Free Speech & the Modern Campus

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This paper is a modified version of a talk that was given at the Smart Set Forum: Free Speech on the College Campus on April 21, 2016 at Drexel University. The Forum was sponsored by the Pennoni Honors College.

Our current controversies over free speech on campus actually represent the second set of battles in a culture war that erupted in the U.S. during the late 1980s and that subsided by the mid-1990s — its cessation probably due to the emergence of the World Wide Web as a vast, new forum for dissenting ideas. The openness of the web scattered and partly dissipated the hostile energies that had been building and raging in the mainstream media about political correctness for nearly a decade. However, those problems have stubbornly returned, because they were never fully or honestly addressed by university administrations or faculty the first time around. Now a new generation of college students, born in the 1990s and never exposed to open public debate over free speech, has brought its own assumptions and expectations to the conflict.

As a veteran of more than four decades of college teaching, almost entirely at art schools, my primary disappointment is with American faculty, the overwhelming majority of whom failed from the start to acknowledge the seriousness of political correctness as an academic issue and who passively permitted a swollen campus bureaucracy, empowered by intrusive federal regulation, to usurp the faculty’s historic responsibility and prerogative to shape the educational mission and to protect the free flow of ideas. The end result, I believe, is a violation of the free speech rights of students as well as faculty.

What is political correctness? As I see it, it is a predictable feature of the life cycle of modern revolutions, beginning with the French Revolution of 1789, which was inspired by the American Revolution of the prior decade but turned far more violent. A first generation of daring rebels overthrows a fossilized establishment and leaves the landscape littered with ruins. In the post-revolutionary era, the rebels begin to fight among themselves, which may lead to persecutions and assassinations. The victorious survivor then rules like the tyrants who were toppled in the first place. This is the phase of political correctness — when the vitality of the founding revolution is gone and when revolutionary principles have become merely slogans, verbal formulas enforced by apparatchiks, that is, party functionaries or administrators who kill great ideas by institutionalizing them.

What I have just sketched is the political psychobiography of the past 45 years of American university life. My premises, based on my own college experience at the dawn of the counterculture, are those of the radical Free Speech Movement that erupted at the University of California at Berkeley in the Fall of 1964, my first semester at the State University of New York at Binghamton. The Berkeley protests were led by a New York-born Italian-American, Mario Savio, who had worked the prior summer in a voter-registration drive for disenfranchised African-Americans in Mississippi, where he and two colleagues were physically attacked for their activities. When Savio tried to raise money at Berkeley for a prominent unit of the Civil Rights Movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he was stopped by the university because of its official ban on political activity on campus.

The uprising at Berkeley climaxed in Savio’s fiery speech from the steps of Sproul Hall, where he denounced the university administration. Of the 4000 protestors in Sproul Plaza, 800 were arrested. That demonstration embodied the essence of 1960s activism: it challenged, rebuked, and curtailed authority in the pursuit of freedom and equality; it did not demand, as happens too often today, that authority be expanded to create special protections for groups reductively defined as weak or vulnerable or to create buffers to spare sensitive young feelings from offense. The progressive 1960s, predicated on assertive individualism and the liberation of natural energy from social controls, wanted less surveillance and paternalism, not more.

The entire political and cultural trajectory of the decades following World War II in the U.S. was a movement away from the repressions of the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union, when the House Un-American Activities Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives searched for signs of Communist subversion in every area of American life. A conspicuous target was the Hollywood film industry, where many liberals had indeed been drawn to the Communist Party in the 1930s, before the atrocities of the Stalinist regime were known. To fend off further federal investigation, the major studios blacklisted many actors, screenwriters, and directors, some of whom, like a favorite director of mine, Joseph Losey, fled the country to find work in Europe. Pete Seeger, the leader of the politicized folk music movement whose roots were in the social activism of Appalachian coal-miners in the 1930s, was banned from performing on network TV in the U.S. in the 1950s and ‘60s.

There were sporadic landmark victories for free speech in the literary realm. In 1957, local police raided the City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco and arrested the manager and owner, Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for selling an obscene book, Allen Ginsberg’s epic protest poem, Howl. After a long, highly publicized trial, Howl was declared not obscene, and the charges were dropped. The Grove Press publishing house, owned by Barney Rosset, played a heroic role in the battle against censorship in the U.S. In 1953, Grove Press began publishing affordable, accessible paperbacks of the voluminous banned works of the Marquis de Sade, a major thinker about sex and society at the close of the Enlightenment. In 1959, the Grove Press edition of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, then banned in the U.S., was confiscated as obscene by the U.S. Postal Service. Rosset sued and won the case on federal appeal. In 1961, the publication by Grove Press of another banned book, Henry Miller’s 1934 novel, Tropic of Cancer, led to 60 obscenity trials in the U.S. until in 1964 it was declared not obscene and its publication permitted.

