- - Wednesday, January 1, 2014

“What you’re seeing is how a civilization commits suicide,” observes Camille Paglia, the learned iconoclast and professor of humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She made that observation in a lengthy interview with The Wall Street Journal, the highbrow newspaper that proves daily that intelligent journalism in America is neither dead or near bankruptcy as long as it holds to the right values. Miss Paglia was talking about our civilization, and I have nothing to add save one caveat. I recall the late 1970s, when America was pretty much in a heap, and suddenly along came the oldest president in American history — a president whom his friend William F. Buckley adjudged too old to govern — and that president, Ronald Reagan, won the Cold War, revived the economy and still managed long naps in the afternoon.

Miss Paglia, America still has enormous restorative powers, and I think 2014 is going to see those powers revive. Yet, for now, you are right.

Today, the American scene is bleak, except for a few horselaughs provided by the White House. When I reflect on the nonsensical boasts made for Big Government and the Nanny State, and I watch our president slip and fall on yet another government-issued banana peel, you will forgive me, but I double up in laughter. President Obama has been a hoot, possibly not as amusing as Jimmy Carter, but he comes very close, and I think that history will prove that he brought the entire left-wing project to foozle. The Founding Fathers are redeemed.

Still, there is reason to be alarmed, and the sage from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia has put her fingers on all the culprits. The Journal sums them up: “The military is out of fashion, Americans undervalue manual labor, schools neuter male students, opinion makers deny the biological differences between men and women, and sexiness is dead.”

Certainly the values that go into a soldier are dismissed by our cultural institutions, though Hollywood still has a little time for its nonsensical dramaturgical monstrosities about the SEALs and the fiery and clangorous special effects that they supposedly struggle with. “These people [our elite class] don’t think in military ways,” she says, “so there’s this illusion 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.” Wait a minute, Miss Paglia. Think of our elites’ assessment of Sen. Ted Cruz.

The bland saps who do so much to foster cultural decline begin their adventure in blandness in kindergarten and continue right through college and graduate school. There, both female and male students are educated in “female values,” by which she means displaying tender emotions, socialization and cooperation. Education in America is perpetrated by a conspiracy of idiots. To speak of the proper use of aggression is horrifying to these elites, and no good can come of it. Though, of course, aggression is a concomitant of testosterone. It can be put to good effect, for instance, in hard work, creative work, high-tech work, spatial cognizance and, one of Miss Paglia’s favorites, manual work. She has spoken with admiration about men in the construction trades, building roads and dams and bridges.

Her ideal feminist role models are “iconoclastic women” from the 1930s such as Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn. I wonder who her male role models are. Would one be the Old Cowboy, Ronald Reagan? Well into his 70s, he could still wrestle with a broken fence post and mind the ranch. Not only that bit of manual labor, but he minded the White House pretty well.

In 2014, we shall find a few likely presidential candidates, and with luck, one or two will be like Reagan.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism,” published by Thomas Nelson Inc.