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Weekend Movies – 5 Easy Pieces

20 Jun

Love and Mercy.  This is the best movie I’ve seen this year, in part because it has the advantage of having Brian Wilson‘s music as its soundtrack.  (Some of us are just young enough to have only faint memories of the better Wilson songs, until they were brought back to everyone’s attention as the score to HBO’s BigLove).  It’s also the most libertarian, combining themes from Ayn Rand and Thomas Szasz.  Also a feminist movie, with a working class divorcee the White Knight who saves the day.

It’s the biography of Brian Wilson, the singer/songwriter/composer responsible for the Beach Boys.  Seeking treatment for mental illness, which may or may not have been aggravated by a physically and emotionally abusive father (and a 60s drug use problem), Wilson was literally enslaved by his psychiatrist, who over medicated him, took his money and property, and tried to force him to produce more hits while drugged into submission.  Only the love and concern of car saleswoman, Melinda Ledbetter, he chances to meet (capitalism!), saves him from death.  After his recovery, he marries his princess charming rescuer, and they have 5 children and he composes two more award winning albums.  Wilson is played young and old by Paul Dano and John Cusak, but the scenery is really eaten up by Paul Giammati as the evil psychiatrist slaver and the ubiquitous Elizabeth Banks as Melinda.  Wilson is a Hank Rearden character, who believes he deserves punishment and is essentially evil, something his father had beaten into him and something his own sins as a husband and father in a first marriage (never fully explained or revealed) have for him confirmed; and Dr. Landy (Paul Giammati) is the Lillian Rearden ready to tap that guilt for sadistic fun and envious profit.  With Banks it’s as if Atlas’s Cheryl Taggart had met Rearden and they save each other together.  All against a yummy background of California scenery, from Malibu to the Hollywood Hills and retro shots of 60s Los Angeles pool parties and recording studios.

This movie reminded me of The Man Who Fell to Earth, the 1976 film where David Bowie played a Martian who falls to earth and is exploited by a cabal of government bureaucrats and crony corporations for his advanced scientific knowledge.  Association of Libertarian Feminists co-founder Sharon Presley penned a great review of Fell back when she was a hipster NYU grad student, pointing out how much it shared with Atlas Shrugged.  (Presley’s review is pre-internet and not online, so frustratingly I cannot link!  If someone finds a physical copy of it I’d love to post it here at Insomniac.)

(Side Note:  Paul Dano is the new male Catherine Keener.  A touchstone like Keener, if he is in a movie, often a quirky indie film you know nothing about, you can assume, 99% of the time, it’s pretty darn good.  These people either know how to read a script and assess a project in advance, or they have the freedom to turn down garbage.)

Film:  A+      Libertarian Quotient:  7

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Pitch Perfect 2.  Busy Ms. Elisabeth Banks, who is in The Hunger Games, and Magic Mike II, and Love and Mercy (above) is also the director…and producer…and an actor… reprising her role as an acapella contest judge from Pitch Perfect.  You’d think being spread so thin this she couldn’t make this be good, but it is.  It’s kind of a more cerebral Porky’s, but with a female sensibility.  Lots of almost sophomoric jokes about sex, nudity, and bodily functions.  The plot involves the all female acapella singing team, the Bellas (from the first Pitch Perfect) being disgraced when they accidentally moon President Obama (who is made fun of, briefly). and then have to win back their title against a German team who think they are the master race.  The always appealing jolie laide Ana Kendrick leads her team to…you have to watch to find out.  The girls also learn about entrepreneurship as interns at a recording studio.

Film:  B+          Libertarian Quotient:  5

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Jurassic World.  A perfectly serviceable entry into the franchise.  This return to the woebegotten Costa Rican island has more libertarian content than some of the previous Jurrasic films, as the danger is increased by genetic engineering by Defense contractors seeking to make bigger and better weaponized reptiles.

The movie has been the occasion for some internet fun, as a scene in which the studly Chris Pratt’s character “calms” three velociraptors has generated parody memes.  But the joke hits on a truth, which is that Chris Pratt’s pulchritude is palpable; seeing him makes you want to put your lips all over his body (if you are so inclined anyway) in a reaction very similar to looking at stock photos of Marilyn Monroe (who also produces that reaction in me – maybe I’m just hungry?).  (There is also a new computer game Lego Jurassic World.)

That’s actually one minor problem of the movie.  I generally like gingers, including ginger women, but Chris Pratt, who is basically the new Gerard Butler, is totally hotter, at least in this movie, than cold and papery Bryce Dallas Howard.  I don’t believe he’d be chasing her instead of her him.

The movie is speedy enough to keep you from being bothered by the fact that you may have known how it would end.  Early on we are shown the herpetological equivalent of a loaded gun, and then it reappears in the middle of the film, so we know it is going to be used, about 125 minutes later.

Film: A     Libertarian Quotient: 6

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Boulevard.  Robin William’s final film, posthumously produced.  A depressing, mediocre movie that did not need to be made.  The official release date is July 10, but it’s being previewed now at gay film festivals (which is where I saw it).  Williams plays Nolan Mack, a closeted married gay loan officer, a very down market version of Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman, with a catatonic and ailing father in a nursing home, a childless, passionless, marriage, a boring but spacious house covered in doilies and thick curtains, and an obnoxious friend (Bob Odenkirk).  Then he meets a gay rent boy, Leo, who is hot, but his character is not exactly the same as that of Julia Roberts and this isn’t a remake of Pygmalian.  The gay press reviewers (as opposed to the libertarian reviewers who happen to be gay) think it is a untold story of what it was like to be a gay man before you could be out, who marries because you must, and quotes 60 and 70 year old gay men on how this is finally a film that speaks to them.  That’s nice.  What the fuck does that have to do with the rest of us?  I guess you could claim it is an eye opening window into gay history for the youth.  Other gay reviewers think the movie has great acting.  But it is boring so what does that matter?

William’s Mack has always been gay and never really acted on it, instead marrying a female literary academic (actress Kathy Baker), a substitute for his childhood/lifelong friend, an aspiring novelist (Odenkirk).  (I often find Odenkirk annoying so this was a good use for him.)  The hooker (Robert Aguirre) has a violent pimp and other problems, and trying to save him blows up Nolan Mack’s life.  In the final scene we jump to his going away meeting with Odenkirk; William’s is suddenly in better fitting jeans and a snazzier jacket, with hair that is no longer gray, and Odenkirk is finally headed to Manhattan to try to write the Great American Novel, young girlfriend in tow.  What happened in between with Kathy Baker and everyone else we never know.

I used to be a major donor/sponsor of DC’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival.  We’d sit through many bad movies about serial killers taking out gays just to see a handful of short gay romantic comedies.  Cable TV (i.e., capitalism) allowed more channels to serve niche markets (gays and also indie film lovers) so that more and better gay fare is available, and even made the other channels compete by including gay characters; and gay film festivals shrank from two week long event parties to weekend long affairs.  We just stay home now and watch better stuff on TV.  We don’t need to like mediocre gay fare anymore and include it in our programming.

If you watch the official trailer for Boulevard (below) you’ve seen the whole movie unless you enjoy watching Kathy Baker’s (et al) facial motor fine motor skills for 88 minutes.

Film:  C-         Libertarian Quotient:  1

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Entourage.  Jeremy Piven, last seen on British TV in Mr. Selfridge, and Adrian Grenier, last seen in 2006 in The Devil Wears Prada, finally get some work.  Most people who loved the HBO series Entourage will be satisified but not overwhelmed by this conclusion to the story started on TV of whether Grenier”s Vincent Chase will ever have a hit movie.  One continuity problem is that in the four years since HBO stopped airing the series, most of the entourage have developed thick necks and the beginning of jowls (except Jerry Ferrara, “Turtle,” who has dramatically lost weight).  It’s clear at least four years have passed, though I think we are supposed to believe the film begins right after the series ended. If you didn’t see the series I don’t know if the film will make a lot of sense.  The movie within a movie Vincent Chase stars in and produces seems to be a libertarianish dystopian story in which a DJ is kind of Edward Snowden.

Film:  B-          Libertarian Quotient: 3

Libertarian women’s history month: Suzanne La Follette

27 Mar

Suzanne Clara La Follette (June 24, 1893 – April 23, 1983) was an American journalist and author who advocated for libertarian feminism in the first half of the 20th century. As an editor she helped found several magazines. She was an early and ardent feminist and a vocal anti-communist.  Much of her career from the 30s to the mid-50s consisted of trying to find financial backing for a series of libertarian magazines, first working for Albert Jay Nock and then hiring him as a contributor, in a relationship slightly like that of Joan Kennedy Taylor and Roy A. Childs, Jr.   The Freeman, still published today by the Foundation for Economic Education, is the surviving publication of her career.  Like Zora Neale Hurston, she seems to have had little or no contact with Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Patterson, or Ayn Rand.  One can only imagine what might have happened if these five women had had more collaboration.

She was born in Washington state into the politically prominent La Follette family. Her father was U.S. Congressman William La Follette; her brothers included politician William Leroy LaFollette, Jr. and Chester La Follette, a painter along with two other brothers and two sisters.  Author Mimi LaFollette Summerskill was her niece. 