One of the supreme symbols of newly militant free speech was Lenny Bruce, who with Mort Sahl transformed stand-up comedy from its innocuous vaudevillian roots into a medium of biting social and political commentary. Bruce’s flaunting of profanity and scatology in his improvisational onstage act led to his arrest for obscenity in San Francisco in 1961, in Chicago in 1962, and in New York in 1964, where he and Howard Solomon, owner of the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, were found guilty of obscenity and sentenced to jail. Two years later, while his conviction was still under appeal, Bruce died of a drug overdose at age 40.

This steady liberalizing trend was given huge impetus by the sexual revolution, which was launched in 1959 by the marketing of the first birth control pill. In Hollywood, the puritanical studio production code, which had been adopted in the early 1930s under pressure from conservative groups like the Legion of Decency and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was gradually breaking down and was finally abandoned by the late 1960s. The new standard of sexual expression was defined by European art films, with their sophisticated scripts and frank nudity. Pop music pushed against community norms: in 1956, Elvis Presley’s hip-swiveling gyrations were cut off by the TV camera as too sexual for the Ed Sullivan Show, which was then a national institution. As late as 1967, the Ed Sullivan Show was trying to censor the song lyrics of major bands like the Doors and the Rolling Stones, who were imitating the sexual explicitness of rural and urban African-American blues. (The Stones capitulated to Sullivan, but the Doors fought back — and were never invited on his show again.) Middle-class college students in the 1960s, including women, began freely using four-letter words that had rarely been heard in polite company, except briefly during the flapper fad of the 1920s. In the early 1970s, women for the first time boldly entered theaters showing pornography and helped make huge hits out of X-rated films like Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and The Devil in Miss Jones.

In short, free speech and free expression, no matter how offensive or shocking, were at the heart of the 1960s cultural revolution. Free speech was a primary weapon of the Left against the moralism and conformism of the Right. How then, we must ask, has campus Leftism in the U.S. been so transformed that it now encourage, endorses, and celebrates the suppression of ideas, including those that question its own current agenda and orthodoxy?

My conclusions are based on my personal observation as a career academic. Despite the longstanding claim by conservatives that “tenured radicals” invaded the universities in the 1970s, I maintain that no authentic 1960s radicals, except for Todd Gitlin, the president of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), entered the profession and attained success. If they entered graduate school, most of them dropped out. To enter grad school at all was in fact viewed as a sell-out. For example, during my last semester in college in 1968, I was confronted near the fountain on the quad by the leader of the campus radicals, who denounced me for my plan to attend the Yale Graduate School. “Grad school isn’t where it’s happening!” he contemptuously informed me. “And if you go anywhere, you go to Buffalo!” As it happens, I had indeed applied to and been accepted at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where I would have happily worked with the psychoanalytic critic Norman Holland and the notorious Leftist critic, Leslie Fiedler, whose controversial 1960 masterwork, Love and Death in the American Novel, had had a huge influence on me. Indeed, Fiedler had just become a folk hero of the counterculture the year before, when police raided his Buffalo house and arrested him for drug possession, a disastrous incident that he would chronicle in his 1969 book, Being Busted. At any rate, I had chosen Yale because of its great library, which I sorely needed for my research, but my fellow student’s warning stung and shook me.

There can be no doubt that elite universities like the Ivy League at that period were in drastic need of reform. Their prevailing WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) style was not a hospitable climate for racial or ethnic minorities, including Jews and Italian-Americans. Medieval Anglo-Saxon was actually still a required first-year course for graduate students in English literature when I arrived at Yale in 1968. There had evidently just been a purge of gay male professors from the English department — it was rumored they had migrated up-country to all-female Smith College in Western Massachusetts. The English department had only one woman faculty member, a rather conservative medievalist. While women had been admitted to the graduate school for a century, undergraduate Yale College was still all-male and turned coeducational while I was there — which was a huge relief, because I was tired of being stared at like an exotic trespasser in the cavernous main reference room of Sterling Library. In my Anglo-Saxon class one day, the otherwise very affable young WASPy professor did a crass sexist stunt, also involving an ethnic slur against working-class Italian-Americans, that still shocks and disgusts me after all these years. We first-year students said nothing — there was no framework yet for critique or complaint.

Read It

 Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia

To understand how political correctness was later able to sweep like a plague through U.S. humanities departments, it must be stressed that the prevalent approach to literature in Great Britain and the U.S. since the 1940s had been the New Criticism, which in its focus on textual explication minimized or totally excluded history and psychology. When Buffalo’s Leslie Fiedler, who grounded literature in both history and psychology, including sex, gave a lecture at Yale while I was there, not one professor from the English department attended. Fiedler’s insulting ostracism could not have been more obvious. Hard as it is to believe now, my doctoral dissertation, Sexual Personae, was the only dissertation on sex in the Yale Graduate School at the time. Asking questions about sex and gender was considered bad form. That, as well as my fervent interest in mass media and popular culture (which were regarded as frivolous), certainly complicated and nearly derailed my first search for a teaching job.

