The Culture War: It Really Is All about Sex
Augusto de Noce makes the case that sexual libertinism has been the left's primary weapon to undermine its adversaries and establish it's power. The enemy? Christianity and its immutable morality.
For a long time our politicians have been in denial about the “culture war.” Whether for political gain, or out of disinterest or even a fear of engaging the conflict, many have argued that there are other, more important, issues to focus on politically. Culture war politics are a distraction from the real achievements which could be made in the economy. We are told that if we can just get these culture war issues off the table our politicians will be able to enact legislation, usually economic, like tax cuts, which will benefit society. Even liberals have tried to distract us, telling us that, “It’s about the economy, stupid!” And we believed them. Yet, at the same time, it is about economics. It must be understood that the only real opposition to bourgeoisie economic domination of the working masses is an immutable moral framework which subordinates the economic to other, “higher” purposes. The bourgeoisie wanted to be free to pursue their economic ends, free from restraint, free from the moral finger wagging which frowned on money making and the seeking of wealth as an end in itself. That immutable moral framework finds its champion in the living Christian tradition. How do you destroy the power of a living Christian tradition? That is correct: sexual libertinism.
Wilhelm Reich and The Sexual Revolution
Augusto del Noce, in the collection of his essays entitled The Crisis of Modernity, identifies an author who, at the time, was relatively obscure, Wilhem Reich, as the decisively influential figure in the sexual revolution. His 1930 book The Sexual Revolution as well as his 1933 work Mass Psychology of Fascism ended up setting much of the tone for the politics of the 20th century post World War 2. He does this primarily by recasting “the revolution” in psychoanalytical terms.
Reich shifts the primary dialectical opposition from economics to the psychological and moral. Thus, no longer is society divided between the bourgeois and the proletariat. He psychologizes the binary. The force that must be overcome by revolution is that of “inhibition” or “repression” which change man at a structural level, making him think and act against his own natural interest, against the enjoyment of life, against happiness as its pursuit. The forces that seek to repress and inhibit our freedom are inherently reactionary, repressive and aggressive. Thus, he argues, inhibition of our natural desires leads to Fascism. It is aggressive and violent. It is the incarnation of the repressive and the authoritarian. Thus Reich argues that libertine permissiveness will lead to the end of authoritarianism and violence. It is the means to revolutionize society so as to achieve a truly liberal, egalitarian and democratic society.
As Reich’s ideas worked themselves out into the broader left wing ethos and thought patterns, the left very quickly came to see that the most politically threatening force holding back “progress” was sexual morality and the groups most likely to advocate it. Therefore, Christians with a living faith committed to moral teachings rooted in the church’s long history of biblical and theological interpretation with its understanding of an immutable, metaphysical moral order quickly became the enemies of freedom and democracy. Because of Reich, the very idea of sexual morality became equated with Fascism and authoritarianism.
The Battle Lines Drawn: Liberalism and Christianity
The idea of sexual freedom is a simple one. It promises to usher in utopia without any sacrifice. By simply focusing on satisfying my own desires, not just sexual desires, but all desires including material possessions, a utopian world of personal well-being and happiness will just emerge easily and effortlessly. Our desires should not be feared. They should be embraced. This is a direct challenge to the older morality based on the idea of original sin. This teaching argued that our desires were corrupted and untrustworthy. Freedom was found through a combination of restraint and the purifying of one’s desires. Rightly ordered desires, exercised appropriately, freed one from one’s own flaws and corruption. Because of the belief in a moral order existing outside one’s self, a standard by which one’s desires could be evaluated and judged, provided the structure for the right ordering of desire, freedom from one’s self would be found in conforming one’s desires to this immutable, God given, metaphysical order. The idea of morality as a form of personal sacrifice, sacrificing one’s desires for a higher good, flows out of this understanding of original sin. Without the idea of original sin, a morality of personal sacrifice and restraint goes with it. By abandoning this idea of “sin,” science, in the form of psychotherapy, would then effortlessly lead us to utopia by freeing us from this repressive Christian morality based on restraining and inhibiting our desires, making us feel bad for having them.