She grew up in the wide open spaces of the American West. Her grandfather, John Tabor, was a 49er, having crossed the plains toCalifornia after service in the Mexican-American War.  Her father, William La Follette, had first come to the Washington Territory as a 16-year-old from Indiana. By the turn of the 20th century, he was one of the largest growers and shippers of fruit in the Inland Empire.  LaFaollette was born on her family’s large wheat and fruit farm along the Snake River in southeastern Washington state. As she told an interviewer who tracked her down many years later, she and her siblings “grew up on horseback” at a time when “the automobile had not yet come in.” It had begun coming in, though, a few years later, when Suzanne was on the verge of entering her teens and her father decided to lease out his rural property and build a new family home in the college town of Pullman, near the Idaho border, then with a population of approximately 1,500, the majority connected in some way with Washington State University. That school opened its doors in Pullman in 1890, so that it had been in business there more than 15 years by the time the La Follette family showed up in town.  Suzanne finished high school in Pullman and, at the age of 16, enrolled at Washington State. But she had only about a year there before her family was uprooted again. Her father was elected to Congress, and they all moved east.


While living in Washington D.C. with her family, Suzanne worked in her father’s Capitol Hill office as well as that of his cousin Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr. As a young woman still in college, she observed many of the great political and intellectual debates of the time at the home shared by the two LaFollette families.  Apart from two years in the Washington State House of Representatives at the turn of the century and some time on his local school board, William La Follette confined his political career to the second decade of the 20th century, when he himself was in his 50s. But that single decade in Washington, DC was an eye-opening experience for his daughter Suzanne. She was 17 when she arrived in the nation’s capital and 26 when she left. She worked part time in her father’s congressional office and in her cousin Bob’s senatorial office, while finishing up her degree at Trinity College.  She witnessed Woodrow Wilson’s two terms in the White House from what amounted to a front row seat, including his disastrous decision to intervene in World War I and his attempt to suppress the dissent that decision naturally touched off all over America.

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Libertarian feminist Suzanne LaFollete’s family home in DC, on a block little changed since her residence.
Posted by Bruce P. Majors on Friday, March 27, 2015


While completing her college education, La Follette was involved with many of the great events of the day. She worked in her father’s congressional office as well as the office of their cousin, Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr.. For much of that period the two LaFollette families lived together in a large home that William La Follette had purchased. Debate and conversation were encouraged at the dinner table and a steady stream politicians, writers, labor leaders, professors and other opinion makers engaged in policy and political arguments late into the evening.  Living in the “huge old house on Sixteenth Street” (2108 16th, just above U Street NW) were her parents, those of her siblings who were still living at home, Fighting Bob and his wife, and their three youngest children. (The house was until recently the Embassy of Senegal, now the Embassy of Angola.) For the first three of those four years, Fighting Bob’s youngest kids included Robert La Follette Jr., two years younger than Suzanne. The younger La Follette moved back home to Madison in 1913 to attend the University of Wisconsin, then succeeded his father in the US Senate in 1925 and spent more than two decades as a Senator himself. Meanwhile, Suzanne had decided to leave Washington altogether to try her hand at journalism,  by 1919 landing a job at  The Nation, then a weekly  owned and edited by a tireless advocate for civil liberties and against imperialism, Oswald Garrison Villard.

At The Nation, Suzanne met a fellow staff writer and editor, Albert Jay Nock, almost as old as her father, a former Episcopal clergyman who had enlisted in the ranks of radical journalism a decade earlier, working on the American Magazine with Lincoln SteffensIda Tarbell, andJohn Reed. Nock was erudite, aloof, sardonic, fascinating. 
Nock recognized the talent and intelligence of this fresh-faced 26-year-old from Washington and made her his protégé. A year later, in 1920, when the financing came through for a new weekly magazine of which Nock would be editor in chief — The Freeman — he  made her managing editor. The Freeman was a Georgist paper, and its editorials (which Nock himself wrote) took a more or less Georgist line, though Nock brought in many non-Georgists to write for the magazine. He really didn’t care what their opinions on political economy were if they weren’t writing about political economy.
Libertarian revisionist historian Jeff Riggenbach (from whose essay on LaFollette parts of this biography are derived) reports that one LaFollette associate ended up as the model for an Ayn Rand character:  “As his literary editor, Nock hired Van Wyck Brooks, who had spent the war years as an admirer of H.G. Wells and a supporter of Eugene Debs. As one of his most frequent contributors, Nock chose Lewis Mumford, who later served as one of the real-life models Ayn Rand relied upon when she created the character of Ellsworth Toohey in her novel The Fountainhead.”

“At one time or another,” Nock wrote his autobiography, the Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, “we printed quite a bit of stuff that none of us believed in, but it all conformed to our three conditions” of The Freeman‘s editorial policy. “The first one,” he wrote, “is that you must have a point. Second, you must make it out. The third one is that you must make it out in eighteen-carat, impeccable, idiomatic English.”  The magazine lasted only four years, and only with the support of a major angel donor.

Later she founded a revival of the magazine, called “The New Freeman” in 1932 which lasted only fifteen months. In the early 1950s, she served as a managing editor of yet another revival of Nock’s journal, the libertarian periodical The Freeman, with John Chamberlain and Henry Hazlitt serving as executive editors. In that role, she came into periodic conflict with Hazlitt due to her “sometimes strident way of expressing herself” on behalf of Senator Joseph McCarthy. It is this magazine which is widely considered to be an important forerunner to the conservative National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, another journal for which she was also an early contributor and managing editor.

After her father left Congress. she moved to New York City where she lived and worked for fifty years. She lived for most of this period in the Chelsea Hotel. Her brother, Chester La Follette‘s art studio was upstairs from her apartment on the tenth floor. During the 1920s she spent four years as an editor for the Freeman working as a deputy to Albert Jay Nock editing and writing. When the magazine folded, she turned her talents to writing, producing award winning poetry, as well as two books on very different subjects. In Concerning Women, she broke new ground as she analyzed feminism from the perspective of economic equality. Her former mentor, Nock, found the book to be brilliant and original. In Art in America she produced a monumental survey of American art from colonial times to the 20th century. The art historian, Walter Pach wrote the introduction.

In the 1930s she organized a new version of the Freeman, won a Guggenheim Fellowship for study of the fine arts, lectured at the Art Students League of New York, and traveled to Mexico as a member of the Dewey Commission.  La Follette, who had been interested in Russia since the revolution of 1917 and had been in contact with many exiles, including former president, Alexander Kerenskyserved as secretary to its chairman, the philosopher John Dewey and wrote the summary of the Commission’s findings after conducting investigations in Mexico where Trotsky was in exile (soon after he was murdered by an agent of Joseph Stalin).   The committee’s members, like La Follette, Carlo Tresca and Dewey, were not Trotskyists, but consisted of anti-Stalinist socialistsprogressives and liberals. In the 1940s and during World War II La Follette worked as director of foreign relief programs for the American Federation of Labor, focusing her efforts on keeping communists out of the American labor movement.

La Follette spent the rest of her own career trying to recapture what Albert Jay Nock had put together and managed to hold together for four years there in Manhattan in the 30s. For Suzanne, it was the best job she ever had, the high point of all her years in journalism. She had loved working with and for Albert Jay Nock.   Until she was well into her 60s, she worked indefatigably to find financial backers who would underwrite a reborn Freeman.

Twice she actually brought something of the kind off — or, at least, helped to bring it off. In 1930, six years after the original Freeman had ceased publication, at the age of 37, she became founding editor of a weekly magazine called The New Freeman, even managing to lure Nock back to write a column. After 15 months, the financial angel for the project backed out.  And it was nearly two more decades before Suzanne was able to bring off anything comparable in her ongoing effort to resurrect The Freeman.

In 1950, at the age of 57, she joined with Henry Hazlitt and John Chamberlain to found yet another, fortnightly, version of The Freeman; she served as managing editor, as she had on the original Freeman back in the 1920s. This latest version of the magazine attained a larger paid circulation and survived longer than either of its predecessors. It was 1956 before it was sold to the Foundation for Economic Education and transformed into a monthly of a very different sort — a kind of Reader’s Digest for radical free marketeers.  In her final editorial effort she became the founding managing editor of the magazine William Buckley founded in 1955, The National Review. She retired from this post in 1959 at the age of sixty-six.   In an interview conducted by libertarian feminist Sharon Presley in 1980, her colleague, John Chamberlain stated that she was a libertarian, not a conservative.  Her feminist views in fact often clashed with the conservative point of view. Based on an interview with Buckley, as reported in the “Freewoman” profile, Presley states, for example, that “in 1964, when the New York Conservative Party, of which she was a co-founder, came out in favor of anti-abortion laws, she demanded that her name be dropped from the Party’s letterhead – and it was.” 

LaFollette’s full-length book, Concerning Women, broke ground in the 1920s, but went out of print for a second time after a 1972 reprint in the Arno Press American Women series. In 1973, an excerpt entitled “Beware the State” was included in “The Feminist Papers,” an anthology edited by Alice Rossi. A short biography of La Follette, based on interviews with her grandniece Maryly Rosner, her brother Chester La Follette, and her colleagues John Chamberlain, Priscilla Buckley (sister to conservative editor William F. Buckley, Jr.) and Helen Tremaine, can be found in the article “Suzanne La Follette: The Freewomen” by Sharon Presley.

