22 August 2006 - Tuesday

The most dangerous subtitle in America

Apparently, David Horowitz has a weblog dedicated to his recent book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. I stumbled across it in the course of doing other Internetish things, and the latest post caught my eye.

Now, I have refused outright to read this book on the basis of its subtitle alone. I consider that subtitle inherently pejorative and defamatory; it makes civil dialogue impossible from the beginning. Interestingly, Horowitz admits that this subtitle is misleading. He claims that "Most Dangerous Academics in America" was not his idea, and that he opposed it at first.

The academics [profiled in the book] were all ideologues of the left, which meant that their growing influence in the academy would undoubtedly influence, in a negative way, America's war on terror. The claim that these professors might be the "most dangerous," on the other hand, was hard to justify. Because my intention was not necessarily to show extremes, but to reveal a pattern of professorial behavior that affected a larger group than I had included, there were obscure academics such as Marc Becker of Truman State, and moderate leftists like Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin. The inclusion of these three (and a few others) under the rubric "most dangerous" was sure to raise eyebrows, and legitimately so. This was of particular concern to me because I knew that my critics would jump on the word "dangerous" to avoid engagement with the issues raised in the book and to charge that it was a "witch-hunt."
How perceptive of him. I think he was right; to include "moderate" professors among the "most dangerous academics in America" just might lead to confusion among some readers.

But of course, Horowitz thinks this confusion lies mostly in the minds of the book's disingenuous critics, who use the discrepancy to "avoid engagement with the issues raised in the book."

I opposed the addition. "If we give it this subtitle" I told the publisher, "academics will regard it as a witch-hunt and no one in the academy will read it." My publisher's reply was this: "Who in the academy is going to read it anyway? They'll hate this book no matter what you call it and only ten of them will buy it, whatever its title. We need to market it to a large audience, and this subtitle will do the trick, and thatís what we're going to do."

Journalists don't write the headlines of their articles, and most book authors don't have authority over their book-titles. The campaign to taint me with the McCarthy brush was already extensive. If two hundred tenured radicals at Harvard could censure its liberal president and force him to resign, why would I think they could not discredit me, while discouraging academics generally from reading my book? [...]

So I went along with the marketing strategy, which seemed to work. In its first six months of publication, The Professors sold forty thousand copies and stimulated a national dialogue on the issues it was attempting to raise. But the strategy also facilitated the predictable attacks.

Something was bothering me at this point, as I read his post. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. There was something amiss ....

Oh, yeah. The weblog I was reading. Its title is Dangerous Professors. And its address is http://dangerousprofessors.net/.

So let's get real. Horowitz is no victim of unreasoning vitriol, at least in this respect. He is basking in the warmth of the fire he started with that subtitle. He is deliberately inviting his readers -- for he preaches only to the conservative choir, his claims about "national dialogue" notwithstanding -- to view even "moderate leftists" in the academy as a national security threat.

And we know what happens to national security threats, don't we?

Lest readers think the unfortunate subtitle was out of Horowitz' control:

Even though this was not a claim actually made in the text of my book, I am willing to accept responsibility for a provocation appended to the title page and cover by its publisher.
So be it.

| Posted by Wilson at 12:11 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Education Desk , Power Desk