Dispensing with the idea of “original sin,” labeling it “repressive,” Reich sets up an opposition between “permissiveness” and “repression.” The “traditional” values the immutable moral order which has a non-negotiable fixity independent of physical reality. Moral values cannot be reduced to a mere psychological state. Right and wrong are not based on how one feels. To traditional society, our participation in this moral order is the foundation of our humanity, our dignity, our autonomy, our freedom. Freedom comes through the process of overcoming one’s flawed desires by conforming desire to this unseen moral order. This notion is also the foundation for the very idea of tradition itself. Each generation teaches the next about the moral order, passing this pattern on.
With Marx and Nietzsche, this idea of an immutable moral order rooted in God is rejected. Morality is merely the creation of a given historical situation and cannot be abstracted from it. Thus, a new historical situation must therefore bring new values. If one wants to eliminate corruption and evil in society, appeals to a higher order cannot be made. Instead one must will these new values into existence by overthrowing the existing order, thus ushering in a new historical situation with new values. Tradition, because it is part of the past and current historical order, then becomes an obstacle to moral reform. Ridding ourselves of evil means razing the current order with its traditions to the ground.
In this new moral frame the terms “repressive” and “permissive” gain new meaning. They require atheism as a postulate. The idea of “God” is part of the old order. God is “repressive” and holds humanity back from realizing its true potential, from being truly free. The idea of the “Logos,” the living Word, the living embodiment of the divine Order, divine Wisdom, by this logic is the source of domination. The very idea of a moral order, as instantiated by the Word, the Logos, is authoritarian, domineering and oppressive. To be free means throwing off the shackles of Christianity and its Logos based morality.
The permissive society presents itself as the fulfillment of the ideals of freedom and democracy. It eliminates the idea of the ethical state, that society’s laws are based on an immutable moral order to which all men are held accountable. Laws are merely social conventions, a contract between ourselves, that exists to support the free development and free expression of each and every person. The permissive society promises to end all conflict and even war as every human being throws off the shackles of repression and allows the free expression of their desires. Del Noce argues that the permissive society is in fact the negation of liberalism (which was originally rooted in the idea of an immutable moral order and that freedom came to us as sinful human beings by restraining and reforming our desires) while calling itself liberal.
Without an enduring moral order, this new liberalism must create its own values, equating “liberal” with the idea of “freedom from” (rather than freedom “for”), ending up equating liberalism with libertinism. Gone is the idea that freedom is for the pursuit of virtue, or by means of the pursuit of virtue. It is an attack of the classical Christian understanding of morality and the world system within which traditional morality operated and made sense. Libertinism, argues del Noce, is the deliberate falsification and perversion of the idea of freedom. The revolutionary spirit, rather than being directed at the current ruling powers, the bourgeoisie, is instead, through libertinism, directed by the bourgeoisie at tradition and the past, as embodied specifically in the Christian faith and the church. Rather that a revolution against the present order, it is a revolution against the past, against tradition, to secure and extend the power of the current elites. At one point, del Noce calls Reich’s The Sexual Revolution the Mein Kampf of permissiveness.
Reich, he explains, argues that we should tolerate only those ideas which promote and do not undermine sexual happiness. Thus, the family, which is seen as one of the primary institutions of embodied tradition, must be destroyed. The family is the primary means by which morality as a meta-historical entity is passed on. The family is the repository of tradition. Reich even tries to argue that an open and libertine Christianity was taken over by the church and became sex-negating, ascetic, repressive and focused on the supernatural. He wanted to set church and Christianity in opposition. Just as family is undermined, so too Christianity is undermined. Those “Christians” which support the sexual revolution are “good Christians” and those focused on traditional moral teachings are corrupting its original libertine intent by embracing the oppressive institution of the church. Seeing this intent to attack the Christian faith and family, it is fraudulent to try to argue that a permissive society is religiously neutral.
Old style secularists believed that it was possible to maintain moral values without a belief in a transcendent God. Morality seemed to them to be “self-evident.” You did not need Christianity with its “superstition” or the belief in the supernatural or even an immutable metaphysical moral order. Religion could be safely confined to the private sphere where its passions could not harm society. But in the public realm things would be subject to reason alone and the self-evident truths produced by it.