La Follette was active in the League of Equal Opportunity, a feminist organization that, unlike the larger National Women’s Party, opposed not just sex-based minimum wage legislation, but all such legislation. She explained her opposition to such laws in Concerning Women. 


Still politically active In the 1960s she was one of the founders of the New York Conservative Party. She ran for congress in 1964 and lost. In her 2004 book, Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary: Completing the Twentieth Century, Susan Ware described the many intellectual gifts that made La Follette such a force among the New York intelligencia for so many decades.  La Follette was “a rigorous opponent of government intervention. She was a very beautiful woman, with a hilarious sense of humor, a grammatical stickler … a feminist … generous and warm-hearted, recalled William F. Buckley Jr., who knew her in later years.”





In the 1970s, La Follette sold her Bucks County farm and left the Chelsea Hotel and New York City. She returned to the West Coast, settling in Palo Alto, not far from the Stanford University campus. She is interred in Colfax, Washington with other family members.

Libertarian women’s history month: Dana Berliner

26 Mar
Dana Berliner (May 31, 196? – ) was born in southern California, where her father, Michael Berliner, was the first executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute and a professor of education at California State University and her mother, Dr. Judith Berliner, is a researcher on blood vessel diseases at UCLA Medical School.   Berliner is Litigation Director at the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm in Arlington, Virginia founded in 1991 by Chip Mellor and Clint Bolick. She was co-lead counsel for Susette Kelo in the landmark United States Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London
Dana received her law (1991) and undergraduate (psychology, 1987) degrees from Yale University, where she was a member of the Yale Law Journal and represented clients through the legal services program. After law school, she clerked for Judge Jerry Edwin Smith on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  Younger colleagues at the Institute of Justice, when asked about Ms. Berliner, praise her brilliance.  (Indeed, one can imagine reading about her work would inspire many to desire to go to law school, or wish that they had done so.)   Living in the once bohemian Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. , Berliner has recently become active in a common libertarian passion, finding people interested in starting a Montessori school for her child to attend.

 

Ms. Berliner is best known for her work in the area of eminent domain. Along with co-counsel Scott Bullock, Dana litigated the landmark case Kelo v. City of New London, one of the most divisive and widely discussed Supreme Court decisions in decades. More recently, Berliner acted as lead counsel for Bill Brody in the New York eminent domain case Brody v. Village of Port Chester. Currently, Ms. Berliner is representing the Community Youth and Athletic Center, a non-profit boxing gym for children in National City, California, defending it from potential eminent domain use by the city. She has also served as lead counsel in a successful case that garnered national attention challenging Ohio’s requirement that African hairbraiders spend a year in cosmetology school, in which they learn nothing about braiding, in order to practice their profession.  When she successfully defended Vera Coking, an elderly widow in Atlantic City, N.J., the Institute’s work defending small property owners from eminent domain became nationally prominent. As co-counsel, she stopped a state agency from condemning Mrs. Coking’s house to give it to Donald Trump for a limousine waiting area. She has gone on to litigate many other free enterprise and eminent domain cases.  Dana has previously secured a victory in favor of two New Orleans entrepreneurs in a federal First Amendment challenge to the City of New Orleans’ ban on sidewalk book vending. As trial counsel, Dana also secured a ruling that the Nevada Transportation Services Authority violated the rights of several would-be limousine entrepreneurs by subjecting them to an onerous and arbitrary licensing process that gave undue power to existing companies opposing competition. 
In addition to her work in the courtroom, Ms. Berliner has authored two works concerning eminent domain and been involved with the issue in other ways. In 2003, she wrote Public Power, Private Gain: A Five-Year, State-by-State Report Examining the Abuse of Eminent Domain. She also authored Opening the Floodgates: Eminent Domain Abuse in the Post-Kelo World, a report published by the Castle Coalition on the use and threatened use of eminent domain for private development in the year since the Kelo decision. Dana has also written amicus curiae briefs on constitutional eminent domain issues in more than ten states. Over the past few years, she has also taught many continuing legal education classes on public use. She works with owners around the country in opposing the condemnation of their homes and businesses for private use.

http://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?193070-5/eminent-domain

Dana has written for or had her ideas quoted in The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Capitalism magazine, The Washington Post, and The Washington Timesas well as on various radio and television broadcasts, including 60 Minutes.  In 2012 she was on the faculty of the Ayn Rand Institute’s summer conference.
Linda Greenhouse, covering the Supreme Court case decriminalizing homosexuality, in which IJ filed a brief (along with the Cato Institute),  quoted Berliner  in the New York Times :  “Most people may see this as a case purely about homosexuality, but we don’t look at it that way at all.  If the government can regulate private sexual behavior, it’s hard to imagine what the government couldn’t regulate.  That’s almost so basic that it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.
In her most famous case, Berliner foreshadowed Edward Snowden in her assessment of what it’s like to be the libertarian David (or Dana) going up against the governmental Goliath, saying that the United States Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. New London, gave rise to “a tidal wave of outrage.  The decision brought to light this incredible rift between what lawyers and cities thought was the law and what the American people thought was the law,” Ms. Berliner said. “This is certainly the situation of losing the battle and winning the war.”
Ms. Berliner published the following commentary on the Kelo decision in the New York Times:
No one should be surprised by the aftermath of the Kelo case — neither the fact that absolutely nothing has been built on the land nor the fact that Pfizer is now pulling out of New London altogether.
Nor is it surprising that Pfizer has now pulled out. The company took advantage of the phenomenal tax break when it was there and is pulling out just before it ends. The deal and the project didn’t make any financial sense for a private company, and no one would have agreed to it without a huge subsidy.The evidence at trial showed that nothing would be built on that land. The developer (who has now left the project) did a study showing there was no market for the biotech office buildings the city claimed would replace the homes. But the courts didn’t want to look at that evidence. If they had, Susette Kelo would still be in her home and the rest of us would be safe from eminent domain abuse.
Risky real estate deals are, well, risky. That means they often fail. And if a private company made a risky deal that failed, we wouldn’t even be discussing it. But when government uses eminent domain to remove people from their homes, while spending tens of millions of public dollars on a failed risky deal, that’s a travesty.
The public was upset even before the project went down in flames. To the utter astonishment of local governments, developers and the courts, the American public despises eminent domain. Indeed, after the decision, there was overwhelming public disapproval, crossing political lines.
Eminent domain is wildly unpopular and pie-in-the-sky promises usually turn out to be empty. Hopefully local governments have learned an important lesson.

Libertarian women’s history month: Marsha Enright

24 Mar

Psychologist and educator Marsha Enright (October 1, 195? – ) born in Chicagoearned her B.A. in biology from Northwestern University in 1973, and an M.A. in psychology from The New School for Social Research in 1976. In 1990, Mrs. Enright cofounded the Council Oak Montessori Elementary School and served as its executive director. Marsha Enright is currently the president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, and leads development of the College of the United States and its wholly independent scholarship fund. Enright also was a writer for The New Individualist magazine  She discovered Montessori education through studying Ayn Rand.  Her institute offers on line symposiums “a unique “total immersion” learning experience, our institute aims to free students from the limitations of traditional higher education. Our distinct curriculum and learning environment empowers students to develop superior thinking and reasoning skills. We enable students to become successful and versatile leaders in their lives and communities by cultivating a love of learning, philosophical inquiry, and the promotion of reason, achievement, happiness and freedom in all that they do.”




In an interview in the late 90s with Full Context, Enright outlined her intellectual biography:


“I read through Atlas the summer following The Fountainhead, and all the books and essays I could get my hands on after that, over the next few years. This included Nathaniel Branden’s The Psychology of Self-Esteem, which greatly influenced my thinking in psychology, directly, and, indirectly, by introducing me to the works of Arthur Koestler in a footnote. I have been immensely influenced by Koestler’s ideas in both biology and psychology and, when it comes to writing science well, he is my hero.

“It’s funny, a discussion I had recently made me reflect on how I went about accepting Rand’s ideas. Some friends were arguing that it was the practical arguments about capitalism that finally convince people about the truth and value of a free society, but I know that’s not what convinced me: it was the argument for the value and necessity of freedom for the reasoning mind. I guess I always sharply felt the oppression of others trying to tell me what to do—especially because of the stupid things they would want me to do! I experience the value of freedom in a very strong, personal way, even though I’ve never been the victim of political repression.This deep attachment to freedom makes me an absolute basket case when I hear the Star Spangled Banner or read about what Jaroslav Romanchuck is going through!


“I remember that the biggest question in my mind after reading the novels was: was I fundamentally a person like Roark or Dagny? I knew I wasn’t like them in many ways, and it seemed difficult to know what personality characteristics were essential to be like a Randian hero. For one thing, Dagny and Roark seem to have been born the way they are—popping full-blown from Athena’s head, so there weren’t many clues as to how to get from there to here. And for another thing, Rand’s characters all seemed to be very little affected by other people’s negative judgments and feelings towards them. And in the characterizations, this seemed to be mixed up with being independent in judgment. 

