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Lessons in Bridge-Building with Camille Paglia

Image by Patrick Kwang via Pixabay. Image by Patrick Kwang via Pixabay.

In July, Camille Paglia, the libertarian provocateur, atheist academic, cultural critic, and sixties-bred feminist, sat for an interview with Salon. Maybe that doesn’t sound particularly interesting to conservatives, but it should. What can a progressive publication's interview with a self-avowed lesbian and registered Democrat teach conservatives in an age of increasing polarization? A lot, actually. The interview itself is funny, filled with astute observations, and enjoyable enough to read (parts one, two, and three are available here, here, and here). But her little chat with David Daley has much to teach politically-active cultural stalwarts about how to deal with a difficult political landscape and an uncertain future.

In recent years, Paglia has spoken out about the dangers of campus cultural norms, writing in Time that contemporary youths are coddled, misguided, and unaware of their own bodies:

Misled by the naive optimism and “You go, girl!” boosterism of their upbringing, young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark. They assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic. They do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.

She’s also been frank about the reality of sexual differences:

[Women say] [m]en are not doing enough; men aren’t sharing enough.  But it’s not the fault of men that we have this crazy and rather neurotic system where women are now functioning like men in the workplace, with all its material rewards.  A huge problem here is that in America, we have identified ourselves totally with our work lives. In most parts of southern Europe, on the other hand, work is secondary to your real life. It’s often said that Americans live to work, as opposed to working to live.

All of this from a woman who genuinely believes that the nineteen-sixties were good for American culture. And, as you can read in the interview, these coincidences of opinion between Paglia and everyday conservatives are the norm. The reality is that many feminists, ex-radicals, and generally “liberal” individuals are critical of contemporary American culture, especially the re-emergence of language policing, the staleness of politics, and the vapidity (or complete lack) of our spiritual focus. Examples abound in generally progressive and moderate outlets like Vox and The Atlantic.

If conservatives want a political future, or even a cultural one, they must work with people across the aisle. As horseshoe theorists have been saying for a long time, the further an opinion strays to the edges of the spectrum (and the closer one gets to the center), the more it resembles its opposite. Moderate and radical conservatives have much in common with their moderate and radical counterparts, and any transformation of the political landscape will require cooperation, not insularity.


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