Sexual Liberation = Social Control

From Libido Dominandi:

Writing at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, St. Augustine both revolutionized and brought to a close antiquity’s idea of freedom by connecting it with morals. “Thus,” he writes in the City of God, a good man, though a slave, is free; but a wicked man, though a king, is a slave. For he serves, not one man alone, but, what is worse, as many masters as he has vices.” Augustine revolutionized the concept of freedom by connecting it to morals: man was not a slave by nature or by law, as Aristotle claimed. His freedom was a function of his moral state. A man had as many masters as he had vices. This insight would provide the basis for the most sophisticated form of social control known to man, and the Marquis de Sade was the first to formulate its basic principles. Like St. Augustine, the Marquis de Sade would agree that freedom was a function of morals. Freedom for the Marquis de Sade, however, meant willingness to reject the moral law. The project of liberating man from the moral law would have far­-reaching consequences, all of which were consonant with the use of sex as a form of social and political control which Sade was proposing in “Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen.”

“The logic is clear enough: Those who wished to liberate man from the moral order needed to impose social controls as soon as they succeeded because liberated libido led inevitably to anarchy, as recent events in France had shown. A revolutionary state must foster immorality among its citizens if it wants to foster the perpetual unrest necessary to foment revolution. Morals meant the advent of tranquillity, and tranquillity meant the end of revolutionary fervor. Therefore, the state must promote immorality. Given man’s natural and inordinate inclination to pleasure, the immorality most congenial to manipulation is sexual immorality. Hence the revolutionary state must promote sexual license if it is to remain truly revolutionary and retain its hold on power.”

Over the course of two hundred years, those techniques became more and more refined, eventuating in a world where people were controlled, not by military force, but by the skillful management of their passions. It was Aldous Huxley who wrote in his preface to the 1946 edition of Brave New World that “As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase.” Sade’s claim is related to Huxley’s: The best way to make men unaware of their lack of political freedom is to indulge their sexual passions. Both Augustine and Sade would agree that moral behavior has certain political consequences; both would agree that immoral behavior has certain political consequences as well. What they disagreed on was their vision of the ideal state. Augustine establishes the fundamental options here as well. There is the City of God on the one hand, which espouses the love of God even to the extinction of self, and the City of Man, which espouses the love of self even to the extinction of God. Sade, the apostle of atheism, was clearly a proponent of the latter city. Since the City of God was based on Christianity’s exaltation of love and service, as its highest ideal, the City of Man, as its opposite, could only be based on domination, a point which Augustine makes clear at the very beginning of the City of God. “The earthly city,” Augustine tells us, “lusts to dominate the world and…. though nations bend to its yoke, it itself is dominated by its passion for dominion.”

Libido Dominandi, to give the Latin original, is the essence of the revolutionary state. When Lever calls “Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen,” “nothing less than a reductio ad absurdum of the theory of revolution and a radical mockery of Jacobin philosophy,”25 he is being far too clever, more clever than the text itself, which evidently embarrasses him because of its frankness. In “Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen,” the Marquis de Sade gives the rationale for the revolutionary state, which is indistinguishable from Augustine’s City of Man, which is based on the gratification of passion in general and the gratification of libido dominandi as its highest expression: “Insurrection,” Sade writes, “thought these sage legislators, is not at all a moral condition; however, it has got to be a republic’s permanent condition.”

The potential for both control and insurrection, however, undergoes a quantum change when sexuality is deregulated and allowed to act as an stimulant for “perpetual unrest.” In fact since the revolutionary regime is based on the subversion of morals it can only exist by exploiting sexuality in this fashion. What it proposes to the unruly mob as freedom, however, is really only a form of political control. The Marquis de Sade makes this perfectly clear: “Lycurgus and Solon, fully convinced that immodesty’s results are to keep the citizen in the immoral [again, his emphasis] state indispensable to the mechanics of republican government, obliged girls to exhibit themselves naked at the theater.”

Sade’s politics, like Weishaupt’s, is the classical tradition turned upside down. The key insight of both the Marquis de Sade and the Christian West is that the moral man is in a state of peace; because he is not in motion, he is, therefore, impossible to direct and control from the outside. The revolutionary’s very restlessness, his very rebellion against the moral order, which is the source of his restlessness, holds within it the seeds of control because once in motion the state need only manipulate the revolutionary’s desires by controlling his passions, and it succeeds in manipulating and thereby controlling him. Sade is not slow in drawing this very conclusion.