“So, did you have to be both in order to be a Randian hero? I knew I wasn’t exactly like that because, even though you’d have to kill me before I’d stop arguing what I thought was right, I also knew that the kindness or meanness of others and the way other people felt and acted towards me could really affect me—it could make me feel wonderful or awful. I’ve spent many years thinking about the psychology involved, and my article “Why Man Needs Approval” in Objectivity examines this issue at length and in light of scientific research. I reached the conclusion that these characteristics—independence of judgement and sensitivity to the feelings of others—are two separate issues, the one an issue of character and the other of temperament. I ultimately decided that Rand, for personal reasons, had chosen to make her characters have the two characteristics together.


“And I also had some personal interactions with Rand that I found really interesting in regard to this issue of the essential qualities of her heroes, because I got to see what the author of these books was like as a person. You know, her personality and temperament weren’t very much like her heroes’: she wasn’t a serene, cool, calm person rather indifferent to the feelings of those around her—she was a wildly passionate, hot-headed woman who reacted sharply to negative criticism or feedback. And she was on an intensely felt mission to save the world.


“In the seventies when I was about 25, I attended almost all the lectures given by Leonard Peikoff and Allan Blumenthal in New York City. My best learning experience and most vivid memories from those lectures were conversations which I had with Ayn Rand. I would go up to her at the breaks and after the lectures and ply her with all kinds of questions—about the nature of free will or how to cast the movie Atlas Shrugged—and I was usually delighted to get her typically unique answers. I even got her talking about catsbetween lectures I had left a little pin of a cat arched and hissing at her office for her birthday. When I saw her wearing it one day, I asked her if she liked it and she said “Oh yes—it is ze essence of cat!” I even humorously threatened to bring my cats for her to see—at which she said “Oh no, dahlink, you can’t do that!” Sometimes I think she thought I was about 16 years old!

Once I mentioned to her that I had noticed where she got the name Danneskjold:from Victor Hugo’s first novel, Hans of Iceland in which the hero becomes the first of the Counts of Danneskjold! I thought this was a great tribute to him, but she worriedly said to me “Oh yes, but it wasn’t plagiarism because there really were counts of Danneskjold!”
You see, if you can picture this, Ayn Rand was worried that she would be perceived as trading on Victor Hugo’s ability and glory!

“The most striking thing that happened to me during these conversations is that Ayn Rand once asked my forgiveness. I wanted to bring this experience up because it was so different from the experiences of Rand related by so many other people, perhaps it gives a different side of her….”



Of one of her interactions with Ayn Rand, Enright wrote:  “In the 1970s, I attended courses taught by Leonard Peikoff and Alan BlumenthalAyn Rand was often present and I got to know her a bit. 

“I knew that we shared an affection for cats. Just before her birthday, I found a pin of a cat arching its back. I wrapped it and dropped it off at her office. Her secretary at first declined to accept the gift—until I said that it had only cost three dollars. 

“At the next course, I saw Rand wearing the pin, and mentioned that it was my gift. With her usual boundless enthusiasm and characteristically thick Russian accent, she exclaimed, ‘Oh, I love zis pin! It is ze essence of cat!’

Libertarian women’s history month: Kay Nolte Smith

23 Mar
Kay Nolte Smith (July 4, 1932 – September 25, 1993) was an award winning American novelist, influenced by the philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand.  Smith was born in Eveleth, Minnesota and grew up in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  She received her B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1952 and her Master’s degree in theater and speech from the University of Utah in 1955. She married Prof. Philip Smith in 1958.  After moving to New York City, she worked as an advertising copywriter and as an actress in summer stock and Off Broadway theater under the name Kay Gillian. She was tall and somewhat shy in person.


The Smiths went into professional theatre together.  She made TV commercials, performed off Broadway for a decade, joined several faculties as a teacher, then turned her energies to writing.   Smith was a student at the Nathaniel Branden Institute and wrote articles on Henrik Ibsen for Ayn Rand’s magazine,  The Objectivist.  She and her husband Philip J. Smith staged an Off Broadway production of Rand’s play Night of January 16th.  


Smith launched her career as a novelist after the demise of the Ayn Rand circle of the 50s and 60s.  Her first novel,  the mystery story The Watcher (1980), won the Edgar Allen Poe award.  Followed by Mindspell (1983), Country of the Heart (1988), and Tale of the Wind (1991). Mindspell delved into the witchhunts. After her research for that book, Kay asserted that records of this heinous time should be “mandatory reading in every Sunday school. This is what made me an atheist. Consider how deeply witch craze was rooted in religion. The papal sanction was not abolished for six centuries. How can anyone belong to a church that treated its members this way?” (Feminist Connection interview, December 1983). 


“The tragedy is that every brain cell devoted to belief in the supernatural is a brain cell one cannot use to make life richer or easier or happier.”
—Kay Nolte Smith, “Truth or Consequences,” speech to the 
Freedom From Religion Foundation 1983 national convention


Smith’s Catching Fire is set in the world of the New York theater, with an anti-trade union political stance. Mindspell centers on the conflict between science versus religion, with Nolte Smith stating this fiction was written “to challenge strongly the belief in the occult“. Her novel Elegy for a Soprano is a roman a clef inspired by Rand, Nathaniel Branden, and the circle around them.  (One Nolte Smith fan, Greg Swann, argues that most of Nolte Smith’s plots and characters are a working out of the implosion of the Nathaniel Branden Institute and a critique of the cultishness among Rand’s inner circle.)  Elegy for a Soprano also portrays the life of Jewish Holocaust survivors from Czechoslovakia and Norway. Two of her novels—Elegy for a Soprano and A Tale of the Wind—were nominated for Prometheus Awards in 1986 and 1992, respectively.  Her novels were heavily pushed by some libertarians of the time, who were eager to promote libertarians working in cultural expression beyond economic theory and political philosophy.



Atlasphere reviewer Michelle Cohen  asked Smith about her depiction of fans and geniuses:  “I met Kay Nolte Smith in person at the Free Press Association conference in 1986, and found her to be very generous in sharing her thoughts with me. I asked her if her view of genius had changed for the worse between writing The Watcher and Elegy for a Soprano. In The Watcher, the villain hunts for potential geniuses and nips them in the bud, whereas in Elegy for a Soprano, the villain is an artistic genius who hunts for devotees. Why did the victim become a victimizer?   


“She responded that her view of genius did not change — rather, she wanted to show a different aspect of a genius. Her interest was in exploring the possible characterizations of genius, rather than making a moral statement about genius per se. ”  Thinking of her as someone from the midwest who grew up or was educated in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Utah, it is easy to imagine she might have been somewhat cowed by the older, more established New Yorkers she fell in with.  It’s also easy to imagine that even if she did not question them then she would later reflect on their excesses.

In the 1980s Smith lived with her husband in Tinton, New Jersey and taught speech and writing at Brookdale Community College in nearby Lincroft.  She was one of several among Ayn Rand’s 1950’s circle of young protégés who was sought out by Libertarian Review editor Roy A.Childs Jr. before he died.  (I spent an afternoon with Ms. Smith, her husband, and Roy in her backyard in the late 1980s).  She published seven novels before her death from lung cancer at age 61 at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J.  Her final novel, Venetian Song, was published posthumously in 1994, to less acclaim than her earlier works.


In her obituary, writer F. Paul Wilson described Kay Nolte Smith:  “A few minutes with Kay and you knew you were in the presence of a keen mind, one so comfortable with its intelligence that it recognized no need to parade it around. She tended to keep her flags furled. The same with her carefully wrought fiction. No flashy surface displays, but all sorts of goings on in the depths.” (The Jersey Shore, October 1, 1993)  

Libertarian women’s history month: Anne Wortham

22 Mar
Anne Wortham, a prolific academic who has opposed a was born on November 26th 1941 in Jackson, Tennessee, the first of five children, she was raised in the segregated South where her parents instilled in her religious beliefs and the importance of education, self-reliance and self-improvement. As a youngster Wortham took piano lessons and developed a life-long interest in classical music and opera as a result of listening to radio broadcasts of performances of the Metropolitan Opera.  Her mother died when she was ten years old, and Wortham adopted the homemaker role and cared for her family while attending school and graduating high school as an honor student. 




In 1959 Wortham began studying at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) with the goal of becoming a secondary school teacher.  The civil-rights black-consciousness movement was just taking form. Martin Luther King was emerging as a leader, and all around Wortham there was the view that international humanism would solve all the world’s problems and that because blacks were victims, they were morally superior to whites. While in college she participated in Operations Crossroads Africa in Ethiopia during summer 1962.  Following graduation, from 1963-1965, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania.  “I had culture shock encountering the extraordinary human misery,” she says, “the almost disorienting openness of poverty and disease-it was like going back in time.” The next year, she went as a Peace Corps teacher to Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania), partly to help in her planned graduate study. “Things began to change for me then,” she says.

Seeing the lack of economic development in Africa, Wortham began to question the rhetoric of the U.S. civil rights movement and forged her own ideas about freedom. Wortham was beginning to have a problem with the incipient civil-rights movement, centered around its anti-white sentiment-its indictment of the white race and its embracing of all blacks. “I was also catching on to white liberals and their paternalistic world view,” she recalls.  She also began to learn about Third World politics. Western intellectuals proclaimed that the Third World was morally superior to the West. Wortham says, “I was supposed to be an authority on being repressed, but I didn’t know what to tell white liberals who treated me as a black instead of as Anne Wortham. It was complicated even further, because I needed their approval to make it. That’s when I realized these guys really wanted me to do the jig.”

