BOOK REVIEW: Camille Paglia tackles the 'tyranny' of 'tolerance'

History moves in cycles, and the plague of political correctness and the attacks on free speech that erupted in the 1980’s have returned with a vengeance, argues Camille Paglia.

“We are plunged once again into an ethical chaos where intolerance masquerades as tolerance and where individual liberty is crushed by the tyranny of the group,” Paglia declares in “Free Women, Free Men”—a compilation and re-release of her most notable essays from the past few decades, many of which illustrate the deep roots of the cultural problems of modern campus life.

Written in 1992, Paglia’s essay The Nursery School Campus: The Corrupting of the Humanities in the United States deftly argues that the intellectual crisis on college campuses had its origins in the fallout of the 1960s.

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“Drugs may have expanded the mind, but they arrested its long term productivity,” causing the youth of the 1960’s to enter careers other than academia, she writes.

Students that did attempt to enter academia weren’t the “genuine radicals” that could create change, but rather, the “time servers and mercenaries who now hold many of the senior positions there.”

Bereft of the radicals that could have inspired a cultural change, colleges instead incubated multiculturalism and political correctness—new cultural traditions with their root firmly in the old-fashioned mores of yesterday.

The emergence of these new academic paradigms “represent a continuation of the genteel tradition of respectability and conformity,” Paglia says.

“They have institutionalized American niceness, which seeks, above all, not to offend and must therefore pretend not to notice any differences or distinctions among people or cultures.”

And when academia does notice differences among people, they’re celebrating those differences, not critiquing them. And they’re doing so “in a closed system in which scholarship is inseparable from politics.”

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Paglia suggests that this marriage of personal politics and research may have had almost no positive impact on the constituencies these disciplines seek to help.

“It is, indeed, questionable whether or not the best interests of blacks, women, and gays have been served by these political fiefdoms.”

Paglia also attacks the rise of campus thought police and speech codes — noting the incompatibility of these repressive measures with a truly free campus.

“The campus is now not an arena of ideas but a nursery school where adulthood can be indefinitely postponed.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen