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Liberalism as (De)Sadism
The Architect of Our Cultural Revolution is a Feminist Few Have Read
Last week I published an essay on Augusto del Noce in the new journal Compact. Del Noce saw further and better than most of his contemporaries that the great totalitarian threat of our age emanated not ultimately from the dictatorships of so-called communist regimes of the Soviet Union or China, but from the unfolding liberal logic of the West. In particular, Del Noce recognized that the sexual revolution - just at its inception in the West - would become the revolutionary form that would achieve the transformation of the entire social, economic and political order. As he noted, “[The Marquis de] Sade is taking the place that once was occupied by Rousseau and Kant in the history of morals.”
This revolution is now well-advanced, transforming every aspect of our lives - especially today through the rapidly advancing technological manipulation of core aspects of humanity’s sexual and reproductive nature. The revolution has upended our social order in as complete a manner that Marx had imagined, albeit - ironically - in ways that have advanced and reinforced, rather than overturned, the capitalist and individualist economic order that many believed defined the West against its enemies.
Del Noce was a critic of these developments, a Cassandra whose warnings have gone largely unheeded. It was rather an intellectual contemporary whose arguments both reflected and shaped the revolutionary spirit of our times - a feminist who celebrated what Del Noce sought to warn against. This American author - Shulamith Firestone - discerned the same revolutionary potential in the expansion of humanity’s technological control of our nature, and sought to marry what she regarded as Marx’s hopes and the possibilities arising from liberatory feminism and technological progress. Firestone’s book The Dialectic of Sex should be required reading - albeit with accompanying cautions - for anyone wishing to understand the deeper currents of our relentlessly revolutionary age.
In her 1970 book The Dialectic of Sex, Firestone sought to achieve a kind of melding of progressivism, Marxism, and scientism - a toxic combination that today is the defining feature of the ruling class who govern the orders of the West. Firestone understood that the Marxist vision of radical equality could never be achieved without first weakening and eventually undoing the existence of the natural family, which, in her view, remained as the last vestige of hierarchy and the human submission to a natural order that should and must come completely under technological control. Stressing the “flexibility of human nature,” Firestone concluded that “unless revolution uproots the basic social arrangements of the biological family…, the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated.”[i]
Firestone understood that nature was a limitation to the attainment of pure human freedom, and even human advances in the control of the external natural world – ones originally advanced in the philosophies of Descartes and Francis Bacon – were insufficient if this control did not extend to the technological control of human nature. The natural differences between the sexes was, for Firestone, the ultimate limitation on equal human liberation, and the very foundation and basis of human society heretofore – the human family – would have to be eliminated for the ends of self-expressive liberation.
Moreover, Firestone understood more broadly that the overcoming of such natural biological distinctions would require not just the remaking of existing culture, but its outright elimination. Against the views of figures such as Aristotle and Vico, who understood culture to be the working of human civilization alongside and within the boundaries of nature, Firestone believed that culture was a form of limitation and control that constrained the priority of self-expression. She approvingly quoted Friedrich Engel’s claim that “the whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and have hitherto ruled him, now comes under the dominion and control of man, who for the first time becomes the real conscious Lord of Nature.”[ii] Firestone articulated a technological project that would render irrelevant any further fostering or support for culture, resulting in the “abolition of cultural categories themselves.” Amid a sea of individual self-fashioning, any human requirement for culture would recede. “We will not miss it. We shall no longer need it: by then humanity will have mastered nature totally, will have realized in actuality its dreams.”[iii] The dream of total revolution, wedding the materialist individualism of Locke and the anti-culture of Mill would arrive through technological revolution. In time, this revolutionary project was to be advanced not by Marxism, but capitalism, especially through the liberationist fever dreams of technology corporations.
