Camille Paglia on “Presentism”


Check out Mark Bauerlein’s piece on cultural critic and public intellectual Camille Paglia.

Here is a taste:

…there is one profound traditionalist point that [Paglia] maintains repeatedly, and it is one of the first truths of the conservative disposition.

She announced it a few months back in an interview with the New York Observer. The very first question asked her about comparisons between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, to which she replied: “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.”

This is a point that deserves repeated amplification. It explains, for instance, much of the indignation we see and hear on college campuses, wherein twenty-year-olds decry twenty-first-century American racism and sexism. The first response to their charges should not be to debate present conditions. It should be to ask them about actual conditions of the past—Jim Crow, the franchise for women and blacks, poverty rates and public health in former times . . . The answers will demonstrate that the only way to believe that America 2017 is a particularly vicious time for certain identities is to know nothing about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And we know, of course, how little history young Americans actually possess.

Read the entire post here.

I think Bauerlein, writing at the conservative journal First Things, over-politicizes Paglia approach to history.  I would argue that this is not a conservative disposition.  Instead, it is a disposition that is required of all historians, regardless of ideological or political commitments.