In her latest interview, Paglia has again criticised the liberal idea that sex distinctions are an oppressive construct that should be abolished. Even as a young academic she couldn't go along with the denial of biological distinctions between men and women:
Then there was the time she "barely got through the dinner" with a group of women's studies professors at Bennington College, where she had her first teaching job, who insisted that there is no hormonal difference between men and women. "I left before dessert."
She believes that a denial of sex distinctions has led to a denaturing of men and women and a culture which "doesn't allow women to be womanly" and which leaves men with "no models of manhood."
I've covered that ground before at this site. What's a little different is that Camille Paglia then goes on to connect the "neutralization of maleness" with civilisational decline. According to Paglia, "What you're seeing is how a civilization commits suicide."
She believes it would be better if more political leaders went through the military:
She starts by pointing to the diminished status of military service. "The entire elite class now, in finance, in politics and so on, none of them have military service—hardly anyone, there are a few. But there is no prestige attached to it anymore. That is a recipe for disaster," she says.
For reasons I'll explain shortly, I believe her instincts are on the right track here. But she herself doesn't give a very convincing explanation for her position. She says of the current crop of politicians:
"These people don't think in military ways, so there's this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we're just nice and benevolent to everyone they'll be nice too. They literally don't have any sense of evil or criminality."
I don't think that's the real issue at stake. Let me say, first, that as long as the state ideology is liberalism it doesn't really matter what calibre of leader you get. A better leader will put their talents to the wrong ends.
However, I do think it's true that modern society tends to produce leaders who are stuck at the material level. They tend to be technocrats: "economic men" who are oriented most strongly to material outcomes like GDP and who see the nation state as a vehicle to assert power and influence internationally or to reshape domestic society along highly reductive ideological lines. These leaders want to establish an administrative state that, for the sake of rational and equal function, prefers to deal with people as abstracted, interchangeable, individual units.
So, even if we manage to successfully challenge liberalism as the state ideology, we are still left with the task of producing leaders with a better mindset than this. We need an elite class which is raised to get above a crudely material level of thought (and above reductive ideology).
The question is how you achieve this. One way is to allow boys and young men to belong to fraternities of various kinds, as this tends to bring out virtues such as loyalty, courage, honour and self-discipline, and also a positive sense of history and tradition.
The military is one institution that has some of the features of a fraternity (though in Western countries the military is just now being feminised) - which is why I think Camille Paglia's instincts are at least partly right.
Schools can also act as fraternities, though only under certain conditions. If a boys school has a long history, fine buildings and grounds, a strong sporting tradition, a mostly male (and masculine) staff and an ability to enforce rules of discipline, then you are likely to have the beginnings of a fraternal culture amongst the boys.
Sports teams can act as fraternities; so can adventure activity organisations like the scouts; so can cadets; so can service organisations; so can rescue organisations such as surf lifesavers. Even all male occupations and workplaces can have some of the same effect.
It's little wonder that a sense of masculine virtue has declined, given that most of the traditional fraternities have now been feminised. Even the boy scouts had to give up the "boy" part of its existence.
I'm not suggesting that fraternities are sufficient to produce a higher quality elite. I do believe, though, that they are part of achieving this aim - of getting men to think beyond a bean counting materialism or individualistic hedonism. That was once part of the reason for their existence - the cultivation of character and masculine virtue - within the Western tradition.