Table of Contents
PART I LIBERALISM AND SOCIALISM
1 Socialism and the Sexual Problem
The Social Order and the Family
Proposals to transform the relations between the sexes have long gone hand in hand
with plans for the socialization of the means of production. Marriage is to disappear
along with private property, giving place to an arrangement more in harmony with
the fundamental facts of sex. When man is liberated from the yoke of economic labour,
love is to be liberated from all the economic trammels which have profaned it. Socialism
promises not only welfare—wealth for all—but universal happiness in love as well.
This part of its programme has been the source of much of its popularity. It is
significant that no other German socialist book was more widely read or more effective
as propaganda than Bebel's Woman and Socialism, which is dedicated above all to
the message of free love.
It is not strange that many should feel the system of regulating sexual relations
under which we live to be unsatisfactory. This system exerts a far reaching influence
in diverting those sexual energies, which are at the bottom of so much human activity,
from their purely sexual aspect to new purposes which cultural development has evolved.
Great sacrifices have been made to build up this system and new sacrifices are always
being made. There is a process which every individual must pass through in his own
life if his sexual energies are to cast off the diffuse form they have in childhood
and take their final mature shape. He must develop the inner psychic strength which
impedes the flow of undifferentiated sexual energy and like a dam alters its direction.
A part of the energy with which nature has endowed the sexual instinct is in this
way turned from sexual to other purposes. Not everyone escapes unscathed from the
stress and struggle of this change. Many succumb, many become neurotic or insane.
Even the man who remains healthy and becomes a useful member of society is left
with scars which an unfortunate accident may re-open. And even though sex should
become the source of his greatest happiness, it will also be the source of his deepest
pain; its passing will tell him that age has come, and that he is doomed to go the
way of all transient, earthly things. Thus sex, which seems ever and again to fool
man by giving and denying, first making him happy and then plunging him back into
misery, never lets him sink into inertia. Waking and dreaming man's wishes turn
upon sex. Those who sought to reform society could not have overlooked it.
This was the more to be expected since many of them were themselves neurotics suffering
from an unhappy development of the sexual instinct. Fourier, for example, suffered
from a grave psychosis. The sickness of a man whose sexual life is in the greatest
disorder is evident in every line of his writings; it is a pity that nobody has
undertaken to examine his life history by the psycho-analytic method. That the crazy
absurdities of his books should have circulated so widely and won the highest commendation
is due entirely to the fact that they describe with morbid fantasy the erotic pleasures
awaiting humanity in the paradise of the "phalanstère."
Utopianism presents all its ideals for the future as the reconstruction of a Golden
Age which humanity has lost through its own fault. In the same way it pretends that
it is demanding for sexual life only a return to an original felicity. The poets
of antiquity are no less eloquent in their praises of marvellous, bygone times of
free love than when they speak of the saturnian ages when property did not exist.
Marxism echoes the older Utopians.
Marxism indeed seeks to combat marriage just as it seeks to justify the abolition
of private property, by attempting to demonstrate its origin in history; just as
it looked for reasons for abolishing the State in the fact that the State had not
existed "from eternity," that societies had lived without a vestige of "State and
State power." For the Marxist, historical research is merely a means of political
agitation. Its use is to furnish him with weapons against the hateful bourgeois
order of society. The main objection to this method is not that it puts forward
frivolous, untenable theories without thoroughly examining the historical material,
but that he smuggles an evaluation of this material into an exposition which pretends
to be scientific. Once upon a time, he says, there was a golden age. Then came one
which was worse, but supportable. Finally, Capitalism arrived, and with it every
imaginable evil. Thus Capitalism is damned in advance. It can be granted only a
single merit, that thanks to the excess of its abominations, the world is ripe for
salvation by Socialism.
2 Man and Woman in the Age of Violence
Recent ethnographical and historical research has provided a wealth of material
on which to base a judgment of the history of sexual relations, and the new science
of psycho-analysis has laid the foundations for a scientific theory of sexual life.
So far sociology has not begun to understand the wealth of ideas and material available
from these sources. It has not been able to restate the problems in such a way that
they are adjusted to the questions that should be its first study today. What it
says about exogamy and endogamy, about promiscuity, not to mention matriarchy and
patriarchy, is quite out of touch with the theories one is now entitled to put forward.
In fact, sociological knowledge of the earliest history of marriage and the family
is so defective that one cannot draw on it for an interpretation of the problems
which occupy us here. It is on fairly secure ground where it is dealing with conditions
in historical times but nowhere else.
Unlimited rule of the male characterizes family relations where the principle of
violence dominates. Male aggressiveness, which is implicit in the very nature of
sexual relations, is here carried to the extreme. The man seizes possession of the
woman and holds this sexual object in the same sense in which he has other goods
of the outer world. Here woman becomes completely a thing. She is stolen and bought;
she is given away, sold away, ordered away; in short, she is like a slave in the
house. During life the man is her judge; when he dies she is buried in his grave
along with his other possessions. With almost absolute unanimity the older legal
sources of almost every nation show that this was once the lawful state of affairs.
