Ellen Willis fits a certain stereotype of the post-1960s radical. Out of feminist principle she has renounced marriage. She opposes the war on drugs and writes unrepentantly about the acid trips of her youth. She’s a New Yorker, she’s Jewish, and she’s written essays for the Village Voice calling for the abolition of the nuclear family. She is, in other words, the type of specimen Patrick Buchanan and Dan Quayle might have wanted to cage and put on display at the Republican national convention in Houston.
But for all her dedication to cultural radicalism, Willis—who over the years has been on staff at the New Yorker, Ms., Rolling Stone, and the Village Voice—is no zealot. Nor is she, to say the least, a wide-eyed celebrant of all things leftist. Most of the more recent essays in her new collection No More Nice Girls attack entrenched patterns of myopia and arrogance among contemporary liberals and leftists. She defends freedom of speech against antipornography feminists and against leftists who hedge their defense of Salman Rushdie with pious regret for his alleged “blasphemy.” She exposes the timidity at the heart of left communitarianism. And she argues that cultural nationalism and identity politics give rise “to a logic that chokes off radicalism.”...
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