Review-Essay of E. Michael Jones, Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control, South Bend, Indiana, 2005. St. Augustine’s Press, 662p.
The idea of the slavery of sin goes back to the foundations of religious teaching, but learning how to exploit the idea for social control arose with the rationalism of the Enlightenment. "Libido dominandi" – the passion for dominion, is the dark side of the Enlightenment, the agenda of social control.
E. Michael Jones explores the multi-faceted agenda of social control in this compendious volume. Rationalism taught that reality was "matter in motion," and that the universe and man were entirely determined and predictable. At the same time, there was a craze among the philosophes to remake society along "scientific" principles. The Church and the monarchy presented the most obvious hindrances in the form of traditional hierarchies and restraints. Lord Bacon, the author of the phrase that "knowledge is power," also thought that systems of theology are purely "imaginary." Thus knowledge needs no justification. Power is its own justification.
Mechanistic philosophy thus gave birth to the naked will. But materialism cannot inspire, and the problem of how to control man and direct society in the absence of traditional moral restraints remained. In any case, Adam Weishaupt, the founder of Illuminism, could see through it, and the techniques for mind control arising from the systems of Illuminism he developed were "effective precisely because they did not derive from the mechanistic philosophy of the Enlightenment." Weishaupt took certain practices from the Jesuits, but ripped them from their religious context in order to develop a mechanism where people could be controlled without being aware of it. By removing the practice of sacramental confession and the examination of conscience from the religious framework that had restrained and guided it, Weishaupt was able to develop a system of spying and informing. Thus Illuminism – "a system of controls in the absence of morality" by which one abdicates one’s own mental sovereignty. Weishaupt set up a program for the methodical and systematic invasion of the psyche. Techniques of "illuminized obedience" seeped into modern culture from numerous portals – through culture, politics, intellectual life, and economics. Elements of Illuminism found their way into psychoanalysis, psychological testing, Kinseyian sex research, communism, the manipulation of sexual passion for advertising, encounter group therapies, behaviorism and political and ideological correctness.
Illuminist politics is essentially the dedication to "manipulate people through their vices" -- although this agenda is of course never stated openly. Illuminism found a helpful ally in what Jones calls the "English ideology" – the refusal to put forth philosophical and metaphysical presuppositions out into the open, and instead engineer covert forms of consensus. Modernity has an anti-metaphysical bias. It has ever avoided the unifying reason, and instead tended toward rationalitism on one hand and sentimentalism on the other.The disdain for metaphysics did not mean that people would no longer fight wars over ideas. It just meant that such battles would be fought in less open and honest ways.
Libido Dominandi is in large part an exposure of the intellectual dishonesty of modernity, beginning with the idea that sexual liberation means freedom. On the contrary, sexual liberation has meant and continues to mean an enormous increase in the power of government, rule by moneyed elites, and ever-increasing escalation of subliminal control. "There are only two options," Jones writes, "either you control yourself according to the moral law or your passions control you – or someone controls you through the manipulation of your passions."
That is to say: there is either the rule of reason and self-control or there is the sexual revolution and tyranny. Just as the classical state must foster virtue, the revolutionary state must foster vice. The "revolutionary state" does not enable creative change; it actually breeds stagnation and the seemingly infinite extension of the status quo.
"Morality is reason in the practical order," Jones writes, in one of his lapidary moments. This also can be a wise note that recognizes the errors to which moral crusaders are often prone. Moral crusades rarely restore morality as such. It is the labor of integrity in the act of thinking and of conscience that makes the difference and gives the strength and inspiration of morality. The existence of morality is what makes it possible for us to disagree about reasons, but reasons cannot lead us to suppose that morality does not exist – except as an intellectual game.
The Enlightenment era of rationalism left us a legacy of games of this sort because it was dedicated to the overthrow of the very communitarian forms of life that are the physical and tangible representatives of the moral law. But Enlightenment intellectual games did not divorce us from the moral law; they only divorced the act of thinking from the community of life. Hence we moderns have had to find out that thinking without community does not mean freedom from the moral law. It only means that the moral law has made a transition from the life of the community to the rule of the strong, the powerful, and the wealthy.
The story continues in Revolutionary-era France. There is an unforgettable portrait of the English pre-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who was "forever attempting to infuse the images of the Enlightenment with the moral patrimony of the West which they were intended to replace." Revolutionary theory didn’t always make the grade when it encountered real life, as Mary Wollstonecraft was to learn to her cost. Then there was the Marquis de Sade, about whom Jones devotes many pages of text. Read it and weep!