Historians usually try, especially when dealing with the history of their own nations,
to soften the painful impression which a description of these conditions leaves
on a modern mind. They point out that practice was milder than the letter of the
law, that the harshness of the law did not cloud the relations between the married
couple. For the rest, they get away as quickly as possible from a subject which
does not seem to fit too well into their system, by dropping a few remarks about
the ancient severity of morals and purity of family life. But these attempts
at justification, to which their nationalist point of view and a predilection for
the past seduce them, are distorted. The conception afforded by the old laws and
law books of the relations between man and woman is not a theoretical speculation
of unworldly dreamers. It is a picture direct from life and reproduces exactly what
men, and women too, believed of marriage and intercourse between the sexes. That
a Roman woman who stood in the "manus" of the husband or under the guardianship
of the clan, or an ancient German woman who remained subject to the "munt" all her
life, found this relation quite natural and just, that they did not revolt against
it inwardly, or make any attempt to shake off the yoke—this does not prove that
a broad chasm had developed between law and practice. It only shows that the institution
suited the feeling of women; and this should not surprise us. The prevailing legal
and moral views of a time are held not only by those whom they benefit but by those,
too, who appear to suffer from them. Their domination is expressed in that fact—that
the people from whom they claim sacrifices also accept them. Under the principle
of violence, woman is the servant of man. In this she too sees her destiny. She
shares the attitude to which the New Testament has given the most terse expression:
Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
The principle of violence recognizes only the male. He alone possesses power, hence
he alone has rights. Woman is merely a sexual object. No woman is without a lord,
be it father or guardian, husband or employer. Even the prostitutes are not free;
they belong to the owner of the brothel. The guests make their contracts, not with
them, but with him. The vagabond woman is free game, whom everyone may use according
to his pleasure. The right to choose a man herself does not belong to the woman.
She is given to the husband and taken by him. That she loves him is her duty, perhaps
also her virtue; the sentiment will sharpen the pleasure which a man derives from
marriage. But the woman is not asked for her opinion. The man has the right to repudiate
or divorce her; she herself has no such right.
Thus in the age of violence, belief in man's lordship triumphs over all older tendencies
to evolve equal rights between the sexes. Legend preserves a few traces of a time
when woman enjoyed a greater sexual freedom—the character of Brünhilde, for example—but
these are no longer understood. But the dominion of man is so great that it has
come into conflict with the nature of sexual intercourse and for sheer sexual reasons
man must, in his own interest, eventually weaken this dominion.
For it is against nature that man should take woman as a will-less thing. The sexual
act is a mutual give and take, and a merely suffering attitude in the woman diminishes
man's pleasure. To satisfy himself he must awaken her response. The victor who has
dragged the slave into his marriage bed, the buyer who has traded the daughter from
her father must court for that which the violation of the resisting woman cannot
give. The man who outwardly appears the unlimited master of his woman is not so
powerful in the house as he thinks; he must concede a part of his rule to the woman,
even though he ashamedly conceals this from the world.
To this is added a second factor. The sexual act gradually becomes an extraordinary
psychic effort which succeeds only with the assistance of special stimuli. This
becomes more and more so in proportion as the individual is compelled by the principle
of violence, which makes all women owned women and thus renders more difficult sexual
intercourse, to restrain his impulses and to control his natural appetites. The
sexual act now requires a special psychic attitude to the sexual object. This is
love, unknown to primitive man and to the man of violence, who use every opportunity
to possess, without selection. The characteristic of love, the overvaluation of
the object, cannot exist when women occupy the position of contempt which they occupy
under the principle of violence. For under this system she is merely a slave, but
it is the nature of love to conceive her as a queen.
Out of this contrast arises the first great conflict in the relations of the sexes
which we can perceive in the full light of history. Marriage and love become contradictory.
The forms in which this contrast appears vary, but in essence it always remains
the same. Love has entered the feelings and thoughts of men and women and becomes
ever more and more the central point of psychic life, giving meaning and charm to
existence. But at first it has nothing to do with marriage and the relations between
husband and wife. This inevitably leads to grave conflicts, conflicts which are
indeed revealed to us in the epic and lyric poetry of the age of chivalry. These
conflicts are familiar to us because they are immortalized in imperishable works
of art and because they are still treated by epigones and by that art which takes
its themes from such primitive conditions as persist at the present day. But we
moderns cannot grasp the essence of the conflict. We cannot understand what is to
prevent a solution which would satisfy all parties, why the lovers must remain separated
and tied to those they do not love. Where love finds love, where man and woman desire
nothing except to be allowed to remain forever devoted to each other, there, according
to our view of the matter everything should be quite simple. The kind of poetry
which deals with no other situation than this can, under the circumstances of present
day life, do nothing less than bring Hansel and Gretel into each other's arms,
a denouement which is no doubt calculated to delight the readers of novels, but
which is productive of no tragic conflict.
