Desire and Deceit

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

The sexual issues now confronting our nation—from the breakdown of the family to same-sex marriage—are really pieces of a much larger puzzle. In order to understand what is happening, one must look carefully at the entire picture, the entire trajectory of Western civilization over the past century. What we face today are not individual, isolated issues, but rather a massive social transformation that has not happened by accident and that will not break apart on its own.

In 1930, the esteemed historian Christopher Dawson wrote this: "Western civilization at the present day is passing through a crisis, which is essentially different from everything that has previously been experienced. Other societies in the past have changed their social institutions or their religious beliefs under the influence of external forces or the slow development of internal growth. But none, like our own, has ever consciously faced a prospect of a fundamental alteration in the beliefs and institutions on which the whole fabric of social life rests."

From the vantage point of 1930, Dawson looked forward to the rest of the 20th century, and he understood what was happening. He was a prophet.

In order to understand the shift that Dawson foresaw and that ultimately took place, it is necessary to look back to 1909, when Sigmund Freud released his understanding of human sexuality. Trying to understand something as powerful as sex, Freud turned to what he called the "infantile" stage of human development, identifying the leading characteristic of infantile sexuality as polymorphous perversity. Freud explained: What makes an infant characteristically different from every other stage of human life is that the child is "polymorphously perverse," meaning that the infant is ready to demonstrate any kind of sexual behavior without any kind of restraint. He then explained how "civilization" emerges only after this innate, polymorphous perversity is restrained by psychological repression, social form, and custom. Such restraint, Freud felt, was inevitable and indeed necessary, for procreation is necessary for the continuation of the race, and therefore heterosexual coupling was absolutely essential for civilization itself. Even if we finally reject Freud's theory, it is crucial that we understand its influence. Freud is no doubt one of the ideological horsemen of the twentieth-century apocalypse, but even he was outdone by those who came after him.

In the second half of the twentieth century, Herbert Marcuse revisited Freud in his book Eros and Civilization, mixing his theories with those of Marx in order to develop a theory of sexuality as liberation. The whole problem, Marcuse thought, was the very restraint that Freud believed was inevitable and necessary, the repression that Freud saw leading to civilization itself. According to Marcuse, the only way to achieve liberation is to undo that repression, reverse that restraint, and thus unleash in society itself that infantile stage of pure sexuality—of polymorphous perversity.

In the 1960's, Eros and Civilization received much attention on college campuses, where such ideas are always met with an enthusiastic audience. But the rest of the culture remained largely unaware of, and untroubled by, the assault that had begun to take place upon the very foundations of civilization itself. Now it has become obvious that this ideology of polymorphous perversity is inch by inch—if not yard by yard—gaining ground. Read the daily newspaper, or just review the events of a typical week. Even something as basic as the heterosexual nature of marriage is now very much under assault. The very idea of normality, or of fixed institutions, is being subverted by the culture and marginalized by cultural elites. What we now face is the subversion of humanity's most basic categories and institutions—gender, marriage, and family. In the eyes of all too many in our culture, gender is merely a plastic social construct. Indeed, in the postmodern world, all realities are plastic and all principles are liquid. Everything can be changed. Nothing is fixed. All truth is relative, all truth is socially constructed, and anything which is constructed can also be deconstructed in order to liberate.