Abortion and the Marquis de Sade
It's time for the pro-abortion movement to recognize its philosophical godfather and give him the credit he deserves.
by Kenneth Westby
Abortion is now becoming as abhorrent and divisive a practice as was slavery in America a century and a half ago. In many respects it is a far more barbaric practice. In the past only the most perverse could countenance as a good thing the brutality of abortion. Nowadays the most powerful and respected proudly declare the practice of killing the not-yetborn a fundamental constitutional right of private choice, and moreover, a good thing, a symbolic act of ultimate liberation for women. I have found a better term for it.
A new word was created in the wake of the infamous life of the French writer the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814). The word was sadist: A person who gets pleasure (often sexual) from hurting someone else; a person having an unnatural love of cruelty. The Marquis dug up the perverse thoughts and actions of a soul darkened by his hostility to God and presented them to his admirers in the French upper class as a model for truly liberated living. Only by becoming free of all religious taboos, traditions and standards could one experience enlightenment. Free to call good evil, and evil good. Free to indulge and revel in every forbidden sin, vice and perversion the mind could invent.
His philosophy taught that once rid of the God myth and moral/religious constraints, one rises above superstition and becomes a sophisticate able to fully taste and enjoy one's natural, animalistic human nature. This approach, of course, was as old as the serpent's sermon in Eden, yet Sade so thoroughly and freshly developed it in a context of prurient lust, together with his talent as a good writer, that it went down well with many among the elite. In spite of some well deserved persecution, his philosophy developed a following in France two hundred years ago, and in many respects fit well with the anti-God ideas of the French Revolution. His works influenced some of the great minds of the last century including Nietzche, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka. His books, however, were frequently banned and only since WW2 have they begun to be republished.
Marquis de Sade
Were Sade writing in America today he could easily land a healthy National Endowment for the Arts financial grant. What he romanticized in his violent and pornographic writing two hundred years ago has in our culture become an art form, a subculture complete with its own fashions, sadomasochistic paraphernalia stores, and stage and screen productions. Before Darwin the Marquis was writing that man is nothing but evolutionary stuff which can be treated however it might give pleasure. That others might suffer pain in the process was no real concern, rather it was part of the pleasure.
The American publishers (Grove Press) of de Sade's works suggest that one beneficial outcome from disinterring his works is that we might, in this century of Hitler and Stalin, confront "the absolute evil of which man is capable," and learn "a trifle more about ourselves."
I hope so. I learned this: the Marquis de Sade was "pro-choice" and an outspoken advocate of abortion long before it became so popular. Discovering the Marquis de Sade to be a pro-abortion spokesman somehow to me seemed perfectly fitting. Come to think of it, Sade is the perfect poster boy for Planned Parenthood. I think PP should begin using him immediately. They could win awards for "truth in advertising."
Calling an abortionist a sadist, nevertheless, could in some places land one in court; calling abortion a sadistic practice renders one a radical given to impolite speech -- at least in the eyes of today's elite. Perhaps reading Sade could teach us "a trifle more about ourselves" and "the absolute evil of which man is capable."
What follows is a brief section from Sade's "Dialogue The Third" from his 1795 book Philosophy in the Bedroom (La Philosophic dans le boudoir) in which he advances his views on the unborn and abortion. (See pages 248-250, Marquis de Sade, Translated from the French by Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse, Grove Press, New York, 1965.)
The dialogues are Sade's literary vehicle for economically expounding his views on morality, history, and religion, all commingled with Sadean sexual fantasies. His protagonists are Eugenie, a chaste fifteen-year old virgin and neophyte who is to be initiated to the path of libertinage -- freedom, in Sade's canon. Madame de Saint-Ange is an experienced twenty-six-year-old woman, lewd and wanton. The last character that appears in our brief excerpt is Dolmance, a corrupt and dangerous fellow who draws no lines at inflecting cruelty to obtain pleasure. Sade must "rid Eugenie's pretty little head of all the false notions of religion, morality, and virtue which a hypocritical mother and false society have instilled in her since birth" (from the introduction, p. 180).
In this excerpt his focus in on population control, status of the fetus, abortion -- including late term, infanticide, and a woman's control of her body.
