Do We Matter?
A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption in this Life and the Next, by David Horowitz, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2011
David Horowitz has written many books about politics, and an autobiography, Radical Son, describing his own political evolution from left to right. In recent years, he has written a series of books that are far more personal, and less political, including one describing the life of his daughter Sarah, written after her sudden death.
His latest book is a rumination on death, the fate that awaits all living things. Now in his 8th decade, with a growing list of medical conditions and infirmities, Horowitz knows he is slowing down. He admits that his passions are dimming, and his life has become simpler and more routinized. A man who grew up in the heart of urban America seems content to live in a rural Southern California setting, with his wife, his horses, and his dogs. He writes, he walks around the property, he appreciates the connections with his family and his animals. And in this book, he tries to make sense of the life he has lived, what comes next, and human existence.
In this short volume, Horowitz touches on a number of subjects that have obsessed philosophers and religious leaders for thousands of years:
What is the purpose of our existence?
Is there anything after death?
Are we part of a march of history that is progressing towards a better world?
Does religious faith make facing death easier?
If we believe that we are judged by God, does this make us behave better?
If we believe we are judged only by our fellow man, what makes us behave better towards others?
Horowitz devotes major portions of the book to two writers who considered these subjects 1,700 years apart -- Marcus Aurelius and Fyodor Dostoevsky. It has been a long time since I read anything by Dostoevsky, and Aurelius was new to me. Aurelius poses questions he cannot answer:
"If the universe is only a confused mass of dispersing elements, why should I desire to continue any longer in it? Why should I care for anything but how I return to earth again?" Aurelius is a stoic, but he has trouble accepting that all his efforts are without meaning, and that one day he will simply vanish. So he poses a different question: "Is the world a chaos or a work of beauty?" If the latter, that suggests an order and a design, and there must be Gods, and they must take care of the world. Rather than accept nothingness, and the meaninglessness of existence, Aurelius offers the alternative of faith in a purposeful God. As Horowitz puts it: "I believe, therefore I am."
Horowitz begins the book with a section on his father, and the misery he experienced for his failure to personally advance the grand transformation that would make the world more just. Horowitz describes his father as "a missionary of the promised future in which a gentle rain of justice would nourish every seed." That justice, produced by the march of history, was best administered by the collective, of course, and based on knowledge, not any morality derived from religious texts. It would be a more just world when economic security and fairness were delivered by the state, allowed to trump individual freedom, in order to eliminate the unfairness of inequality.
Horowitz's section on Dostoevsky also explores the novelist's views on the meaning of life. Horowitz relates that this author was not one his father cared to read. After all, Dostoevsky, much like Horowitz himself, made the switch from young radical to virulent critic of socialism.
Socialism is a modern incarnation of godlessness, the tower of Babel built without God, not to raise earth to heaven but to bring heaven down to earth.
Horowitz says his father viewed the Russian novelist as a social reactionary, an enemy of the future and the utopian vision. Just as bad, if not worse from his father's perspective, Dostoevsky was a religious believer. He argued:
Neither a man nor a nation can live without a higher idea. ... There is only one such idea on this earth, that of an immortal human soul; all the other "higher ideas" by which men live flow from that. ... It is only men's belief in the immortality of their souls that makes it possible for them to love one another, for morality to exist.
Horowitz is not a religious believer. And he parts company with Aurelius and Dostoevsky by accepting the fate that the stoic rejects:
Some days I sit on my back porch looking up through the trees and their shivering boughs to the sky above, and think about going, and find myself completely at peace with this prospect. I have felt this way for some time now, comfortable with the idea that soon I will be no one and nowhere, and comforted in a stoic way by the knowledge that it doesn't add up.
But Horowitz does not conclude from this that how he behaves personally and how he lives his days are meaningless.
The life we now have is all we will get, and therefore is what is important. My sons and daughters have worked to bring health and pleasure to others and to aid troubled and disabled children. They understand that if the world is to be redeemed it will be one individual at a time. I take satisfaction in that.
And as for his writing, to which he continues to devote significant time, he explains that while his books may matter to some, he writes because it is important to him. He is a writer. In a thousand years, or a hundred thousand years, who will know of any of this? Our lives are but a speck in the history of the universe, and we are the only living creatures on this planet who can be troubled by the insignificance of our lives.
This book will provide little comfort to many readers. Horowitz does not count on the immortality of his soul, or any kind of reincarnation into a new life at some point. For him, death is final. But Horowitz does not argue that the believers are wrong. He is simply not among their ranks. Whether we believe, and whether that belief is for our own sanity, or for the good of the world, are separate questions.
Richard Baehr is chief poltiical correspondent of American Thinker.