If, without knowledge of the literature of the age of chivalry, and basing our judgment
merely on information about the relations of the sexes derived from other sources,
we tried to picture for ourselves the psychic conflict of chivalric gallantry, we
should probably imagine a situation in which a man is torn between two women: one
his wife, to whom is bound the fate of his children; the other the lady to whom
belongs his heart. Or we should delineate the position of a wife neglected by her
husband, who loves another. Yet nothing would lie farther from an age dominated
by the principle of violence. The Greek who divided his time between the hetaeras
(prostitutes or courtesans) and love-boys by no means felt that his relationship
with his wife was a psychic burden, and she herself did not see in the love given
to the courtesan any encroachment on her own rights. Neither the troubadour who
devoted himself wholly to the lady of his heart nor his wife who waited patiently
at home suffered under the conflict between love and marriage. Both Ulrich von Lichtenstein
and his good housewife found the chivalrous "Minnedienst" just as it should be.
In fact, the conflict in chivalrous love was of an altogether different nature.
When the wife granted the utmost favours to another the rights of the husband were
injured. However eagerly he himself set out to win the favours of other women, he
would not tolerate interference in his property rights, he would not hear of anyone
possessing his woman. This is a conflict based on the principles of violence. The
husband is offended, not because the love of his wife is directed away from him,
but because her body, which he owns, is to belong to others. Where, as so often
in antiquity and the orient, the love of man sought not the wives of others but
prostitutes, female slaves, and love-boys, all standing outside society, a conflict
could not arise. Love forces the conflict only from the side of male jealousy. The
man alone, as owner of his wife, can claim to possess completely. The wife has not
the same right over her husband. In the essentially different judgment bestowed
upon the adultery of a man and the adultery of a woman and in the different manner
in which husband and wife regard the adultery of one another, we see today the remnants
of that code, which is otherwise already incomprehensible to us.
Under such circumstances, as long as the principle of violence rules, the impulse
to love is denied an opportunity to develop. Banished from the homely hearth it
seeks out all manner of hiding places, where it assumes queer forms. Libertinage
grows rampant, perversions of the natural instincts become more and more common.
Conditions are conducive to the spread of venereal diseases. Whether syphilis was
indigenous to Europe or whether it was introduced after the discovery of America
is a questionable point. Whatever the truth, we know that it began to ravage Europe
like an epidemic about the beginning of the sixteenth century. With the misery it
brought, the love play of chivalric romanticism was at an end.
3 Marriage Under the Influence of the Idea of Contract
Nowadays only one opinion is expressed about the influence which the "economic"
has exercised on sexual relations; it is said to have been thoroughly bad. The original
natural purity of sexual intercourse has, according to this view, been tainted by
the interference of economic factors. In no field of human life has the progress
of culture and the increase of wealth had a more pernicious effect. Prehistoric
men and women paired in purest love; in the pre-capitalist age, marriage and family
life were simple and natural, but Capitalism brought money marriages and mariages
des convenances on the one hand, prostitution and sexual excesses on the other.
More recent historical and ethnographic research has demonstrated the fallacy of
this argument and has given us another view of sexual life in primitive times and
of primitive races. Modern literature has revealed how far from the realities of
rural life was our conception, even only a short while ago, of the simple morals
of the countryman. But the old prejudices were too deep-rooted to have been seriously
shaken by this. Besides, socialistic literature, with the assistance of its peculiarly
impressive rhetoric, sought to popularize the legend by giving it a new pathos.
Thus today few people do not believe that the modern view of marriage as a contract
is an insult to the essential spirit of sexual union and that it was Capitalism
which destroyed the purity of family life.
For the scientist it is difficult to know what attitude he should take to a method
of treating such problems which is founded on high-minded sentiments rather than
on a discernment of the facts.
What is Good, Noble, Moral, and Virtuous the scientist as such is not able to judge.
But he must at least correct the accepted view on one important point. The ideal
of sexual relations of our age is utterly different from that of early times, and
no age has come nearer to attaining its ideal than ours. The sexual relations of
the good old times seem thoroughly unsatisfactory when measured by this, our, ideal;
therefore, this ideal must have arisen from just that evolution which is condemned
by the current theory as being responsible for the fact that we have failed to attain
our ideal completely. Hence it is clear that the prevailing doctrine does not represent
the facts; that, indeed, it turns the facts upside down and is entirely valueless
in an attempt to understand the problem.