An important later source for understanding the dynamics of Anarchy and Terror was the Abbe Barruel’s Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, which was read by Mary’s daughter, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. ("The calamities described in horror fictions are moral truths in repressed form," Jones remarks.) The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was entirely captivated by Illuminist ideas, and set Mary to reading the book in order to learn the thoughts of the enemy. The Abbe Barruel’s reading of Weishaupt led him to believe that the Illuminist cells were based upon the arousal and systematic management of the passions. The differences between the "illuminized and religious obedience" was that the religious obedience recognized the primacy of the individual’s own voice of conscience and self-restraint according to the Gospel. The illuminized obedience recognized and respected no such foro interno. It was also interesting for me to read that the Abbe Barruel thought that the philosophy of Immanuel Kant had had a pernicious influence on morals, and had written a book about it. Mysteriously and inexplicably, he burned the manuscript before it could be published.
An important benefit of reading Libido Dominandi is that it clarifies the relationships between Illuminism, Freemasonry, and the Jesuits – a complex of subject heavily laden with conspiracy theory. Jones does not say that Illuminism was a conspiracy, but he does say that the techniques for mind control developed by it "became the model of every secular control system of both the left and right for the next 200 years." Is this "conspiracy theory"? Jones quotes "Wilson" (no source given) who said that idea was "ridiculous." (Sources, citations and names in this book would benefit from a more careful editing at times.)
The latter part of the 19th century deals with Freud and psychoanalysis, leading over to Freud’s nephew, Eddie Bernays, in America. Bernays was one of the founders of modern mass advertising, and saw how sex could be used in advertising products. "Bernays and his famous uncle were both involved in exploiting sexual passion for financial gain." Jungianism doesn’t fare much better in Jones’s view. Jones thinks that both Freud and Jung understood how powerful and profitable the new movement of psychoanalysis was, and that their break had to do not over ideas but on the issue of who was to control the movement. "Jung knew where the source of Freud’s power lay, and he wanted that source in his own right and not as somebody’s gentile heir-apparent."
The twentieth century brings us to America – John B. Watson and behaviorism, Greenwich Village and socialist-beatniks, Margaret Sanger and the birth-control-eugenics movement. The left may have repudiated the eugenics embraced by Hitler & Co., but it has never severed the link forged by Margaret Sanger, in which the agenda of the sexual revolution converged with the interests of the propertied classes. Far from helping to work for better working conditions and wages for working people, liberals and liberationists put their energy into the cause of contraception and later abortion. Jones thinks this was a covert war against high-reproducing groups – particularly Catholics and blacks, which, Jones says, was "waged in the ethnic interests of the WASP establishment … which had succumbed to hedonism and was in the process of putting itself out of business politically by the widespread practice of contraception."
Enormous grants from the Rockefeller Foundation went into the sexual liberation agenda, Kinsey’s sex research institute, Planned Parenthood, and other eugenics crusades. These chapters on Rockefeller money and Kinsey’s sinister influence on American sexual mores, and how these dovetail into the agenda of the New World Order comprise the most fascinating – and appalling – chapters of this book. Jones writes: "…in controlling the agency responsible for the transmission of life, the controllers control human life at its source and therefore, at its most crucial point…. Liberal politics becomes then first the incitation to sexual vice, then the colonization of the procreative powers that are indissoluably associated with sexuality, and finally the political mobilization of the guilt which flows from the misuse of the procreative power in an all-encompassing system that gives new meaning to the term totalitarian."
Then there are events unfolding in Russia. Several chapters describe the life and angst of Alexandra Kollontai, the Russian feminist who "wanted both freedom and love but … on her own terms." Kollontai agitated fervently for sexual freedom, a program which the Soviet State went along with in the ‘20’s until it became apparent that the social chaos caused by it would bring down the regime. At that point the Soviet leadership made a radical about-face for the sake of the survival of the Soviet state. Wilhelm Reich, the German apostle of sexual freedom and masturbation, was "stunned by the reversal of the sexual revolution that was taking place in the Soviet Union" and spent some time trying to explain this betrayal, as he saw it, of the goals of the Revolution. Germany was going through its own sexual tribulations during the era of the Weimar Republic. Jones makes it quite clear that the struggles in the Weimar Republic were between two groups of homosexuals: the "butch" faction under Hitler and the SA, and the "femmes" faction" under the leadership of Magnus Hirschfeld and his Institute for Sex Science in Berlin. He remarks that "Recent sexual politics has found it expedient to expunge the truth about the homosexual proclivities of the Nazis from the historical record." The evidence certainly refutes Reich’s contention that to abolish sexual repression is to abolish fascism. But the Reichian contention proved to be useful to people like Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and others in their wake. Rogers introduced his T-group practice into a Catholic religious order in Los Angeles and succeeded in utterly destroying it. Perhaps he didn’t "mean" to do it. Jones does not charge Rogers with overt anti-Catholicism. But Wilhelm Reich earlier had perceived the link between sexuality and religion – a connection known to the mystical tradition for centuries. Knowing how to work with the forces of instinct, drawing it into the conscious life in a manner which would fructify and animate the life of the soul -–all of this was known and taught over the centuries in human spiritual development.
