The Enlightenment Use of Passions as Vehicle for Control

Classical ethics proposes restraint as the means of freedom; Sade proposes vice as the way to freedom; indeed Sade’s political theory proposes freedom as a way of annihilating moral restraint, but ends by imposing another more severe restraint in its place, thus introducing the central paradox of the Enlightenment: freedom equals control. ‘As we gradually proceed to our enlightenment,’ Sade writes giving the standard physics of the enlightenment as his starting point.

‘we cam more and more to feel that, motion being inherent in matter, the prime mover existed only as an illusion, and that all that exists essentially having to be in motion, the motor was useless; we sensed that this chimerical divinity, prudently invented by the earlier legislators, was in their hand, simply one more means to enthrall us.’

In classical physics, all objects were at rest unless moved by some agent; in Newtonian physics, all objects were in motion unless halted by some greater opposing force. The same could be said of Sade’s politics, which he derived from Newton’s physics. In an inversion of both Plato and Aristotle, Sade saw ‘insurrection’ as the natural state of men, who are nothing more than machines made out of matter in which motion was inherent. Since the passions are the moral equivalent of gravity, the successful government is not on which stifles passion, but rather one that foster it, and then directs the subsequent motions to its own ends. The state, in other words, should foster vice as an instrument of control:

‘The Greek lawgivers,’ Sade writes,

‘perfectly appreciated the capital necessary of corrupting the member citizens in order that their moral dissolution coming into conflict with the establishment and its values, there would result the insurrection that is always indispensable to a political system of perfect happiness which, like republican government, must necessarily excite the hatred and envy of all its foreign neighbors. Insurrection, thought these sage legislators, is not at all a moral condition; however, it has got to be a republic’s permanent condition. Hence it would be no less absurd than dangerous to require that those who are to insure the perpetual immoral subversion of the established order be moral beings: for the state of a moral man is one of tranquility and peace, the state of an immoral man is one of perpetual unrest that pushes him to, and identifies him with the necessary insurrection in which the republican must always keep the government of which he is a member.’

Sade’s politics 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; he is, in other words, not in motion and so 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 desire by controlling his passions, and it succeeds in manipulating and thereby controlling him. Sade is not slow in drawing this very conclusion. ‘ Lycugus and Solon,’ Sade tells us,

‘fully convinced that immodesty’s results are to keep the citizen in the immoral state indispensable to the mechanics of republican government, obliged to exhibit themselves naked at the theater.”

Lust in other words, is the force which keeps the citizenry of the republic from succumbing to the inertia of tranquility which is the fruit of adherence to the moral order. At this point we enter into something like a circular argument. 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 hither to deemed pathological is not to be seen as 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 necessary so that, when need sends the citizen near the objects of lust, he can give himself over to doing with them all this 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.”

Liberty, according to this line of thought is the ability not to act according to reason, but rather th 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 soul source of man’s ability to govern himself. And once gratification of passion becomes the definition of ‘liberty,’ then ‘liberty’ becomes synonymous with control because he who controls the passion controls the man. Liberty, as defined by Sade, becomes a prelude to the most insidious form of totalitarian control known to man. 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 the Kulturkampf. Sade clearly understands that sexual liberation leads to social control and sees this liberation and subsequent control of passion as the basis of permanent revolution that life in France would become ‘If You Would Become Republicans.’

‘No passion has a greater need of the widest horizon of liberty than sexual license,’ he 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, h will seek other outlets for it, it will be vented upon  nearby objects; it will trouble the government. If you would avid 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 ht middle of the harem of sultanas and yours 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.’

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.”

E. Michael Jones
Monsters From the Id — pg. 85 – 88


Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Kinist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture . Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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