Where the principle of violence dominates, polygamy is universal. Each man has as
many wives as he can defend. Wives are a form of property, of which it is always
better to have more than few. A man endeavours to own more wives, just as he endeavours
to own more slaves or cows; his moral attitude is the same, in fact, for slaves,
cows, and wives. He demands fidelity from his wife; he alone may dispose of her
labour and her body, himself remaining free of any ties whatever. Fidelity in the
male implies monogamy. A more powerful lord has the right to dispose also of
the wives of his subjects. The much discussed Jus Primae Noctis was an echo of
these conditions, of which a final development was the intercourse between father-in-law
and daughter-in-law in the "joint-family" of the Southern Slavs.
Moral reformers did not abolish polygamy, neither did the Church at first combat
it. For centuries Christianity raised no objections to the polygamy of the barbarian
kings. Charlemagne kept many concubines. By its nature polygamy was never an
institution for the poor man; the wealthy and the aristocratic could alone enjoy
it. But with the latter it became increasingly complex according to the extent
to which women entered marriage as heiresses and owners, were provided with rich
dowries, and were endowed with greater rights in disposing of the dowry. Thus monogamy
has been gradually enforced by the wife who brings her husband wealth and by her
relatives—a direct manifestation of the way in which capitalist thought and calculation
has penetrated the family. In order to protect legally the property of wives and
their children a sharp line is drawn between legitimate and illegitimate connection
and succession. The relation of husband and wife is acknowledged as a contract.
As the idea of contract enters the Law of Marriage, it breaks the rule of the male,
and makes the wife a partner with equal rights. From a one-sided relationship resting
on force, marriage thus becomes a mutual agreement; the servant becomes the married
wife entitled to demand from the man all that he is entitled to ask from her. Step
by step she wins the position in the home which she holds today. Nowadays the position
of the woman differs from the position of the man only in so far as their peculiar
ways of earning a living differ. The remnants of man's privileges have little importance.
They are privileges of honour. The wife, for instance, still bears her husband's
This evolution of marriage has taken place by way of the law relating to the property
of married persons. Woman's position in marriage was improved as the principle of
violence was thrust back, and as the idea of contract advanced in other fields of
the Law of Property it necessarily transformed the property relations between the
married couple. The wife was freed from the power of her husband for the first time
when she gained legal rights over the wealth which she brought into marriage and
which she acquired during marriage, and when that which her husband customarily
gave her was transformed into allowances enforceable by law.
Thus marriage, as we know it, has come into existence entirely as a result of the
contractual idea penetrating into this sphere of life. All our cherished ideals
of marriage have grown out of this idea. That marriage unites one man and one woman,
that it can be entered into only with the free will of both parties, that it imposes
a duty of mutual fidelity, that a man's violations of the marriage vows are to be
judged no differently from a woman's, that the rights of husband and wife are essentially
the same—these principles develop from the contractual attitude to the problem of
marital life. No people can boast that their ancestors thought of marriage as we
think of it today. Science cannot judge whether morals were once more severe than
they are now. We can establish only that our views of what marriage should be are
different from the views of past generations and that their ideal of marriage seems
immoral in our eyes.
When panegyrists of the good old morality execrate the institution of divorce and
separation they are probably right in asserting that no such things existed formerly.
The right to cast off his wife which man once possessed in no way resembles the
modern law of divorce. Nothing illustrates more clearly the great change of attitude
than the contrast between these two institutions. And when the Church takes the
lead in the struggle against divorce, it is well to remember that the existence
of the modern marriage ideal of monogamy—of husband and wife with equal rights—in
the defence of which the Church wishes to intervene, is the result of capitalist,
and not ecclesiastical, development.
4 The Problems of Married Life
In the modern contractual marriage, which takes place at the desire of husband and
wife, marriage and love are united. Marriage appears morally justified only when
it is concluded for love; without love between the bridal couple it seems improper.
We find strange those royal weddings which are arranged at a distance, and in which,
as in most of the thinking and acting of the ruling Houses, the age of violence
is echoed. The fact that they find it necessary to represent these marriages to
the public as love marriages shows that even royal families have not been able to
escape the bourgeois marriage ideal.
The conflicts of modern married life spring first of all from the necessarily limited
duration of passion in a contract concluded for life. "Die Leidenschaft flieht,
die Liebe muss bleiben" ("Passion flies, love must remain"), says Schiller, the
poet of bourgeois married life. In most marriages blessed with children, married
love fades slowly and unnoticeably; in its place develops a friendly affection which
for a long time is interrupted ever and again by a brief flickering of the old love;
living together becomes habitual, and in the children, in whose development they
relive their youth, the parents find consolation for the renunciation they have
been forced to make as old age deprives them of their strength.
But this is not so for all. There are many ways by which man may reconcile himself
to the transience of the earthly pilgrimage. To the believer, religion brings consolation
and courage; it enables him to see himself as a thread in the fabric of eternal
life, it assigns to him a place in the imperishable plan of a world creator, and
places him beyond time and space, old age and death, high in the celestial pastures.
