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Camille returns

I have always had a soft spot for Camille Paglia. I am not sure how much I agree with her (on a number of issues, not at all), but I always find her entertaining and stimulating. You do not often find lefty gender academics with a taste for guns and (American) football.

Her last bout as a columnist for Salon came to an end several years ago when she took time off to write a book, but she is back, and as acerbic and idiosyncratic as ever. A few tidbits:

On Hillary Clinton:

Does Hillary Clinton have a stable or coherent sense of self? Or is everything factitious, mimed and scripted (like her flipping butch and femme masks) for expediency?

On capitalism and leftism:

Last year, Global Exchange, a San Francisco human rights group, pressured Hershey to disclose the sources of its cocoa beans and to take further steps to ensure proper working conditions.

This kind of outreach to expose and remedy injustice represents the finest spirit of leftism, a practical, compassionate activism – not the pretentious postmodernist jargon and sanctimonious attitudinizing that still pass for leftism among too many college faculty. Capitalism, which spawned modern individualism as well as the emancipated woman who can support herself, is essentially Darwinian. It expands any society’s sum total of wealth and radically raises the standard of living, but it leaves the poor and weak without a safety net. Capitalism needs the ethical counter-voice of leftism to keep it honest. But leftists must be honest in turn about what we owe to capitalism – without which Western women would have no professional jobs to go to but would be stuck doing laundry by hand and stooping over pots on the hearth fire all day long.

Prickly and provoking, its good to have her back.

28 comments to Camille returns

  • Brad

    It expands any society’s sum total of wealth and radically raises the standard of living, but it leaves the poor and weak without a safety net.

    So is all this just Marxism with a modern ear? Marx too saw the place for Capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t leave anyone behind or without a safety net, that would society as a whole, and it just might be that some people deserve to be where they are. Lifelines to the “less fortunate” should be based on individual values, with an eye toward changing behaviors multi-facetedly, and not some double blind system of oblique impounding and hemorrhaging money, and behavioral control by Central Command.

    I question how great it is to have any pundit back who is wrong. We don’t need any more propounding of the fallacy that only the State Cares AND is efficient at redistributing.

  • James

    Miss Paglia is perhaps the most pragmatic leftist on the American scene right now. I like reading everything she writes, even if I do not immediately subscribe to her position on the issue(s) and opinion(s) being put forth. Yes, I too missed Camille during her absence.

  • Midwesterner


    Capitalism, that is reinvestment in the means of production, does leave non-productive people without a safety net. I have a cousin who has been profoundly brain-damaged since the age of two. He is far from being any contribution to the means of production.

    Please do not mistake a spending strategy for a moral code. The moral code is Life, Liberty and Property, and its only safety net for these people is efficient application of moral principles by people who have them.

    ‘Capitalism’ has been used by many people in various ways. Many of these usages very clearly do not address the well being of people like my cousin. We must be continuously aware of this reality and be prepared to address it in public forums. It is a valid concern.

  • Midwesterner

    I have always enjoyed Camille Paglia’s incisive observations and cat among the pigeons iconoclasm.

    I’m glad she is back. I wish I could get an RSS feed for only her opinion articles instead of all of them.

    I think the reason I like to read and hear her in spite of substantial disagreement is that I think she lives in the same world I do. Not many on the left do.

  • michael farris

    My favorite part is on Cheney’s svengali hold on Bush: “(his) independent judgment was paralyzed, as if by snakebite. It’s an unsavory, toxic relationship, a vampiric pseudo-marriage”

    Not a pretty mental picture at. all.

  • Brad


    Such circumstances in no way means that a “left” solution is the answer. Capitalism is an economic system that allows the means of production to be private. Therefore the rewards of that production should remain private. THE ALLOCATION FROM THERE is a matter of individual conscience, and is too, private.

    If you reread my comment, I did not argue against any safety net(s), just that the left (and Statists in general) assume that safety nets can only be contrived through socialism. That’s where the return of such pundits, when there are already too many to mention, isn’t necessarily welcome.

