Category Archives: 1st Amendment

femimist professor under fire

WSJ  8/31/2019   THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Camille Paglia

When Camille Paglia was an “obnoxious adolescent” of 15, she had what she describes as “this huge fight with a nun” in upstate New York. Ms. Paglia, 72, remembers the incident with a clarity that suggests a lifetime of unresolved umbrage.

“We were released from school for religious instruction on Thursday afternoons,” and teen Camille posed a question: “If God is infinitely forgiving, I asked the nun, is it possible that at some point in the future he’ll forgive Satan?” The nun—a doctrinaire Irish Catholic without any of the “pagan residue” of Ms. Paglia’s Italian culture—“ turned beet red. She was so enraged that she condemned me in front of everybody for even asking that question.”

That was the day Ms. Paglia left the Catholic Church. It was not the last time she asked an awkward, even incendiary, question. Such provocations are the stock-in-trade of this most free-spirited of America’s public intellectuals. Ms. Paglia is a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she has been a tenured— and occasionally embattled— faculty member since 1984. This April, mutinous students demanded her firing over public comments she’d made that were not wholly sympathetic to the #MeToo movement, as well as for an interview with the Weekly Standard that they called “transphobic.” That denunciation, with its indignant dogmatism, is particularly slapstick, since Ms. Paglia describes herself as “transgender.”

The protests were unsuccessful, largely thanks to a robust defense of Ms. Paglia by the university’s president, David Yager. “Artists over the centuries,” he wrote in an open letter to students, “have suffered censorship, and even persecution, for the expression of their beliefs through their work. My answer is simple: Not now, not at UArts.”

Over lunch at a Greek restaurant, Ms. Paglia tells me she belongs to the “pro-sex, free-speech wing of feminism,” which she says had its heyday in the 1990s. That was the decade in which she herself emerged from academic obscurity. In 1990 she published her first book, “Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson,” an erudite yet pugnacious account of the competing roles of male and female in Western civilization. It was rejected— she never tires of saying— by seven publishers and five agents before Yale University Press picked it up.

The book vaulted Ms. Paglia into the American imagination as a bluestocking gone deliciously rogue. The same year, she published an op-ed article lauding the pop singer Madonna as “the true feminist,” who “exposes the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism, which is stuck in an adolescent whining mode.” The op-ed incensed the “prudish” feminist establishment. Ms. Paglia has since soured on Madonna, who she says was “once refreshingly sane in her teasing affection for men” but has now undergone a “collapse into rote male-bashing.”

Ms. Paglia laments that the “antisex and repressively doctrinaire side of feminism is back again— big!” She calls it “victim feminism” and complains that “everything we’d won in the 1990s has been totally swept away. Now we have this endless privileging of victimhood, with a pathological vulnerability seen as the default human mode.” Everyone is made to cater to it—“in the workplace, in universities, in the demand for safe spaces.”

As a teacher of undergraduates, Ms. Paglia despairs at how “bad it is for young people, filled with fears, to be raised in this kind of a climate where personal responsibility isn’t spoken of.” Since her own youth, she says, college students have devolved from rebels into skittish supplicants, petitioning people in authority to protect them from real life. Young adults are encouraged to look for “substitute parent figures on campus, which is what my generation rebelled against in college. We threw that whole ‘in loco parentis’ thing out.”

There’s an undeniable irony in hearing a septuagenarian, from a generation that was famously preoccupied with youth, deplore the state of today’s young people. “Our parents were the World War II generation,” Ms. Paglia says, “so they had a sense of reality about life.” Children now “are raised in a far more affluent period. Even people without much money have cellphones, televisions, access to cars. They’re raised in an air-conditioned environment. I can still remember when there was no air-conditioning.” She shudders as she sips her cold beer, adding that she suffered horribly in the heat.

“Everything is so easy now,” Ms. Paglia continues. “The stores are so plentifully supplied. You just go in and buy fruits and vegetables from all over the world.” Undergrads, who’ve studied neither economics nor history, “have a sense that this is the way life has always been. Because they’ve never been exposed to history, they have no idea that these are recent attainments that come from a very specific economic system.”

Capitalism, she continues, has “produced this cornucopia around us. But the young seem to believe in having the government run everything, and that the private companies that are doing things for profit around them, and supplying them with goods, will somehow exist forever.”

Ms. Paglia asks me to note that it was “because of capitalism” that her forebears “escaped the crushing poverty of rural Italy,” emigrating to Endicott, N.Y., to “work in the Endicott-Johnson shoe factories, whose vast buildings, tanning pools and smokestacks dominated my childhood.”