The ultimate aim was thorough control of human biology, especially reproduction. Firestone pointed to existing developments in contraception, in-vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and was hopeful about coming advances in external placentas and parthogenesis – “virgin birth.”[iv] The need to control our biology extended to the effective cessation of the human need to work in support of our biological continuation, and even the potential replacement of human beings altogether, with Firestone endorsing “cybernetics,” or what we today call AI – “artificial intelligence.” Firestone celebrated the coming liberation of humanity from the brute demands of our physical natures, anticipating a day when men, women, and children would be liberated from any biological categories, instead enjoying our “natural polymorphous sexuality” (paradoxically indicating that our nature is fulfilled through technological conquest of our nature). The end and purpose of humanity would be consequence and demand-free enjoyment of our physical selves, the realization of “sexuate self-realization: one could now realize oneself fully, simply in the process of being and acting.”[v]
Firestone’s envisioned a fusion of Marxist total revolution realized through advances of materialist capitalism, one focused on the liberation of humanity from the human body, and resting on technological advance and the overturning of custom and culture. This revolution today is discoverable in its purest form not in graduate courses on Marxist feminism, but in the ethos of our most dominant corporations: the technology monopolies of Silicon Valley. These massive conglomerates are premised on the realization of gnostic transcendence of our embodied nature, and populated by updated versions of Firestone’s vision of a technologically liberated humanity, now expressed especially through visions of transhumanism.
This last stage of modernist and progressive revolution is especially visible today in the rise of “woke capitalism,” combining the radical individualism, anti-culture, and revolutionary overthrow of traditional institutions in contemporary corporate political power exercised not only against religious believers, but even sovereign political actors. These powers operate as an unofficial political regime, shaping the horizon of contemporary humanity while marshalling its resources and power of shaping perception to demolish political opposition. Whereas an earlier generation of corporations such as Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel were at forefront of extracting resources and conquering the natural world, today’s corporations such as Apple, Netflix, and Meta (Facebook) at once advance a disembodied experience of the world and each other, while supporting political causes whose ultimate outcome is the conquest of the last frontier of nature – the human body. What the extraction of fossil fuels offered humanity several generations ago – the liberation of humanity from place, from menial tasks, from our experience of the world in its diurnal and annual forms – is today advanced through the technologies of virtual reality, gnostic minds no longer needing the body for communication, a constant stream of titillation and distraction. Their forthright commitment to causes of sexual liberation is a piece with the nature of the technology that today comes to dominate modern life. And, like the confidence of those progressives of several centuries ago who believed that no dire consequences would arise from the constant burning of fossil fuels, so too, progressives today embrace and cheer the new liberationist ethos – even lauding “the sunny side of greed” – as a morally pure route to progress and perfectibility.[vi] The likely consequences of commodifying the human body, of turning children into products, of manipulating our own genetic code and mixing it with silicon and artificial intelligence, with the certainty of the ancient prophets will eventually threaten the future of the human species as surely as the global warming that arose from the brief combustion of millennia of stored carbon.
Anyone who opposes the advance of this imagined future – what Firestone praised as the enjoyment that would arise from “the process of experience, rather than the quality of the achievement” – must be defeated in the name of progress.[vii] They must be forced to be free, whether through political power, the force of an assembled online mob, the threatened destruction of reputation, the prospect of economic destruction. The power is asymmetrical: what is permitted of this unofficial regime is disallowed by those who object (thus, Memories Pizza and Chik-Fil-A are vilified for a political opinion; Apple is praised). Some old-fashioned liberals appeal to principles of fair play, free speech, neutral public standing. Those leveling such charges are under the altogether false impression that accusations of “double-standards” might hold sway. Yet, those who charged with hypocrisy pay it no mind, exhibiting both utter indifference and complete impunity to such charges. As Harvard Law professor and Postliberal Order author Adrian Vermeule has aptly described this phenomenon, “it’s not hypocrisy; it’s hierarchy.”[viii] With the entire Power Elite advancing a distinct worldview of radical liberation, no supposedly neutral procedural norms or “fair-play” can be expected: rather, ongoing and consistent extension and expansion of power with the aim of extending the realization of a new humanity is the sole aim.
Most striking about the advance of this progressive Hierarchy is its indifference to whether it is effected under the cover of “democratic” mechanisms, imposition by corporate or media powers, or even the effective censorship of opposing views, particularly through corporate control of social media. The effective power is pervasive, inserting itself into every aspect of human life. There is only one conclusion that can be drawn: power that advances a humanity without limits must be combatted and nullified by power that respects and supports nature and limits.
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[i] Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970), 9, 12.
[ii] Cited by Firestone, 163.
[iii] Firestone, 174; emphasis hers.
[iv] Firestone, 179.
[v] Firestone, 187.
[vii] Firestone, 174.
[viii] I am grateful to Adrian Vermeule for suggesting this term to describe the phenomenon: the utter indifference to appearances of hypocrisy reveals not shamelessness, but hierarchy.