Others find satisfaction in philosophy. They refuse to believe in a beneficent providence,
the idea of which conflicts with experience; they disdain the easy solace to be
derived from an arbitrary structure of fantasies, from an imaginary scheme designed
to create the illusion of a world order different from the order they are forced
to recognize around them. But the great mass of men takes another way. Dully and
apathetically they succumb to everyday life; they never think beyond the moment,
but become slaves of habit and the passions. Between these, however, is a fourth
group, consisting of men who do not know where or how to find peace. Such people
can no longer believe because they have eaten of the tree of knowledge; they cannot
smother their rebellious hearts in apathy; they are too restless and too unbalanced
to make the philosophic adjustment to realities. At any price they want to win and
hold happiness. With all their might they strain at the bars which imprison their
instincts. They will not acquiesce. They want the impossible, seeking happiness
not in the striving but in the fulfillment, not in the battle but in victory.
Such natures cannot tolerate marriage when the wild fire of the first love has begun
to die. They make the highest demands upon love itself and they exaggerate the overvaluation
of the sexual object. Thus they are doomed, if only for physiological reasons, to
experience sooner than more moderate people disappointment in the intimate life
of marriage. And this disappointment can easily change to revulsion. Love turns
to hate. Life with the once beloved becomes a torment. He who cannot content himself,
who is unwilling to moderate the illusions with which he entered a marriage of love,
who does not learn to transfer to his children, in sublimated form, those desires
which marriage can no longer satisfy—that man is not made for marriage. He will
break away from the bonds with new projects of happiness in love, ag
But all this has nothing to do with social conditions. These marriages are not wrecked
because the married couple live in the capitalist order of society and because the
means of production are privately owned. The disease germinates not without, but
within; it grows out of the natural disposition of the parties concerned. It is
fallacious to argue that because such conflicts were lacking in precapitalist society,
wedlock must then have provided what is deficient in these sick marriages. The truth
is that love and marriage were separate and people did not expect marriage to give
them lasting and unclouded happiness. Only when the idea of contract and consent
has been imposed on marriage does the wedded couple demand that their union shall
satisfy desire permanently. This is a demand which love cannot possibly meet. The
happiness of love is in the contest for the favours of the loved one and in fulfillment
of the longing to be united with her. We need not discuss whether such happiness
can endure when physiological satisfaction is denied. But we know for certain that
desire gratified, cools sooner or later and that endeavours to make permanent the
fugitive hours of romance would be vain. We cannot blame marriage because it is
unable to change our earthly life into an infinite series of ecstatic moments, all
radiant with the pleasures of love. We should be equally wrong to blame the social
The conflicts that social conditions cause in married life are of minor importance.
It would be wrong to assume that loveless marriages made for the dowry of the wife
or the wealth of the husband, or that marriages made miserable by economic factors
are in any way as important an aspect of the question as the frequency with which
literature treats of them would suggest. There is always an easy way out if people
will only look for it.
As a social institution marriage is an adjustment of the individual to the social
order by which a certain field of activity, with all its tasks and requirements,
is assigned to him. Exceptional natures, whose abilities lift them far above the
average, cannot support the coercion which such an adjustment to the way of life
of the masses must involve. The man who feels within himself the urge to devise
and achieve great things, who is prepared to sacrifice his life rather than be false
to his mission, will not stifle his urge for the sake of a wife and children. In
the life of a genius, however loving, the woman and whatever goes with her occupy
a small place. We do not speak here of those great men in whom sex was completely
sublimated and turned into other channels—Kant, for example—or of those whose fiery
spirit, insatiable in the pursuit of love, could not acquiesce in the inevitable
disappointments of married life and hurried with restless urge from one passion
to another. Even the man of genius whose married life seems to take a normal course,
whose attitude to sex does not differ from that of other people, cannot in the long
run feel himself bound by marriage without violating his own self. Genius does not
allow itself to be hindered by any consideration for the comfort of its fellows
even of those closest to it. The ties of marriage become intolerable bonds which
the genius tries to cast off or at least to loosen so as to be able to move freely.
The married couple must walk side by side amid the rank and file of humanity. Whoever
wishes to go his own way must break away from it. Rarely indeed is he granted the
happiness of finding a woman willing and able to go with him on his solitary path.
All this was recognized long ago. The masses had accepted it so completely that
anyone who betrayed his wife felt himself entitled to justify his action in these
terms. But the genius is rare and a social institution does not become impossible
merely because one or two exceptional men are unable to adjust themselves to it.
No danger threatened marriage from this side.
The attacks launched against it by the Feminism of the Nineteenth Century seemed
much more serious. Its spokesmen claimed that marriage forced women to sacrifice
personality. It gave man space enough to develop his abilities, but to woman it
denied all freedom. This was imputed to the unchangeable nature of marriage, which
harnesses husband and wife together and thus debases the weaker woman to be the
servant of the man. No reform could alter this; abolition of the whole institution
alone could remedy the evil. Women must fight for liberation from this yoke, not
only that she might be free to satisfy her sexual desires but so as to develop her
individuality. Loose relations which gave freedom to both parties must replace marriage.