"MADAME DE SAINTANGE -- Propagation is no wise the objective of Nature; she merely tolerates it; from her viewpoint, the less we propagate, the better; and when we avoid it altogether, that's best of all. Eugenie, be the implacable enemy of this wearisome child-getting, and even in marriage incessantly deflect that perfidious liquor whose vegetation serves only to spoil our figures, which deadens our voluptuous sensations, withers us, ages and makes us fade and disturbs our health....Tell [your husband] you detest children, point out the advantages of having none. Keep a close watch over yourself in this article, my dear, for, I declare to you, I hold generation in such horror I should cease to be your friend the instant you were to become pregnant, If, however, the misfortune does occur, without yourself having been at fault, notify me within the first seven or eight weeks, and have it very neatly remedied. Dread not infanticide; the crime is imaginary; we are always mistress of what we carry in our womb, and we do no more harm in destroying this kind of matter than in evacuating another, by medicines, when we feel the need."EUGENIE -- But if the child is near the hour of its birth?
"MADAME DE SAINTANGE -- Were it in the world, we should still have the right to destroy it. In all the world there is no prerogative more secure than that of mothers over their children. No race has failed to recognize this truth: `tis founded in reason, consecrated in principle.
"DOLMANCE -- The right is natural...it is incontestable. The deific system's extravagance was the source of every one of those gross errors. The imbeciles who believed in God, persuaded that our existence is had of none but him and that immediately an embryo begins to mature, a little soul, emanation of God, comes straightway to animate it; these fools, I say, assuredly had to regard as a capital crime this small creature's undoing, because, according to them, it no longer belonged to men. 'Twas God's work; 'twas God's own; dispatch it without crime? No.
"Since, however, the torch of philosophy has dissipated all those impostures, since, the celestial chimera has been tumbled in the dust, since, better instructed of physics' laws and secrets, we have evolved the principle of generation, and now that this material mechanism offers nothing more astonishing to the eye than the development of a germ of wheat, we have been called back to Nature and away from human error. As we have broadened the horizon of our rights, we have recognized that we are perfectly free to take back what we only gave up reluctantly, or by accident, and that it is impossible to demand of any individual whomsoever that he become a father or a mother against his will; that this creature whether more or less on earth is not of very much consequence, and that we become, in a word, as certainly the masters of this morsel of flesh, however it be animated, as we are of the nail we pare from our fingers, or the excrements we eliminate through our bowels, because the one and the other are our own, and because we are absolute proprietors of what emanates from us....Peruse the history of the manner of all the world's peoples and you will unfailingly see that the practice is global; you will finally be convinced that it would be sheer imbecility to accord a very indifferent action the title of evil."
There you have it. Once disabused of imbecilic belief in God, it follows that the fetus has no more rank than nail clippings or the morning's bowel movement. While this is probably an overstatement if applied to how our culture views abortion, the Sadean logic that a woman can do anything she wants to "this morsel of flesh" is firmly behind the infamous Row versus Wade Supreme Court ruling. The unborn must, after all, be quite trivial, insignificant, unimportant, and disposable. How else can you explain killing one and one half million of them every year in America? The Marquis would be proud to be an American in the 1990s.
Perhaps labeling the practice of abortion as sadistic is too harsh given that the dictionary definition of the term associates the perpetrators with deriving some pleasure from their cruelty. I wouldn't accuse the parties to an abortion doing so for sensual pleasure. But listen to the common reasons offered for inflicting pain and death to an unborn baby: for the "convenience," "comfort," "health and happiness," "quality of life," "family considerations," or "economic needs" of a woman or couple. Are not these various reasons advanced merely efforts to preserve or promote the overall "pleasure" of the perpetrators? The very fact that virtually all abortions are "elective" tells us it is a procedure that is not required to save the mother's life, but a deliberate decision to in some respect benefit the mother's (and/ or father's) life.
On the medical side, a thriving multi-billion-dollar-a-year abortion industry generates fortunes for a few and provides a good living for thousands. Do not these billions of dollars give pleasure and happiness to those who receive them and spend them? I don't see much moral difference between inflicting cruelty and pain for pay or for pleasure. Do you?
Once one considers the barbarity of "partial birth" abortions any qualms with the term sadistic should disappear. Craniotomy upon the living fetus is the latest threshold breached in the push for greater control over "this morsel of flesh." Jim McFadden suggests that even Adolph Hitler might be shamed at this procedure. New York's Cardinal John O'Connor calls it outright "infanticide." McFadden describes the detestable procedure: "The baby is four-fifths born, its tiny arms and legs already wriggling free -- until the abortionist executes it by plunging a scissors into the barely-in-the-womb neck, then suctions out the brains and crushes the skull" (The Human Life Foundation, Inc., 11/22/96 Newsletter, 150 East 35th St., NY, NY 10016).
Understanding the cruelty of abortion, and now knowing the Marquis de Sade's crass view of the unborn and his spirited recommendation for their termination, it is time the Marquis receive his long overdue credit as the pro-choice abortion movement's philosophical pioneer. Let it be declared that henceforth whenever the word abortion is mentioned, let the word Sadistic also be uttered. It is only fair.
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