    And, to bust it out one more time, the social safety nets that have been contrived thus far have left us with a $47 Trillion accrual basis debt. And the quality of socialized care is declining. How heartwarming is it to have funds forcibly taken to support disparate aims, and where I, by chance, did agree with an aim, to know that it is in the hands of the State, whose own standard of value in interposed in the execution, with the ever lengthening list of abuses made on the socialized model? And in the cases where bahavioral modification is necessary if there is ever to be an improvement, we should desire that the State’s system of value be the judge? Some blase one size fits all*? It obviously cannot judge correctly since it has a habit of stimulating the behaviors that cause the problems in the first place.

    *Also, the “safety net” has now become a net to ensnare all into socialist constructs. Transfers are now made to people in all walks of life. The rationale for a simple safety net, once it has been socialized by forced transfer, will inevitably grow well beyond its initial reason for existing. Private means of altruism will still be in control of those who choose to give, and who must choose to give in the future; it won’t come out of its box so easily.

    I guess most simply put, once force is used to dislodge capital-and-labor’s output from the individual who invested/produced, it will inevitably become corrupted and self-serving. And because it is non-market based, it will not flush from the system as it otherwise would.


    Personally, I have a cousin who is severely retarded. He is institutionalized. I have no idea if it is public or private. But if it is public, does this mean I should adore it? No. I have no doubt that he would be looked after one way or another.

    Another example, one that I’ve shared before and been chastised for, but anyway…

    My dad was diagnosed with diabetes in the late 70’s. All he had to do was control his food intake, and all would likely have been well. He didn’t. His kidneys failed. He continued to smoke even as heart disease set in and surgeries were done. He continued to do as he pleased even as society paid for his dialysis. Eventually his organs began to detiorate and he had a heart siezure of some kind and lingered for a week. The bills for his last week on earth totaled more than $75,000.00, paid from private insurance. The previous seven years had much private spending as well as nearly $300,000 in public money for dialysis. The point? What obligation did society at large owe my father who could not control his appetites? THAT’S the main argument against forced socialized giving – you can’t control people’s behavior so obliquely, and I certainly don’t want to live in a society that tries.

    And I have little doubt that all of our new age puritanism against any and all vices originate on the fear of what personal habits will have on the public treasury.

    Once you have a socialized safety net, over time you can’t exclude anyone. Then everyone is in the net, and soon every behavior is a public problem to be legislated away. Too fevered? Simply look at the growth of the Federal Government and its programs.

  • Midwesterner

    If you reread my comment, I did not argue against any safety net(s),

    And if you reread mine, you will see that I never said a word for them.

    What I did say is that it is a valid concern and a valid topic of conversation. As (presumably) an individualist advocate for Life, Liberty and Property, you must be prepared to either advocate for the death of those ‘useless’ people or explain how your ideals will care for them. Saying ‘it won’t be a problem’ doesn’t cut it.

    I have no doubt that he would be looked after one way or another.

    I do have doubts. And it is reasonable for others to have doubts. We cannot allow a religious belief in the ultimate good of our principles to let us ignore these questions like idiot leftists ignore questions of production.

    The answer regarding your father is “we don’t” and as importantly, we had no right to restrict your father’s free market access to the providers of his choice.

    Our medical industry is set up on a fascist/corporatist model. I think you may be tilting at the wrong target first. We need to get free market pricing before we get free market billing, not at some later date.

  • Brad

    Saying ‘it won’t be a problem’ doesn’t cut it.

    But using bland phrases like “social safety net” will? The practical actions by socialists has led to an accrual basis $47 Trillion debt, I notice you had nothing whatsoever to say on that front. This mess started with Progressive rose colored glasses.

    And it is a quasi-religious beliefs of socialism as the solution to perceived ills of society that quell any nauseous feelings one might get of threatening to put someone in a box for not forking over their property to “betters” who presume to know what malady the booty should be spent on. It starts with warm fuzzies like what tossing “social safety net” around. There is nothing religious about my perspective. It is socialism that roots itself in (coerced) alms, not the belief that individuals can support each other of their own free will.

    Being concerned for other people, perhaps, is not debatable, it seems to be a natural function, but it is the who and why that socialism forgets about. It chooses to use your resources to target areas based on their own priorities. Yours are of no consequence. I’d much rather care for those who surround me than to be provide a safety net for Gladys Nusbaum of Salt Water Flats. She entered this world without my say so, and will exit it as well. I don’t deign to tell her how to live, and she has no claim on my pocket book. I am disinterested. It is socialism which forges artificial interests, and breaks the bank in doing so.