After the 1960s cultural revolution, it was clear that the humanities had become too insular and removed from social concerns and that they had to reincorporate a more historical perspective. There were many new subject areas of contemporary interest that needed to be added to the curriculum — sex and gender, film, African-American and Native American studies among them. But the entire humanities curriculum urgently demanded rethinking. The truly radical solution would have been to break down the departmental structure that artificially separated, for example, English departments from French departments and German departments. Bringing all literature together as one field would have created a much more open, flexible format to encourage interdisciplinary exploration, such as cross-fertilizations of literature with the visual arts and music. Furthermore, I wanted an authentic multiculturalism, a curriculum that affirmed the value and achievements of Western civilization but expanded globally to include other major civilizations, all of which would be studied in their chronological unfolding. Even though I am an atheist, I have always felt that comparative religion, a study of the great world religions over time, including all aspects of their art, architecture, rituals, and sacred texts, was the best way to teach authentic multiculturalism and achieve world understanding. Zen Buddhism was in the air in the 1960s as part of the legacy of the post-war Beat movement, and Hinduism entered the counterculture through the London scene, partly because of Ravi Shankar, a master of the sitar who performed at California’s Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

However, these boundary-dissolving expansions were unfortunately not the route taken by American academe in the 1970s. Instead, new highly politicized departments and programs were created virtually overnight — without the incremental construction of foundation and superstructure that had gone, for example, into the long development of the modern English department. The end result was a further balkanization in university structure, with each area governed as an autonomous fiefdom and with its ideological discourse frozen at the moment of that unit’s creation. Administrators wanted these programs and fast — to demonstrate the institution’s “relevance” and to head off outside criticism or protest that could hamper college applications and the influx of desirable tuition dollars. Basically, administrators threw money at these programs and let them find their own way. When Princeton University, perhaps the most cloistered and overtly sexist of the Ivy League schools, went coeducational after 200 years in 1969, it needed some women faculty to soften the look of the place. So it hastily shopped around for whatever women faculty could be rustled up, located them mostly in English departments at second-tier schools, brought them on board, and basically let them do whatever they wanted, with no particular design. (Hey, they’re women — they can do women’s studies!)

I maintain, from my dismayed observation at the time, that these new add-on programs were rarely if ever founded on authentic scholarly principles; they were public relations gestures meant to stifle criticism of a bigoted past. In designing any women’s studies program, for example, surely a basic requirement for students should be at least one course in basic biology, so that the role of hormones in human development could be investigated — and rejected, if necessary. But no, both women’s studies and later gender studies evolved without reference to science and have thus ensured that their ideology remains partisan and one-dimensional, stressing the social construction of gender. Any other view is regarded as heresy and virtually never presented to students even as an alternative hypothesis.

Today’s campus political correctness can ultimately be traced to the way those new programs, including African-American and Native American studies, were so hastily constructed in the 1970s, a process that not only compromised professional training in those fields over time but also isolated them in their own worlds and thus ultimately lessened their wider cultural impact. I believe that a better choice for academic reform would have been the decentralized British system traditionally followed at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, which offered large subject areas where a student could independently pursue his or her special interest. In any case, for every new department or program added to the U.S. curriculum, there should have been a central shared training track, introducing students to the methodology of research and historiography, based in logic and reasoning and the rigorous testing of conclusions based on evidence. Neglect of that crucial training has meant that too many college teachers, then and now, lack even the most superficial awareness of their own assumptions and biases. Working on campus only with the like-minded, they treat dissent as a mortal offense that must be suppressed, because it threatens their entire career history and world-view. The ideology of those new programs and departments, predicated on victimology, has scarcely budged since the 1970s. This is a classic case of the deadening institutionalization and fossilization of once genuinely revolutionary ideas.

Let me give just one example of political correctness run amok in campus women’s studies in the U.S. In 1991, a veteran instructor in English and women’s studies at the Schuylkill campus of Pennsylvania State University raised objections to the presence in her classroom of a print of Francisco Goya’s famous late-18th-century painting, Naked Maja. The traditional association of this work with the Duchess of Alba, played by Ava Gardner in a 1958 movie called The Naked Maja, has been questioned, but there is no doubt that the painting, now owned by the Prado in Madrid, is a landmark in the history of the nude in art and that it anticipated major 19th-century works like Manet’s Olympia.

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The instructor brought her case to a committee called the University Women’s Commission, which supported her, and she was offered further assistance from a committee member, the campus Affirmative Action officer, who conveyed her belief that there were grounds for a complaint of sexual harassment, based on the “hostile workplace” clause in federal regulations. The university, responding to the complaint, offered to change the teacher’s classroom, which she refused. She also refused an offer to move the painting to a less visible place in the classroom or to cover it while she was teaching. No, she was insistent that images of nude women must never be displayed in a classroom — which would of course gut quite a bit of major Western art since ancient Greece.

