BOOK REVIEW Angels and inquisitors A Point in Time by David Horowitz
Reviewed by David Goldman
One popular comedian argues that it must be dreadful to spend eternity in
heaven. No matter how wonderful it might be at first, eventually you're bound
to get used to it and end up bored to death. By the same reasoning, one would
shrug off the torments of hell over time, and the experience would be the same
as heaven. Truth told, Dante's account of the saints contemplating the Godhead
in the "Paradiso" section of Dante's Divine Comedy always bored me,
without having to wait for too much of eternity to tick by.
This paradox came to mind reading David Horowitz's new book, A Point In Time.
For a quarter of a century, Horowitz has told unpleasant truths about the
political left where he spent the first
half of his career before turning conservative some 30 years ago. Horowitz
surpasses himself in this new essay, though, by telling unpleasant truths about
the human condition. What begins as a personal meditation on mortality on the
model of Marcus Aurelius shifts into a rough-and-tumble confrontation with
Horowitz has been wrestling with human adversaries all his life, and now, like
Jacob, he has wrestled with angels. Jacob bested the divine being (Esau's
guardian angel, in rabbinic commentary) but got a dislocated hip for his
trouble. Horowitz does not quite pin the matter down, but he does give Fyodor
Dostoevsky's guardian angel a black eye.
This undertaking took courage, for the Russian novelist's "Grand Inquisitor"
parable is a favorite of good people who agree with Horowitz on most of the
practical issues. Dostoevsky's discursion at the end of The Brothers Karamazov
is everywhere cited as an exemplary defense of faith against materialism, by
reduction ad absurdum. (I count more than 100 references over the years to this
parable in articles published in the religious monthly First Things.) The
Inquisitor famously denounces the returning Christ for refusing Satan's dare to
make bread from stones, admonishing him that the religion of bread - communism
- will displace the religion of eternal life.
It is easy to attack the fallacies of one's enemies, but much harder to take on
one's friends. Dostoevsky is a hero of faith to many good people; Horowitz
exposes the great writer's faith as inadequate, even twisted. The author of The
Brothers Karamazov gave lip service to life after death, but poured his
passion into an earthly paradise. Although Dostoevsky exposed the horror behind
the socialist utopia, he conjured another earthly dystopia. As Horowitz writes:
had written in his notebooks: "I want the full kingdom of Christ." He had then
crossed out the words "I want" and put in their place: "I believe in the
full kingdom of Christ." And then: "I believe that this kingdom will be
accomplished, and it will be with us in Russia." Other nations lived only for
themselves but Russia was different, he believed; it was a nation that lived
for Christ. "Now that the time has come," Russia would take the lead in
establishing the kingdom of God, "becoming the servant of all for the sake of
universal reconciliation ... [and] ,,, the ultimate unifying of humanity."
Dostoevsky, Horowitz concludes, "had become his own Inquisitor incarnate," a
nominal Christian who eschews the Kingdom of Heaven for earthly rewards. It
turns out that the writer did not find the prospect of contemplating the
Godhead through eternity especially satisfying, and preferred to bring heaven
down to Earth.
It is even worse than that, for Dostoevsky's apocalyptic vision required a
Satanic enemy, which turned out be the Jews, as usual. Horowitz writes:
quest for a redemption in this life faces a necessary enemy in the opponents of
its promised future. So it was with Dostoevsky's quest for a universal harmony
in Christ, whose path was blocked by a people who were by nature insular and
self-centered, as Dostoevsky viewed them - Jews. "The Yid and is bank are now
reigning over everything," he confided to his notebooks, "over Europe,
education, civilization, socialism." The Jew "will use [his bank] to uproot
Christianity and destroy civilization."
Like every would-be redeemer, Dostoevsky viewed the apocalypse as imminent:
"The Jews' ... reign is drawing nigh! Coming soon is the complete triumph of
ideas before which feelings of love for humanity, the longing for truth,
Christian feelings ... must give way."