    As for doubts about my cousin, you can rest assured that the extended family would have seen that there was support to the immediate family in support of him, just as there was for my grandfather who lived to 99 and was cared for by the siblings and grandchildren. You needn’t have doubts there.

    This will be last comment as I may have driven a stake through the heart of an otherwise benign blog entry. I guess it just gets my blood up just how blithely the empty phrase “social safety net” gets thrown around, itself not properly defined or understood what the implications are. It simply unleashes the leaders on a complacent electorate, and people who otherwise don’t give a crap can feel that “something is being done”. That’s the socialist way. And more on topic, having one more harpy in favor is nothing to rejoice over, regardless of the stiffness of the prose.

    Anyway, I had an argument not so long ago based from an particular article (I of course can’t now find to link) that purported that anyone who did not automatically buy into the socialist safety net had no invite to the table of discussion, being fascistic sociopaths, and no this wasn’t from some obscure rag. It’s not a matter of me not allowing a debate, it is they who cast me/us out first.

    If we don’t strike at the root of activist Statism and reveal if for what it is and will always be, we continue to lose. My stance and viewpoints weren’t radical 100 years ago, they were positively mainstream. Now I’m a kook who has no business in the discussion (by most standards of today). The discussion is merely how much to take and can get away with, and efficiency and efficacy be damned.

  • veryretired

    Isn’t it odd how all these safety nets woven for the poor and helpless seem to turn into nooses for those who dissent from the collectivist program?

    It isn’t compassion or justice which drives the statist to continuously demand more state control of anything and everything—it is the will to power.

    Leftists, of course, always have only the purest of motives. Just ask one, she’ll tell you. And they’re tolerant, too—unless you disagree.

    Then it’s re-education camp for you, until you get your consciousness raised to the correct height. Any college student can tell you how that works.

    But that’s OK. It’s for the poor and helpless, after all.

  • Midwesterner


    You seem to be having some trouble keeping track of what exactly you are arguing. You began by quoting Camille Paglia’s statement –

    It [capitalism] expands any society’s sum total of wealth and radically raises the standard of living, but it leaves the poor and weak without a safety net.

    From her accurate statement, you concluded “So is all this just Marxism with a modern ear?” and launched of into a tirade on the failures of socialized welfare including such preposterous statements as “actions by socialists has led to an accrual basis $47 Trillion debt, I notice you had nothing whatsoever to say on that front.”

    Brilliant! Of course I had nothing to say about that. Because it has absolutely nothing to do with your statement that Paglia’s observation that capitalism “leaves the poor and weak without a safety net” is “just Marxism with a modern ear.”

    I made a statement “‘Capitalism’ has been used by many people in various ways. Many of these usages very clearly do not address the well being of people like my cousin. We must be continuously aware of this reality and be prepared to address it in public forums. It is a valid concern.” which has sent you into a ballistic attack on Marxism. Get a grip.

    A ‘net’, as these people are using the term, means something that nobody can slip through. If you see a safety NET in capitalism, explain. I don’t see one. This whole idea of turning an uncomfortable observation of truth into a diatribe on Marxism would be laughable if it weren’t a tactic that is so commonly employed against us.

    It IS a legitimate observation and unless we can learn how to answer other people’s concerns about it without going all red in the face, we will be treated as eugenicists. Again, if you see a NET in capitalism, please explain it. I don’t see one. What I do see is people with enough wealth and cheap enough necessities that they can actually afford to care for the non-productive members of society. This is clearly not something that any long established collectivised society has been able to achieve to a degree even approaching that of capitalist societies. Typically, once collectivist societies have squandered what they have stolen, the disadvantaged are the first in line to start suffering.

  • Midwesterner

    Isn’t it odd how all these safety nets woven for the poor and helpless seem to turn into nooses for those who dissent from the collectivist program?

    VR, so very true. I farmed for a few years. There are safety ‘nets’ for farmers. A cynical person would call them a purse seine. Rather than calling them a noose, I think a tourniquet for the neck. If you don’t do precisely as you are told, you can lose your business. Do to my mistake of following the advice of the guy in the government (ASCS) office, I had to get my congressman to help me not lose my entire operation and go into debt besides. It all had to do with whether the previous operators of the farm had filed for some program or other. What they actually did with the field wasn’t the issue, it was how they filed it. Information that I did not have access to but the guy in the ASCS office giving me the advice did.