The students who demand her firing, she argues, take prosperity for granted, are socially undeveloped, and know little about Western history. Who’s Moses?

Although she doesn’t use the phrase herself, you can call Ms. Paglia a feminist capitalist. “While I believe that boom-and-bust capitalism is inherently Darwinian and requires moderate regulation for the long-term greater good,” she says, “I insist that capitalism has produced the glorious emancipation of women.” They can now “support themselves and live on their own, and no longer must humiliatingly depend on father or husband.”

So why do young women feel victimized? Ms. Paglia cites the near-extinction of “body language” among the young and its impact on sexual relations on campus. The “loss of body language” starts in middle and high school, “where there’s total absorption in social media and projected images on Instagram, and so on. So they don’t know how to read each other, physically.” When they get to college, this social deficiency is exacerbated by the effects of “that stupid law, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, that was passed in 1984.” It effected a nationwide ban on alcohol sales to adults under 21.

“When I got to college,” Ms. Paglia says, “you could go out for a beer, you could talk with a drink in a public place, in an adult environment.” That’s how 18-year-olds away from home for the first time learned the “art of conversation, of looking at each other, reading facial expressions and body language.” After the ban on drinking, “instead of a nice group of people conversing and flirting, you got the keg parties at fraternities on campus, this horrible environment where women milled about with men in this huge amount of noise, with people chugging beers down.”

Ms. Paglia is distinctly animated now and—body language!— claps her hands for emphasis. “So almost immediately, by the late 1980s, you get this date-rape extravaganza, and the hysteria, and the victimage.” Ms. Paglia has urged a repeal of the drinking-age law but “cannot get any traction on this. No one will listen to me.”

By contrast to her flaming public persona, Ms. Paglia is positively conventional in the classroom. “As I constantly stress,” she says, “my base identity is as a hard-working, no-nonsense schoolmarm—like the teaching nuns of global Roman Catholicism.” Despite her avowed atheism, she confesses to keeping a Mass card of St. Teresa of Ávila in her den at home.

This fall semester, she will teach two classes, “Art of Song Lyric” and “Style as Art.” She asks me to “stress that I do not teach ‘my’ ideas in the classroom.” Instead, she teaches “broad-ranging” courses and considers herself responsible for her students’ “general education—in which there are huge and lamentable gaps, thanks to the tragic decline of public education in this country.” She recalls a “horrifying” example from her classroom a few years ago. She was teaching “Go Down, Moses,” the famous Negro spiritual. “The whole thing is about antiquity,” she says, “but obviously it has contemporary political references.” She passed out the lyrics and played the music, “and it suddenly hit me with horror— none of them recognized the name ‘Moses.’ And I thought: Oh my God, when Moses is erased from the West, what is left of Western civilization?”

Judging by last semester’s protests against Ms. Paglia, today’s college students seem better versed in the polemics of gender identity than in Judeo-Christian history. This prompts me to ask Ms. Paglia, perhaps intrusively, why she regards herself as transgender. “There’s no doubt whatever,” she responds, “that I have had a radical gender dysphoria since earliest childhood. Never once in my life have I felt female.” Nor did she feel male, “except when wearing my fabulous Halloween costumes as a Roman soldier, toreador or Napoleon.”

“This strange alienation from standard human life certainly helped sharpen my powers of social observation,” she says, “and eventually made me a writer.” Her many years of researching and writing “Sexual Personae,” she adds, “exorcised a lot of my accumulated hostility forward the gender system.”

These days, she says, “there is only one occasion when my old turbulence returns— when shopping for clothing.” When she was in college, styles were “gender-bending,” and she wore “Tom Jones shirts, flared pinstriped trousers, Navy pea coats and Beatles boots with Cuban heels.” No more. Now she makes an annual “pilgrimage” to the sprawling King of Prussia shopping mall outside Philadelphia.

“I cannot express too strongly my overwhelming sense of existential alienation and horror when confronted with those lavishly stocked stores,” she says. There is nothing she can identify with in the women’s department, or the men’s. “It is completely inconsequential that I have attained a certain status as professor and author of eight books. At King of Prussia, my identity is completely wiped out—erased!”

Mr. Varadarajan is executive editor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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What Ails the U.S. Press? – WSJ

A timeworn TV commentator and professor of politics, in the moments before Robert Mueller ’s testimony began last week on MSNBC, told the audience that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election was an “act of war” by a “sworn enemy of the United States.”

Notice how each word is the sheerest nonsense. There is no forum in which countries “swear” their enemyhood. Congress has not declared war on Russia. Our $27 billion in annual trade with Russia does not implicate thousands of Americans in trading with the enemy. If Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails, this is a crime, not an act of war, and has been treated as such by the special counsel. And heaven help us if Facebook ads are an act of war. The U.S. conducts, and has for decades, espionage, disinformation, propaganda and other kinds of influence campaigns in numerous countries around the world. Thankfully we do not consider ourselves at war with them.