But, argues del Noce, this is already a kind of totalitarian conceit. As reason was equated with the scientific, it was not long until it was argued that all questions could be answered through scientific learning, through observation, measurement and the quantification of all things. Any knowledge outside of this must be rejected for public formation. At best, it has use for private consolation. Any attempts to bring Christian teaching into the public realm is a desire for oppression and repression. Christianity in the public realm takes away people’s freedom. Scientism, though, makes the claim that it is the only form of reliable knowing. Thus, the totality of reliable and trustworthy knowledge comes to us through scientific observation. All else is to be excluded. Thus, scientism, through psychotherapy, cannot abide transcendent religious forms of knowing, such as that found in Christianity. If psychotherapy, as a scientific discipline, sees sexual permissiveness as positive for society, and views Christianity with its non-scientific transcendent knowing as resisting the positives of permissivism, then Christianity must be destroyed or neutered through immanentism (equating God with the movement of history, with progress).
Thus the primary battle lines are set. Permissive libertinism must be actively anti-Christian as Christians with a living, traditional faith represent the idea of a transcendent moral order and are thus the prime group holding back human freedom. They are a threat to democracy. Del Noce argues that there will be no truce. There will be no peace. You cannot appease the cultural warriors. Del Noce does not cast this in a left-right battle, but rather as a battle between the sexually permissive, the cultural warriors, and Christians. Their goal is not merely the breaking down of moral barriers and restrictions, but the negation of the very idea of morality as an immutable order. They want the “queering” of morality.
The problem, del Noce argues, is that you just cannot release Eros into society on its own. Reich argued that by removing inhibitions, the release of sexual energy would result in a non-violent utopia. But, del Noce, counters, if you look to classical mythology, Eros and Thanatos, life and death, creation and destruction, are paired together. To release one unrestrained, is to release both. You cannot release primordial sexual desires into society without also releasing primordial forces of aggressiveness, violence and chaos into society. Unrestrained, they both come together.
Christianity: the New Fascism of Sexual Repression
We must understand, argues del Noce, that sexual permissiveness gained real traction in society, in part as a response to the other influential post-Nietzschean atheist philosophy: Fascism. He notes an interesting twist. Marxism proposed that in opposition to the bourgeoisie, the proletariat would rise up and sweep away the current order, ushering in an egalitarian utopia. The problem with this in the early 20th century is that Marxism was quite popular among bourgeoisie intellectuals, but the movement that really captured the feelings of the masses, the proletariat, was Fascism. The common man related better to the atheist mythologizing of the past. This set up a need to find a new revolutionary axis. The old bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat was not working the way it should. The proletariat were much more open to a revolutionary axis based on race, culture and ethnicity than they were to one based on class.
Thus, Marxism was transmuted through a psychoanalytical transformation to shift the revolutionary axis to that of narrow-minded=authoritarian=Fascist on the one side, using the specter of Nazism to make Fascist authoritarianism into the new whipping boy; while the the open-minded=freedom=sexually liberated grouping was placed on the other side of the axis. This effectively takes the idea of “class” out of the equation. This had the side benefit of reconciling Marxism with liberal bourgeoisie capitalism. Marxist revolutionaries and the captains of industry were able to join hands in fighting a common enemy: Christians and their immutable moral order. Thus, you are either an open-minded, free, democratic progressive; or you are a close-minded, repressive, reactionary. Christians, by maintaining their commitment to a transcendent, supernatural God who has established an enduring immutable moral order, can now be lumped into the same category as other “authoritarians.” Being a traditional Christian with your traditional morality became more or less the functional equivalent of being a Fascist.
But, because this new sexual permissiveness was intellectually rooted in scientism through psychoanalysis, it was also embracing this totalitarian view of knowledge. There is an imperative to this new sexual libertinism. You will be sexually permissive and free! Or else! Because this is the product of “scientific” knowing, any objection on any other grounds, employing any other form of knowing is ruled out of bounds. Libertinism and scientism have the same enemy: transcendence, the metaphysical and the supernatural. Thus they work hand in hand to destroy their only real threat: the living Christian faith.
This is why it is so important to tie the idea of sexual liberty with the idea of human and scientific progress. Modernity and the idea of progress are looked upon axiologically, that is, once we have passed into modernity there can be “no going back.” To be a Christian is to be “backwards.” People who embrace human progress reject backwards ideas.
Del Noce makes the argument that the sexual revolution is not an attack against “Americanism.” To think of the battle as primarily a political battle is to be fighting the wrong fight. Why do you think it seems that no one in the bourgeoisie leadership class, including the Republican Party, really wants to engage in the culture war? Because the Democrats and the Republicans, as members of the bourgeoisie, both have a common enemy: Christians. Why do you think many Republicans pay lip service to the culture war, only to forget about it after the votes are cast? They really don’t want to fight. Only “backwards” hicks want to fight the culture war. In fact, they will fight tooth and nail to ensure that actual devoted, passionate Christians and their “backwards” morality do not get into leadership positions until they have become domesticated.
