In Memoriam

Irving Louis Horowitz, RIP

A great scholar and publisher leaves us.

By 4.3.12

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Back in January, I received a set of galleys from Irving Horowitz, with a note asking me to look it over and, perchance, suggest a review to "one of your contacts." It was typical Irving: he was thinking about me because he cared for my continuing education (the forthcoming book was on France); and he was thinking about his authors (it was a collective book) because he wanted them to get some recognition; and he was thinking about Transaction Publishers, because it was one of their books, that is to say one of Irving's books, because there is no such thing, any publisher will tell you, as bad publicity, even if the reviewers misspell the author's name.

Irving Louis Horowitz was a publisher, a rebel, a conservative, a teacher, a scholar, a writer, a husband, a herculean force (dixit Wlady Pleszczynski), a incorruptible truth-teller, a scourge of phonies, a scold, a taskmaster, a slave-driver, a man of volcanic temperament, a man of great appetites, a traveler, a perpetual student, a Jew and an American, an intellectual, a friend of dogs, a basketball player, a decent man, a decent, decent man, a friend. Irving was my friend. I cannot, as I write this, believe he is gone. I know he is, because Mr. Pleszczynski just told me, succumbed to heart problems while you were in Africa, you sonofabitch (I thought, Wlady would never say that), what the hell were you doing in Africa when he was sick?

I calmed down. The last letter I got from Irving was, in fact, a cheerful message about that book: I had written back to say I would look over the galleys but I had a little trip to West Africa to do first, a small detour really in a life Irving told me time and time again was too full of detours ("When are you goin' to stop thinking you're 20 years old, you f***er?"), and sure enough, he wrote back -- I got the letter just before leaving -- telling me godspeed and good luck and he could not tell me much about that part of the world but he was sure I'd have stuff to tell him.

Irving answered his mail. He was one of the last great correspondents. He wrote real letters and posted them, always answered if you wrote him, expected you to answer him as well. He was a man of rough exteriors, old sweatshirts, overweight, cursing and swearing and sometimes bullying if he thought that was the only way to give you what you needed, but this was a man who had class. He had more class than anyone, because he was true. He was a no-b.s. man. He was real.      

Irving made more contributions to the social sciences, to which he committed a life-long passion, than anyone else I have ever heard of. He not only made fundamental contributions to his major field, which was -- the experts can correct me and I can tell them to go to hell -- the sociology of ideas, he encouraged others to do the same. And he did. His students and his authors are everywhere. A more selfless man you will not find twice in a lifetime, and this quality of Irving's is all the more remarkable (and amusing), as he always managed to make you feel you were doing him a big favor when in fact, as you realized after, it was he who was doing you the favor. Irving was a giver. But he understood how the system works, the human system. You got to give before you get. Get your degree, publish your book, give me a manuscript that I can publish, I can assure you it will be a mutually satisfactory arrangement. And it was.

Transaction, the firm he created and ran like a benevolent dictator with a few others, including his lovely and kind Mary, established itself as one of the major houses for publishing in the social sciences, and one of the very few -- the Free Press in its heyday comes to mind -- to have bridged the gap between academia and the real world of knowledge and learning. Irving had complete respect for the academic vocation; that is one of the reasons he created Transaction and published magazines and journals devoted to the transmission of knowledge and the popularization of research results and the free debate of ideas. Irving was an old-fashioned academic, who saw no reason why the results of scientific research should not be of interest to the typical literate citizen in a free society. For this reason he was also a radical, and it figured that he fulminated against the essentially, profoundly, noxiously reactionary and bigoted and elitist and wrong notions that permeated the academe, made it remote from the literate citizenry, aloof, arrogant and irrelevant, usually stupid too.

Irving was a child of the streets of Harlem. He played ball on the CCNY varsity. He was a mensch. He never, ever, downplayed the intellectual calling, the vocation of scholarship, the academic enterprise, the life of the mind. I have known many men, and a few women, passionately committed to ideas and to debate and intellectual inquiry and to the pursuit of truth, as best our feeble minds and our corrupt natures can grasp it, and of these many, I have even had the good fortune to know a small number who never, ever lost their child's wonder at the enormity of what it means to discover, to learn, to reach a point, just over the horizon, that no one knew was there.

Irving made you want to do that, to go over the horizon, to learn, and he insisted you had to be honest about it: if you went there, you went all the way and you had to have the courage to say where you had been. He was a Puritan on that.

Emeritus professor, holder of a distinguished chair at a great university, invited to other great universities around the world to teach and lecture, famous, admired, beloved, Irving understood the honors, their institutional value, and laughed at them under his breath. He was the kid from Harlem who had done well and knew what was what and what had real meaning. Living life fully, playing a good game of basketball, reading and learning and writing, defending ideas that you knew, as well as anyone can know anything, were true and truly arrived at, loving your wife, your family, your students, your colleagues, your friends, caring for what they did and worrying about what they failed to do, Irving Louis Horowitz was a man of whom it really could be said, he made the world a better place in his own time and we honor his memory and always will. And we love him.

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.