Don’t get me wrong. The Russian actions during the election, and especially their flagrancy, were an insult to U.S. power, and likely offered as such. I doubt the Kremlin is much pleased with the result, but a response is still required to deter such actions in the future. But what can it mean when grey-haired commentators are employed to speak childishly of these matters to the public?

Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Or take a sentence in the New Yorker magazine, known for its care with writing. A staff writer positively disdains any interest in who promoted the Steele dossier or why. “There are questions worth exploring about the Steele dossier, having to do with, say, the transparency of campaign spending. But they are not the questions congressional Republicans are asking,” she sneers.

This evasion is so trite as to have a name: the red-herring fallacy, or pretending to refute an argument by changing the subject. That such a sentence passed muster with an editor is an embarrassment (and no favor to the writer). At least be the truth teller you presumably got into journalism to be, and say you don’t wish to know any truths that might tend to incriminate anyone other than Donald Trump.

Ditto the several cable hosts who shrilly promoted the theory that President Trump was an actual traitor and now, with equal shrillness, insist he’s a traitor for not echoing their partisan exaggerations about Russian meddling. In any other time, this dodge would not be enough to keep them in their jobs.

The U.S. is not in a position to get in a moral snit about such meddling, but we are certainly in a position to exact a price for it, and should. At the same time, let us stop lying to ourselves: 99.99% of the consequential effect of Russia’s low-budget actions arose from the panting eagerness of U.S. partisans to weaponize those actions against their domestic opponents. Indeed, if we were to parse the meanings of the word “collusion,” it would not reflect well on Rep. Adam Schiff, who objectively has been invaluable to any supposed Russian desire to confound and embitter U.S. politics (though my real guess is that Russia wants nothing so much as sanctions lifted, and has only shot its foot off).

It needs to be understood whether the Mueller report, and the Mueller investigation itself, was essentially a product of disinformation (and whose disinformation). Did the Steele dossier’s lies really originate with Russian sources, and to what purpose? Was the dossier embraced by members of the U.S. government because they believed it or because it was useful against a presidential candidate they disapproved of? (Pretending to believe false intelligence may not be an actionable dereliction, but the question needs to be asked.)

We need to know whether the secret Russian intelligence that James Comey used as justification for his improper, protocol-violating actions in the Hillary Clinton case was, in any sense, real intelligence. Did it bear any intelligible, logical relation to his actions, or was it a cipher, a piece of digital flotsam, that he seized upon disingenuously as an excuse to clear Mrs. Clinton’s path to the nomination?

These questions are not just necessary for historical accuracy. They are of scintillating journalistic interest. If you’re a reporter who can’t simultaneously disapprove of Mr. Trump (as many journalists do) and see their urgency, you should rethink your career choice. (I believe it was the psychoanalyst Karen Horney who said the professions function partly to attract those least capable of exemplifying their values.) News consumers might marvel that so many journalists at least are so devoted to their partisan allegiances, but devotion has nothing to do with it. It’s just dumb conformism and lack of imagination. As in any field, one learns not to be surprised that so many unprepossessing persons are in positions of authority.

Happily, we don’t need to worry about one thing. The hysterical rhetoric on Russia will disappear instantly when it’s no longer useful against Donald Trump.

via What Ails the U.S. Press? – WSJ.

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A Theory of Disinvitation

How often do you look in the mirror? When was the last time you did not want to look in the mirror?

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Recently I was disinvited from giving a commencement address at the small Liberal Arts College within Concordia University in Montreal. My speech was to be on the study of great books, to which that college is devoted. The invitation was a surprise, and the rejection less of one, because I am a white male conservative professor. Though I teach at Harvard and lecture elsewhere fairly often, I don’t get invitations for occasions when universities put their principles on display. My last commencement address was for a private high school in rural California.

My relative lack of celebrity likely made me easier to disinvite. Most universities don’t ask a professor to speak at commencement, figuring that the professors have already had their turn. Students and parents prefer the relief of hearing something not worth remembering on which they won’t be tested.

Still, I had been invited and then disinvited. My reaction was more a sigh than a rush of anger at the manifest insult it was. Having devoted my life to teaching the great books, I was not going to be tonguetied or at a loss as more specialized professors might be. Each of my classes is a commencement address. Thus the fear about my appearance at Concordia was not that I would speak badly. But what was the reason behind it?

