Don Pesci: De Sade would approve: Libertine culture led to scandals around public-figure 'pervs'

" Eros Stringing His Bow,'' statue in the Capitoline Museum, in Rome.    -- Photo by Ricardo Andre Frantz

"Eros Stringing His Bow,'' statue in the Capitoline Museum, in Rome.

-- Photo by Ricardo Andre Frantz

The “Me Too” movement is a long delayed reaction to libertinism, which is not ordered liberty, liberalism or even libertarianism. The father of libertinism was French revolutionist and eros anarchist the Marquis de Sade, an aristocrat gone bad.  His erotic works, many of them written while a prisoner in the Bastille, combine philosophical discourse with pornography and depict in an approving manner violence, crime and blasphemy against Christianity. He favored unrestrained freedom free of morality, religion and law. In the 21st Century, he might have been richly rewarded as a Hollywood film producer.

So far, the reaction has swept in its undertow media celebrities such as Charlie Rose, politicians such as Roy Moore, the founder and president of the Foundation for Moral Law now running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama; John Conyers, a Michigan congressman and a civil rights icon, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, of Minnesota, dubbed by one critic “a non-funny comedian,” powerful Hollywood producers such as Harvey Weinstein, and other quivering libertines still swarming in the shadows.

Conservative  Boston-based columnist and radio talk show host Howie Carr has introduced a new segment into his broadcast -- the perv (short for pervert) walk of shame. Carr is not likely to run out of material any time soon. Even New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has come aboard. Times change, said de Blasio. In response to a reporter’s question de Blasio agreed with a statement made by New York U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand that had the Monica Lewinsky scandal occurred today, President Bill Clinton would have been forced to resign. Given Bill Clinton’s checkered past, which includes accusations of rape, it is not possible to exclude the former President from observations about  juvenile cupidity and bullying of women.

“If it happened today,” said de Blasio, “there would have been a very different reaction. No question. I don’t think you can rework history. I think if it happened today — if any president did that today — they would have to resign.” Gillibrand, who occupies a seat in the U.S. Senate vacated by Hillary Clinton after she was named secretary of state by President Obama, has since softened her statement.

It would be rash of us to assume that modern libertines have suddenly become puritanical. Gillibrand is the author of a bill that would protect transgendered military personnel from being summarily discharged. The Puritans of pre-revolutionary Boston would not have unblinkingly supported her bill. Harvey Weinstein, were he a U.S. senator, would have supported the bill with great enthusiasm. Rap music will not put on sackcloth and cover its misogynistic lyrics with ashes. Hollywood will continue its genuflections to eros. Pre-pubescent boys, confused about their gender and slouching towards “re-assignment” surgery, will continue to be featured approvingly on the front page of National Geographic.


The Greek comic playwright Aristophanes understood that eros is a disturber of the peace, as did Boccaccio and Shakespeare and, coming closer to our own day, a repentant Charlie Rose and Harvey Weinstein. We deserve Harvey Weinstein; he’s our Frankenstein. We made him.


What only three decades ago might have been considered illicit sex will not be tossed on the ash heap of history. However, senators in bathrobes may not in the near future be so incautious as to display their wares to female interns – for a while. Business manners will improve -- for a bit. Millionaire smut producers in Hollywood may for a time content themselves with obtaining sex from their trophy wives. We have miles to go before all the accusations are holstered.


Both the guilty and the innocent will have their day, if not in court, then in the court of public opinion. Charges of lewd brutality are not time-sensitive, and there is no statute of limitations on commentators deploring the sins of others; though it is, of course, passé to regard unwanted sexual intimacies as sins.     

Congress, as usual, has hedged its bets by creating a tax-funded, post de Sade slush fund that already has paid out $17 million on 264 claims. It is difficult to view that fund as other than an insurance policy against whistleblowing women, men, boys and girls who will be further intimidated by high-priced lawyers whose services that the fund will buy.

Let’s have the names of the congressmen who have tapped the tax-supported de Sade slush fund before the “me too” effort peters out. Someone should call the seven all Democratic members of Connecticut’s sainted U.S. congressional delegation and get them on board.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist.