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The End of Time
By David Horowitz
Having spent much of his career engaged in the political dispute of the moment or cultural battle du jour, David Horowitz steps back to reflect on the eternal in The End of Time, the controversial writer's recent foray into existential philosophy. Inspired by the author's first serious brush with his own mortality - he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 2001 - the book appears at first to be a striking change of pace for someone best known for right-wing polemics like Hating Whitey: And Other Progressive Causes.
With its melancholy tone and carefully constructed prose, the book's opening is intriguing and even a little artful. Horowitz - not to be confused with the David Horovitz who edits this newspaper - visualizes death as a horizon, which appears so distant in a person's youth that he barely notices its steady approach. Elsewhere, the author works with powerful images borrowed from Saul Bellow, who describes life as a "turntable" and death as "the dark backing a mirror needs if we are to see anything" meaningful about our lives.
With frequent references to his parents' sufferings before their deaths, the bulk of The End comes across as a deeply personal rumination on the ways in which people confront mortality and the nagging fear that their lives - perhaps human lives in general - don't ultimately amount to anything lasting or terribly important. Horowitz is admirably unintimidated by the heft of his subject, avoiding the trite reassurances and cliched homilies a less ambitious writer might have put forward. Readers may not enjoy the details, but they'll also appreciate Horowitz's honesty about his recovery from cancer and the effect of his experience on his understanding of his life.
Sandwiched between these sections, unfortunately, is an infuriating chapter entitled "On Earth As It Is in Heaven," in which Horowitz attempts to relate his own life and that of his father to the major political battles of the last century. Humbled though he may have been by his encounter with death, Horowitz is nevertheless unable to resist the urge to lambaste his political enemies in the most outrageous possible terms, which find their clearest expression in the title of another previous Horowitz book: Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.
American liberals, in his view, are essentially indistinguishable from the September 11 terrorists because both groups, apparently, "desire to put order into our lives and to heal the wound in creation." This in turn means the September 11 terrorists are just like communists in the Soviet Union, because both of these groups pursued a "utopian" view of the future which divided the world between good and evil.
Sadly, Horowitz writes, his father's leftist politics made him a member of this despicable group, which also includes Jews who strive on behalf of tikkun olam, or, as he defines it, the highly objectionable principle of "repair[ing] the world by bringing about the rule of God's law on earth."
In each of these ideologies, Horowitz says, the distinction between the righteous and the sinful logically leads to the annihilation of the latter group. "The secular purification of the world has a name: social justice," he writes contemptuously. "It is the sharia of political faith."
How these exceedingly contemporary catch phrases relate to the timeless question of human meaning is never adequately explained, and the chapter - coming in the middle of the book - is so sloppily thought-through that the beginning and concluding sections almost collapse in on it. The fact that Horowitz sees no problem comparing his own father to Muhammad Atta is his business - "Some may regard these speculations as unreasonable," he acknowledges. But his libel of left-leaning members of the Western electorate is as ludicrous as it is obnoxious.
According to Horowitz's absolutely perverse way of thinking, no distinction need be made between Stalinists, the September 11 hijackers and fellow voters who happen to hold more liberal views than the author. These groups all want to change the world according to their own vision, Horowitz argues lamely, and therefore are basically the same - never mind the entirely different motivations, tactics and sense of morality guiding them.
Members of the Right across Europe and the United States complain with legitimacy that their opponents are too quick to compare them to Nazis. They are right: regardless of his true intentions or the outcome of the Iraq war, George Bush is not Hitler.
But Horowitz commits an equally unacceptable sin of lazy, hateful moral equivalency when he puts American progressives and leftists in the same category as terrorists.
"The more beautiful the dream, the more necessary the crime," he writes, as though it's not possible to strive for a beautiful dream while compromising with differing visions along the way.
Death is "an injustice that no reformer can repair and no court can redress," Horowitz reflects. True enough, but the writer's scornful view of his earthly political opponents is poorly supported and morally inane - and easily the most depressing aspect of this gloomy 155-page treatise on death.