Finally, the Naked Maja was moved, along with four other classic art prints in the classroom, to the TV room of the student community center, where a sign was posted to alert unwary passerby that art was present — a kind of enter-at-your-own-risk warning. This action by the university seems to have been widely regarded as a prudent compromise instead of the shameful capitulation to political correctness that it was. There was a spate of amused publicity about the incident in the mainstream press, with criticism passingly voiced by prominent journalists like Nat Hentoff (a free speech warrior) and Robert Hughes, the longtime art critic of TIME magazine. But the response from within the teaching profession was strikingly weak and limited. This was a moment for independent thinkers everywhere in American academe to condemn that puritanical exercise by a literature instructor who had made herself a dictator in the visual arts, a field about which she was conspicuously uninformed. All that she had was a rote ideology absorbed from anti-porn fanatics like the crusading feminist Andrea Dworkin, whose attempt to ban the sale of pornography (including mainstream men’s magazines) in Minneapolis and Indianapolis had been struck down in federal district court in 1984 as an unconstitutional infringement of free speech rights. The instructor claimed that she was protecting future women students from the “chilly climate” created by the Naked Maja. But in a later published article about the controversy, she revealed that she herself was uncomfortable in the presence of the painting. She wrote, “I felt as though I were standing there naked, exposed and vulnerable.” I’m sorry, but we simply cannot permit uncultivated neurotics to set the agenda for arts education in America.

Here we come to one of the most pernicious aspects of identity politics as it reshaped the American university — the confusion of teaching with social work. The issue of improper advocacy in the classroom has never been adequately addressed by the profession. Teaching and research must strive to remain objective and detached. The teacher as an individual citizen may and should have strong political convictions and activities outside the classroom, but in the classroom, he or she should never take ideological positions without at the same time frankly acknowledging them as opinion to the students and emphasizing that all students are completely free to hold and express their own opinions on any issue, no matter how contested, from abortion, homosexuality, and global warming to the existence of God or the veracity of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Unfortunately, because of the failure of American colleges and universities to seek and support ideological diversity on their campuses, the humanities faculties have trended so far toward liberal Democrats (among whom I number myself) that they often seem naively unaware that any other beliefs are possible or credible.

The old-guard professors at the Yale Graduate School in the late 1960s may have been stuffy and genteel, but they were genuine scholars, passionately devoted to study and learning. They believed they had a moral obligation to seek the truth and to express it as accurately as they could. I remember it being said at the time that a scholar’s career could be ruined by fudging a footnote. A tragic result of the era of identity politics in the humanities has been the collapse of rigorous scholarly standards, as well as an end to the high value once accorded to erudition, which no longer exists as a desirable or even possible attribute in job searches for new faculty.

Another problem in 1970s academe was a job recession in the humanities that arose just as deconstruction and post-structuralism arrived from Europe. The deconstructionist trend started when J. Hillis Miller moved from Johns Hopkins University to Yale and began bringing Jacques Derrida over from France for regular visits. The Derrida and Lacan fad was followed by the cult of Michel Foucault, who remains a deity in the humanities but whom I regard as a derivative game-player whose theories make no sense whatever about any period preceding the Enlightenment. The first time I witnessed a continental theorist discoursing with professors at a Yale event, I said in exasperation to a fellow student, “They’re like high priests murmuring to each other.” It is absurd that that elitist theoretical style, with its opaque and contorted jargon, was ever considered Leftist, as it still is. Authentic Leftism is populist, with a brutal directness of speech.

Post-structuralism, in asserting that language forms reality, is a reactionary reversal of the authentic revolutionary spirit of the 1960s, when the arts had turned toward a radical liberation of the body and a reengagement with the sensory realm. By treating language as the definitive force in the world — a foolish thesis that could easily be refuted by the dance, music, or visual arts majors in my classes — post-structuralism set the groundwork for the present campus impasse where offensive language is conflated with material injury and alleged to have a magical power to create reality. Furthermore, post-structuralism treats history as a false narrative and encourages a random, fragmented, impressionistic approach that has given students a fancy technique but little actual knowledge of history itself.

The woeful decline in quality of humanities scholarship was quite obvious during the five years of research I did for my art book, Glittering Images, which was released four years ago. I chose 29 images extending over 3000 years since ancient Egypt and read through the major scholarly literature on each work of painting, sculpture, architecture, or film, beginning in the 19th century and continuing to the present. In the great period of German philology, writing about art had a tremendous range of both conception and detail. The impact of philology could be felt well into the 20th century, as in the work of the great Marxist art historian, Arnold Hauser, whose magisterial The Social History of Art, published in 1951, had a huge impact on me in graduate school. Writing on art remained strong through the 1960s but began to weaken with the impact of postmodernism and post-structuralism in the 1970s and ‘80s. From the 1980s on, I was shocked by the drop-off. Yes, there was the occasional specialist whose work was rigorous and reliable, but there was none of the broad learning and expansive vision of early 20th-century art historians like Aby Warburg, Heinrich Wölfflin, and Erwin Panofsky. Even worse, humanities books of the past two decades are suffering from shrinking bibliographies, where young academics are revealing that they have systematically consulted no books published before the 1980s.

