Essay: Sade, the Prophet of Modernity
This piece is a revised version of something I published, so far as I can figure about, some twenty years ago.
My father believed in progress almost to the end of his life, when changing his mind would scarcely have made any difference. Men who repent in old age, as I have come to understand, are something like the 80 year old cancer patient who decides to quit smoking or the libertine reformed by impotence. Like most liberals, my father regarded traditional institutions as so many barriers to man’s continued improvement, and yet, like most good men who are liberals, his head was contradicted by his heart: He despised the British monarchy, but he was willing to fight to defend the rights of the Stuarts.
Liberals are almost always wrong in their principles, but that does not make them, automatically, bad men. I do not think my father necessarily believed in the institution of marriage per se, but he was intensely loyal to his own wife, and he despised men who broke the marriage bond. He disliked any display of nationalism and viewed the flag-waving, oath-taking chauvinism of the 1950’s with contempt, and yet at the outbreak of WW II he enlisted more than once in the Marines, though each time the irregularity of his diphtheria-scarred heart betrayed him to the medical examiners. His thirst for risking his life for his country had to be slaked by serving as an engineering officer on merchant ships doing convoy duty, sometimes undefended, back and forth and up and down the Atlantic.
Although he made no complaints against homosexuals, he loathed actors (among other effeminate men), especially actors who came to imagine that they were as tough as the heroes they portrayed. I can imagine him coming to me now and asking me what had happened to American men, that so many had gone homosexual or had become so effeminate that they drove their wives into lesbianism; what sort of judges and legislators we had that they could even conceive of the possibility of “gay” marriage. What would any of us, looking our liberal parents and grandparents in the eye, say of such things?
Let us begin by stating what was obvious to my father. The problem does not lie with homosexuality per se or with homosexuals. My childhood piano teacher, for example, was the only well-known homosexual in my hometown. He was also one of the few Communists and, although he left school in the 6th grade, he was the only person in god-forsaken Superior who had read Goethe--and in German. My father, defending his friend from the usual insults in a barroom, took on several men who held his arm against a red-hot stove until it burned the skin and flesh off. I have always believed that he was unquestionably right to defend his friend, my teacher, who did not prey upon the innocent or corrupt the uncorrupted.
We all have moral demons to grapple with, even the saints. In my father’s case it was the curse of the Irish, which he successfully managed throughout his life, and arrogance, which he never mastered. The private miseries of the joyless “Gay” are not my problem, and in a healthy society, which upheld positive ideals of the masculine and the feminine, homosexuals would always constitute a fringe element, as they did in the 1950’s, when they were confined not to their closets--that is the lie they tell now--but to their own social sphere. A Christian moral dictator, if he were sensible, would not try to eliminate or persecute homosexuals, any more than he would try to eliminate gambling, prostitution, or fornication. Restrictions to discourage vice are another matter, but Tacitus’ definition of a wise ruler is still a good one: “To know all, but not to follow up on everything.”
The “queer” (to use their own favorite term) we shall always have with us. Living, as I have lived, in Charleston and San Francisco, I have numbered more than the usual amount of homosexuals among my teachers, work-mates, friends, and acquaintances. Some were otherwise honorable people, like my French professor who once begged me to get him out of a bar before the young hustlers enticed him into a compromising situation. Others were not. I once taught in a classics department with an effeminate and obviously homosexual married colleague. Because he was poorly trained and unbearably silly (giving papers on Catullan echoes in the song “Venus”), I avoided him, but I told my wife repeatedly that he would come to a bad end. I did not know how bad. He was ultimately convicted of molesting his son on two continents. Some of his colleagues defended him, arguing that he should retain his position in a society that takes college students abroad. After all, they said, there is no evidence that he molested anyone outside his immediate family. I wish I were making this up, but that is the state of the humanities in American universities today, where college teachers who die of AIDS have awards named in their honor.
Our problem, I repeat, is not with homosexuality per se or with homosexuals. In nearly every known society, some number (often quite small) of human beings with a Y chromosome will fail, for one reason or another, to become fully men. With some the failure takes the form of effeminacy and timidity, but in other cases males who are outwardly as tough and virile as an NFL quarterback will find other males, either some of the time or all of the time, sexually attractive.
In some societies, passionate relationships between men are permitted, up to a point, though they are often circumscribed by ceremonies and restrictions. These customs may become so complicated that it is difficult, even impossible to know to what extent actual sexual relations were permitted. Among young Athenian males in the Fifth Century, for example, there was a fair amount of hanky-panky, though the ideal was stated more in terms of passionate friendship than of physical consummation. But, whatever they did nor did not do with each other in their late teens, most Greek men expected to marry and beget children, and, if erotic art, love poetry, and ribald comedy are correct, men who cheated on their wives chased women more often than men.
For the Athenians, heterosexuality was a mainstream and everyday necessity, while homosexual relations were occasional, restricted to youth and young manhood, and optional. “Gayness,” as it is known today in America, that is a primary or exclusive orientation toward other men, was viewed as bizarre and unwholesome. Such people would be warned not to attend meetings of the assembly (in other words, they lost their political rights) on pain of death.
Our problem is not even with the “gay rights” agenda promoted by homosexual organizations. Most people would love to exploit their problems to secure special privileges. In America today, lame people have rights, short people have rights, to say nothing of people who claim to be allergic to peanuts or perfume or a steady job. As annoying as the whining of the privileged masses can be, it is no worse (considering the general collapse of civilization) than an annoyance.
In the parallel case of the “women’s” movement, the problem with feminism has little to do with individual women trying to get better jobs or higher salaries they do not deserve, but with the feminist ideology that denies the reality of what they call “sexual identity” and the special roles that men and women are called upon the play. Similarly, the problem with the movement to legislate “gay marriage” is not with the few homosexuals who foolishly want to take on the legal and economic burdens that the anti-Christian USA government imposes on married couples, but with the ideology of homosexualism, an ideology created and sustained by far more heterosexuals than homosexuals.