The communist movement
to which Horowitz's parents adhered until the 1956 Nikita Khrushchev revelation
of Joseph Stalin's crimes, he observes, was Gnostic: it espoused a knowledge
which if wielded by an elite, the proletarian vanguard, would solve all the
problems of the world. Dostoevsky, I might add, abhorred Gnosticism in its
Marxist guise, but clung ferociously to another form of idolatry, the worship
of one's nation.
Men who have no faith in the Absolute Other, the God of the Bible, will worship
themselves - either their brains, in the form of Gnosticism, or their bones,
through tribalism. The tenacity of the Soviet empire derived from a devilish
combination of both: the Marxist claim to universal salvation wedded to Russian
To go straight to the intellectual core of Horowitz's book attenuates its full impact. He embeds a sophisticated theological argument in a
personal memoir, of family, homes, horses and dogs, in such a way that the
matter of morality looms up as an existential question, rather than as an
intellectual construct. It is affecting prose; Horowitz is trying to show us,
rather than merely tell us, the presentiment. He leaves the reader hanging with
the terrible question: What are our lives, and what are they worth?
Now that Russian communism is dead and Russian nationalism is dying, the
Russians as a people have no answer to the existential question. When people do
not know why they should live, they do not bring children into the world.
Russia is dying of disappointment: at a constant fertility rate, Russia's
population will fall from 142 million today to only 66 million at the end of
What Horowitz says of Dostoevsky applies to all of the European nations. The
leaders of France and Spain, the principle antagonists in the horrible Thirty
Years War of 1618-1648, each believed with solemn fervor that their nation was
chosen by God for his works, such that any act in furtherance of raison d'etat,
no matter how abominable, was sacred ipso facto.
And Germany (where the news always arrives late) discovered its sacred mission
to propagate its culture in 1914, and fell victim afterwards to the hideous
delusion of its racial superiority. The terrible thing is that Dostoevsky was a
typical European. Not just Russia, but all of Europe is dying of
disappointment. So are many Muslim nations, notably Iran and Turkey, as I
recount in my book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam Is Dying, Too).
As Horowitz observes, Jews appear less concerned with Christians with the
particulars of the afterlife. Some elaboration of this would have been welcome.
Eternal life and the resurrection of the dead are fundaments of Judaism, but we
strive to bringing eternity into our daily lives than envision the particulars
of the World to Come.
Other peoples do the same thing, whether they admit it or not. From the Jews,
Franz Rosenzweig remarked, the nations of the world first heard of eternal
life, but they sought to be eternal in their own Gentile skins, and tried to
appropriate the Jewish concept of election to their own tribe. Adolf Hitler's
"master race" perverts the concept of chosen people (as does Dostoevsky's
notion of Russia as the "unique God-bearing nation"). This had catastrophic
America's founders also envisioned a new chosen people in a new promised land -
Lincoln's "almost-chosen people", and (as Eric Nelson reports in his 2010 book The
Hebrew Republic) drew extensively on post-biblical rabbinic sources as
well as the Hebrew Scriptures. What distinguishes America from the failed
nations of Europe is the absence of ethnicity: because we are founded on a
proposition rather than a race, language or common history, America is immune
to the tribal idolatry that ruined Europe.
There are some things we cannot think about without projecting our own
limitations. That is true of the vision of an eternity in static contemplation,
as well as the displacement of messianic hopes onto a supposed earthly
paradise. We cannot imagine a conversation with God.
We cannot imagine eternity without reference to our own perception of time, any
more than we can imagine time at the moment of the Big Bang. And we cannot
build a paradise on earth without magnifying our own imperfections, as
Dostoevsky's example illustrates. We cannot live in the World to Come because
we do not know what it is like. And if we try to force fallible humans to live
in an earthly paradise, ultimately we shall have to kill them all for their
Horowitz is still wrestling. He informs us that he is not a believer. Where God
is concerned, Horowitz is a tough customer. He does not want easy comfort or
cheap grace. But his religious sensibility is so keen that people of faith will
find his book of use - not offensive, but disturbing in a productive way. And
that is what makes him such a perceptive writer on mortality.
A Point in Time by David Horowitz. Regnery Publishing (August 29, 2011).
ISBN-10: 159698290X. Price US$24.95, 128 pages.