Dinesh D’Souza, Heretic?
By Bernard Chapin
Dinesh D’Souza is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a prolific author of works concerning politics and society. He worked briefly for the government in the late eighties as a senior domestic policy analyst in the Reagan Administration. As an author, he has always been a controversial figure. lliberal Education and The End of Racism made him hated by the left; but it was not until his 2006 release, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, that he found himself savaged by the right. The book provoked a tsunami of criticism due to the nature of his conclusions.
BC: It’s not hyperbole to say that your latest release, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, brought about a firestorm of contention. You were criticized by both leftists and conservatives. For what reason did the book outrage so many people?
Dinesh D'Souza: Well, it’s not surprising that the book provoked hysteria from the left. The position I take is not one previously espoused by the right concerning the left’s role in 9/11. The common view that conservatives have is that liberals are naive or simply don’t understand terrorist motivations, but none of my peers have directly pointed their finger at the left and said that it was the liberals who bear direct responsibility for the volcano of hate which brought about 9/11. The book does to the left what they have been doing to the right forever. They argue that our foreign policy produced blowback but I argue that their cultural policies and values are what sewed the seeds of 9/11. The book helps us understand the language of the left. Why are the liberals so reluctant to join in a fight against the most illiberal persons in the world? Regardless of our enemy’s values, the liberals refuse to say that this is also their fight. As the fundamentalists that oppose us are far worse than any Christian fundamentalists in America, it makes no sense that they did not sign up for the struggle. That the left reacted in a frenzied and hysterical way was expected. What was not was the reaction I received from the right.
BC: Ah, that brings me to my next question. Several very famous conservatives condemned your book including the likes of Roger Kimball, Peter Berkowitz, and Victor David Hanson. I know that you penned a series of responses, but what is it that so angered them? Also, how much does this type of criticism personally affect you?
Dinesh D'Souza: Well, I think I’m a very non-confrontational guy in person. As a result of my early political education at Dartmouth, I have developed a thick skin in regards to criticism. The hysterical reaction that The Dartmouth Review received in the early eighties gave me an initiation to politics so I’m no a stranger to controversy. I’ve come to expect a certain degree of irrationality from the left—not the liberals I mean—but from true leftists.
The difference with The Enemy at Home is that conservatives failed to take my back. That they chose not to do so is disappointing because my book is breaking new ground. So, in that sense, the reaction I got was completely different. There were half a dozen conservatives who went after me. Victor Davis Hanson and Peter Berkowitz are colleagues of mine at the Hoover Institute so the critical and harsh tone of their criticism disappointed me. At Hoover, there’s a divide among us concerning Bush and the Iraq war but Hanson and I were on the same side of the issue so his response was unanticipated.
The real point is that the entrenched assumptions conservatives have held for several years have now grown stale. With some conservatives when things go poorly, like they are now, they decide to continue pushing in the same direction with more force as opposed to examining their initial assumptions. Reexamination is what The Enemy at Home is all about. I do a post mortem on 9/11 and apply a microscope to the ideas we once believed were true and this could be one reason for the negative response on the part of conservatives. What I didn’t realize is that a lot of people have bought into a fixed framework of thought and have now decided to go down with the ship. I was the recipient of such conservative attacks. I think they drew their conclusions from the summary of the book and its title as opposed to my actual positions. The very idea that our nation had any culpability for the attacks of 9/11 outraged people. It’s not an unintelligent question to ask how the terrorists became strong enough to pull off the deeds they did. What emboldened them to act? Bin Laden was doing other things throughout the eighties and nineties so what made him decide to target us? Given my background as a strong defender of conservatism and America they should have know better based on my history.
BC: What can we do to correct the decadent trajectory of this nation? Is the culture war over with conservatives having lost?
Dinesh D'Souza: No, I don’t think it is over. I’ll give you an example. I live in southern California which used to be Nixon and Reagan country, but now it’s liberal country. Schwarzenegger discovered this so he has now moved to the left. It used to be that when people became more affluent they moved to the right, but we now live in a time where such people move to the left. My family resides in the suburbs of San Diego and our neighbors are quite liberal on the social issues but there are two very important distinctions which have to be made in regards to their worldviews. First, they are not liberal in the way in which they live their lives. Second, they are not liberal about their schools and their children. I see this in the reaction parents have to changes made at my daughter’s private school (I don’t want to go into the specific issues). Many of the liberals live by traditional values even though they’ll never go to a pro-life rally or watch Pat Robertson’s television show, but when it comes to non-political situations they’re actually quite conservative. Their opinions are to the left of their actions.
BC: You often used the term “liberal” to describe the left. In my mind this is a faulty practice as there is nothing liberal about most of these people. Do you think that conservatives should attempt to reclaim the word liberal from the left?
Dinesh D'Souza: No, I think it is a pointless argument. We’re moving into a phase of ideological redefinition. It will involve labels and terms but it’s really much more than that. For twenty years we’ve been in the Reagan phase. He had a three tiered platform and the liberals defined themselves in opposition to it. If we were anti-communist then they were anti-anti-communist. If we were against big government then they were for it. If we believed in traditional values then they took more libertine positions. Almost two decades after Reagan we still have the same labels. Look at “Islamofacist” which is a term that is quite misleading. There are important differences between the past and today. The Republicans continue to ride on the Reagan agenda. We need a new application of Reagan’s principals for the present. Liberals stopped being liberals a generation ago but conservatives had no alternative but to discredit the term they use to describe themselves. The word has been discredited to the point where all the leading Presidential candidates won’t use it as a means of self-description. Liberals flee from the label; whereas, conservatives are proud to call themselves conservative. Indeed, the candidates fight over who is actually the real conservative. Peter Berkowitz and the others are engaged in a largely quixotic attempt to rescue the word liberal. I don’t think that’s a good idea as with politics you really need to surf on the wave. If they call themselves liberal then you discredit them.