by Daniel Guérin – [Originally published in Essai Sur La Révolution Sexuelle (Après Reich Et Kinsey), 1969]
When his pen sometimes happens to evoke a beautiful male, [Pierre-Joseph] Proudhon can barely contain his agitation. In a curious parabola, he describes a character of plebeian blood, of whom “the impassioned energy, the firmness of his muscles, the timbre of his voice […] exerted an irresistible seduction” so much so that the young widow of whom he was an admirer “could not, in his presence, avoid feeling a delicious shiver.” On the other hand, effeminacy is repugnant to him: “The pretty boy who affects the female graces is disgusting.” The prospect gives him a horror of a society in which man would be “pretty, nice, mincing,” and in which there would “no longer [be] either males or females.” Elsewhere Proudhon betrays his predilection for the male anatomy. Compared with man’s body, that of woman is, in his eyes, a “diminution, a sub-order”: “The muscles are unobtrusive; the virile shoulders are rounded; in place of strong, expressive lines are soft and flabby ones.”
Proudhon is not tender toward the weaker sex. He can scarcely find enough degrading words to stigmatize the woman who has been possessed by love. She yaps, she returns to the state of an animal, a madwoman, a trollop, a female monkey, she suffers from inextinguishable lust, she is a well of wickedness. “Woman solicits, aggravates, provokes man; she disgusts and annoys him: more, more, more!”
For Proudhon, woman is an inferior, “subordinate” creature. She will be never a “strong mind.” He radically denies female genius. “A woman can no longer produce a child when her mind, her imagination and her heart are preoccupied with matters of politics, society, and literature.” Her true vocation is the household: “We other men, we find that a woman knows quite enough when she mends our shirts and makes us beefsteaks.” To grant women voting rights would be “to attack family decency” and Proudhon, who took a housewife for his spouse, utters this laughable threat: “The day when the legislator grants women the right to vote will be the day of my divorce.”
He goes so far as to prescribe men to guide woman with cudgels. She “wants to be overcome and finds it good […] Man has strength; it exists to be used; without strength, woman mistrusts him […] Woman does not dislike being coerced a little, even raped.”
Proudhon’s bête noire is the emancipated woman, sufferer of “intellectual nymphomania,” who imitates masculine manners, the “virago,” the woman of letters, of which George Sand is, in his eyes, the hateful prototype. But this anti-feminist frenzy will earn him stinging replies. At eighteen years of age, a young novelist will publish a vigorous lampoon against Proudhon, followed soon by that of a colleague. Infuriated by these attacks, Proudhon will write an incoherent and unfinished response, and which, fortunately for him, will be published only after his death.
Beyond woman, it is all of modern society in the process of sexual revolution that arouses Proudhon’s anger. He denounces “the amorous madness that torments our generation,” “this pornocracy which, for thirty years, has set back public decency in France,” “this spirit of lust and licentiousness” which is “the plague of democracy,” “the worship of love and pleasure […] cancer of the French nation.” Apostrophizing his contemporaries, he hurls these words at them: “You want flesh! you will have flesh until you sicken of it.” The fault lies with the arts and letters, which over-excite the senses. Isn’t the reading of a romance novel followed infallibly by a visit to the brothel – where one “meets only with disgust, unpleasantness, remorse?” And Proudhon lashes out at the utopian socialists, his predecessors, who had wished to rehabilitate the flesh; at Père Enfantin, leader of the “Saint-Simonian religion,” to whom he says: “You are a church of procurers and libertines”; at Charles Fourier, who preached the free flowering of the passions and wished to place them at the service of his regenerated society.
But still more than lust, it is homosexuality that does not cease to haunt Proudhon’s disturbed mind. Communism, while tending “to the confusion of the sexes” would be, “from the perspective of love relations, fatally pederastic.” He is just as suspicious of the “sacerdotal androgyny” of the Saint-Simonians as he is of Fourier’s “omnigamy,” against which he raises the inquisitorial suspicion of “having extended love relations far beyond the accustomed barriers” and “having sanctified even unisexual conjunctions.” The furor of the senses, he believes, necessarily leads to pleasures that are “contrary to nature,” to “sodomy.” “We have entered fully into promiscuity, so much has bawdiness became universal… Here, we have arrived at unisexual love.” Any nation that dedicats itself to pleasure “is a nation devoured by sodomitic gangrene, a congregation of pederasts.” Pederasty would be “the effect of a furious pleasure that naught can appease.” And he asks, in a tone of strange delight: “Would there be […], in this frictus of two males, a bitter pleasure that arouses the dulled senses, like the human flesh that, so it is said, makes any other feast tiresome to the cannibal?”
Proudhon’s last word is [that] carnal passion, left to itself, appears to him irremediable: “It was to no avail that Bernard, Jerome, Origen, wished to overcome their flesh by labor, fasting, prayer, solitude.” Suppressed passion only erupts with even more fury. Instead of diminishing with its satiation, it is reborn and seeks new objects: “To enjoy, to enjoy again, to enjoy without end.”
Proudhon thus does not hesitate to call the legislator, the gendarme, the judge to the rescue. Divorce is to be prohibited; sodomy is to be compared to rape and punished with twenty years of isolation. Better still, murder is to be declared legally excusable when performed by the first to come upon a “sodomite” discovered in flagrante delicto. Proudhon seriously thinks of addressing a denunciation to the general prosecutor in order to prosecute the phalansterian school for “immorality”: “From now on,” he gloats, “one has the right to say to the Fourierists, ‘You are pederasts’ […] If it is demonstrated that Fourierism is immoral, they must be banned […] This will not be persecution, it will be self-defense.”
In order to extirpate lust, Proudhon preaches the most relentless eugenics: “It is necessary to exterminate all bad natures and to renew the sex by the elimination of vicious subjects, just as the English remake the races of oxen, sheep, or pigs.” Socialism, as he conceives it, will employ sweeping means. The wrong of Christianity is not, according to him, in having wished to condemn all sexual relations outside of legitimate marriage, but having been unable to do so. The Revolution alone shall accomplish it.
We are warned: “Everything prepares for severe manners.” In the future society, “a perpetual war” will be waged on “the erotic appetites”; “an increasingly successful war.” Thus shall we be inculcated with “disgust for the flesh.” Thus – what a paradox! – Proudhon, an anarchist as regards social organization, foreshadows the most authoritarian of puritanisms.