Monday, June 10, 2019

Sade – The Greatest Philosophe

"Sade was one of the most vigorously anti-authoritarian writers of all time." p. xxxiv, Penelope Rosemont, Surrealist Women, Univ. Of Texas, 1998

"Sade is the last, bleak, disillusioned voice of the Enlightenment, he is the avatar of the nihilism of the late twentieth century" p. 34, Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman, Virago, 1979

Foolish people take Sade's novels literally, as though he approved of the vast catalogs of atrocities he wrote about. In his own words, “I don't want to make vice amiable... I have made my heroes so loathsome that they will inspire neither pity or love... I become more moral than those who allow themselves 'toning down'.” 1. Essentially, Sade was writing social criticism and an examination of the psychology of domination under the guise of pornographic novels. The violent porn was not a way of attracting an audience so much as a an exaggerated description of the reality he saw around him. Somewhat like Hunter S. Thompson's “gonzo journalism.” As with Thompson's diatribes, Sade's descriptions are so over the top, so extreme, that they are humourous, in the black humour sense. Indeed, Sade is one of the greatest of black humourists, perhaps only equaled by Lautremont in Maldoror. As Breton points out, “In more ways than one, Sade, incarnates what we call black humor... at his own terrible expense moreover.” 2.

For Annie LeBrun "Il est un des très rares écrivains, peut-être le seul, à mettre la nature humaine à nu. Il peint des personnages libérant toute la violence de la passion sexuelle, l’exerçant au détriment des autres, parfois jusqu’à une cruauté sans pareille. Mais, là où il nous inquiète le plus, c’est en nous rappelant que ces actes sont monnaie courante dans l’histoire. Ses personnages jouissant de leurs crimes sont de tous les temps. " 3. ("He is one of those rare writers, perhaps the only one to examine human nature in all its nakedness. He paints a picture of people engaged in violent sexual passion to the detriment of others, with a cruelty without measure. But where he upsets us the most, is in recalling us to the fact these acts are common place in history. Such people commit their crimes all the time.") (My translation)

Along with Sade the moralist and the psychologist, we also have Sade the anarchist. Sixty years before Proudhon wrote “What is Property”, he had it nailed down as 'Property is Theft.' “Going back to the origin of the right of property, we come necessarily to usurpation. But theft is only punished because it attacks the right of property; but the right is in origin itself a theft, so that the law punishes theft because it attacks theft.” 4.

Some have correctly seen Sade as a revolutionary. According to Angela Carter, “From time to time he leaves off satire long enough to posit a world in which nobody need bleed. But only a violent transformation of this world and a fresh start in an absolutely egalitarian society would make this possible.” 5.
The greatest causes of misery for Sade were four in number; private property, class division, religion, the patriarchal family. 6. Note the inclusion of patriarchy. Unlike the Father of Anarchism, Proudhon, Sade was no misogynist. Instead, he sought “... complete equality of women and men in every circumstance” 7. Here is Sade again on poverty and wealth;“I saw the rich continually increasing the chains of the poor, while doubling his luxury... I demanded equality and was told it was utopian, but I soon saw that those who denied its possibility were those who would lose by it. 8.

The dominator system he railed against could not last forever. Sixty years before Marx, he saw that its own internal contradictions would bring it down. “The machine cannot possibly avoid breaking down before long... Wealth and property concentrating in the hands of a few... within a hundred years time , the State will necessarily be divided into two factions, one so powerful and rich that it will topple and crush the other; the country will be laid waste. 9.