The radical wing of Feminism, which holds firmly to this standpoint, overlooks the
fact that the expansion of woman's powers and abilities is inhibited not by marriage,
not by being bound to man, children, and household, but by the more absorbing form
in which the sexual function affects the female body. Pregnancy and the nursing
of children claim the best years of a woman's life, the years in which a man may
spend his energies in great achievements. One may believe that the unequal distribution
of the burden of reproduction is an injustice of nature, or that it is unworthy
of woman to be child-bearer and nurse, but to believe this does not alter the fact.
It may be that a woman is able to choose between renouncing either the most profound
womanly joy, the joy of motherhood, or the more masculine development of her personality
in action and endeavour. It may be that she has no such choice. It may be that in
suppressing her urge towards motherhood she does herself an injury that reacts through
all other functions of her being. But whatever the truth about this, the fact remains
that when she becomes a mother, with or without marriage, she is prevented from
leading her life as freely and independently as man. Extraordinarily gifted women
may achieve fine things in spite of motherhood; but because the functions of sex
have the first claim upon woman, genius and the greatest achievements have been
So far as Feminism seeks to adjust the legal position of woman to that of man, so
far as it seeks to offer her legal and economic freedom to develop and act in accordance
with her inclinations, desires, and economic circumstances—so far it is nothing
more than a branch of the great liberal movement, which advocates peaceful and free
evolution. When, going beyond this, it attacks the institutions of social life under
the impression that it will thus be able to remove the natural barriers, it is a
spiritual child of Socialism. For it is a characteristic of Socialism to discover
in social institutions the origin of unalterable facts of nature, and to endeavour,
by reforming these institutions, to reform nature.
5 Free Love
Free love is the socialist's radical solution for sexual problems. The socialistic
society abolishes the economic dependence of woman which results from the fact that
woman is dependent on the income of her husband. Man and woman have the same economic
rights and the same duties, as far as motherhood does not demand special consideration
for the woman. Public funds provide for the maintenance and education of the children,
which are no longer the affairs of the parents but of society. Thus the relations
between the sexes are no longer influenced by social and economic conditions. Mating
ceases to found the simplest form of social union, marriage and the family. The
family disappears and society is confronted with separate individuals only. Choice
in love becomes completely free. Men and women unite and separate just as their
desires urge. Socialism desires to create nothing that is new in all this, but "would
only recreate on a higher level of culture and under new social forms what was universally
valid on a more primitive cultural level and before private ownership dominated
The arguments, sometimes unctuous and sometimes venomous, which are put forward
by theologians and other moral teachers, are entirely inadequate as a reply to this
programme. And most of the writers who have occupied themselves with the problems
of sexual intercourse have been dominated by the monastic and ascetic ideas of the
moral theologians. To them the sexual instinct is the absolute evil, sensuality
is sin, voluptuousness is a gift of the devil, and even the thought of such things
is immoral. Whether or not we uphold this condemnation of the sexual instinct depends
entirely on our inclination and scale of values. The moralist's endeavour to attack
or defend it from the scientific point of view is wasted labour. The limits of scientific
method are misconceived when one attributes to it the role of judge and valuer;
the nature of scientific method is misunderstood when it is expected to influence
action not merely by showing the effectiveness of means to ends but also by determining
the relative value of the ends themselves. The scientist treating ethical problems
should, however, point out that we cannot begin by rejecting the sexual instinct
as evil in itself and then go on to give, under certain conditions, our moral approval
or toleration to the sexual act. The usual dictum condemning sensual pleasure in
sexual intercourse but declaring nevertheless that the dutiful fulfillment of the
debitum conjugale (conjugal duty) for the purpose of begetting successors is quite
moral, springs from poverty-stricken sophistry. The married couple act in sensuality;
no child has ever yet been begotten and conceived out of dutiful consideration for
the State's need of recruits or taxpayers. To be quite logical, an ethical system
which branded the act of procreation as shameful would have to demand complete and
unconditional abstinence. If we do not wish to see life become extinct we should
not call the source from which it is renewed a sink of vice. Nothing has poisoned
the morals of modern society more than this ethical system which by neither condemning
logically nor approving logically blurs the distinction between good and evil and
bestows on sin a glittering allurement. More than anything it is to blame for the
fact that the modern man vacillates aimlessly in questions of sexual morality, and
is not even capable of properly appreciating the great problems of the relations
between the sexes.
It is clear that sex is less important in the life of man than of woman. Satisfaction
brings him relaxation and mental peace. But for the woman the burden of motherhood
begins here. Her destiny is completely circumscribed by sex; in man's life it is
but an incident. However fervently and whole-heartedly he loves, however much he
takes upon himself for the woman's sake, he remains always above the sexual. Even
women are finally contemptuous of the man who is utterly engrossed by sex. But woman
must exhaust herself as lover and as mother in the service of the sexual instinct.