The problem of political correctness is intensified by the increasing fixation of humanities and even history departments on “presentism,” that is, a preoccupation with our own modern period. Even the Renaissance is being redefined: it is now clumsily and in my view inaccurately called “Early Modern.” Presentism is even afflicting major museums, when they repair and over-restore ancient objects so that they look brand-new. A year ago, for example, in conjunction with my current research project into Native American culture of the late Ice Age, I visited the National Museum of the American Indian, a beautiful modernistic building on the Mall in Washington, D.C. I had very high expectations — hence my surprise and horror at how vapid and unscholarly the exhibits were. The entire museum looks like a glorified gift shop, stocked with glossy fabrications, poster-board displays, light shows, and annoying recordings of vacuous happy talk. After a long search, I finally found something old and authentic — a small, sad picture-frame display of a handful of genuine arrowheads and unremarkable stone tools from the Washington area. I have found far better artifacts right here in the plowed fields of Southeastern Pennsylvania! The worst crime of political correctness is that it has allowed current ideologies to stunt our sense of the past and to reduce history to a litany of inflammatory grievances.

To break through the stalemate and reestablish free speech on campus, educators must first turn away from the sprawling cafeteria menu of over-specialized electives and return to broad survey courses based in world history and culture, proceeding chronologically from antiquity to modernism. Students desperately need a historical framework to understand both past and present.

Second, universities should sponsor regular public colloquia on major topics where both sides of sensitive, hot-button controversies are fully discussed. Any disruptions of free speech at such forums must be met with academic sanctions.

Third, it is my position, stemming from the 1960s sexual revolution that ended campus parietal rules, that colleges and universities must stay totally out of the private social lives of students. The intrusive paternalism of American colleges in this area is an unacceptable infringement of student rights. If a crime is committed on campus, it must be reported to the police. There is no such thing as a perfectly “safe space” in real life. Risk and danger are intrinsic to human existence.

As tuition costs rose stratospherically over the past quarter century, American colleges and universities shifted into a consumerist mode and have now become more like shopping malls than educational institutions — they don’t want to upset the paying customers! But the entire college experience should be based on confronting new and disruptive ideas. Students must accept personal responsibility for their own choices and behavior, and university administrators must stop behaving like substitute parents and hovering therapists. The ultimate values at any university should be free thought and free speech. •

Camille Paglia is the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she has taught since 1984. She received her B.A. from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1968 and her M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University in 1971 and 1974 respectively. Her six books are: Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990); Sex, Art, and American Culture (1992); Vamps & Tramps: New Essays (1994); The Birds, a study of Alfred Hitchcock published in 1998 by the British Film Institute in its Film Classics Series; Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World’s Best Poems (2005), and Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars (2012). Her third essay collection is under contract to Pantheon Books.
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Comments

  • Just found this out: A professor at a public university in NY recently called the police to have an itinerant academic book buyer removed from campus. His crime? His disagreement with the professor over BLM activism. The police came and eventually got the prof to calm down, while the calm, kind, and unprepossessing book buyer was able to go about his business. What in heaven’s name has come of leftists in the academy?

  • “no authentic 1960s radicals, except for Todd Gitlin… entered the profession…”

    What about Bill Ayers, Professor of Education at University of Illinois-Chicago, and Bernardine Dohrn, Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University? Angela Davis, Professor of Feminist Studies at UCLA? Ward Churchill, Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado? (OK, Churchill’s claim of SDS activity in the 60s was probably as phony as his claim of Indian ancestry.)

    If I can think of four (or three, not counting Churchill) off the top of my head, I’m certain there are many more.

  • This is another great piece by Camille Paglia. In my own view, what she is describing is really a symptom of something else. The changes she saw first-hand coincided with women entering the workforce within the US in larger numbers than ever before. It was the first time the economy could provide many jobs which women wanted, making it easier to get to those jobs (by car from their new suburban home). Suddenly women started to think that men had oppressed them for all of human history, when the truth is that most women wanted something different than they do today in the US (than during all of human history). Why does it go unchecked? It is that most men think they really love women, and would do anything to get women to stop complaining of being “victimized.” It is in many men’s nature to be silent, all the while laboring on projects (building civilizations) that benefit women. Each time another rape or child sex “abuse” case gets into the news, it’s another victory for the feminist ethos which Paglia writes about. This cult of victimhood can be blamed equally on the right as on the left. People like Gloria Steinem worked to build a right/left coalition on the child sex abuse issue and it is this lock on our culture – hypervigilance of supposed childhood sexual trauma – and consequent male guilt, that is driving our society into a state of neurosis and continuing to win victories for feminism.

  • My doctorate is in molecular biology, so I feel that I am treading brazenly into the humanities with this comment. Being from a conservative Republican background, I find myself smiling at the thought that I agree with so many of the qualitative assertions of this article. While I cannot verify facts and opinions from outside my area of specialization, I can say that much of what the author has described dovetails with my own experience in academia. I teach at a small women’s college and have observed some of these same trends, sometimes on our own campus, sometimes on others. I do, however, wonder if the radicalism of the 1960s was a Trojan horse for many of the intellectual problems we are encountering today.

    • I attended the State University of New York at Binghamton at the same time that Camille Paglia did. I don’t know what political rebellion Ms. Paglia encountered; I never met her. I had been in the Navy, so my acquaintances were initially seniors, who became graduate students. I was married and did not live on campus. I saw the undergrads in my Philosophy and Lit. courses as through the wrong end of a telescope. They had no political rebellion. Their only interest in the war was in evading the draft. Their single-minded passions in Philosophy courses were personal, not political. They were determined to demolish all of the traditional religious and ethical systems that might justify some authority in preventing them for having pre-marital sex and using drugs.