Del Noce lays out the intent of the regime:
“The remaining believers in a transcendent authority of values will be marginalized and reduced to second-class citizens. They will be imprisoned, ultimately, in “moral” concentration camps. But nobody can seriously think that moral punishments will be any less severe than physical punishments. At the end of the process lies the spiritual version of genocide.”
The dangers of a sexually permissive society cannot be overcome politically. That is the route of some version of Fascist authoritarianism. Neither can it be overcome with some sort of a-religious utilitarian sexual ethics. The “big tent” is a losing strategy. Embracing the “big tent” means embracing the moral foundation of the sexual totalitarians. If you want a “bit tent” you might as well be Democrats.
Del Noce argues that opposition must come from an authentic religious, Christian, spiritual awakening which results in a renewed belief in a transcendent, supernatural moral order. The left does not fear the a-religious right. It does not fear people who engage politically as Christians, that is in “political” Christianity, including movements like “Christian Nationalism.” What the sexual libertarians really fear is devout Christians who actually believe and who then live out their Christian faith with integrity. The most threatening thing to them is a muscular Christianity, regardless whether it is political or not. In fact, del Noce argues, one of the most corrosive forces in our society today is irreligious women.
“The campaign of de-Christianization through eroticism is more powerful the more it relies on on feminine irreligion, and is the best way to produce it.”
It cannot be emphasized enough that the primary battle today is not a political battle. Our is a religious war.
“The decisive battle against Christianity could be fought only at the level of the sexual revolution. And therefore the problem of sexuality and eroticism is today the fundamental problem from a moral point of view.”
This is why the cultural industries have made sex and sexuality, eroticism, a product for consumption. This is why we marinate in the erotic all the time. They want it so ubiquitous that there is no escape. It must be seen that we live in a sexual totalitarian regime. You will be sexual libertine whether you want to be or not. Your kids will be propagandized. You will be propagandized. Sexual liberty is the most important freedom and stands ahead of any institution or structure in society.
We must understand that for the left, the moral battle is more important than any political victory they might win or lose. They will happily concede political losses if they can corrupt and destroy the integrity and morality of Christians in this way.
We must understand that the secular, technical, scientific and even the political are incapable of resisting this revolution and the new pseudo-morality it offers. The only thing that can resist this is a living Christian faith rooted in tradition, a tradition that flows out of a real immutable supernatural moral order.
The one thing that the bourgeoisie leadership class fears more than any other is a genuine Christian reawakening. Our first error is to think of this sexual revolution as irreversible. The battle is a faith battle. Christians living in the world who are not of the world, who hold themselves apart, willing to resist the temptations and rewards of the bourgeoisie regime so as to build vibrant dynamic communities whose faith is muscular, who support each other and who are willing to live out an alternate reality, one based of an immutable supernatural, transcendent moral order are the real threat. Do you want to resist the regime? Get on your knees in prayer. Let God shape and transform your thoughts and actions. Build strong communities with strong, committed, virtuous families. Unplug from the sexual totalitarianism of the culture industries. This alternate society is what they truly fear. This alternate society of believing, traditional Christians is the only real threat to the sexual revolutionaries. It shows that there is another way. One that provides all the benefits that the regime pretends to give, but can’t.
I am moderately hopeful for a religious revival related to this issue of sexual libertinism, particularly on the issue of pornography which is the essence of it in a lot of ways. Everyone knows porn is a problem but I still think it is under-appreciated in how big of a problem it is and how many lives it destroys or ruins. I think that as that ruin continues it will lead young men particularly to look for something else to fill that void.
I've been waiting for someone (else) to make the Reich connection with our current situation.
I'm a bit more pessimistic as to the potential for reversal. While not exactly being a technological determinist, I do think that our technological society enables the sexualized culture in a way which is difficult to overcome--perhaps impossible to overcome on a large scale.
Of course there can be intentional, counter-cultural communities on the margins (e.g. the Amish, Mennonites), but they are allowed to exist precisely because they don't appear to threaten the mainstream. If they did, they'd be crushed.