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Camille Paglia’s Provocations is not as good as the outstanding Free Women Free Men, which I reviewed last year, but it is full of punchy analysis nonetheless. As the title implies, there is plenty to be provoked, challenged or even infuriated by, and the fusion of contrarian perspectives and excellent prose makes it a compelling read for the most part. Here are ten striking quotations, on subjects ranging from religion and education to feminism and art.

On the religion taught at university:

Perhaps the most pressing issue is not whether religion belongs in the university curriculum but rather what religion is already being taught now to college students coast to coast in the US. And that religion, I submit, is a toxic brew of paternalistic neo-Victorian philanthropy and dogmatic political correctness—a sanctimonious creed promulgated and enforced with missionary zeal by a priestly caste of college administrators and faculty censors in unholy alliance with intrusive federal bureaucrats.

I want the great world religions taught in every school. Secular humanism has reached a dead end—and any liberals who don’t recognise that are simply enabling the worldwide conservative reaction of fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam.

On blurbs:

Pre-publication endorsements have long outlived their usefulness. No informed person takes them seriously because of their tainted history of shameless cronyism and grotesque hyperbole. A string of breathless blurbs on a book is ultimately counterproductive, since it betrays the publisher’s lack of confidence in the project, as well as the tin ear and general ineptitude of the publicity department. And the luminaries who turn out inflated blurb after blurb are hacks who give prostitution a bad name.

On feminism:

Treating women as more vulnerable, virtuous or more credible than men is reactionary, regressive, and ultimately counterproductive.

Feminism inextricably identified itself with abortion—with termination of life rather than fertility.

On “sex changes”:

It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming ... flee all references to biology when it comes to gender ... The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body (except for blood) remains coded with one’s birth gender for life.

On drugs and transience:

Drugs melted defences and broke barriers, creating a momentary sense of unity with mankind and the world. They functioned as magic elixirs for the missing initiatory rituals in an increasingly transient society.

On astrology and the sixties:

The Sixties generation ... had been injected with a mystical sense of awe and doom about the sky. This is one possible reason for the sudden popularity and ubiquity of astrology, which for most of the twentieth century had been a fringe practice associated with eccentrics in Greenwich Village and West Hollywood.

On the importance of religion for art:

I would argue that the route to a renaissance of the American fine arts lies through religion ... Knowledge of the Bible, one of the West’s foundational texts, is dangerously waning among aspiring young artists and writers. When a society becomes all-consumed in the provincial minutiae of partisan politics (as has happened in the US over the past twenty years), all perspective is lost. Great art can be made out of love for religion as well as rebellion against it. But a totally secularised society with contempt for religion sinks into materialism and self-absorption and gradually goes slack, without leaving an artistic legacy.

Progressives must start recognising the spiritual poverty of contemporary secular humanism and re-examine the way that liberalism too often now automatically defines human aspiration and human happiness in reductively economic terms. If conservatives are serious about educational standards, they must support the teaching of art history in primary school—which means conservatives have to get over their phobia about the nude, which has been a symbol of Western art and Western individualism and freedom since the Greeks invented democracy. Without compromise, we are headed for a soulless future.

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