Paglia’s latest on the culture wars

Here’s a bit from a Camille Paglia interview (by Claire Lehmann, Quillette, 10NOV18) on how we got to this point in the culture wars.

I don’t always agree with Paglia, but she is a reminder of a common political fallacy. Anyone who criticizes identity politics is assigned to the Right by default. This is a false binary. There are quite a few of us who critique identity politics not from the Right but from what seems to us true left, a more or less Marxist-based 1960s radicalism. From this vantage point, the identity politics Left seems just another version of the authoritarian Right, with its sharp lines between races and genders, its reliance on us vs them models, and its ideological concentration of power and policing of all dissent.

Anyway, on to Paglia …

“As I argued in … [1991] Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault were already outmoded thinkers even in France, where their prominence had been relatively brief. There was nothing genuinely leftist in their elitist, monotonously language-based analysis. On the contrary, post-structuralism was abjectly reactionary, resisting and reversing the true revolution of the 1960s American counterculture, which liberated the senses and reconnected the body and personal identity to nature, in the Romantic manner . . .

“Post-structuralism, along with identity politics, made huge gains in the 1970s, as the old guard professors proved helpless against a rising tide of rapid add-on programs and departments like women’s studies and African-American studies. The tenured professoriate seemed not to realize that change of some kind was necessary, and thus they failed to provide an alternative vision of a remodeled university of the future. I myself was lobbying for interdisciplinary innovation in the humanities—something that remained highly controversial right through the 1980s . . .

“Helped along by a swelling horde of officious, overpaid administrators, North American universities became, decade by decade, political correctness camps. Out went half the classics, as well as pedagogically useful survey courses demonstrating sequential patterns in history (now dismissed as a “false narrative” by callow theorists). Bookish, introverted old-school professors were not prepared for guerrilla warfare to defend basic scholarly principles or to withstand waves of defamation and harassment . . . [They] never systematically engaged or critiqued … [That] was left instead to self-identified conservatives. The latter situation was clearly counterproductive, insofar as it enabled the bourgeois faux leftists of academe to define themselves and their reflex gobbledygook as boldly progressive . . .

“I am an equity feminist: that is, I demand equal opportunity for women . . . However, I oppose special protections for women as inherently paternalistic . . . Women have rarely worked side by side with men in the way they now do . . . Despite their general affluence, professional women of the Western world have been chronically unhappy for decades, and I conjecture that it is partly because they have been led to expect happiness from a mechanical work environment that doesn’t make men happy either…”

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5 thoughts on “Paglia’s latest on the culture wars

  1. Interesting, although from my right-wing perspective, I associate authoritarianism and “us versus them models” as characteristic of the left. Wasn’t it Marx who first divided people into workers and capitalists? Perhaps labels themselves are nonsensical.


    • Hi Steve. Sure, over the long stretch of history, both sides have had their dividers. As you know, I anchor to the 1960s Left with Martin Luther King and the hippies. I think you’ll grant me that MLK had a unifying philosophy, albeit one resisted by those who clung to the old divisions. Per the hippies, I defer to Jeffrey Shurtleff’s stage suggestion to the crowd at Woodstock that the hippie revolution was different from other revolutions “in that we have no enemies.” Of course, Shurtleff knew that the anti-war hippies had their opponents, but I think his point (a point made over and over by MLK and Gandhi and Mandela) was that, despite the present pitched battle, we are all in this together on the spaceship earth and our opponents now might be our friends down the road. Shared humanness was, after all, the key to liberatory discourses (and I will call them “Left” since they were bucking the Establishment for change) from Mary Wollstonecraft and Olaudah Equiano to Frederick Douglass to the aforementioned 20th-century figures. The Right, by the way, has had its dividers, too — most obviously, the authoritarian regimes of the mid-20th-century and the segregationists of the 1960s, but we could go on from there. With those days as my reference, I recall a tremendous hippie push toward breaking down all the divisive barriers between races, countries, gender orientations, etc. There was definitely a powerful (and subversive) push to bring all people of all kinds together with a new vision. At least you can take comfort in the fact that I agree with you that the recent (divisive) Left has fallen away from (and is indeed reversing) that unifying 60s-based vision.


        • Hahaha. Yes, there is a place for both of us. The forthcoming Utopian commune will disappoint both the Left and the Right by being open to all manner of sane and crazy points of view with a recognition that we’re all in this together. Btw, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think of you as right-wing 🙂 More of a freethinking libertarian who would fit reasonably well with the libertarians of 40 years ago but would be reviled by today’s US libertarians (who are rapidly devolving into anti-choice, anti-evolution, anti-education religious nuts who believe in automatic weapons for all comers and fear environmental protection and universal health care as if they were the plague).


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