modern social relations are sadistic in the sense that marquis de sade was in favor of them

From Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism (1979):

Social conditions now approximate the vision of republican society conceived by the Marquis de Sade at the very outset of the republican epoch. In many ways the most farsighted and certainly the most disturbing of the prophets of revolutionary individualism, Sade defended unlimited self-indulgence as the logical culmination of the revolution in property relations–the only way to attain revolutionary brotherhood in its purest form. By regressing in his writings to the most primitive level of fantasy, Sade uncannily glimpsed the whole subsequent development of personal life under capitalism, ending not in revolutionary brotherhood but in a society of siblings that has outlived and repudiated its revolutionary origins.

Sade imagined a sexual utopia in which everyone had the right to everyone else, where human beings, reduced to their sexual organs, became absolutely anonymous and interchangeable. His ideal society thus reaffirmed the capitalist principle that human beings are ultimately reducible to interchangeable objects. It also incorporated and carried to a surprising new conclusion Hobbes’s discovery that the destruction of paternalism and the subordination of all social relations to the market had stripped away the remaining restraints and the mitigating illusions from the war of all against all. In the resulting state of organized anarchy, as Sade was the first to realize, pleasure becomes life’s only business–pleasure, however, that is indistinguishable from rape, murder, unbridled aggression. In a society that has reduced reason to mere calculation, reason can impose no limits on the pursuit of pleasure–on the immediate gratification of every desire no matter how perverse, insane, criminal, or merely immoral. For the standards that would condemn crime or cruelty derive from religion, compassion, or the kind of reason that rejects purely instrumental applications; and none of these outmoded forms of thought or feeling has any logical place in a society based on commodity production. In his misogyny, Sade perceived that bourgeois enlightenment, carried to its logical conclusions, condemned even the sentimental cult of womanhood and the family, which the bourgeoisie itself had carried to unprecedented extremes.

At the same time, he saw that condemnation of “woman-worship” had to go hand in hand with a defense of women’s sexual rights–their right to dispose of their own bodies, as feminists would put it today. If the exercise of that right in Sade’s utopia boils down to the duty to become an instrument of someone else’s pleasure, it was not so much because Sade hated women as because he hated humanity. He perceived, more clearly than the feminists, that all freedoms under capitalism come in the end to the same thing, the same universal obligation to enjoy and be enjoyed. In the same breath, and without violating his own logic, Sade demanded for women the right “fully to satisfy all their desires” and “all parts of their bodies” and categorically stated that “all women must submit to our pleasure.” Pure individualism thus isssued in the most radical repudiation of individuality. “All men, all women resemble each other,” according to Sade; and to those of his countrymen who would become republicans he adds the ominous warning: “Do not think you can make good republicans so long as you isolate in their families the children who should belong to the republic alone.”

Close