The first quotation at the heading of PART 1 is from J. D. Unwin’s Sex and Culture, a 676 page volume published in 1934. The second quotation is from a lecture given by Freud at the University of Vienna, and it parallels the theme of his book, Civilization and Its Discontents.[v] A primary motivation for the researching of Unwin’s book was to find material to confirm or refute Freud’s book, which came first. The third quotation is from Aldous Huxley’s Ends and Means, and was written in response to Unwin’s body of work.[vi] Huxley was one of that generation’s luminaries (best remembered as the author of Brave New World), and he had the honesty to state what made both he and so many of that generation of British intellectuals tick. He later wrote the Introduction to Unwin’s final book, Hopousia.[vii]
Unwin was a sociologist from Oxford University in England. He had some desire to prove Freud wrong in his book Civilization and its Discontents. Briefly, Freud’s thesis was that civilization is dependent upon sexual discipline and sublimation. Unwin’s life work led him to study 80 primitive societies, and 16 historical civilizations. The above quotation is the summary of his findings. Unwin’s life work led him to study the “qualified exceptions” that I referred to in the above section. Even with an underlying monistic metaphysic, the ancient world still on notable occasions found its way near to monogamous marriage (chastity was ultimately only severely imposed on the woman, and when imposed on the man, it was not for the sake of fidelity to the woman, but in order for the man to give himself fully to a higher cause, like the advancement or protection of the Empire). And when it did, the outworking appears to have been quite marked. Societies with the ideal, fortressed with customary and legal consequences and rewards (and ideals are never entirely achieved) of restricting sexual intercourse to a monogamous marital state, and of maintaining sexual continence before, after, and outside of that union, are the cultures that display the highest degree of cultural energy and creativity. Unwin found only a single and qualified exception to this rule. [viii]
In the ancient world, it was recognized in the higher civilizations that being sparing and parsimonious with one’s sexual powers created other energies. Plato was the supreme teacher of sublimation in the ancient world with his teaching that sexual hunger is ultimately a hunger for beauty and wisdom. Hence, there were periods in the ancient world when the parsimonious expenditure of sexual energy was encouraged, or even demanded. This was apparently true in the expansive phase of every ancient empire on the part of the ruling class, or what became the ruling class. In these periods, sexual powers were contained, and generally found outlet in conquest and expansion over other peoples, and in release of cultural energy.[ix] Later in all of these peoples, sexual energies were again released to be gratified immediately. The result was that those people themselves fell prey to other more disciplined peoples. In the modern world, totalitarian states have often tried to discipline sexual energies and to re-channel them into service to the state in order to replicate ancient militaristic powers of conquest.[x]
Swiss sociologist, Phillip Mottu in a speech in which he quotes Unwin, said this:
Societies that once displayed very great energy subside and decline when sexual discipline is relaxed. For example, in relation to the early Roman Republic, Unwin says, “It is difficult to imagine a more complete reduction of sexual opportunity or a more rigid cancellation of personal impulses. These men gave Rome her gravitas. Their honorable dealings became proverbial as the ‘faith of the Romans,’ which towards the end of the Republic disappeared.” By the end of the first century of our era we are told that “the Romans satisfied their sexual desires in a direct manner”. Consequently, they had no energy for anything else. The old traditions were still preserved in some parts of the Empire, such as Illyria and Spain. Many of the provincials went to Rome and succeeded to high office, and it was these provincials who gave the Roman Empire strength. “Then in their turn the provincials reversed the habits of their fathers by extending their sexual opportunity. The lack of energy displayed by their sons and grandsons, is apparent in the records of the third century.”[xi]
Now what is clear is that America, and even more, Western Europe, are marked by exactly the kind of sexual lassitude that Unwin found as a universal marker of cultural decline.[xii] Our universities are struck dumb in the presence of what is almost a polymorphous sexuality that is being actively practiced at, and even promoted by, our state universities.[xiii] And it is predictable, given Unwin’s data, and even now observable, that our universities and our cities will come to be dominated by people, many from the outside, who do practice chastity. And in fact in some places, our universities are now using, or seeking to use “affirmative action” to limit the number of Asians who can come into our universities for very fear of this domination. Asians have the lowest illegitimacy rate of all groups in America, being somewhere between 2-3%. The largest import to America from India are intellectuals and PhD candidates, and this group is also marked by chastity. One can quibble that other factors may be at work here, but I have yet to find one critic who denies that the strong traditional family life in these groups is very central to their success. In the mean time, our universities are struck dumb, and are absolutely incapable of even addressing the issue of sexual morality, except on the laughable level of ensuring that plenty of rubbers are available. They are incapable of rising above hygiene and health in any public or official statement. This in itself is an index of the impotence that has overtaken the Western world as it has de-Christianized.[xiv]
There was a certain fascination when the 80+ year old Hugh Hefner showed up on television. He always appeared with a bevy of young “Hefner girls”, “girls next door”, young things who only too gladly populate his bed and pleasure him, to whatever degree a man his age is capable of being pleasured. Hefner was always treated with enormous deference and respect. He was never challenged, never asked a difficult question. He was treated like an icon and a great cultural shaper who had earned complete respect as a kind of “elder” to be venerated. This is a kind of index of our sexual debauchery. It would be fascinating to know just how much cultural destruction and how much human misery and degradation that man is responsible for. He, more than anyone, had made promiscuity respectable. [xv] But what is the outcome of the triumph of the vision of which he is the great public icon?