  • Furthermore, as an Italian, I am always astonished when I read again lamentations about the “repression” inflicted on communists during the 50s and 60s: these were people supporting regimes at the time holding as slaves and killing millions of men and women. It is not true that Stalin’s crimes were not known at the time: they were, and the politics against communism at the time was exactly followed because they were known – only that was not believed by the fellow-travelers, as it is not taught now in your universities. Not only that: the gulags were alive and working at full steam until 1956, and after that how many millions were killed in other communist countries. Why should I sympathize with people actively supporting this nightmare, while subjected to a very, very mild control and sanctions?

    • Excellent points. Such people as you describe need to visit Eastern Europe to see the trains that sent hundreds of thousands of people to their deaths in Siberia or elsewhere owing to middle class status or the fact that they were doctors, lawyers or educators who, as such, were perceived as a threat to the creation of the Workers’ Paradise that never was. And if they can’t go they should read about on their own. Good luck in the getting the Left to acknowledge the things that you mention and that was the nightmare for a millions of victims of ideologically driven leaders with the morality of viper.

  • Camille Paglia’s analysis of the 1960 movements is quite uncritical. The seeds, and more than the seeds, of the current madness where planted then; in fact, idiocy disguised as moral and political superiority (let’s think of communist utopias, or drug killing thousands) where characteristic of the period. I understand Paglia’s nostalgia, I was young then as well and the experience was new and exciting, but not to see what was sick then and why it bore its fruits now is just wishful thinking.

  • I recently read a history on Mao, and the book came to the Cultural Revolution, and how Mao whipped up these stupid college kids and turned them into raging maniacs who beat, robbed, murdered and raped anyone at random who they thought wasn’t down the for the communist cause enthusiastically enough.

    One college professor at the time told his story of how his own students came to him one day and kidnapped him from his office and set him up in a torture chamber they built on the quad that was guarded by armed students. They beat him mercilessly for three days and then let him go with a warning never to question their authority.

    How long before this level of organized violence breaks out on American campuses?

  • Political correctness is a form of religious fanaticism, and is just as destructive. It’s an assertion any dissent from the Revealed Truth can properly be treated as a form of heresy, which, by definition, kills off any further thought.

  • One should distinguish the changes that will naturally occur following the removal of restraints long endured from the pseudo “changes” that always result from the “smart set” imposing its diktats on hapless rubes (i.e., everyone else). As a true liberal (in the Lockean sense of the word) Camille seems to (mostly) get it. I believe that she is trying to steer the so-called liberals away from their fascination with authoritarianism and back into their more traditional focus on the individual. A worthy goal; unfortunately I don’t think that our education system is up to the task: are these people even learning their Hobbes, Locke, Madison, etc., these days?

  • “Liberalism is a mental disorder”

  • While an interesting piece of navel gazing the only paragraph that matters is the last – today’s college campus is more like a mall than a venue for intellectual challenge or divergent discourse with Administrators in the role of surrogate helicopter parents.

    The genesis of this dire state of affairs has its roots in bicycle helmets and antibacterial soap not the french revolution.

  • I love Camille but here she’s trying to square the circle of leftism and freedom of speech.

  • Poor Professor Paglia. The same thing may happen to her as to many others, and she’ll wake up some day and realize she’s a moderate Republican.

    There’s clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am.

    Yet, the Professor is reportedly going to double down on her Obama vote and go with Bernie Sanders. True, he’s honest, but the political correctness oppression will zoom under Senator Sanders as President. Up, up, and A-W-A-Y . . .

    Free expression under a vigorous First Amendment without everybody going all cry-baby is the only way to go. History moves forward (when it does, which is hardly guaranteed) in odd ways. For instance, in a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle sort of way, where one really doesn’t know if the photons from the flashlight she’s shining on the wall didn’t actually first traverse to Jupiter before landing on the wall, without Hugh Hefner, there would be no Gloria Steinem–and not just because she reported undercover on him–but because until Hefner dismantled the bluenose society, women couldn’t be free any more than men. Sure, there would have been a Steinem replacement, or maybe she would have traversed to Jupiter before successfully instituting some changes, but things would simply have gone differently, and the difference may have been worse.

    We probably need a whole bunch of students to take over a whole bunch of campus administration buildings and youtube their telling tasteless jokes for an hour to each of the administrators.

  • Brava!

    If you’ve read this piece by Ms. Paglia you’ll want to watch this video on Campus PC and free speech: “Milo Yiannopoulos, Steven Crowder and Christina Hoff Sommers at UMass” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCcp36n2cDg which both discusses the issues Paglia addresses and concretely demonstrates the results she decries.

    If only Ms. Paglia had been there too!

  • In the 1960’s American liberals were outraged when the state legislature in North Carolina mandated a “speaker ban” at state universities against communists and those who had taken the 5th Amendment before Congressional committees. The outcry was strong and loud. Students marched and rallied. Editorial pages decried censorship of free ideas. Finally after the university’s accrediting agency threatened to revoke the its academic accreditation, the ban was finally repealed by the legislature.

