Former Montrealer Gad Horowitz is a rare example of a public intellectual who established his brilliance in one field, then shifted to several others in a continuing exploration of ideas and their effect on society.
Those who know Horowitz, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto, will be pleased to learn that a new book has been published focusing on his life and intellectual contributions as a radical thinker in Canadian political culture, psychoanalysis, Buddhism, Judaic scholarship and his latest passion, general semantics.
The book is called Subversive Itinerary: The Thought of Gad Horowitz, edited by Shannon Bell and Peter Kulchyski (University of Toronto Press, 376 p., $59.50). It contains an editors’ introduction, 14 articles by a variety of scholars, and three recent essays by Horowitz. Most of the contributors are political scientists, but others are specialists in aboriginal, Jewish and women’s studies, and philosophy.
As the editors note, Horowitz’s analyses in such diverse fields “demonstrate a range of concerns and nuance that defy our encapsulations … they reflect Gad’s rigour and lively curiosity: Gad the scholar constructing painstaking arguments as public intellectual and as our rabbi of high theory.”
Do you have an event? Need space for your community group? Get in touch
Unitarian Church of Montreal
Horowitz’s public persona is summarized in a question-and-answer session, followed by a more biographical look at his life by Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political scientist and frequent CBC commentator.
Horowitz was born in 1936 in Palestine, then under a British mandate from the League of Nations, and emigrated with his parents to North America, living in a variety of cities. After earning a political-science bachelor’s at Winnipeg’s United College, he obtained a master’s at McGill and PhD at Harvard.
The Horowitz family was well known in Jewish and academic circles. The family patriarch, Rabbi Aaron Horowitz, was a key figure in founding Camp Massad in Canada, North America’s first Hebrew-speaking summer camp, which promoted cultural Zionism.
One brother, Yigal, is professor emeritus of physics at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva, while a second, Asher, is a political science prof at York University in Toronto.
Gad Horowitz achieved a modicum of fame in intellectual and political circles as a result of his doctoral thesis at Harvard and his adaptation of the pioneering work of Harvard professor Louis Hartz.
I first met Horowitz and learned about Hartz as his student in a 1965-66 course on U.S. politics at McGill. Later, Horowitz and I met and became friends in Toronto.
In his groundbreaking Canadian Labour in Politics (University of Toronto Press, 1968), Horowitz challenged the then-prevailing notion that the Liberal and Conservative parties were virtual replicas of the “non-ideological” American Democrats and Republicans.
Horowitz used Hartz’s “fragment theory” of political cultures in the New World in proposing a major new interpretation. Horowitz argued that there was a significant “Tory” or “pre-liberal” remnant in Canada, and that explains at least in part why a “vibrant and legitimate socialist tradition” emerged in Canada, but did not to the same extent in the U.S.
As he put it in the book, in contrast to the U.S. with its dominant liberal tradition and revolutionary underpinnings, English Canada is “a liberal fragment” with significant Tory and socialist touches. Our political culture includes what might appear to be an oxymoron to some, the “red Tory” stream in Canada that Horowitz helped delineate.
The late senator Eugene Forsey and George Grant, author of Lament for a Nation, are examples of Canadians who accepted some socialist principles, or were critical of capitalist excesses (red), while adhering to such instruments of traditional authority as the Crown and constitution (Tory).
Horowitz shifted his attention in the late 1960s to psychology and psychotherapy, writing Repression: Basic and Surplus Repression in Psychoanalytic Theory: Freud, Reich and Marcuse (University of Toronto Press, 1977).
With his broad range of interests, the issue of repression was not entirely new to Horowitz. While at McGill, he invited German theorist Herbert Marcuse to speak at the university, before Marcuse achieved broader acclaim as a theorist. (One of his best-known students was American radical Angela Davis.)
Repression became a transcendent theme, since it clashed with the libertarian explosion of political and sexual liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
His fascination with the work of Alfred Korzybski, the Polish–American philosopher who developed general semantics, also is discussed by some of the contributors.
Horowitz attributes his interest to Korzybski’s central thesis—that civilization is “unsane” and is best understood by co-operative teaching and learning. That means listening and seeking to achieve a deeper understanding by engaging with whom one disagrees. As Horowitz notes, this school went out of favour in the late 1960s in part as a result of the polarization engendered by the Vietnam war. It was a time of advocacy journalism and the academic engagé.
As the editors say, throughout his search Horowitz remains a subversive: “He never forgets the indignities and the fundamental injustice of poverty that the established order rests upon and continually reinscribes.” And yet, he also “never forgets the destabilizing force and uncontainable pleasure of certain forms of laughter.”
The book should help solidify Horowitz’s place among Canada’s most prominent thinkers.