Sunday, October 29, 2006

Camille Paglia's Interview in Salon

I've always found Camille Paglia to be a thoughtful and intelligent feminist. And I agree with some of her insights, not all because I think she's wrong on the war in Iraq but I think her critique of her party and her understanding of culture is spot on:

That leads to the next topic -- the Democrats. They look like they're facing a breakthrough midterm election, but what about 2008?

I was so distressed when I heard that Mark Warner had dropped out of the presidential race. I thought he was going to bring fresh blood into the primaries. Are we really left with the same old tired nags and with robo-Hillary leading the pack? It's extremely discouraging because we would have won the last election if we'd had a better candidate than John Kerry, with his droning hauteur and his Boston-run campaign that made one gaffe after another. It was very close because the country was already getting tired of the Iraq war.

But what candidate do we have to offer when national security is the No. 1 item on the front burner? Democrats became so distracted by their focus on domestic issues over the past 25 years that they're weak on national defense. I started talking about this when I was trying to reform feminism in the early '90s: If we want a woman president, we need to start training ambitious young women not in women's studies, with its myths of universal male oppression and female victimage, but rather in military history and national security issues. That's why Hillary, after she arrived in the Senate, began doing her homework by getting on the Armed Services Committee. But my generation of baby-boom Democrats hasn't done much deep thinking about international issues except in terms of postmodernist fragmentation or fuzzy, smiley-face multiculturalism. We desperately need better candidates.

As for Warner's departure helping John Edwards' candidacy -- good Lord, that guy is such a lightweight! Are we really going to put America's national security in Edwards' hands? He has no relevant experience whatsoever.

You expect Republicans to be Brahmins, to be self-interested and not affected necessarily by the decisions they make – it's really part of their appeal. Don't you think Democrats' alliance with moneyed elites hurts them more than the GOP?

The Democrats' portrayal of Republicans as fat cats out of touch with ordinary Americans just doesn't fly anymore, and they should drop it. I think the center of the Republican Party really is small-businessmen and very practical people who correctly see that it's job creation and wealth creation that sustain an economy -- not government intervention and government control, that suffocating nanny-state mentality. The Democrats are in some sort of time warp in always proposing a government solution to every problem. It's like Hillary's philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, does it? Or does it take a strong family and not the village?

What's broadened the appeal of conservatism in recent years is that Republicans stress individualism -- individual effort and personal responsibility. They're really the liberty party now -- I thought my party was! It used to seem as if the Republicans were authoritarians and the Democrats were for free speech and for the freedom to live your own life and pursue happiness. But the Democrats have wandered away from their own foundational principles.


It seems like religion has never been a bigger issue in American politics, recognized on both sides of the aisle as something that needs to be addressed. Have the Democrats changed the longtime Republican characterization of them as godless?

Well, as long as the Democrats are perceived as the anti-religion party, we're going to lose the culture wars. That's why Hillary has made such a show of churchgoing and wearing crucifixes -- even while there seems to be little connection between her Christian ideals and her backstage activities as a politician and money raiser. But religion is absolutely central to this country in ways that Europe's secularized intellectuals fail to understand. I'm speaking here as an atheist who studies religion and respects it enormously. In the history of mankind, the benefits that religion has brought to society in shaping behavior and moral choice are overwhelming in comparison to the negatives, which anyone can list -- like religious wars and bigotry. Without religion, we'd have anarchy.

Religion is also a metaphysical system that honors the largeness of the universe. It's that sense of largeness, which my generation used to call cosmic consciousness, that is missing in the cynical ideologies promoted by the elite universities -- like post-structuralism, which is obsessed with politics and language and has a depressingly debased view of human experience. Post-structuralism doesn't see the stars or the enormity of nature, which for religious people symbolizes God's power. So I think that the constant sniping at religion coming from liberal Democrats is really a dead end.

But there's reason for alarm at the right-wing intertwining of religion and politics, where the Bible is seen as the prophetic master plan of the universe and where Israel as the Holy Land must be protected at all costs from Muslim infiltration -- duplicating the agenda of the medieval crusades. But to claim, as Democrats often do, that there has always been a separation of church and state in America is misleading: The U.S. simply has no official state religion. The formative influence in our intellectual heritage came from Puritan dissidents in New England. Major universities like Harvard and Yale were founded on religious principles.

The more liberal parents are, the less contact their children have with religious ideas. That will surely disable our future American leaders from being able to understand the religious commitment of Islamic fundamentalists. Liberal journalists often seem incredulous about how anyone would seek death for religious principles. But that was the entire history of early Christianity, when the saints willingly sought martyrdom. We're heading into that world again.

What do contemporary intellectuals have to offer anyhow? What passionate engagement do they have to appeal to young people? Liberal secularism has become bourgeois and materialistic. It's snide, elitist, and politically marginalized. The chattering class clearly has no effect whatever on decision-making in Washington. Conservative radio hosts have been claiming that liberal criticism of Bush's decisiveness in invading Iraq mirrors the shilly-shallying of 1930s intellectuals during Hitler's rise. The intellectuals, with their cultivated internationalism, always counsel procrastination and leave it to the men of action to deal forcefully with fascist regimes.

Of course Democrats are genuinely divided about how we should proceed. There are people like me who want immediate withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq. Every war goes on and on because more and more blood has to be spilled to prove the value of the lives already lost. It's an endless cycle of insanity. Withdrawal would probably plunge Iraq into civil war, and the Democrats don't want to be blamed for the blood bath. But it's going to be nasty whether we stay or go.

I doubt withdrawal has ever been a possibility for this administration. Bush sees Iraq as a staging station to safeguard the oil fields by democratizing the Middle East. Our military bases may be permanently planted in Iraq. It will require a very strong and visionary future president of either party to get us out of this mess.

(Link via Drudge Report)

I think she is right, that women who want to be president should spend time in our military. That is a brilliant idea because they will be Commander in Chief and would need a working knowledge of the military.

And she admits something that many atheists wouldn't, that the world needs religion. This flies in the face of someone like Dawkins who believes that we shouldn't be allowing children to be brought up to follow their parent's religion:
Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious myths. He disagrees with tolerating them, with cooperating in their colonization of the brains of innocent tykes.
(Link via