I have neither the interest nor the stomach to trace the history of the homosexualist ideology. Part of it clearly derives from the Renaissance Hellenism, which was not merely a discovery of the Greek language and literature, but the deliberate use of ancient Greek culture as a weapon against the Church. The Medici family, which supported the Neo-Platonist conspiracy against Christianity, nourished every vice, and it is no accident that the last of the ugly lot, so memorably described by Harold Acton, lay in bed all day in a drunken stupor, rousing himself only to observe the sexual antics of the ragamuffins he hired to enflame his imagination.
The men of the Enlightenment were fornicators and adulterers but not, for the most part, homosexual. Odd things went on at the Palais Royal, but still odder is Voltaire’s famous statement about sodomy: that once makes you a philosopher, twice makes you a pervert. Why in the world would an act of sodomy constitute a philosophical act? Precisely because a heterosexual finds it disgusting. It breaks down an important barrier between the world of normal experience, restricted by categories of sex, age, status, and nationality, and the completely open world of undifferentiated individuals advocated by liberal intellectuals since the 18th century.
Voltaire’s statement has to be read in a wider context. Repellant acts are often a requirement in initiation rituals: Aspiring gangbangers may have to commit a murder, and initiates into the Hells Angels were given a particularly repulsive erotic (heterosexual) chore to perform. The greatest of the philosophes, the Marquis de Sade, took the Enlightenment to the ultimate conclusion. God did not exist; religion and morality were invented to repress mankind; therefore, rape, torture, and multi-sexual orgies were all part of a program for liberating the human spirit from the shackles of Christianity. Like his disciples today, Sade opposed capital punishment and favored abortion--the opposite of the historic Christian position. For Sade as for liberals today, abortion and homosexualism are merely different aspects of the same campaign to destroy the connection between sex and procreation.
Feminism is another, and women can only be fully liberated if they kill their children. Some men, however timidly, continue to draw the line at eliminating their genetic future, but heterosexual American males who cannot have an abortion themselves and would not dream of encouraging a wife or daughter to kill a child can, nonetheless, take part in the Sadean revolution by breaking down the barrier between masculinity and femininity. I cannot be the only older man in America who finds most young men unbearably epicene. Even the macho louts who pinch waitresses and harass women on the street pouf their hair, pour on perfume, and talk with a voice as drained of virility as any NPR announcer.
When was the last time you heard a young man’s voice on NPR. (Bob Edwards was an old guy like me.) When was the last time you saw a major film with a manly male under 50? Who are the stars today? Pick them at random: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Leonardo da Caprio, Elijah Wood. Elijah Wood?. What film genius decided to portray Frodo as a testosterone-deprived homosexual? (No, I haven’t seen the movie. There are a lot things I have not done and do not intend to do, and you probably do not want me so much as to name them.) None of these celluloid gentlemen is virile enough to qualify for the position of eunuch in a seraglio, but they, presumably, are inspiring the erotic dreams of the Wal-Mart clerks, Methodist pastorettes, and high school English teachers who go to movies.
“Metrosexual,” for a while, was the codeword used to destigmatize and celebrate the effeminate and the epicene, and soft-voiced metrosexuals are everywhere displacing men, as in Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. They are everywhere on television, selling cars, wooing batchelorettes, pontificating on the political events they do not understood, posing as ministers of the Gospel.
Most of the girlie boys on TV are not homosexuals, but they present a problem that is far worse. Homosexuals, after a certain number of years, are what they are, and their choice (for most of them) is being gay or being celibate. Of course, they were not predestined by their genes or childhood, but each of us is the sum total of experiences, our own and our ancestors’. “I am a part of all that I have met,” declared Tennyson’s Ulysses, and if Ulysses were one of the nice guys on Queer Eye, he would have a hard time turning himself into Gary Cooper.
But, the epicenes and Ganymedes are self-created out of fear. Fear of conflict, fear of social disapproval, fear of women, fear of being men and fear of having to take the responsibility that men have to take.
Perhaps their fathers never took them fishing or gave them a pair of boxing gloves. Whatever the reason, whether it is out of fear or wilderness-deprivation, or--what is more likely--because they have willingly signed on to the Left’s Sadean agenda, the metrosexuals are promoting homosexualism in ways that no homosexual can. My own conclusion is that we should leave the Gays alone to their own world and save our anger and disgust for the high-voiced, soft-palmed, hair-waved, non-judgmental, unthreatening unmale non-persons who will soon be putting the last remaining men onto tribal homelands.
We might start with the girlie boys who bray so loudly for wars they will never fight in. Since so many of the “chicken-hawks” have never landed a bass or shot a duck or decked (or been decked by) an enemy, they might benefit from a treatment of shock-virility. Perhaps some outdoorsmen from the North Woods could take them on a deer hunt, or they could go down to Florida and spend two weeks with one of the surviving Florida Crackers, learning to drive a truck, fish, and drink like a man.
These fanciful suggestions, it goes without saying, would accomplish little, even if we could find some Brown graduate willing to make the experiment. Human life is not a Hollywood morality play in which city slickers are taught to be tough by an old-fashioned rough-neck. It is not the lack of physical virility that is the underlying problem—though it certainly is a problem—but the moral feebleness and spiritual emptiness that sends technically male and technically female young Americans to look for fulfillment on dating sites and get their thrills from commercial rituals and manufactured adventures at Disney World or its thousands of clones. Short of conversion to an ancient religious tradition, tere is only one solution for their problem, and that is the solution that awaits us all, the just and the unjust, the male and the unmade.