It could not be found explicitly in the letter I received from Principal Mark A. Russell of the college. This was a performance too obviously clever to be clever. The principal regretted to inform me of a change of plan. His invitation committee had “acted in good faith but rather precipitously.” When it spoke with the entire faculty and some alumni, “we were unable to reach consensus as to what we wanted to achieve with this event.” Since he did not describe what had been discussed, nor disinvite me explicitly, he could say with apparent innocence that he was “sorry for any inconvenience that our decision not to proceed may cause you.”

No disinvitation, no insult, hence no apology except for inconvenience. Also, no broken promise, no suppression of free speech, and no violation of academic freedom. Mr. Russell and his college were guiltless and safe. To be magnanimous, they admit to having acted “rather precipitously” in inviting me.

What had taken place, I learned but not from him, was a faculty meeting prompted by a letter from 12 alumni that demanded a reversal of the committee’s invitation because my “scholarly and public corpus . . . heavily traffics in damaging and discredited philosophies of gender and culture.” Promoting “the primacy of masculinity,” apparently a reference to my book “Manliness,” attracted their ire. Though I was to speak on great books, not gender, this “trafficking”—as if in harmful drugs—disqualified me without any need to specify further. Such sloppy, inaccurate accusation was enough to move a covey of professors to flutter in alarm.

This is not the place to repeat or defend my thoughts on women and men, which are much more favorable to women than to feminism. When I die I wish it said that I gave my best to my female students. The new doctrine of feminism in which women are essentially the same as men, except that women have all virtues but no characteristic defects and men have no virtues and terrible defects, has little appeal to me either as fact or right. It does have relevance to my Canadian adventure, though.

Feminism is not so much an attack on “toxic masculinity” as on feminine modesty, the “feminine mystique” of Betty Friedan’s devising. To feminists, modesty diminishes women’s power and keeps them dependent on men. Yet it is to be replaced by the notion of a “safe space” that will protect women and liberate them from the need to defend themselves in the hostile environment presupposed by the so-called virtue of modesty. A moment’s reflection suggests a certain resemblance between the old-time feminine modesty and the newfangled safe space. In both, women are dependent on men to defend them—whether they are old-school gentlemen or sensitive men like Mr. Russell.

But feminism is not the only source of intolerance in the universities today—nor the only reason for my disinvitation. It is joined by the notion that free speech is an expression of one’s power rather than a contribution to truth or toward a reasonable settlement. In this notion, speech is more determined by one’s desire to get the better of an opponent or to defeat an enemy than offered as persuasion to an audience. Speech is like a gesture or wail of defiance, a rallying cry, or shout of triumph. It is defined as coming from within oneself against the hostility awaiting from others in the outside world; it is not defined by the need to address them, their needs and their opinions. Speech is irrational rather than rational, for this view regards reason as nothing but an instrument of power with no power of its own.

Thus understood, free speech is no longer possible or desirable. It is diminished by the view that seizes on the power of speech to manipulate and denies its power to enlighten. Speech is not an alternative to power but a form of power, political power, and political power is nothing but the power to oppress. A professor like me might trick gullible students and lure them to the wrong side. So it is quite acceptable to exclude speakers from the other side. Supremacy of the wrong side must be prevented by supremacy of the right side. The university cannot be an ivory tower, a force for good above partisanship. It must be what it has allegedly always been, either a battleground fought over or a redoubt of the winner. This is the idea of postmodernism, a present-day version of ancient sophism.

When I was much younger and a student in the 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his allies went on the warpath against the universities, demanding that they exclude Communist professors. The universities defended themselves at that time, rejecting the spirit of what is still notorious as “McCarthyism.” I little thought that I would now in my old age be qualified for exclusion from Concordia University in our free neighbor to the north, not as the member of a conspiratorial organization serving an enemy power, but simply for holding opinions shared by half the American—and perhaps the Canadian—population.

Mr. Mansfield is a professor of government at Harvard and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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The Crucifix in Every Building?

I am thinking through this one. I appreciate that a country is certainly shaped by it’s culture and religious history, but is this the best way to present it? But why should a people not want to retain their heritage? Hmm.

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BY FRANCIS X. ROCCA AND DREW HINSHAW
WSJ 9/10/2018

ROME—Lawmakers in Italy’s new parliamentary majority want a crucifix to hang in every government building as a “permanent reminder” of the country’s Christian identity.

Across Europe, nationalists and upstart politicians are promoting the use of Christian imagery as they seek to change the Continent’s established politics and define Europe as Christian in reaction to recent Muslim immigration.

Christian symbols have long been a visible part of public life in much of Europe, but the new efforts reflect a more emphatic embrace of Christianity as central to Europe’s identity.