In 1964, some friends handed Wortham a copy of a Playboy interview with novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. She was not much impressed, but a few months later, while shopping for curios in Kampala, Uganda, she ran across Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged and bought it. Again, she was not overwhelmed, but she was interested in Rand’s individualist philosophy. A few months later, she read another of Rand’s major novels, The Fountainhead. The experience changed her. “I finally could justify my misgivings about the demands and expectations coming from civil-rights and peace-movement colleagues. I knew my responses were not idiosyncratic-it wasn’t just that Anne was weird. I got to Africa and met myself, in an objective sense.”
She began a study of individualist philosophers and economists. Her father shipped her some basic works on capitalism, and she pored over them. Her relationships with Peace Corps friends turned bad, and she asked to be sent home.
In 1965, she returned to the United States, ready to write her position on the civil-rights movement. She tried to get a job at the Ayn Rand-allied Nathaniel Branden Institute. When that didn’t come through, she went to Esquire as an editorial researcher, the first black to work at the magazine. While there, she wrote for the liberty-minded Freeman and became a vocal critic of the civil-rights movement.


In 1967, Wortham went to work at NBC as a research assistant for Chet Huntley. She had decided not to go to graduate school in international relations, because she “wasn’t ready to run around apologizing for America.” She also wanted to put it on record that not all blacks think alike. But her experience at NBC convinced her that she “didn’t have a chance in hell” of writing from her perspective at such a place.

In 1977 she returned to academia to pursue a PhD. in sociology at Boston College. A year before earning the degree in 1982, Wortham published The Other Side of Racism: A Philosophical Study of Black Race Consciousness which explored how race consciousness is transformed into political strategies and issues, though intent on empowerment, undermine intellectual independence, individual rights, and economic and political freedom.  The result is continued racial tension and  African-Americans feeling disconnected from the society in which they live and function as citizens. 

Through her exploration of the writings of philosopher Ayn Rand and economist Ludwig von Mises Wortham grappled with the alienation she felt from those around her who wished to see any black person as an embodiment of the race, without considering the possibility of diverse backgrounds and views among blacks.  Wortham even famously had a debate in the 70s with another African American libertarian, Susan Love Brown, on black political movements.

In a review of the book John Chamberlain (who had been one of Edith Efron’s teachers) summed up part of her argument: “The freedom movement in Anne Wortham’s opinion took a wrong turn when it deserted the individual to focus on the demand for special treatment for ethnic groups. People who feel compelled to merge their identities in collectivities can never in her estimation achieve self-es teem. Martin Luther King did not go wrong in asking people to love one another, but it is in the nature of love that it cannot be imposed at group behest. The post-King history of the freedom movement has been filled in all too many instances with attempts to correct the wrongs of racism with still more racism. “Affirmative action,” which leads to quotas, is simply discrimination in reverse. Preferential hiring is still preferential hiring when it is based on color instead of on one’s kinship to the boss or on one’s age category, sex or religious affiliation.

“In her analysis of the post-King movement Anne Wortham identities five different types who have led blacks away from the idea of achieving a self-esteem that is “beyond racism.” There is the conventional integrationist who simply wants to conform. There is the power-seeking nationalist who believes in a group-imposed separatism. There is the spiritual separatist with the “black is beautiful” mentality that denies the possibility that whites will ever understand true spiritual superiority. There is the independent militant who says “if you can’t lick them, destroy their world.” And there is the ambivalent appeaser who says to himself, “if you can’t join either group, don’t let them know it.”
“In describing her five types Anne Wortham cuts loose with some beautifully direct writing that lifts her book and propels the whole argument forward. Sociological lingo is forgotten. We see clearly the wrongs that are being done in the name of Affirmative Action. Anne Wortham quotes an illustration offered by Thomas Sowell of a young black woman with an IQ of 142 and grades to match who was told that she would have been eligible for financial aid in law school if only her test scores had been lower.”

After writing the book, Wortham decided that she didn’t want to keep saying the same things, “screaming and yelling from the outside”-that is, as someone without the “proper” credentials. So she decided to pay the dues to gain legitimacy and finally went to graduate school, at Boston College, where she received her doctorate in sociology in 1982.


Her work caught the attention of Democratic Party campaign manager turned PBS talking head Bill Moyers, who interviewed her for his show (video above).  Of the encounter Wortham told The Freeman:  After the two-hour session with Moyers, he said to me: ‘You know, you are dangerous.”’I think he was facetiously referring to the fact that views like mine jeopardized the wish of black leaders to have the public believe that the black community was of one mind regarding their political and economic interests and their view of black history and race relations.

“Throughout the twentieth century blacks have had the opportunity to present their demand for civil rights in a way that would move Americans and their government toward a greater appreciation for individual rights. However, in every instance, black and white civil rights advocates have reinterpreted the Constitution as protecting group rights to justify and expand the welfare state. Rather than liberating blacks from their dependency on the state that began with the New Deal, and respecting them by insisting that they take responsibility for their freedom, civil rights leaders, politicians, and the American people proceeded to expand New Deal policies with Great Society policies that have cultivated the American people’s expectation that the costs of an individual’s risky behavior will be borne not by the individual but by a pool of people—by taxpayers in general, by “the rich” in particular, by society at large.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/18300137

“Blacks are now a mature one-party interest group, led by a civil rights industry with its own Congressional caucus that uses the victimization of blacks in the past as justification for preferential treatment of blacks in the present. The black establishment’s racialization of politics has been so successful that a black person who criticizes President Obama is condemned as a traitor and a white critic is vilified as a racist. While the motives and character of whites are openly questioned, and their mobility is seen as the privilege of being white, explaining the plight of disadvantaged blacks in terms of attitudes, values, and resulting behavior is construed as “blaming the victim.” Thus, racial dialogue relies on structural factors like low incomes, joblessness, poor schools, and bad housing. As sociologist Orlando Patterson argues, academics who are “allergic to cultural explanations” are unable to explain why so many young unemployed black men have children whom they cannot support, or why they murder each other at nine times the rate of white youths. Neither can they explain how “good kids” emerge from bad neighborhoods.”


Wortham has published a huge volume of work and taught at Wellesley College and Washington and Lee University in the 1980s. In 1985-1986 she was the John M. Olin Foundation Faculty Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of  Government and she was a Hoover Institution Visiting Fellow at Stanford University from 1986 to 1988. Since 1991, Wortham has been Associate Professor of Sociology at Illinois State University. 


Of the libertarians, Wortham has said, often place unrealistic demands on black libertarians. “They want us to take the beachhead, for us to be called the Toms and the sell-outs,” she says. “They hope that the movement will gain some ground-but who will take the abuse? You are controversial as a black individualist-a walking ‘no’ sign. There is a daily battering by blacks who disagree with your visibility. By most standards, I’m not supposed to exist. I don’t know what the toll is, but I do know that you tend to guard your privacy-so you go home and listen to music. You know you’ll catch enough hell when you release your next bombshell.”

On the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, Wortham released the following open letter:


Fellow Americans,

Please know: I am black; I grew up in the segregated South. I did not vote for Barack Obama; I wrote in Ron Paul’s name as my choice for president. Most importantly, I am not race conscious. I do not require a black president to know that I am a person of worth, and that life is worth living. I do not require a black president to love the ideal of America.
I cannot join you in your celebration. I feel no elation. There is no smile on my face. I am not jumping with joy. 

There are no tears of triumph in my eyes. For such emotions and behavior to come from me, I would have to deny all that I know about the requirements of human flourishing and survival – all that I know about the history of the United States of America, all that I know about American race relations, and all that I know about Barack Obama as a politician. I would have to deny the nature of the “change” that Obama asserts has come to America. Most importantly, I would have to abnegate my certain understanding that you have chosen to sprint down the road to serfdom that we have been on for over a century. 

I would have to pretend that individual liberty has no value for the success of a human life. I would have to evade your rejection of the slender reed of capitalism on which your success and mine depend. I would have to think it somehow rational that 94 percent of the 12 million blacks in this country voted for a man because he looks like them (that blacks are permitted to play the race card), and that they were joined by self-declared “progressive” whites who voted for him because he doesn’t look like them. I would have to be wipe my mind clean of all that I know about the kind of people who have advised and taught Barack Obama and will fill posts in his administration – political intellectuals like my former colleagues at the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.


I would have to believe that “fairness” is equivalent of justice. I would have to believe that man who asks me to “go forward in a new spirit of service, in a new service of sacrifice” is speaking in my interest. I would have to accept the premise of a man that economic prosperity comes from the “bottom up,” and who arrogantly believes that he can will it into existence by the use of government force. I would have to admire a man who thinks the standard of living of the masses can be improved by destroying the most productive and the generators of wealth.

Finally, Americans, I would have to erase from my consciousness the scene of 125,000 screaming, crying, cheering people in Grant Park, Chicago irrationally chanting “Yes We Can!” Finally, I would have to wipe all memory of all the times I have heard politicians, pundits, journalists, editorialists, bloggers and intellectuals declare that capitalism is dead – and no one, including especially Alan Greenspan, objected to their assumption that the particular version of the anti-capitalistic mentality that they want to replace with their own version of anti-capitalism is anything remotely equivalent to capitalism.

