Culture, Science & Faith

The Left Should Listen to Camille Paglia

The feminist academic has some interesting critiques of her own side.

Dan Gilmore · Jul. 30, 2015

Hear the way Camille Paglia talks, and she is King Lear from the throne newly plucked. She sounds as mad as a lark — you’d sound mad too if you called yourself a Libertarian yet agreed with much of what socialist Bernie Sanders has to say. Paglia is a self-described “dissident feminist,” after all — a creature of the Left who has found a niche criticizing her own side.

The Left will probably discount much of what Paglia said this week, as the scholar, whose ideas on sexuality and feminism unseated the likes of Gloria Steinem, leveled the rapier of her criticism against what the Left has become. But Paglia speaks of liberalism and its most recent crusades from the inside. And just like in Shakespeare’s world, the fool speaks truth.

“Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true!” Paglia told Solon in a three-part interview. “Liberalism has sadly become a knee-jerk ideology, with people barricaded in their comfortable little cells. They think that their views are the only rational ones, and everyone else is not only evil but financed by the Koch brothers. It’s so simplistic!”

The vast right-wing conspiracy cannot be pegged on Paglia. She first rose to fame in 1990 when she published “Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti of Emily Dickinson,” a tome that proposed a different strain of feminism that was less about bra burning and more about arguing that women already possessed power. By the way she talks, she was once a thought leader in liberalism, yet the Democrat Party line moved past her ideas. Now she’s back.

In 2005, Foreign Policy named Paglia as one of the top 100 intellectuals. She is a person full of contradictions. She’s an atheist who respects religion, a Left-Libertarian who donated to the O'Malley campaign the day he announced. We’d like to say she came out of left field, but the left/right dualistic thinking about the political spectrum doesn’t fit Paglia.

Here are a few issues where Paglia punches a hole in the Left’s ideology.

When it comes to feminism, Paglia predicts that Hillary Clinton faces an old problem: Monica Lewinsky. The former first lady was complicit in her husband’s actions, going so far as to attack the people criticizing her playboy husband. That will not bode well with 20-something feminists.

“Monica got nothing out of it. Bill Clinton used her. Hillary was away or inattentive, and he used Monica in the White House — and in the suite of the Oval Office, of all places. … Hillary has a lot to answer for, because she took an antagonistic and demeaning position toward her husband’s accusers. So it’s hard for me to understand how the generation of Lena Dunham would or could tolerate the actual facts of Hillary’s history.”

Furthermore, she said:

“The horrible truth is that the feminist establishment in the U.S. … did in fact apply a double standard to Bill Clinton’s behavior because he was a Democrat. The Democratic president and administration supported abortion rights, and therefore it didn’t matter what his personal behavior was.”

Paglia is pro-abortion. She supports Planned Parenthood, but she was disgusted by the Leftmedia’s groupthink silence on the story.

“It was a huge and disturbing story, but there was total silence in the liberal media. That kind of censorship was shockingly unprofessional. The liberal major media were trying to bury the story by ignoring it. Now I am a former member of Planned Parenthood and a strong supporter of unconstrained reproductive rights. But I was horrified and disgusted by those videos and immediately felt there were serious breaches of medical ethics in the conduct of Planned Parenthood officials.”

As for the Left’s aversion to religion, simply worshiping skepticism and treating most religions as cartoons of what they really are, the Left’s monoculture doesn’t hold a candle to the beliefs that have developed over thousands of years of human experience.

“I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society.”

What would become of the Democrat Party if its members took Paglia’s thoughts to heart? The current Democrat Party, with its arguments against the exercise of religion when it comes to same-sex marriage, or its arguments against the First Amendment when the issue of super PACs arises, is no friend of Liberty of any kind.

Paglia is no economic libertarian, yet in a way her ideas of social libertarianism present an interesting comparison with some conservative thought. Namely, conservatives believe people should be free to pursue morality. That said, Paglia’s philosophical underpinnings certainly break away from conservatives when she talks about Christianity’s role in shaping American culture. She once said the sentence “God is man’s greatest idea” was the most important sentence she ever wrote.

If the Left did adopt more of Paglia’s ideas, the divide between Republican and Democrat would be less about Liberty and the dignity of humankind. A more complicated debate? Undoubtedly. But the net outcome would be a more honest political discussion, and a greater willingness to embrace Liberty.

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