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Camille Paglia and How We Debate Social Issues

“To dismiss topics that are being discussed by college students is a terrible political strategy. The left has professionalized gathering new supporters with questionable narratives—and classical liberals remain inert. We need to change that.”

Recently, a group of students at the University of Arts in Philadelphia has been trying to silence feminist author and professor Camille Paglia. The cause of it all seems to be her views on feminism, #MeToo, and transgenderism. She openly speaks out against contemporary feminists and their way of dealing with sexual harassment, assault, and “rape culture.” For this, they want her to be, “removed from the faculty and replaced by a queer person of color.” 

However, Paglia—who defines herself as a libertarian—is not the only one suffering at the hands of radical activists. People from various parts of the political spectrum have been silenced by a mob that tries to shut down everything that is against their own perspective. As many liberals are too afraid to stand up, these left-wing mobs are able to make this the new normal on the Left—and classical liberals play a role in it.

These ideas, nonetheless, rarely seem to reach college students. Part of this is due to the influence of the Left itself. But part is from the lack of clearly articulated positions on these topics, which include race and gender, from classical liberals themselves.

Classical liberalism has had a resurgence, and this political movement, which started with thinkers such as David Hume, John Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, and others, has recently taken center stage in our political discourse. 

Liberalism, in its classical sense, is well-known for its fight against government intervention in the economy. Its principles center around free market capitalism, private property, civil rights for all, and individual liberty. This last one holds that people are distinct, unique, and responsible for their actions; thus, neither government nor others should dictate how they should run their lives.

But modern classical liberals fail to establish a clear communication channel with those who sympathize with social causes. It is more appealing for young people to join left-wing movements that attract them by talking about identity politics, oppressors versus the oppressed, gender equality, and so forth. They—those staunchly on the Left—seek to monopolize tolerance. But talking about racism, sexism, and human rights is important for everyone, not just those firmly on the Left. 

“Liberalism, however, must be intolerant of every kind of intolerance,” wrote Ludwig von Mises in 1927, and he wasn’t the only one with this point of view. It is not illiberal, as some may think, to talk about problems that harm a certain group. That will not make you a collectivist.

John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft, both important thinkers and “classical liberals”, were talking about women’s rights centuries ago. André Rebouças, who was a black man and a liberal, was fighting against slavery in Brazil in the 1800’s. 

The list of contributions for social progress made by those sympathetic to liberal ideas is long, but somewhere along the way these causes were captured by the Left and used to build a narrative. It is, after all, a narrative in which one side (classical liberals, libertarians, and conservatives) is bigoted, and those on the Left are almost beings of a higher morality.

It is from this notion that social justice warriors were born. They only exist because of the notion that they are the only ones who know what true justice looks like. This dangerous assumption has led them to dismiss freedom of speech and other individual rights and ask instead for more government intervention to ensure their politically correct utopia.

But to combat them in the intellectual battlefield, it is necessary to talk about the same issues they do—from a different perspective, of course. In this matter, the difference between left-wingers and classical liberals is the mechanism used to achieve liberty and social prosperity. For classical liberals, it is by granting individual freedom that a society becomes wealthier, smarter, healthier, more technological, and fairer.

These ideas, nonetheless, rarely seem to reach college students. Part of this is due to the influence of the Left itself. But part is from the lack of clearly articulated positions on these topics, which include race and gender, from classical liberals themselves.

But when authors such as Camille Paglia and Christina Hoff Sommers talk about feminism from another perspective—an individualistic one—they reach a demographic that is not happy with the actions of the contemporary movement but don’t know what to do or where to go. It is in this way that this group of young people might be able to change their minds: by listening to authors who take their concerns seriously but come at them from a different approach—a classically liberal one. 

If the subject-matter is the gender pay gap, why not scrutinize it from a classically liberal perspective? The same applies to all the other topics that have been widely dominated by left-wing viewpoints. 

It is vital for classical liberals to become a larger part of the political debate and talk about social issues that appear to be so important to young people. It will also help to put classical liberals, front and center, on the map. If this does not happen, the movement will continue to consist of a small niche of people who like to talk about economics, rather than opening themselves to the possibility of playing a greater role in the overall political discourse of today.

Julio Araujo is a law student at FMU. He writes about politics, economics, and society.

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