So you have made history, Americans. You and your children have elected a black man to the office of the president of the United States, the wounded giant of the world. The battle between John Wayne and Jane Fonda is over – and that Fonda won. Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern must be very happy men. Jimmie Carter, too. And the Kennedys have at last gotten their Kennedy look-a-like. The self-righteous welfare statists in the suburbs can feel warm moments of satisfaction for having elected a black person. So, toast yourselves: 60s countercultural radicals, 80s yuppies and 90s bourgeois bohemians. 

Toast yourselves, Black America. Shout your glee Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Duke, Stanford, and Berkeley. You have elected not an individual who is qualified to be president, but a black man who, like the pragmatist Franklin Roosevelt, promises to – Do Something! You now have someone who has picked up the baton of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. But you have also foolishly traded your freedom and mine – what little there is left – for the chance to feel good. There is nothing in me that can share your happy obliviousness.



November 6, 2008

Libertarian women’s history month: Camille Paglia

21 Mar
Camille Anna Paglia (born April 2, 1947) a self-described dissident feminist, has been a professor at the University of the Arts in PhiladelphiaPennsylvania, since 1984. The New York Times oddly described her as “first and foremost an educator,” though clearly she is primarily a provocateur, paradigm shifter, and public intellectual.  Her speech pours forth in torrents of fructifying tangential themes, which barely works in a lecture or long format interview (like the one done this week, below, by reasonTV), but it leaves her an undigestible surd and outlier when she appears on TV panels like Bonnie Erbe’s feminist version of The McLaughlin Group, the PBS distributed  To the contrary.  Imagine a more deeply educated, more original, maybe more media savvy, more libertarian, less closeted, and way more caffeinated Susan Sontag.

In an interview with reason magazine in the mid 90s, Paglia explained what she means when she calls herself both a libertarian and a Clinton Democrat:  “I consider myself not a conservative libertarian but a radical ’60s libertarian.  I feel that government has no right to intrude into the private realm of consensual behavior. Therefore, I say that I’m for the abolition of all sodomy laws. I’m for abortion rights. I’m for the legalization of drugs—consistent with alcohol regulations. I’m for not just the decriminalization but the legalization of prostitution. Again, prostitutes must not intrude into the public realm. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that civil authorities have the right to say that prostitutes should not be loitering near schools, or on the steps of churches, or blocking entrances to buildings and so on. Prostitution should be perfectly legal, but it cannot interfere with other people’s access to the public realm.I believe that government should confine itself to the public realm and that it should be as stripped down as possible, within reason. It should not be burdened by excess bureaucracy.

“Furthermore, the public realm is not owned by Judeo-Christianity. It is shared by people of all cultural and religious backgrounds. Therefore, I’m arguing for the Greco-Roman or pagan line, which is very tolerant of homosexuality and even of man-boy love. I’ve argued controversially for a reduction in the age of consent to 14—there are some countries in the world that do have that. I’m open to considering even lowering it further.
“That’s the way I would be separate from a conservative libertarian, who would not necessarily take the position of the legalization of drugs or the very positive attitude I have toward prostitutes and pornographers and drag queens. I take a celebratory attitude toward them. Similarly, I think that most conservative libertarians would not agree with my idea of lowering the age of consent and so on.
In the first chapter of Sexual Personae, I made a defense of capitalism. I feel that capitalism has a very bad press with the pseudo-leftists who clog our best college campuses and that in point of fact capitalism has produced modern individualism and feminism. Modern capitalism has allowed the birth of the independent woman who is no longer economically dependent on her husband. I despise the sneering that our liberal humanists do about capitalism even while they enjoy all of its pleasures and conveniences. I just despise it.
“However, I do believe that capitalism is inherently Darwinian and that a totally free market is ultimately inhumane, because you’ll have what happened in the 19th century—a kind of piling up of profits at the very top, with working-class people falling way below. I do think that there should be some kind of safety net, that we should not tolerate, in an affluent society, extreme levels of poverty or deprivation.
“At the same time, I think that the way that the welfare state has developed is just atrocious. It’s part of the condescension and paternalism and the guilt of the affluent white upper-middle class to say: “Oh, they’ll be taken care of.” And so we have that huge culture of dependency which is suddenly, shockingly being broken, just like affirmative action. I never dreamed of the speed with which these issues which have been so long suppressed have come to the fore, and it seems like anything is possible now.
“I think it’s a very exciting time; I only regret it’s not my party, the Democratic Party, that started this whole process. Because Clinton was elected for change. I wish that he had taken the aggressive tack the Republicans have of really investigating every single bureaucracy, stripping it down.
“I despise bureaucrats. I despise administrators. That has been one of the most pernicious effects of the post-war years in academe. There has been an overgrowth of an arrogant master class of administrators on college campuses who are being paid twice the level of the salaries of the faculty and regard themselves as being in charge and everyone else as being their lackeys. What the Republicans are doing in Washington, looking at the federal government, I want people to be doing on the college campuses—to have a thoroughgoing review of this parasitic class of administrators.”
Her career making book was Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), but her prolific output includes a collection of essays, Sex, Art, and American Culture (1992), an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock‘sThe Birds, and Break, Blow, Burn (2005) on poetry. Her most recent book is 2012’s Glittering Images




Paglia is known for her critical views of many aspects of modern culture, including feminism and liberalism. She has been characterized variously as a “contrarian academic” and a feminist “bête noire,” a “witty controversialist,” and a maverick, Margaret Wente has called Paglia “a writer in a category of her own… a feminist who hates affirmative action; an atheist who respects religion” and “a Democrat who thinks her party doesn’t get it.” Martha Duffy writes that Paglia “advocates a core curriculum based mostly on the classics” and rails against “chic French theorists Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan,” and “has a strong libertarian streak — on subjects like pornography — that go straight to her ’60s coming-of-age.” Elaine Showalter has called Paglia a “radical libertarian,” noting her socially liberal stands on abortionsodomyprostitutiondrug use, and suicide. Paglia has denounced feminist academics and women’s studies, celebrated popular culture and Madonna, and become a media celebrity, writing op-eds and gossip columns, appearing on television and telling her story to journalists.

Paglia has said that she is willing to have her entire career judged on the basis of her composition of what she considers to be “probably the most important sentence that she has ever written”: “God is man’s greatest idea.”

Paglia’s Sexual Personae was rejected by at least seven different publishers before it was published by Yale University Press, whereupon it became a best seller, reaching seventh place on the paperback best-seller list, a rare accomplishment for a scholarly book. ‘Paglia called it her “prison book”, commenting, “I felt like CervantesGenet. It took all the resources of being Catholic to cut myself off and sit in my cell.” Sexual Personae has been called an “energetic, Freud-friendly reading of Western art“, one that seemed “heretical and perverse”, at the height of political correctness; according to Daniel Nester, its characterization of “William Blake as the British Marquis de Sade or Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson as ‘self-ruling hermaphrodites who cannot mate’ still pricks up many an English major’s ears”.

Paglia is a devotee of Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater, cherishing “performance, artifice and play rather than earnestness.” She has expressed admiration for Dorothy Parker and Mary McCarthy, as well as for models, singers and movie stars such as Elizabeth TaylorMadonna, and Barbra Streisand.  There are also many parallels between herself and Ayn Rand, Paglia told Salon.com (for which she and Glen Greenwald both used to be both sort of the “left-libertarian” and most popular contributors, before the website’s descent into robotic Obama cheerleading and socialist statism under the editorship of Joan Walsh):  

Many people have noticed the very real parallels between Ayn Rand and me. (I was born in the United States, however; my mother and all four of my grandparents were born in Italy.) A New Yorker profile of Rand several years ago in fact called her ‘the Camille Paglia of the 1960s.’  Ayn Rand was the kind of bold female thinker who should immediately have been a centerpiece of women’s studies programs, if the latter were genuinely about women rather than about a clichéd, bleeding-heart, victim-obsessed, liberal ideology that dislikes all concrete female achievement. Like me, Rand believed in personal responsibility and self-transformation as the keys to modern woman’s advance.

