It's Good to Be Dangerous Again
Editor's note: Conservative commentator David Horowitz's new bookThe Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America includes, at No. 44, UC Irvine history professor (and, according Horowitz's friend Robert Spencer, "Noam Chomsky as rock star" guitarist) Mark LeVine.
I'd like to thank the Academy for the great honor of being named one of the 101 most dangerous professors in America. Out of the tens of thousands of scholars teaching across this great land, it's special to be named to this auspicious list. Colleagues and friends come at me in waves, shaking my hand, saying, "Well done!" and "Keep up the great work!" Al-Jazeera wants to interview me. And maybe now I won't get bumped from a CNBC interview about the Danish cartoon controversy for a story on ink-jet printers.
This isn't the first time I've been called dangerous. When I was starting in the music business, I worked for a small but busy Manhattan recording studio. After a few weeks, the owner presented me with a plaque bestowing upon me the title "Dangerous Mark LeVine" in honor of the "mean" solos I played for his customers.
Twenty years later, it's good to be dangerous again.
I must admit, when I first got the news, I thought David Horowitz had confused me with one of my colleagues at the UCI Medical School. After all, they have apparently been responsible for a few needless deaths, or at least kept patients waiting for new livers that would never come. My crime, according to Horowitz, is that I've corrupted a few young and impressionable minds. But even there, as a Los Angeles Times editor reminded me, there are quite a few professors at UCI with reputations far more dangerous than mine, so I consider myself lucky, and, in fact, unworthy, to have been named the only dangerous academician from my university.
But I'm confused about what exactly it is that makes me so dangerous. Indeed, one of the assistant editors of the book told me (somewhat dismissively) that I was in actuality only "in the middle of the pack"—not really that dangerous at all, he said, perhaps more of a nuisance with potential, or only dangerous after long exposure, like saccharin or fumes at the gas station. Or maybe I'm guilty by association: Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industryand Beyond Chutzpah—and definitely one of the Top 5 most dangerous professors—was a reader of my master's thesis. And Noam Chomsky once told my publisher that he liked my new book, though apparently not enough to read it all the way through and write a blurb. Certainly this designation can't be meant to acknowledge what I actually write or teach. Unlike my colleague Joseph Massad of Columbia University, no right-wing organizations have felt it necessary to send spies into my classroom or get students who didn't take my class to reveal how anti-Semitic I supposedly am. On the other hand, some leaders of the Orange County Jewish community said they'd never give another dime to UCI after I invited half a dozen leading Israeli and Palestinian scholars to an open forum on re-imagining the peace process. They didn't mind the Palestinians, apparently, but felt that the Israelis "didn't represent mainstream public opinion in Israel." I guess they think that the best way to re-imagine something is to bring in the very people whose lack of imagination got us into the current mess.
But still, I can see that I have a lot of work to do. I have a way to go before I become a poster child for revoking the tenure system, at least in taxpayer-funded public universities. According to Mr. Horowitz—or at least the intern who "researched" the chapter on me—my main crimes seem to be that my website is too self-congratulatory (guilty as charged, but how else would Horowitz have noticed me?), that I am "responsible for a steady stream of anti-American and anti-Israel diatribes" (a bit of a stretch, since in my last book, Why They Don't Hate Us, I have a whole section criticizing the global peace and justice movement for doing this very thing), and, perhaps most damning, that I advocate a "quasi-Communist utopia" and a "classless society." This last bit is strange, since I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party or identified myself as a so-called "Marxist scholar." But even if I did, I'm not sure how doing so would make one "dangerous" to America. Advocating communism today is like rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers. I can't imagine a more irrelevant political position short of being a member of the Whig Party. I'll admit that I do teach Marx on occasion in the classroom, but if Horowitz has a problem with that, he should take it up with the nation's leading business schools; they teach him far more frequently than I.
Perhaps Mr. Horowitz, admittedly a former Marxist, is still hung up on his old flame? As for me, I prefer the label "post-Habermasian actually neo-liberal" ("neo" because political liberalism in the U.S. died in the first Bush presidency). I do confess a fondness for Antonio Gramsci; but I doubt even Horowitz would consider him a legitimate Marxist, since Gramsci felt that the cultural-political superstructure was as important as the base in determining the course of history.
As for being utopian? Guilty as charged. I have two young children and would like to see them grow up in a country, and the world at large, that lives up to the high ideals upon which the United States was founded. And unlike Horowitz and his generation of disgruntled ex-leftists, I still believe it's possible for America to live up to its founding promises, to be a force for good in the world rather than just naked self-interest, greed and the benefit of corporations with ties to red-state Republicans.
Does that make me dangerous? I wish it did, but I fear Mr. Horowitz is giving me and the American people more credit than is our due. As far as I can tell, the American empire is safe and secure, despite my best efforts to topple it. But it's nice to feel that my work hasn't been completely in vain, and I promise you, members of the Academy, that I will work tirelessly in the coming year to live up to the great honor bestowed upon me. I just bought a Protools music program for my Mac and have been furiously practicing my guitar. I even wrote a new song, "The Devil Went Down to Irvine." It's in the form of a chicken-scratch guitar dual la that song from the movie Deliverance. I'll play the guitar, and you, David, can be the "savant" banjo player like the kid in the movie. Then we'll get to see who's really more dangerous.
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