Man may often find it difficult, in the face of all the worries of his profession,
to preserve his inner freedom and so to develop his individuality, but it will not
be his sexual life which distracts him most. For woman, however, sex is the greatest
Thus the meaning of the feminist question is essentially woman's struggle for personality.
But the matter affects men not less than women, for only in co-operation can the
sexes reach the highest degree of individual culture. The man who is always being
dragged by woman into the lower spheres of psychic bondage cannot develop freely
in the long run. To preserve the freedom of inner life for the woman, this is the
real problem of women; it is part of the cultural problem of humanity.
It was failure to solve this problem which destroyed the Orient. There woman is
an object of lust, a childbearer and nurse. Every progressive movement which began
with the development of personality was prematurely frustrated by the women, who
dragged men down again into the miasma of the harem. Nothing separates East and
West more decisively today than the position of women and the attitude towards woman.
People often maintain that the wisdom of the Orientals has understood the ultimate
questions of existence more profoundly than all the philosophy of Europe. At any
rate the fact that they have never been able to free themselves in sexual matters
has sealed the fate of their culture.
Midway between Orient and Occident the unique culture of the Greeks grew up. But
antiquity also failed to raise woman to the level on which it had placed man. Greek
culture excluded the married woman. The wife remained in the woman's quarters, apart
from the world, nothing more than the mother of the man's heirs and the steward
of his house. His love was for the hetaera alone. Eventually he was not satisfied
even here, and turned to homosexual love. Plato sees the love of boys transfigured
by the spiritual union of the lovers and by joyful surrender to the beauty of soul
and body. To him the love of woman was merely gross sensual satisfaction.
To Western man woman is the companion, to the Oriental she is the bedfellow. European
woman has not always occupied the position she occupies today. She has won it in
the course of evolution from the principle of violence to the principle of contract.
And now man and woman are equal before the law. The small differences that still
exist in private law are of no practical significance. Whether, for example, the
law obliges the wife to obey her husband is not particularly important; as long
as marriage survives one party will have to follow the other and whether husband
or wife is stronger is certainly not a matter which paragraphs of the legal code
can decide. Nor is it any longer of great significance that the political rights
of women are restricted, that women are denied the vote and the right to hold public
office. For by granting the vote to women the proportional political strength of
the political parties is not on the whole much altered; the women of those parties
which must suffer from the changes to be expected (not in any case important ones)
ought in their own interests to become opponents of women's suffrage rather than
supporters. The right to occupy public office is denied women less by the legal
limitations of their rights than by the peculiarities of their sexual character.
Without underestimating the value of the feminists' fight to extend woman's civil
rights, one can safely risk the assertion that neither women nor the community are
deeply injured by the slights to women's legal position which still remain in the
legislation of civilized states.
The misconception to which the principle of equality before the law is exposed in
the field of general social relationships is to be found in the special field of
the relations between those sexes. Just as the pseudo-democratic movement endeavours
by decrees to efface natural and socially conditioned inequalities, just as it wants
to make the strong equal to the weak, the talented to the untalented, and the healthy
to the sick, so the radical wing of the women's movement seeks to make women the
equal of men. Though they cannot go so far as to shift half the burden of motherhood
on to men, still they would like to abolish marriage and family life so that women
may have at least all that liberty which seems compatible with childbearing. Unencumbered
by husband and children, woman is to move freely, act freely, and live for herself
and the development of her personality.
But the difference between sexual character and sexual destiny can no more be decreed
away than other inequalities of mankind. It is not marriage which keeps woman inwardly
unfree, but the fact that her sexual character demands surrender to a man and that
her love for husband and children consumes her best energies. There is no human
law to prevent the woman who looks for happiness in a career from renouncing love
and marriage. But those who do not renounce them are not left with sufficient strength
to master life as a man may master it. It is the fact that sex possesses her whole
personality, and not the facts of marriage and family, which enchains woman. By
"abolishing" marriage one would not make woman any freer and happier; one would
merely take from her the essential content of her life, and one could offer nothing
to replace it.
Woman's struggle to preserve her personality in marriage is part of that struggle
for personal integrity which characterizes the rationalist society of the economic
order based on private ownership of the means of production. It is not exclusively
to the interest of woman that she should succeed in this struggle; to contrast the
interests of men and women, as extreme feminists try to do, is very foolish. All
mankind would suffer if woman should fail to develop her ego and be unable to unite
with man as equal, freeborn companions and comrades.