Rand’s influence fell on the generation just before mine: In the conformist 1950s, her command to think for yourself was brilliantly energizing. When I was a college student (1964-68), I barely heard of her and didn’t read her, and neither did my friends. Our influences were Marshall McLuhan, Norman O. Brown, Leslie Fiedler, Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol.
“When my first book finally got published in 1990, a major Rand revival was under way. I was asked about her so often at my book signings and lectures that I researched her for the first time. To my astonishment, I found passages in her books that amazingly resemble my own writing: This is certainly due to the fact that we were inspired by the same writers, notably Nietzsche and the High Romantics.
“The main differences between us: First, Rand is more of a rationalist, while I have a mystical 1960s bent (I’m interested in astrology, palmistry, ESP, I Ching, etc.). Second, Rand disdains religious belief as childish, while I respect all religions on metaphysical grounds, even though I am an atheist. Third, Rand, like Simone de Beauvoir, is an intellectual of daunting high seriousness, while I think comedy is the sign of a balanced perspective on life. As a culture warrior, I have used humor and satire as the most devastating weapons in my arsenal!”
In 2005, Paglia was named as one of the top 100 public intellectuals by the journals Foreign Policy and Prospect. In 2012, an article in The New York Times remarked that “[a]nyone who has been following the body count of the culture wars over the past decades knows Paglia”.
Paglia was born in Endicott, New York, the elder daughter of Pasquale and Lydia Anne (née Colapietro) Paglia. Both her parents immigrated to the United States from Italy. Additionally, Paglia has stated that her father’s side of the family were from the Campanian towns of AvellinoBenevento, and Caserta.  Paglia attended primary school in rural Oxford, New York, where her family lived in a working farmhouse. Her father, a veteran of World War II, taught at the Oxford Academy high school, and exposed his young daughter to art through books he brought home about French art history. In 1957, her family moved to SyracuseNY, so that her father could begin graduate school; he eventually became a professor of Romance languages at Le Moyne College. She attended the Edward Smith Elementary school, T. Aaron Levy Junior High and William Nottingham High School. In 1992 Carmelia Metosh, her Latin teacher for three years, said “She always has been controversial. Whatever statements were being made (in class), she had to challenge them. She made good points then, as she does now.” Paglia thanked Metosh in the acknowledgements to Sexual Personae, later describing her as “the dragon lady of Latin studies, who breathed fire at principals and school boards“.

She took a variety of names when she was at Spruce Ridge Camp, including Anastasia (her confirmation name, inspired by the film Anastasia starring Ingrid Bergman); Stacy; and Stanley. A crucially significant event for her was when the outhouse exploded after she poured too much lime into the latrine. “It symbolized everything I would do with my life and work. Excess and extravagance and explosiveness. I would be someone who would look into the latrine of culture, into pornography and crime and psychopathology… and I would drop the bomb into it”.

For over a decade, Paglia was the partner of a younger artist Alison Maddex. Paglia legally adopted Maddex’s son (who was born in 2002). In 2007, the couple separated.  A few years back Paglia traveled to Brazil and wrote glowingly of Brazilian divas, before she went on hiatus.  In an interview with Salon she wrote:  “When have I ever criticized anyone’s fetish? I am a libertarian. Go right ahead — set up plastic figurines of 1950s-era moppets to bow down to in the privacy of your boudoir. No one will scold! Then whip down to the kitchen to heat up those foil-wrapped TV dinners. I still gaze back fondly at Swanson’s fried-chicken entree. The twinkly green peas! The moist apple fritter! Meg Ryan — the spitting image of all those perky counselors at my Girl Scout camp in the Adirondacks. Gwyneth Paltrow — a simpering sorority queen with field-hockey-stick legs. I will leave you to your retro pursuits while I dash off to moon over multiracial Brazilian divas.
Paglia entered Harpur College at Binghamton University in 1964. The same year, Paglia’s poem “Atrophy” was published in the local newspaper. She later wrote that the biggest impact on her thinking were the classes taught by poet Milton Kessler. “He believed in the responsiveness of the body, and of the activation of the senses to literature… And oh did I believe in that”. She graduated from Harpur as class valedictorian in 1968.
According to Paglia, while in college she punched a “marauding drunk,” and takes pride in having been put on probation for committing 39 pranks.
Paglia attended Yale as a graduate student, and she claims to have been the only open lesbian at Yale Graduate School from 1968 to 1972. At Yale, Paglia quarreled with Rita Mae Brown, whom she later characterized as “then darkly nihilist,” and argued with the New Haven, Connecticut Women’s Liberation Rock Band when they dismissed the Rolling Stones as sexist. Paglia was mentored by Harold BloomSexual Personae was then titled “The Androgynous Dream: the image of the androgyne as it appears in literature and is embodied in the psyche of the artist, with reference to the visual arts and the cinema.”
Paglia read Susan Sontag, and aspired to emulate what she called her “celebrity, her positioning in the media world at the border of the high arts and popular culture.” Paglia first saw Sontag in person on October 15, 1969 (Vietnam Moratorium Day), when Paglia, then a Yale graduate student, was visiting a friend at Princeton. In 1973, Paglia, a militant feminist and open lesbian, was working at her first academic job at Bennington College. She considered Sontag a radical who had challenged male dominance. The same year, Paglia drove to an appearance by Sontag at Dartmouth, hoping to arrange for her to speak at Bennington, but found it difficult to find the money for Sontag’s speaking fee; Paglia relied on help from Richard Tristman, a friend of Sontag’s, to persuade her to come. Bennington College agreed to pay Sontag $700 (twice what they usually offered speakers but only half Sontag’s usual fee) to give a talk about contemporary issues. Paglia staged a poster campaign urging students to attend Sontag’s appearance. Sontag arrived at Bennington Carriage Barn, where she was to speak, more than an hour late, and then began reading what Paglia recalled as a “boring and bleak” short story about “nothing” in the style of a French New Novel.
As a result of Sontag’s Bennington College appearance, Paglia began to become disenchanted with her, believing that she had withdrawn from confrontation with the academic world, and that her “mandarin disdain” for popular culture showed an elitism that betrayed her early work, which had suggested that high and low culture both reflected a new sensibility.

In the fall of 1972, Paglia began teaching at Bennington College, which hired her in part thanks to a recommendation from Harold Bloom. At Bennington, she befriended the philosopher James Fessenden, who first taught there that very semester.  Through her study of the classics and the scholarly work of Jane Ellen HarrisonJames George FrazerErich Neumann and others, Paglia developed a theory of sexual history that contradicted a number of ideas in vogue at the time, hence her criticism of Marija GimbutasCarolyn HeilbrunKate Millett and others. She laid out her ideas on matriarchyandrogynyhomosexualitysadomasochism and other topics in her Yale Ph.D. thesis Sexual Personae: The Androgyne in Literature and Art, which she defended in December 1974. In September 1976, she gave a public lecture drawing on that dissertation, in which she discussed Edmund Spenser‘s Faerie Queene, followed by remarks on Diana RossGracie AllenYul Brynner, and Stéphane AudranPaglia “nearly came to blows with the founding members of the women’s studies program at the State University of New York at Albany, when they categorically denied that hormones influence human experience or behavior”.  Similar fights with feminists and academics culminated in a 1978 incident which led her to resign from Bennington a year later. After a lengthy standoff with the administration, Paglia accepted a settlement from the college and resigned the following year.

Paglia finished Sexual Personae in the early 1980s, but could not get it published. She supported herself with visiting and part-time teaching jobs at Yale, Wesleyan, and other Connecticut colleges. Her paper, “The Apollonian Androgyne and the Faerie Queen”, was published in English Literary Renaissance, Winter 1979, and her dissertation was cited by J. Hillis Miller in his April 1980 article “Wuthering Heights and the Ellipses of Interpretation”, in Journal of Religion in Literature, but her academic career was otherwise stalled. In a 1995 letter to Boyd Holmes, she recalled: “I earned a little extra money by doing some local features reporting for aNew Haven alternative newspaper (The Advocate) in the early 1980s”. She wrote articles on New Haven’s historic pizzerias and on an old house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