The Nature of Laws - Some of Sade's greatest vitriol is aimed at the legal system. Not to mention that some of his greatest criminals are judges and many of the worst injustices in his novels are perpetrated through the courts.
“The object of laws is either to multiply crimes, or to allow them to be committed with impunity.” “A hundred innocent for one guilty, that is the spirit of the law.”10 This clearly fits the drug laws, not to mention corporate racketeering like limited liability and the “corporation as fictitious person.”
“Without laws and religion it is impossible to imagine the degree of glory and grandeur human knowledge would have attained by now; the way these base restraints have retarded progress is unbelievable... Then you would do away with laws? Yes... But anarchy... gives necessarily the cruel image of despotism. That too is a mistake... Tyrants are never born in anarchy, you would see them raise themselves in the shadows of the laws or get authority from them... give up the idea of making man better through laws; you merely make him more cunning and more wicked... never more virtuous.”11.

The Psychology of Domination – The point of amassing wealth is to have power over other people. Wealth is a means, not an end in itself. Exercising this power gives pleasure to the dominator. To dominate makes one feel superior to the dominated. The more the victim is degraded, the greater the feeling of superiority. Hence the more vicious the crime, the more pleasurable it is. Like heroin addiction, tolerance sets in - greater and greater crimes are needed to get the 'kick.' We find this today with serial killers who start out as rapists and then turn to torture and murder. But let his monsters have their word:

“The more atrocious the hurt he inflicts upon the helpless, the greater shall be the voluptuous vibrations in him; injustice is his delectation, he glories in the tears his heavy hand wrings from the unlucky; the more he persecutes, the happier the despot feels... the more he crushes his woe-ridden prey, the more extreme he renders the contrast [between him and his victims] and... he adds fuel to the fire of his lust.” 12.

“A contemptible fool, that statesman, who neglects to have the State finance his pleasures; and if the masses go hungry, if the nation goes naked, what do we care so long as our passions are satisfied? Mine entail inordinate spending; if I thought gold flowed in their veins, I'd have every one of the people bled to death.” 13.

Dominator cruelty takes many forms, not just the brutal. These lesser forms that one sees daily, police harassment, bullying bosses, all forms of petty bureaucratic nastiness, are all part of the mentality, and undoubtedly give pleasure to the perpetrators. “But one does not always have such objects in hand [beautiful women and men to degrade and torture] … what then? Why, one must learn to delight in lesser pleasures: hardheartedness toward the down-trodden... of plunging them oneself into misery if one can – these are some sort of substitute for the sublime pleasure of causing a debauchery-object to suffer.” 14

Long before the ruling class apology of Social Darwinism, Sade had his dominating class rationalize their crimes by appealing to pseudo-science. “... robbing the poor, despoiling the orphan, fleecing the widow of her inheritance, man does no more than make use of the rights Nature has given him. Crime? The only crime would consist in not exploiting these rights: the indigent man placed by Nature within the range of our depredations, is so much food for the vulture...” 15.

Here we have the Survival of the Fittest as imagined by the ruling classes “The opulent man represents what is mightiest in society; he has bought up all the rights; he therefore ought to enjoy them... he ought to the fullest possible extent pave the way for the satisfaction of his caprices by exacting discipline, forbearance and compliance … from the subordinate class...” 16.
On reading Sade, one cannot help but notice that other than their crimes, his monsters are uninteresting. Yes, they are learned to a degree – enough to rationalize their behavior with scientific or philosophical verbiage, but they are otherwise completely bourgeois. There are no artists, scholars or poets here. Only those who love wealth and power and the exercise of their privileged position to the maximum degree. There is a hint of Hannah Arendt's concept of the “banality of evil.” in Sade's novels.

Nothing causes greater fear to the dominators than the loss of their domination. There is no length to which they will not go to preserve that power. The hundreds of millions of dead from wars, concentration camps, genocide, sociopathic economic policies, over the last 120 years are good evidence that Sade was not engaging in hyperbole. Indeed, the quote below could be seen as a virtual verbatim neoliberal agenda as pursued by Pinochet, Thatcher and Reagan and their successors.

“We are frightened of a revolution... First of all we are going to suppress all the free schools whose lessons propagating too rapidly give us painters, poets and philosophers, where we want only labourers... France has need of a vigorous bleeding... To attain this aim we are first of all going to attack the unemployed with the greatest rigor; it is almost always from that class that agitators appear; we are going to destroy the hospitals and refuges; we don't want to leave the masses a single asylum which can encourage their insolence... We want them to crawl like slaves and we will spare no means to accomplish this aim.” 17.