The moves are stoking disagreement among Christian leaders and drawing criticism from allies of Pope Francis, who says that Christianity mandates generosity toward immigrants.

“The cross is a sign of protest against sin, violence, injustice and death,” the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a close adviser to the pope and editor of a Vatican-vetted magazine, La Civiltà Cattolica (Catholic Civilization), said on Twitter last month, in response to the legislative proposal by lawmakers with the League, an anti-immigration party. He called the use of the crucifix for political purposes “blasphemous.” And he warned: “Hands off!”

Many antiestablishment parties, a rising force in European politics, say preserving their countries’ Christian identity requires sealing Europe off to Muslim immigrants. They are pulling voters from mainstream parties that favor a more secular style of politics.

For decades after World War II, parties that identified as “Christian Democrats” were a mainstay of center-right politics in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. But the decline of that tradition has opened up an opportunity for nationalists and far-right parties to claim the cross as theirs.

“The Christian Democratic parties saw Christian identity as a way to unite their nations, not divide them,” said Rocco Buttiglione, a former Italian cabinet minister and lawmaker with a series of such parties. “But they weren’t strong enough in defending that identity. They watered it down in order to attract votes on the left, and that left an enormous void.”

In Eastern Europe, Catholic leaders have responded more favorably than in Western Europe to efforts by politicians to link Christian identity to nationalist ideas.

In Poland, where government offices are frequently decorated with 2-foot-tall crucifixes, many Catholic bishops openly sympathize with the ruling nationalist party’s restrictive policies on refugees. In October, church leaders supported a mass prayer called “Rosaries at the Border” that implicitly opposed Muslim immigration.

Few Hungarian bishops have objected as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recasts Hungary as an explicitly Christian country, closed to non-Europeans and battling what he calls “Muslim invaders.”

Mr. Orbán uses the term “Christian democracy” in a new sense: to describe the “illiberal” governance he is ushering in—a model he has said was inspired by more autocratic nations like Russia and Turkey.

Many church leaders express support for Mr. Orbán’s priorities, including the anti-migration fence Mr. Orbán had built along Hungary’s southern border in 2015.

“I’m in total agreement with the prime minister,” Hungarian Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo said at the height of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, saying the pope “doesn’t know the situation….They’re not refugees. This is an invasion.”

Mr. Orbán, a Protestant, showers the Catholic Church and other denominations with millions of dollars in direct subsidies, and ends many speeches with the Latin expression “soli Deo Gloria” (“to God alone the glory”).

“It is not good, not healthy, and dangerous,” said Bishop Miklós Beer of Vác, one of the few Hungarian bishops to oppose Mr. Orbán’s adoption of Christian language for nationalist ends. “Separation of church and state is a very important basic principle.”

The picture is different in Western Europe. The leader of the southern German state of Bavaria recently mandated that all state buildings display a cross. Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier and a member of the Christian Social Union, said on Twitter in April that the requirement shows a “clear commitment to our Bavarian identity and Christian values.”

The move hasn’t reversed the CSU’s slide in opinion polls ahead of regional elections in October, or dented support for the far-right Alternative for Germany. But it has drawn fire from Germany’s leading Catholic prelate, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, another of Pope Francis’ top advisers, who accused the CSU of “expropriating the cross.”

“You don’t understand the cross if you only see it as a cultural symbol,” Cardinal Marx said.

In Italy, the idea of defining Christianity as a part of the national identity drew support from much of Italian society not so long ago. In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that crucifixes in Italian classrooms, where they have hung under legislation dating back to the 19th century, violated the “right of parents to educate their children according to their convictions.”

The ruling drew protests from the Vatican and from politicians across the spectrum who said the crucifix exemplified universal values such as human rights. The court reversed its decision two years later, reasoning that the Italian policy didn’t amount to a “process of indoctrination,” since a “crucifix on a wall is an essentially passive symbol.”

Mixing church and state has become more divisive in Italy as antiimmigration politicians advance and clash with Pope Francis.

Several of Italy’s high-profile church leaders have criticized Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigration League, for brandishing the Bible and a rosary at political events.

The bill that would mandate the display of crucifixes in Italian government buildings was introduced by lawmakers from the League in March. It would cover “all offices of public administration,” including polling places, prisons, hospitals and airports, though it isn’t specific about where in the buildings the crucifix would need to be displayed.

The League’s embrace of Christian symbols is opportunistic, said the Rev. Rocco D’Ambrosio, a professor of political philosophy at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. “It’s a kind of attempt to defend itself, to say ‘we are Christians, we want the crucifix in all public spaces, so you can’t accuse us of not being Christians.’ ” —Anita Komuves contributed to this article.

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