Lust, in other words, is the force which keeps the citizenry of the republic from succumbing to the inertia of tranquillity which is the fruit of adherence to the moral order. At this point we enter into something like a circular argument. Both political systems are self­-contained. Morals lead to order; passions lead to revolution. From the revolutionary point of view, lust is good because it fosters the restlessness of republicanism, but republicanism is also good because it fosters lust. Either way what we have here is the rationalization of desire as an instrument of simultaneous “liberation” and control; what was hitherto deemed pathological is now to be seen as the social norm:

We are persuaded that lust, being a product of those penchants, is not to be stifled or legislated against, but that it is, rather, a matter of arranging for the means whereby passion may be satisfied in peace. We must hence undertake to introduce order into this sphere of affairs, and to establish all the security necessaiy so that, when need sends the citizen near the objects of lust, he can give himself over to doing with them all that his passions demand, without ever being hampered by anything, for there is no moment in the life of man when liberty in its whole amplitude is so important to him.

We have here in a nutshell the rationale for the pornographic entertainment consumerist culture which would become the dominant culture in the world by the end of the second millennium. The project at its heart concerns arrangements whereby passion may be satisfied in peace but with someone making a profit from its gratification. “Liberty,” according to this line of thought, is not the ability to act according to reason, but rather the ability to gratify illicit passion, which means that in the very act of attaining his “liberty” man becomes the thrall of the passion he gratifies. Before long, it becomes clear that Sade’s politics is in many ways just the physics he says it is. Man at the beck of passion is in many ways like a particle with no will of its own, since reason, especially morals, is the sole source of man’s ability to govern himself. Once gratification of passion becomes the definition of “liberty,” then “liberty” becomes synonymous with bondage because he who controls the passion controls the man. Liberty, as defined by Sade, becomes a prelude to the most insidious form of control known by man precisely because it is based on the stealthy manipulation of his passions. This was the genius of Enlightenment politics, which is in reality nothing more than a physics of vice: Incite the passion; control the man. This is the esoteric doctrine of the Enlightenment, one that has been refined for over 200 years through a trajectory that involves everything from psychoanalysis to advertising to pornography and the role it plays in Kulturkampf. Sade clearly understands that sexual liberation leads to social control and sees this liberation and subsequent control of passion as the basis of the permanent revolution that life in France would become once Frenchmen “Would Become Republicans.”

“No passion has a greater need of the widest horizon of liberty than sexual license,” Sade writes: here it is that man likes to command, to be obeyed, to surround himself with slaves to satisfy him; well, whenever you withhold from man the secret means whereby he exhales the dose of despotism Nature instilled in the depths of his heart, he will seek other outlets for it, it will be vented upon nearby objects; it will trouble the government. If you would avoid that danger, permit a free flight and rein to those tyrannical desires which, despite himself, torment man ceaselessly: content with having been able to exercise his small dominion in the middle of the harem of sultanas and youths whose submission your good offices and his money procure for him, he will go away appeased and with nothing but fond feelings for a government which so obligingly affords him every means of satisfying his concupiscence.

We see in Sade’s articulation of principles the system by which the regime can placate sexual interest groups and thereby maintain its hold on power.

There are a number of ironies here ­ some obvious, some not. One irony is obvious: Once man is freed from the moral order, he is immediately subjected to the despotism of those who know how to manipulate his desires. This is the essence of the Enlightenment regime; not to prohibit, but to enable, to encourage motion or restlessness, and direct the flow of that activity by manipulating desire. This is the political genius behind a regime that is based on advertising and pornography and opinion polls and the other instruments which control “liberated” man.

Sexual liberation leads to anarchy, chaos, and horror, and chaos invariably leads to forms of social control. The regime which promotes attempts to tame the sexual passion in much the same way it controlled steam, electricity, and the atom can never be sure that the passions they “liberate” won’t return to destroy them. Instead of peace based on the tranquillity of order, the revolutionary regime offers “liberation” from the moral order followed by chaos and totalitarian control. We find, then, in Sade a perverse corroboration of the trajectory of horror adumbrated in the epistle of James. Passion leads to sin, and sin, when it reaches its fullness, gives birth to death. The trajectory of horror remains the same in both the classical and Enlightenment traditions. Sade’s only dispute with St. James is the values he places on the milestones of the same trajectory. Both admit that sexual passion released from the moral order leads to murder, terror, and death; Sade, however, remains firm in viewing these phenomena through the lens of sexual desire, which is so imperious and all­ encompassing that it fails to see them as evil. Vice, it turns out, and not self­-interest, is the gravitational force which both moves men and allows the revolutionaries to manipulate them to their own ends. This is the great discovery of the Enlightenment. Those in the grip of sexual passion, as Sade testifies, know how powerful it is. It was the genius of the Enlightenment to make that passion an instrument of political control, and that discovery was so ingenious because vice as a form of control is virtually invisible. Those who are the thrall of their passions see only what they desire and the not the bondage those desires inflict on them. Sexual liberation is, as a result, the ideal form of control because it is virtually invisible.


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