The Dominator Use of Religion and Hypocrisy - Other tools in the domination kit are religion and morality. It would be virtually impossible to dominate without these pieces of equipment.

“The force of the scepter depends on that of the thurible... Nothing makes people so abject as religious fears... You keep the people in ignorance and superstition... because you fear them if enlightened.” 18.
The dominator must never expose their true face to the masses. They must appear not as the most vicious, but rather as the most virtuous. “Remember that … hypocrisy is an indispensable vice for him who has the fortune of possessing all the others.. it isn't your virtue that society needs, it is simply a pretext for supposing you virtuous... In addition, hypocrisy, teaching one craft and guile, facilitates countless crimes...” 19

“... the art of governing... is the one which demands the maximum of hypocrisy...[Governments] teach publicly the art of murder, and rewards him who is most successful in practicing it, and yet punish the man who gets rid of his enemy for a private reason. 20.

Sade as Greatest Philosophe - Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, are held up to us as the great Philosophes of 18th Century France. Sade is never mentioned in the same breath, and actually is rarely mentioned at all, except in ignorant condemnation. But what did the supposed Greats actually believe? They thought if you allowed Reason to predominate by eliminating superstition, having a constitutional government and a market economy, you would have more or less achieved the ideal state. There was no understanding, except in the most superficial way, of the irrational, the hidden, unknown forces operating on the psyche. They can be forgiven for their naivety, for they were among the first “Moderns.” Medieval laws, customs and practices still pervaded Europe. They were negating these. The truly advanced thinker would go beyond, finding the deep and bitter flaws within The Age of Reason.

Sade did precisely this. And in the real world, the capitalist world, not the Utopia of Reason, reason and science were harnessed for exploitation of the masses and the biosphere, and used to rationalize the ever-greater crimes of the dominator class. During the 20th Century the world of Reason descended into madness and atavism with fascism and endless war. And as long as the state, inequality and private property existed, there would be no peace, only a nightmare world of torment and suffering. He exposed these realities in his novels – no wonder he was condemned!

The climate change denying faction of the ruling class is the Sadeian nightmare come true. Fiction has become fact, two hundred years after Sade's condemnation. For here we have criminals worse than the fascists – true radical evil - a group who would rather 90% of humanity die off than lose an iota of their power and wealth. One suspects they glory in the thought that so many of the 'little people' should suffer such an appalling fate.
Since Sade saw beyond Rationalist wishful thinking, he was a finer mind than 'the Greats' and today can be seen as the most important of the Philosophes.

End notes
1. DAF Sade, quoted p. 66, Geoffrey Gorer, The Life and Ideas of the Marquis de Sade, Peter Owen publishing, 1962.
2. Andre Breton, Anthology of Black Humor, City Lights Books, 1997
3. Annie LeBrun interview,
4. p. 26, Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman, Virago, 1979
5. p. 118, Sade, Juilette, Grove, 1968
6. p. 135, Geoffrey Gorer, The Life and Ideas of the Marquis de Sade, Peter Owen publishing, 1962
7. p. 130, ibid
8. Sade, Aline and Valcour, p. 108, ibid
9. p. 66, Sade, Juilette, Grove, 1968
10. Sade quoted, pps. 124, 126, ibid
11. Sade, p. 143, ibid
12. p. 119, Sade, Juilette, Grove, 1968
13. p. 234 ibid
14. p. 270, ibid
15. p 118, ibid
16. p. 174, ibid
17. p. 126, ibid
18. Sade quoted, p. 105, Geoffrey Gorer, The Life and Ideas of the Marquis de Sade, Peter Owen publishing, 1962
19. p. 261, Sade, Juilette, Grove, 1968
20. Sade, p. 116, op cit


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