    Needless to say (I hope) I am no friend of ‘safety nets’.

  • J

    It isn’t compassion or justice which drives the statist to continuously demand more state control of anything and everything—it is the will to power.

    I don’t think that’s true. I know many wealthly professional people I who think the government should spend more of their money for them. They believe such a course would be more just than the status quo. They gain no power, and lose wealth, by the situation they advocate. Socialism in this case is an inevitable result of democracy combined with a majority of people sharing this belief. It’s nothing to do with a desire for power.

    It’s comparable to members of a golf club voting on dress code. Those voting for jacket and tie to be compulsory do not do so because they have a will to wield power of the behaviour of others. They simply say that they would rather all members of the club dress in the same way. There is clearly a difference between being able to wear a jacket and tie in a club, and being a member of a club where all people wear a jacket and tie. Those who vote for dress codes in private clubs are tiresome bores, but I don’t attribute their vote to their inate desire to control the behaviour of other members.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m clearly aware that membership of golf clubs is optional, and membership of nations is not. But I think the psychology of the voter in these cases is basically similar.

  • Telcontar

    This whole discussion of ‘safety nets’ touches on what seems to be one of the biggest dividers between libertarians (and why I hesistate to call myself one). Namely, is the fact that some people in my society are poor and/or suffering a bad thing? Do I, in my individual relationship to the poor, have any obligations? While I am not sure that I have obligations, I certainly see the suffering of others as an evil thing, something not to be desired. It seems to me that a lot of libertarians disagree and think it’s perfectly fine, ethically speaking, for some to suffer and/or be disadvantaged.

  • veryretired

    Mid—if you haven’t already, try to rent a documentary by a guy named Weisman about the welfare office in New York City. He just sets up his cameras and films the daily operations of this bureaucratic nightmare.

    As you said about your farm, it becomes glaringly obvious that people mean nothing, only whether or not the forms are filled out properly.

    J—if I’m ever accused of a crime, I sure hope you’re on the jury. Such unconquerable faith in the goodness of everybody would be invaluable for the defense.

  • My take when I read that paragraph (a local Milwaukee blogger linked the column) was that perhaps Capitalism needs to be kept honest, but the Left can’t do it as long as it refuses to see the value she points out.

    How about the theory, reported on the last page of her column, that Percy, not Mary, Shelley wrote Frankenstein?

  • nicholas gray

    Some left-leaners here, like Camille, seem to feel that some things should be left to govmints, like the water supply. Us Aus libertarians have been very argumentative about the hypothetical benefits that private ownership would bring, and then i heard that Britain already has privatised water! How is that going? Are the ruthless capitalists letting their customers die from diseased water, or looking after you? (That’s been the sum of our arguments to date.) Some facts here would help us immensely, whether pro or con.

  • Git

    i heard that Britain already has privatised water! How is that going? Are the ruthless capitalists letting their customers die from diseased water, or looking after you?

    Charging us over the odds for something that literally falls out of the sky, failing to maintain pipes so that gallons of water is wasted every day, declaring drought conditions at the first sign of a sunny day – yep, it’s been great

  • I have to agree with the admiration for Paglia. She is at least a clever writer who is thought provoking without the bitterness.

    The “safety net” has made everyone pay for all causes so that people can’t pick and chose. Its gives power to the government and out of the private/non-profit sector. Not a good thing at all. Read the Welfare State We’re In to see what damage it has wrought.

  • I am with Mid on this. Brad, what do you think would have happened to your cousin has he not had any extended family, or any family at all, for that matter?

  • nicholas gray

    Hey, Git, glad there’s one satisfied customer!

    Now, what was it like before privatisation? Was it worse, or as good, or better?

    And Midwesterner, how is water handled in your part of the US? And are you happy with it? (I just thought of a perfect name for that part of the US that is in North America- We can call you South Canadians, residents of South Canada! North Canada would be the semi-independent Inuit nation of Nunuvit, leaving Canada in the middle! And calling yourselves South Canadians might make some parts of the world treat you better!)

  • Midwesterner

    I haven’t had government provided water since I was eight years old. (Don’t ask how long ago that was.)