The most immediate index of his triumph is the rate of children being born out of wedlock. Almost thirty years ago, Daniel Patrick Monahan, then Senator from New York State, sounded an alarm in regard to the state of the black family in our cities. The illegitimacy rate was then about 25% and Monahan declared this a crisis of immense proportion. It was one that was of civilization destroying proportions. It is now the case that the illegitimacy rate in the white community is about what it was in the black community then, and the illegitimacy rate amongst blacks has more than doubled. The national illegitimacy rate is now approximately 36%. This is a sign of one of two things. Either it is a sign of how poorly we are giving sex education to our children, or it is a sign of the decline of marriage. But just how much more our children need to know about condoms and how to use them is an interesting question. To paraphrase Malcom Muggeridge, one can foresee a future when the entire educational time in our public schools is taken up with “sex education” and the illegitimacy rate will have risen to 100%. In a post-Cartesian age, marriage, which rests on a social and theological covenant, is left defenseless. What is consistent with our time is the constant clamoring for more rubbers and more education as to how to use them. It is all a technical question of plumbing and plumbing maintenance. A civilized order cannot bear this.[xvi]
Biblically, there are two great erotic forces at work in history. They are the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ–and Babylon the Great, the Whore of Babylon. The second case (of which all of us by nature partake) is at heart sado/masochistic. She nourishes herself with human blood, and her lovers eventually “hate her”, devour her flesh, and give her over to be burned with fire (Revelation 17:17) This is a picture of all destructive eroticism at work in history, and a picture of just what we need sanctified out of us.
The picture of the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ is the opposite.
The power of the erotic is hardly taken into account at all in the modern church. However badly worked out, at least the medieval church understood the reality. The great ancient teacher of the power of the erotic was Plato. The great modern non-Christian teacher, and one of the most influential and powerful formers of the modern world was Rousseau. We tend to think of Kant as forming his great project in reaction to Hume’s critique of causality (and that is true), but far more deeply Kant (who was the unsexiest of men) formed his project as a theoretical underpinning of Rousseau’s erotic vision. He wanted eventually to make a place for the sublime. All of the great flowering of German culture in the 19thcentury, was eventually a stream that had its head waters in Rousseau.
America is Rousseau gone rotten. Feeling, sentiment, and compassion all stripped of any profundity, is most of the underpinning for most of current liberal ethos. The easy availability of sexual intercourse on American campuses, and in American urban life, is lobotomizing us and destroying most capacity for any hunger for spiritual reality. If there is any hunger, it is connected to the vagueness of eastern mysticism, which is easily compatible with an animal hunger for orgasm. Since we have forgotten The Song of Solomon, we have been overtaken by Hugh Hefner and all of his cheap imitators. Fine wines are unnecessary as long as one has enough of cheap distilled liquors that might blind one, and certainly numb all the sensibilities.
Almost without exception, our apologetics are consumed with the rational/scientific side of things, but the existential realities of most young people are flat eroticism, and to this we have almost nothing to say, except that as Christians we believe in chastity. But, I am convinced that if we are to make any headway, we have to learn what erotic imagination is, and how to speak into it. It is a huge theme in the Bible. It is at least as big as it is in Plato and Rousseau. We had better recover what is really there. And the heart of “what is really there” can be gotten at very quickly in this final pericope of Scripture: the New Jerusalem as juxtaposed against Babylon the Great. Both of these great pictures embody the erotic as a fundamental force of either fidelity and truth in marriage and the Great Marriage, or of promiscuity, destruction, and sado-masochism. These great images intersect perfectly with the reality of the city, which is inescapably going to be our environment as we move ever closer to the consummation of history.