Reich quite consciously went about reversing it: "Intellect to the aid of instinct is… the classical notion of the intellectual life turned upside down…" says Jones. Indeed, the total sexualization of culture would mean the total extinction of religion. But such a sexualization would not mean that instinct would become "free" so much as it would become infected with all kinds of rationalizations and self-deceptions – thus opening the door to new forms of brutality, exploitation, and cruelty.
Actually it is the repression of moral instincts that underlies the campaign to "unrepress" the emotions. After describing the course and collapse of sexual liberation in Russia, Jones returns to America to discuss the progress of sexual liberation and how it affected especially the black community. Black writers like Claude McKay became symbols, for white intellectual patrons, of the "wisdom of the primitive Negro." The refusal of white liberals and intellectuals to endorse the 1965 Moynihan Report, which called for the protection of the black family and especially black fathers and heads-of-household, was to have devastating consequences for the black community. The black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, who had been a major source for the Moynihan Report, thought that sexual promiscuity was more damaging to blacks than the legacy of slavery. But such views did not accord with the bastions of liberalism, which was willing to perpetuate the pathologies of the ghetto in order to preserve the sexual revolution.
The history of this period is still highly relevant today. The fixation of the American Left with the sexual revolution is still true, and it goes a long way in explaining why we have no effective checks on megalomaniac government and imperial aims. The left fumes about gay marriage while children in Iraq are incinerated and prisoners are sadistically tortured – it itself a telling result of the sexual liberation movement. The narcissism of the Left has become utterly repellent.
The long sections of American portions of Libido Dominandi devoted to the war against the Catholic Church and the contraception issue are important and revealing, but they change the tenor of the book from one which is about culture to one that is about Catholicism. If the book is to be about Catholicism, the lack of any mention of the priest sexual molestation scandals that have plagued the Church in recent years is an omission of major proportions. I believe that these scandals are based on facts, although in many cases probably exaggerated by the media and other groups for political purposes. To all who wish the Catholic Church well, they cry out for a sympathetic, but impartial, treatment.
The other major issue for me concerns the population issue, which Jones highlights so well in his discussions of contraception and procreation. I didn’t see the full implications of these policies before reading this book. The issue of totalitarian control by controlling procreation seems to me indubitable, frightening, and overwhelming. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the terms of the Malthusian problem – population outstripping food supply – were forever altered by the advent of petroleum in the 20th century. The use of petroleum in fertilizers and pesticides created the "Green Revolution," causing a huge increase in harvests. Cheap energy threw a curve ball into the Malthusian equation. The irony is that petroleum probably had a lot more to do with mushrooming populations than Catholic religious views. And further, it is not the poor of the world who are most guilty of environmental destruction and pollution. But it is the poor who pay, morally, socially, and environmentally, for the habits and demands of the wealthy elites of the wealthy nations. The officious interference of Western elites in the intimate matters of the family is but insult to injury.
In so many ways "cheap oil" is a partner to the sexual revolution. It fosters the same abandon, lack of self-restraint, consumption, hedonism, and lack of concern for the future. As Jones stresses in his last chapter about the Clinton sex scandals, without the moral law the rich do as they like. The moral law is the only thing that protects the poor. "A world liberated from morals is a world in which the rich get to do whatever they want… In the absence of morals, the rich will get away with murder because their desires are more powerful, and power in the context becomes the only measure of right and wrong. Either might makes right or we are all bound by the terms of a moral order not of our making."
Libido Dominandi is an important book that takes one of the central threads of modernity and pulls it through the skein of the last two hundred years of history. Michael Jones says things that Americans need to hear, and I wish there were a chance that his book could be widely circulated. Unfortunately, there isn’t – not only because of the atmosphere today, but also because the book would have to be substantially shortened and rigorously edited, and the focus – whether Catholic or cultural – would have to be clarified.
Christian fundamentalists have attempted to step into the breach created by the sexual revolution, but unfortunately fundamentalism is lacking in the tradition of moral reason that would enable it to win wider respect. If anything, Christian fundamentalism has only increased the determination of the leftist elites to support gay marriage, abortion, and other issues of "sexual freedom" – and this despite an unjust war, prison torture scandals, the abrogation of civil liberties, and the emptying-out of the American economy in favor of heedless consumption and the manipulation of finance.
But the sexual liberationist doctrine also needs to be seen in the context of cheap energy and abundant petroleum, which exacerbated many of the problems discussed in this book. Lust brought us Empire – but Empire is discovering, to its chagrin, that oil is limited and there are signs everywhere of environmental stress and energy constraints. It is not too much to say that this time in history presents us with not only the opportunity but the necessity of affirming the moral law of self-restraint. But the book that unites the reality of the moral law to the theme of stewardship has yet to be written. Gratitude for the act of procreation that brought us here can be seen as a part of thanks and obligation to the Creation that made it possible.
Originally written April 9, 2005; revised May 14, 2006