    The closest I came in the time since then was a incorporated well/water company that had about 400? houses on it. Where I’ve lived for the past 25 years we’ve had our own private wells. The water is very economical. All it costs is a little electricity. Government water? Whether it’s hidden in your taxes or totally on your bill, your paying like a tourist.

    About the South Canada thing, that’s a funny remark from to hear from a west New Zealander. Or are you a South Indonesian?

  • nicholas gray

    I come from North Tasmania, also known as The Big Island, thanks. I was just wondering why you haven’t thought of a useful name for your land, because American could be from any part of both continents. Perhaps you could be known as North Columbia, instead?

    And does anybody else have any comments on the water situation in their countries, so we New South Hollanders can think about it?

  • Well, here in Israel (South Lebanon or Northern Egypt?) it is state owned and supplied, obviously (modern Israel was founded by socialists). Water is notoriously scarce in this part of the world, and we (the state, that is) are even buying some of it from Turkey. In South Florida (or would that be Northern Cuba? Hey, this is fun!)) it was supplied by the city, in our case, because AFAIK there are no wells in that area. I think in the US it is private only in areas where there are wells available, but I could be wrong, of course.

  • Sunfish

    In my corner of East California, it’s government. The water is supplied by a special district that owns reservoirs and catches snowmelt and runoff. They may also own wells, I’m not sure.

    In the American West, water law is a real mess. Who owns which water is a question that needs its own court and everything.

    Even better: let’s say you stick a bucket under your downspout to catch rainwater to save for your plants: illegal. The water fell out of the damn sky onto the roof you bought and paid for, but it’s still someone else’s water.

    You may now roll your eyes. I would encourage that, actually.

  • Midwesterner

    Well, Sunfish. Don’t sleep outside with your mouth open. Come a sudden rainstorm and you might have to arrest yourself.

  • Speaking of water in California reminds me of “China Town” – what was the deal there?

  • nick g

    I thought of another name for you non-Canadians! You could call yourselves ‘Statesmen’, and the Canadians could be ‘Provincials’ You have States, and they have Provinces, so that seems fair.

  • Paul Marks

    One of the many reasons that the word “capitalism” is not useful (in spite of its being used by Ludwig Von Mises as well as by Karl Marx) is that it implies that somehow different basic principles come into to play when careing for the helpless in a society where most prodution is undertaken in factories (and using lots of capital goods – machine tools and so on) to a society where most production is undertaken at home or in a small workshop that is next to the home (using hand tools).

    In reality a person with brain damage can no more be a village blacksmith than he can be a factory hand (in fact a factory is more likely to be able to find him something to do – unless the case is very serious).

    Fraternities (what the British used to call “Friendly Societies”) have been operating since Roman times and before. And they do not just apply to the members that are able in body and mind – they also apply to the dependents of these members.

    In 1911 (at a time when wages were vastly lower than they are today) over 80% of British industrial workers were members of such “Friendly Societies” (and the percentage was rising)

    Of course some people will always refuse to join anything, and some such people will die (or be made unfit for work in some other way) and leave dependents – this is what charity is for.

    “Charity” has become a dirty word, very well call it “benevolence”, but the virtue of charity is one of the basic virtues without which there can be no good society.

    As late as 1947 (in spite of the economic mess caused by two world wars and a world depression) most hospitals in Britain were charitable institutions and they had many totally free beds and wards for those unable to pay anything for their treatment.

    This was, in the past. the same with education provision and even with such things as funding for the arts (indeed the “Arts Council” was one of Lord Keynes personal statist projects – it did not exist before World War II).

    Of course this is all going down the memory hole. The old charitable hospitals, and other such, have mostly been closed (or the evidence of their true origins has carefully removed) and the story that people are taught is “first there was darkness, and then the state moved in the darkness and said….”

    Of course living standards for the poor were worse many decades ago. But at that level of economic development (technology and so on) living standards for people in work was much lower as well.

    The only valid comparison is with other places at the same time.

    Take the example of 18th century Glasgow (a city later famous for its poverty). There was no “poor law” in Glasgow at all (in the 18th century the poor law applied to England and Wales not to Scotland) and yet the poor were no worse cared for in 18th century Glasgow than they were in any major city in Europe.

    By the way this can not be explained away by the claim that “public education in Scotland prevented people from falling into poverty” as government schools were few and far between in 18th century Glasgow (nor were they free).