The ever-unpredictable Camille Paglia continues to garner headlines with her anti-feminist feminism. In The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil, Paglia criticizes “wildly overblown claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses” which she says are usually just “oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.”

Such misplaced focus, she says, obscures “the true danger to young women, too often distracted by cellphones or iPods in public places: the ancient sex crime of abduction and murder.”

Too many young middleclass women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense.

Misled by the naive optimism and “You go, girl!” boosterism of their upbringing, young women do not see the animal eyes glowing at them in the dark. They assume that bared flesh and sexy clothes are just a fashion statement containing no messages that might be misread and twisted by a psychotic. They do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.

I can’t see any man getting off with these words – which seem to shift way too much blame onto women, especially the many who have suffered sexual violence without any provocation from their side.

However, some of Paglia’s words have a resounding ring of truth about them, especially her pinpointing of the naive view of human nature that many young people grow up with, leaving them totally unprepared for the wild “wilderness” that is this world and fearfully unaware of the “constant nearness of savage nature.”

Where’s the sense of evil?

She traces this dangerous innocence to the lack of a profound sense of evil on both the right and the left. She says right-wing conservatism sees evil not as something inside of us, but as something “out there,” something they identify with “a foreign host of rising political forces united only in their rejection of Western values.” But she reserves her most withering criticism for the left:

The basic Leftist premise, descending from Marxism, is that all problems in human life stem from an unjust society and that corrections and fine-tunings of that social mechanism will eventually bring utopia. Progressives have unquestioned faith in the perfectibility of mankind.

The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.

She concludes with a final swipe at university academics, campus bureaucrats, and government regulators who deny sex differences are rooted in biology and who think that stronger administrative measures “can and will fundamentally alter all men.”

No Solutions

Paglia is a social critic, not a social constructor. As always, she’s good at the take-down but not at the build-up. She sees the problems, but has no solutions. She (unwittingly?) shares the Christian view of human depravity, but rejects Christian salvation. So why pay any attention to her words?

Well, as Christians, we can surely build on Paglia’s common grace observations about human nature and the human problem.

We can highlight how it’s not just Christians who see the inherent savagery of the human heart, and the accompanying fragility of civilization.

We can use her words to show the superficiality of modern responses to human evil – on both the left and the right.

We can warn about how vulnerable our society is without something greater than humanity to restrain and change the human heart.

We can prepare our children for the wilderness by teaching them about the nearness of savage nature, not only in others, but in themselves.

And above all, we can demonstrate how the Bible not only agrees with Paglia’s tear-down but also offers a rebuilding plan – both for individuals and our society. We have a solution, THE solution, that not only civilizes but saves.

  • Steven Birn

    I touched on this on my blog a couple weeks ago. Paglia is remarkably consistent in her critique of second wave feminism. As such she has to tolerance for the sexual assault nonsense taking place on campus. Paglia’s is a radical feminist libertarian who drives a lot of feminists up a wall. Her critique of art and particularly avant garde is especially interesting.