    When universities today routinely ban conservatives from speaking, the silence from liberals is deafening. Prissy spoiled students complain that anyone with a Trump sign on campus is invading their “safe space.” Liberals march and rally to prevent Republican speakers. How did today’s liberals become such shrinking violets? I submit they are afraid of the free exchange of ideas in open debate because they increasingly have no facts to offer, just offensive name calling like “racist” and “homophobe.”. They are afraid of any who disagrees with their dogma, absolutely petrified of competing ideas.

    It is time for university accrediting agencies to step up and strike a powerful blow again for academic freedom. Any college or university that censors speakers because of their political affiliation should have accreditation immediately suspended. It’s time to return our campuses to the bastions of freedom they once were. This censorship of IDEAS that liberals now harbor must be crushed because of what it is—anathema to a free society.

  • “To break through the stalemate and reestablish free speech on campus, educators must first turn away from the sprawling cafeteria menu of over-specialized electives and return to broad survey courses based in world history and culture, proceeding chronologically from antiquity to modernism. Students desperately need a historical framework to understand both past and present.”
    Indeed! We should start with the return of “Western Civilization” as a REQUIREMENT for all undergrads. For liberal arts graduates of UC at Santa Cruz in 1973 the course was simply not available. When I later entered graduate school in English Literature I was informed that I would essentially have to start over. I got a job instead. The Sciences have suffered mightily as well. Whatever happened to UNCERTAINTY as the guiding principle of scientific research? Read Richard P. Feynman’s lectures as early as 1963. He saw it coming.

  • “A tragic result of the era of identity politics in the humanities has been the collapse of rigorous scholarly standards, as well as an end to the high value once accorded to erudition.”
    Paglia is often correct, but here she’s reversed cause and effect; the collapse of rigorous scholarly standards has always been a necessary precondition for the advance of Leftist thinking, which is powered by oversimplification, emotion, and ideology in preference to inconvenient reality.

  • Camille Paglia’s still got it.
    And she’s right about that museum – ‘like a glorified gift shop.’ I did not, when I saw it, connect its vapidity to the PC urge. But I don’t have another explanation.

    • Fully agree about the Museum, as well. Many of the exhibits had been curated by ”members of the various tribes”, and quite obviously was not based on in-depth research or scholarly knowledge. So everything was far less interesting than it could have been.

  • A few years back, while teaching a course at Occidental College on Jurisprudence and Constitutional Law, I took about 10 minutes to go over Carol Gilligan’s “In a Different Voice” (a book VERY popular in the 1980s) in a lecture on various perspectives in recent intellectual history regarding law itself as a mode of social thinking. I also mentioned in this lecture the feminist critique of legal thinking as “phallogocentrism” (a topic I was invited to write on as a prompt in my written “A-Exams” as a graduate student in Cornell’s Government Department).

    In my course evaluations there were three women (who identified themselves as such) who commented that they had trouble with this lecture, as each of them wrote that I “made them uncomfortable as a woman” in lecturing on this topic (and which led me to conclude that the three had a conversation about the topic beforehand).

    What utter nonsense!

    Women being upset ‘as women’ for a history lecture on women writing on women.

    I thought I was just telling my students about an interesting moment in American political and legal history — but instead I was committing a micro-aggression that made three Occidental College students “uncomfortable.”

    Thank you for the article, Camille Paglia!

  • What happened was the Left took over. The folks in charge aren’t ever much interested in dissent.

  • When i first encountered the term “politically correct” at the great zine; alternet, my 1st thought was: ‘Oh good! Somebody has an objective standard for sound political ideas that work.’ Then i realized it’s an oxymoron, because fair; ie, just politics, allows all ideas to be debated, so they can be generally discovered as true or false. Intellectual honesty, on which objectivity depends. allows any idea to be re-examined at some time & place. Bad ideas, thoroughly discredited, can re-appear & grow back, unless they can be discussed & shown invalid again, but suppression is unlikely to kill bad ideas. Censorship makes them look valid to the gullible. They are usually perpetuated out of reach of objective debates, that colleges are an ideal place to conduct. “I disagree completely with what you are saying, but would defend with my life, your right to say it”. – Socrates, in The Republic. I am a democratic socialist, and i think the Marxist idea of “scientific socialism” underlays the idea there can be a “political correct” idea & both undermine objectivity by discouraging re-examination of ideas.

    • Thank you for writing this. Among your many good points here is the one that is rarely explored – the odd marriage between liberal activism and greedy capitalism on our college campuses. The two walk strangely hand-in-hand, despite the fact that most of the liberal activist faculty decry the excesses of capitalism. Administrators cave to political pressure by the students (who are overwhelmingly liberal and sensitive) in large part not to lose tuition dollars.

      I teach psychology at a mid-level private liberal arts college, and I have to be careful about my language when teaching given that I am tenure-tracked right now. I will wait until I receive tenure before I will openly question the liberal orthodoxy or the capitalistic administrators. But I wonder – how different will it be after tenure?

