for Labor myth-making and hero worship.
To win Labor hero status, the perfect Labor leader must basically be a three-dimensional Australianised version of the toiling types found in Soviet socialist realism art—except not quite so physically imposing, because Labor heroes rarely labour manually. Either way, Rudd and Gillard don’t even come close.
Latham, on the other hand, excited Labor fever dreams like no candidate since St Gough himself. He was from Sydney’s western suburbs, so he had that whole Keating thing happening, and he looked completely at home in a pub, in the manner of a pre-parliament Bob Hawke.
Labor-loving journalists therefore felt able, back in the day, to decorate Latham with all manner of heroic imagery. On February 3, several months before the October 2004 election, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Alan Ramsey characterised Latham as some kind of holy ALP justice machine.
“Have a look at page three of the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday,” Ramsey wrote. “There is a photo there which shows John Howard like you’ve not seen him before. A little grey man burdened by, what? Responsibility? His conscience? The thought of the Mack truck bearing down?”
A couple of months later: “John Howard, by any measure, did nothing this week to avoid that Mack truck coming for him.” And in June, with the election drawing ever nearer: “Latham hasn’t budged. The Mack truck is still coming.”
Right there may be the reason why the loathing of Latham is now so intense. They absolutely idolised him. You might even describe their behaviour, to use a celebrated Lathamism, as being that of a conga-line of suckholes.
Too bad for them Latham turned out to be more flexible of mind and less reflexively tribal than standard-issue Labor devotees, who await their next God-truck rolling down the Hume.
Presently they’re fixated upon Anthony Albanese, of all people. Good luck with that, children.