Richard Bledsoe is a Theopolis Fellow and works as a chaplain in Boulder, Colorado.
V: Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (London: The Hogarth Press, 1953, translated from German by Joan Riviere)
VI. Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means(New York & London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1937)
VII. J.D. Unwin, Hopousia, or the Sexual and Economic Foundations of a New Society (New York, Oskar Piest, 1940) Hopousia means “somewhere” as opposed to “utopia”, which means “nowhere”. Unwin wanted to create a rationalistic society that recognized the need of sexual discipline but without the Christian doctrine of sin or of the power of shame to enforce this.
VIII: The one exception were the Moors as a polygamous culture. On every occasion of expressing great cultural energy, it was after the conquest of Christian and Jewish geographical areas and the carrying away and marrying of the women of those cultures who had been reared in the atmosphere of the strictest level of pre and extra marital continence. The Jewish and Christian women thus raised the next generation of sons. A summary of his findings can be found on p 368. “An absolutely polygamous society preserves but does not increase its tradition. It does not possess the energy to adopt new ideas; it remains content with its old institutions. Yet in such a case there may be complications. So far as the production of social energy is concerned, the sexual opportunity of the female is of more importance than that of the male. Thus, if the male members of an absolutely polygamous society mate with the females of an absolutely monogamous society, the new generation display a greater energy than that displayed by the sons of women born into a polygamous tradition. That is why, I submit, the Moors in Spain achieved such a high culture. Their fathers were born into a polygamous tradition; but their mothers were the daughters of Christians and Jews, and had spent their early years in an absolutely monogamous environment. The sons of these women laid the foundations of rationalistic culture; but soon the supply of Christian and Jewish women was insufficient , so the incipient rationalism failed to mature greatly. The Moors in Spain, however, could never have advanced up the cultural scale if they had not mated with women who had been reared in a more rigourous tradition than their own. They would simply have remained deistic, as other Mohammendans have done. As it was, the quality of the wives was such that a rationalistic culture was almost created. This tradition, however was not preserved after all the mothers of a new generation had spent their early years in an absolutely polygamous environment.” p. 368, Sex and Culture
IX …the same changes were made successively by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Athenians, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and Protestant English. These societies lived in different geographical environments; they belonged to different racial stocks; but the history of their marriage customs is the same. In the beginning each society had the same ideas in regard to sexual regulations. Then the same struggles took place; the same sentiments were expressed; the same changes were made; the same results ensued. Each society reduced its sexual opportuity to a minimuim and, displaying great social energy, flourished greatly. Then it extended its sexual opportunity; its energy decreased, and faded away. The one outstanding feature of the whole story is its unrelieved monotony. p 381, Sex and Culture. A survey of the sexual arrangements of the Sumerians, Babylonians, Athenians, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, and the English can be found on pages 381-415 ofSex and Culture.
X. This was true in both the Soviet Union after the early period of disastrous sexual liberation, and in Mao’s China.
XI. See Phillip Mottu’s “The Secret of Civilization” in Modernizing America,ed. by John McCook Roots (Pace Publications, Los Angeles, 1965),pp. 78-85
XII. According to Unwin, it requires 3 generations for the effects of departing from strict monogamy to fully display themselves (and strict monogamy means thatopportunity for sexual intercourse is restricted to monogamous marriage and that preand extra marital intercourse are prohibited). A better example of such culturaldecline could hardly be found than Unwin’s native Britain,and Europe as a whole. Historically, peoples who depart from monogamy are inevitably overtaken by othermore vigorous people. Ironically, polygamous Islam is more chaste than Europe, and Europe with its declining birth rate seems to lack either the will or the energy toso much as lift a finger to defend itself and its cultural heritage. Europe is disappearing.
XIII. http:www.goaskalice.columbia.edu This is a official web sight sponsored by Columbia University. It deals with all range of topics including: ” ménage a trios”, “the politics of group sex” and, under “kinky sex”, topics like fisting.
XIV. There is a great deal of public concern over “binge drinking” and excessive alcohol consumption amongst students. This is fair game for university concern, because it is in the realm of “health” rather than metaphysics and morality. Every few years, the concern reaches the level of a new public outcry when there are student deaths. But just how much excessive alcohol consumption is tied to the anxieties of the expectation of participation in the predatory sexual lassitude that marks so much of student life is a question that always remains hidden and unexplored. Indeed, the university being so rooted and grounded in the dogma of individual autonomy is incapable of addressing this, unless it rises to the level of rape. But short of rape (which offends the dogma of autonomy), sex is wholly without teleology, or moral shape.