  • Bravo, Camille. A wonderfully cogent and clear-headed counterattack on the dismal, overbearing and all-too prevalent forces of the 21st-century PC crusade. Thank God someone still has the basic sense, integrity and courage to call a spade a spade. We really need to end this absurd campus culture where, increasingly, everyone identifies as a victim and demands protection from real life. Universities should be places for intellectual growth and discovery, and for courageous self-realisation — not for fearful and narcissistic self-infantilization. As the article says, if crimes are committed on campus, they should be reported to the police for appropriate handling under the law. Just say No to the campus Thought Police: they are the enemies of true progress and have no legitimate place in a free society.

  • As usual, reading Camille Paglia fills me with a mixture of admiration and annoyance. I don’t quarrel with her analysis of radical 1960s politics and how they were transmogrified over time into today’s identity politics and political correctness. I don’t quarrel with her assertion that these are having a deleterious effect on free speech in the study of the humanities, in particular.

    Nevertheless, Paglia’s implicit suggestion that prior to the 1960s, the battle for free speech was fought between the forces of noble liberalism on the one hand, and cowardly conservatism on the other, is simply nonsense. I won’t dispute that conservatives in the Cold War years had censorial tendencies. The fact remains that the pre-1960s liberal left was every bit as ideologically blind, every bit as inclined to censor facts that contradicted its world-view, as it is today. It suppressed news that put the Soviet Union in a bad light and tried to foist all unpleasant trends in public life onto its conservative opponents. Worst of all, while kowtowing to McCarthy for years, the liberal left of that era simultaneously insisted that Soviet espionage was an insignificant threat. Overblown it may have been; insignificant it was not.

  • Paglia has a history of being the lefty-lesbian the right-wing loves the most and milks it for all she can; her recent bitter and spurious whines about Hillary Clinton are just the icing on the cake of having this unique position of being the one member of the dreaded “Other” that the bigoted can stomach because of how she flatters them. In this she is no different from the bombastic one-term African-American right-wing Congressman Allan West, who was tasked with criticizing Barack Obama in order to provide cover for those who dislike his race. West’s white wife and Paglia’s lovers serve as booty permitted by the ruling class to their trusted retainers. That being said, there’s little to object to in this missive save the phobia toward the new by a gatekeeper directed at Women’s Studies and the like, where the main problem seems to be that Paglia didn’t think of it first. I read Paglia’s interview in the too short-lived feminist pornzine On Our Backs where she came off as erudite and sensual, so unlike her anti-liberal tirades the ruling elite love so much. Like a good teacher she can infuriate and affirm, then upset and validate her students all within minutes. I recommend that the Oakland East Bay Rats’ fight ring immortalized in Alex Abromovich’s “Bullies: A Friendship” sponsor a bare-knuckled brawl between Paglia and that yoyo journalism prof at Missouri State who tried to bar the media from photographing protestors in their safe space. Paglia may outrank such an opponent in longevity but her right cross is still solid.

  • Paglia’s critique of the problem is similar to Zizek’s, and it’s a difficult one for many to swallow: capitalism/corruption/territorialism (whatever you want to call It – the Original Sin of greed at the heart of all that is bad) will recuperate any damage done to itself through means of psychological corruption via those specific people who are the worst in our species infiltrating the wonderful places made by the best in our species. We have, as yet, no viable deconstruction for those people Paglia speaks of, the Type A totalitarians, the psychopaths masquerading as social workers, the hyper-literalists, the authoritarian neurotic repressives, who co-opt leftism by using its jargon against it, by invoking “marginalization” as a tool of new fascism rather than finding pragmatic tools to empower the marginalized. Paglia highlights this by pointing to the distinction between the free-thinking but psychologically integrated, pragmatic leftists of her time, who were by turns displaced by religious fanatics (hippie fundamentalists, communal life weirdos) or neurotic anti-sex phobics in the garb of leftists (feminist academics, identity politicians). I have met these people all my life: their problems are not “academic” — they are psychological. They are intellectually obsessive-compulsive, forever desperately rubbing “out, damned spot! Out, I say!” We have no systematic cure for this plague in the bloodstream of human life: it requires someone at the top of an organization who defends it against that disease of smugness and ideology which constantly infests it. What Paglia yearns for in University is not “learning” but “dialectic”, intense conversation through which ideas are embattled and refined.

  • I can only speak generally as an outsider but it seems the emotional atmosphere of the USA and much of the outside world has drifted into a somewhat petrified aspect of fear which frequently peaks as various hatreds and occasional violence.The grossly declining economic equalities are somewhat in sync with the general cultural mood where huge personal financial indebtedness and the monstrous invasions of privacy out of the police and security systems of governments and corporate power massage the general growth of cultural fear which is useful for controlling all aspects of social and intellectual intercourse. The real dangers of violent climate change and nuclear war added to the other factors no doubt underlie a good deal of social conservatism. I can see no rational solution.

  • A very lucid and informative article.
    It is sad that these things need to be said, and are so often left unsaid.

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