To take away a woman's children and put them in an institution is to take away part
of her life; and children are deprived of the most far-reaching influences when
they are torn from the bosom of the family. Only recently Freud, with the insight
of genius, has shown how deep are the impressions which the parental home leaves
on the child. From the parents the child learns to love, and so comes to possess
the forces which enable it to grow up into a healthy human being. The segregated
educational institution breeds homosexuality and neurosis. It is no accident that
the proposal to treat men and women as radically equal, to regulate sexual intercourse
by the State, to put infants into public nursing homes at birth and to ensure that
children and parents remain quite unknown to each other should have originated with
Plato; he saw only the satisfaction of a physical craving in the relations between
The evolution which has led from the principle of violence to the contractual principle
has based these relations on free choice in love. The woman may deny herself to
anyone, she may demand fidelity and constancy from the man to whom she gives herself.
Only in this way is the foundation laid for the development of woman's individuality.
By returning to the principle of violence with a conscious neglect of the contractual
idea, Socialism, even though it aims at an equal distribution of the plunder, must
finally demand promiscuity in sexual life.
The Communist Manifesto declares that the "complement" of the "bourgeois family"
is public prostitution. "With the disappearance of capital" prostitution would also
disappear. A chapter in Bebel's book on woman is headed "Prostitution, a necessary
social institution of the bourgeois world." Here is amplified the theory that prostitution
is as necessary to bourgeois society as "police, standing army, church, entrepreneurs,
etc." Since its appearance the view that prostitution is a product of Capitalism
has gained ground enormously. And as, in addition, preachers still complain that
the good old morals have decayed, and accuse modern culture of having led to loose
living, everyone is convinced that all sexual wrongs represent a symptom of decadence
peculiar to our age.
In answer to this it is sufficient to point out that prostitution is an extremely
ancient institution, unknown to hardly any people that has ever existed. It is
a remnant of ancient morals, not a symptom of the decay of higher culture. The most
powerful influence against it today—the demand for man's abstinence outside marriage—is
one of the principles involved in equal moral fights for man and woman, and is therefore
altogether an ideal of the capitalist age. The age of the principle of violence
demands sexual purity only from the bride, not from the bridegroom also. All those
factors which favour prostitution today have nothing whatever to do with private
property and Capitalism. Militarism, which keeps young men from marriage longer
than they wish, is anything but a product of peace-loving Liberalism. The fact that
government and other officials can only marry when they are rich, as otherwise they
would not be able to keep up appearances, is, like all other caste fetishes, a vestige
of pre-capitalist thought. Capitalism does not recognize caste or caste customs;
under Capitalism everyone lives according to his income.
Some women prostitute themselves because they want men, some because they want food.
With many both motives operate. One may admit without further discussion that in
a society where incomes were equal the economic temptation to prostitution would
cease completely or dwindle to a minimum. But it would be idle to speculate whether
or not, in a society without inequalities of income, other new social sources of
prostitution could not arise. At any rate one cannot merely assume that the sexual
morality of a socialist society would be more satisfactory than that of capitalist
It is in the study of the relations between sexual life and property, more than
in any other field of social knowledge, that our ideas must be clarified and remodelled.
Contemporary treatment of this problem is fiddled with prejudices of all kinds.
But the eyes with which we look at the matter must not be those of the dreamer envisioning
a lost paradise, who sees the future in a blaze of rose-coloured light, and condemns
all that goes on around us.
Freud, Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie, 2nd ed.
(Leipzig and Vienna, 1910), pp. 38 ff.
Poehlmann, Geschichte der sozialen Frage und des
Sozialismus in der antiken Welt, vol. 2, p. 576.
Engels, Der Ursprung der Familie, des
Privateigentums und des Staates, p. 182.
Westermarck, Geschichte der menschlichen Ehe,
trans. Katscher and Grazer, 2nd ed. (Berlin, 1902), p. 122; Weinhold, Die deutschen
Frauen in dem Mittelalter, 3rd ed. (Vienna, 1897), vol. 2, pp. 9 ff.
For example, Weinhold, op. cit., pp. 7 ff.
I Cor xi.9.
Weinhold, op. cit., 1st ed. (Vienna, 1851),
pp. 292 ff.
Westermarck, op. cit., pp. 74 ff.; Weinhold,
op. cit., 3rd ed. (Vienna), vol. 1, p. 273.
Schröder, Lehrbuch der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte,
3rd ed. (Leipzig, 1898), pp. 70, 110; Weinhold, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 12 ff.
Tacitus, Germania, c. 17.
Marianne Weber, Ehefrau und Mutter in
der Rechtsentwicklung (Tübingen, 1907), pp. 53 ff., 217 ff.
August Bebel, Die Frau und der Sozialismus,
16th ed. (Stuttgart, 1892), p. 343.
To examine how far the radical demands of
feminism were created by men and women whose sexual character was not normally developed
would go beyond the limits set to these expositions.
Marx and Engels, Das Kommunistische Manifest,
7th German ed. (Berlin, 1906), p. 35.
Bebel, op. cit., pp. 141 ff.
Marianne Weber, op. cit., pp. 6 ff.
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