In 1984, she joined the faculty of the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, which merged in 1987 with the Philadelphia College of Art to become the University of the Arts.
Paglia is on the editorial board of the classics and humanities journal Arion and has been writing a monthly column for Salon.com since the late 1990s (currently on hiatus). Paglia has announced that she is currently working on “a study of the visual arts intended as a companion book to Break, Blow, Burn“.
Paglia cooperated with Carl Rollyson and Lisa Paddock in their writing of Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon, sending them detailed letters from which they quoted with her permission. Rollyson and Paddock note that Sontag “had her lawyer put our publisher on notice” when she realized that they were investigating her life and career.
Paglia participates in the decennial poll of film professionals conducted by Sight & Sound which asks participants to submit a list of what they believe to be the tengreatest films of all time. According to her responses to the poll in 2002 and 2012, the films Paglia holds in highest regard include Ben-HurCitizen KaneLa Dolce VitaThe GodfatherThe Godfather: Part IIGone with the WindLawrence of ArabiaNorth by NorthwestOrphéePersona2001: A Space OdysseyThe Ten Commandments, and Vertigo.
Some feminist critics have characterized Paglia as an “anti-feminist feminist,” critical of central features of much contemporary feminism but holding out “her own special variety of feminist affirmation.” Elaine Showalter notes Paglia’s admiration for Simone de Beauvoir and The Second Sex (“the supreme work of modern feminism… its deep learning and massive argument are unsurpassed”) as well as Germaine Greer, but Time magazine critic Martha Duffy wrote that Paglia “does not hesitate to hurl brazen insults” at several feminists including Greer, whom Paglia accused of becoming “a drone in three years” as a result of her early success; Paglia also called activist Diana Fuss’ output “just junk – appalling!” Showalter calls Paglia “unique in the hyperbole and virulence of her hostility to virtually all the prominent feminist activists, public figures, writers and scholars of her generation”, mentioning Carolyn HeilbrunJudith ButlerCarol GilliganMarilyn FrenchZoe BairdKimba WoodSusan Thomases, and Hillary Clinton as targets of her criticism.
Paglia has accused Kate Millett of starting “the repressive, Stalinist style in feminist criticism.” Paglia has repeatedly criticized Patricia Ireland, former president of the National Organization for Women, calling her a “sanctimonious”, unappealing role model for women whose “smug, arrogant” attitude is accompanied by “painfully limited processes of thought”. Paglia contends that under Ireland’s leadership, NOW “damaged and marginalized the women’s movement”.  Paglia has called feminist philosopher Martha Nussbaum a “PC diva”, and accused her of borrowing her ideas without acknowledgement. She further contends that Nussbaum’s “preparation or instinct for sex analysis is dubious at best”.
Many feminists have criticized Paglia; Christina Hoff Sommers calls her “Perhaps the most conspicuous target of feminist opprobrium,” noting that the Women’s Review of Books described Sexual Personae as a work of “crackpot extremism,” “an apologia for a new post-Cold War fascism,” and patriarchy‘s “counter-assault on feminism.” Sommers relates that when Paglia appeared at a Brown University forum, feminists signed a petition censuring her and demanding an investigation into procedures for inviting speakers to the campus.
Naomi Wolf traded a series of sometimes personal attacks with Paglia throughout the early 1990s. In The New Republic, Wolf labeled Paglia “the nipple-piercedperson’s Phyllis Schlafly who poses as a sexual renegade but is in fact the most dutiful of patriarchal daughters” and characterized Paglia’s writing as “full of howling intellectual dishonesty”. In 1991, Paglia referred to Wolf as a “twit”.
Gloria Steinem said of Paglia that, “Her calling herself a feminist is sort of like a Nazi saying they’re not anti-Semitic.” Paglia said that Steinem, whom she accused of not having read her, had compared her to Hitler and Sexual Personae to Mein Kampf. Paglia called Steinem “the Stalin of feminism.”
Katha Pollitt has characterized Paglia as one of a “seemingly endless parade of social critics [who] have achieved celebrity by portraying not sexism but feminism as the problem.” Pollitt writes that Paglia has glorified “male dominance,” and has been able to get away with calling the Spur Posse California high school date-rapegang “beautiful,” among other things “that might make even Rush Limbaugh blanch,” because she is a woman.
Paglia’s view that rape is sexually motivated has been endorsed by evolutionary psychologists Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer; they comment that “Paglia… urges women to be skeptical toward the feminist ‘party line’ on the subject, to become better informed about risk factors, and to use the information to lower their risk of rape.”
Paglia is critical of the influence modern French writers have had on the humanities, claiming that universities are in the “thrall” of French post-structuralists, that in the works of Jean BaudrillardJacques DerridaJacques Lacan and Michel Foucault, she never once found a sentence that interested her and that Post-structuralism has broken the link between the word and the thing, and thus endangers the western canon. François Cusset writes that Paglia, like other major American public intellectuals after World War II, owes her broader recognition mainly to the political repercussions of polemics that first erupted on college campuses, in her case to a polemic against foreign intellectualism. He says she achieved phenomenal success when she called Foucault a “bastard”, thereby providing (together with Alan Sokal‘s Social Text parody) the best evidence for Paul de Man‘s view that theory should be defined negatively, based on the opposition it arouses.However, Paglia’s assessment of French writers is not purely negative. She has called Simone de Beauvoir‘s The Second Sex (1949) “brilliant”, and identified Jean-Paul Sartre‘s work as part of a high period in literature. Paglia has praised Roland Barthes‘ Mythologies (1957) and Gilles Deleuze‘s Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty (1967), while finding both men’s later work flawed. Of Gaston Bachelard, who influenced Paglia, she wrote “[his] dignified yet fluid phenomenological descriptive method seemed to me ideal for art”, adding that he was “the last modern French writer I took seriously”.
Paglia characterizes herself as a Clinton Democrat and libertarian. She opposes laws against prostitutionpornographydrugs, and abortion. Paglia criticized Bill Clinton for not resigning after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which she says “paralyzed the government for two years, leading directly to our blindsiding by 9/11.” In the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign she voted for the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, “[because] I detest the arrogant, corrupt superstructure of the Democratic Party, with which I remain stubbornly registered.” In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Paglia supported John Kerry; and in 2008, she supported Barack Obama. In 2012, she supported Green Party candidate Jill Stein
In Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990) Paglia argues that human nature has an inherently dangerous Dionysian orchthonic aspect, especially in regard to sexuality. Culture and civilization are created by men and represent an attempt to contain that force. Women are powerful, too, but as natural forces, and both marriage and religion are means to contain chaotic forces. A best seller, it was described by Terry Teachout in aNew York Times book review as flawed, but “…every bit as intellectually stimulating as it is exasperating”. Martha Duffy wrote that the book had a “neoconservative cultural message” which was well received, but rejected by many feminists. In a review of Sexual Personae, feminist author Molly Ivins accused Paglia of historical inaccuracy, demagoguery of second-wave feministsegocentrism, and writing in sweeping generalizations. In his review, Anthony Burgessdescribed Sexual Personae as “a fine disturbing book” that “seeks to attack the reader’s emotions as well as his or her prejudices”.Germaine Greer writes that Paglia’s insights into Sappho are “vivid and extremely perceptive”, but also “unfortunately inconsistent and largely incompatible with each other”.

Sex, Art and American Culture: Essays (1992) is a collection of short pieces, many published previously as editorials or reviews, and some transcripts of interviews.[64] The essays cover such subjects as MadonnaElizabeth Taylor, rock music, Robert MapplethorpeClarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination, rape, Marlon Brando, drag, Milton Kessler, and academia. It made the New York Times bestseller list for paperbacks.

Vamps and Tramps: New Essays (1994) is a collection of 42 short articles and a long essay, “No Law in the Arena: a Pagan Theory of Sexuality”. It also contains a collection of cartoons from newspapers about Paglia. Writing for the New York Times, Wendy Steiner wrote “Comic, camp, outspoken, Ms. Paglia throws an absurdist shoe into the ponderous wheels of academia“. Michiko Kakutani, also writing for the New York Times, wrote: “Her writings on education… are highly persuasive, just as some of her essays on the perils of regulating pornography and the puritanical excesses of the women’s movement radiate a fierce common sense… Unfortunately, Ms. Paglia has a way of undermining her more interesting arguments with flip, hyperbolic declarations”.
In 1998, and in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the release of Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Birds, the British Film Institute commissioned Paglia to write a book about the film. Paglia’s 96-page book interprets the film as “in the main line of British Romanticism descending from the raw nature-tableaux and sinister femme-fatales of Coleridge.” Paglia uses a psychoanalytic framework to interpret the film as portraying “a release of primitive forces of sex and appetite that have been subdued but never fully tamed”.
Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World’s Best Poems (2005) is a collection of 43 short selections of verse with an accompanying essay by Paglia.The collection is primarily oriented to those unfamiliar with the works. Clive James noted that Paglia tends to focus on American works as it moves from Shakespeare forward through time, with Yeats, following Coleridge, as the last European discussed, but emphasized her range of sympathy and her ability to juxtapose and unite distinct art forms in her analysis.  Christopher Nield remarked that Paglia has “a rare gift to capture a poem’s mood and scene in terse, spiky phrases of descriptive insight” and exhibits moments of brilliance, but also notes that some of her selections from recent writers fall flat. He also praises her pedagogical slant towards basic interpretation, suggesting that her approach might be what is required to reinvigorate studies in the humanities.

Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars (2012) is a series of essays about notable works of art from ancient to modern times, published in October 2012. Writer John Adams of the New York Times Book Review was sceptical of the book, accusing it of being “so agenda driven and so riddled with polemic asides that its potential to persuade is forever being compromised.” Gary Rosen of the Wall Street Journal, however, praised the book’s “impressive range” and accessibility to readers.

On the prospects for the 2016 elections, Paglia told Salon: “As a registered Democrat, I am praying for a credible presidential candidate to emerge from the younger tier of politicians in their late 40s. A governor with executive experience would be ideal. It’s time to put my baby-boom generation out to pasture! We’ve had our day and managed to muck up a hell of a lot. It remains baffling how anyone would think that Hillary Clinton (born the same year as me) is our party’s best chance. She has more sooty baggage than a 90-car freight train. And what exactly has she ever accomplished — beyond bullishly covering for her philandering husband? She’s certainly busy, busy and ever on the move — with the tunnel-vision workaholism of someone trying to blot out uncomfortable private thoughts.

“I for one think it was a very big deal that our ambassador was murdered in Benghazi. In saying “I take responsibility” for it as secretary of state, Hillary should have resigned immediately. The weak response by the Obama administration to that tragedy has given a huge opening to Republicans in the next presidential election. The impression has been amply given that Benghazi was treated as a public relations matter to massage rather than as the major and outrageous attack on the U.S. that it was.
“Throughout history, ambassadors have always been symbolic incarnations of the sovereignty of their nations and the dignity of their leaders. It’s even a key motif in “King Lear.” As far as I’m concerned, Hillary disqualified herself for the presidency in that fist-pounding moment at a congressional hearing when she said, “What difference does it make what we knew and when we knew it, Senator?” Democrats have got to shake off the Clinton albatross and find new blood. The escalating instability not just in Egypt but throughout the Mideast is very ominous. There is a clash of cultures brewing in the world that may take a century or more to resolve — and there is no guarantee that the secular West will win.