On the right, people from Ross Douthat to AnomalyUK have tried to explain the mass phenomenon of 50 Shades of Gray (which I’ve never read), but aside from a few people, few have really thought much about what it has to say about the egalitarian romantic ideal which has come to dominate the Western world.
In the equalist conception of love, two independent people of any particular sex join together on even terms for their own enjoyment. There are countless theories of love coming from both the religious and the secular, so many that it’s easy to wonder if they’re really theories or instead aesthetic judgments or expressions of taste made on at least partially subjective grounds. Most of these theories are shit, because animals don’t need theories to get to business, and sex is mostly animalistic and physical, much to the consternation of people who prefer to live more in their heads than in their bodies.
Although both of the earlier linked articles are interesting and worth reading, they’re both a little wrong about why these stories (and, really, etiquette guidelines for sex) are so popular among women.
But viewed from another angle, that same revolution looks more like a permission slip for the strong and privileged to prey upon the weak and easily exploited. This is the sexual revolution of Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt and Joe Francis and roughly 98 percent of the online pornography consumed by young men. It’s the revolution that’s been better for fraternity brothers than their female guests, better for the rich than the poor, better for the beautiful than the plain, better for liberated adults than fatherless children … and so on down a long, depressing list. At times, as the French writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry recently suggested, this side of sexual revolution looks more like “sexual reaction,” a step way back toward a libertinism more like that of pre-Christian Rome — anti-egalitarian and hierarchical, privileging men over women, adults over children, the upper class over the lower orders.
A real-life Christian Grey, the man set free from all restraint, would probably be a pure satyr like the sex-partying Dominique Strauss-Kahn or the billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, with his private-jet harems and the conviction for soliciting a 14-year-old. But in the fantasy, the synthesis, he’s a guy who will first dominate you but ultimately love you — providing that, like Anastasia Steele, you’re careful to sign a rigorously detailed contract detailing just how much domination you’ll accept.
And the sophisticated complaints against the books are equally illuminating. The problem isn’t that there’s anything wrong with pornography or sadism — don’t be silly! No, it’s just that the sadism isn’t quite safe enough (because the heroine doesn’t have a real BDSM adept’s skill at setting ground rules), that Mr. Grey’s kinks are judged a little too harshly (they’re rooted in childhood trauma, which is unfair to the dungeon set), and the romance is too old-fashioned and “straight” and not quite empowering enough.
These are not real critiques; they’re ideological line-edits. And their thinness pays tribute to what E.L. James has achieved: A fantasy that even many of its critics want to believe in, and the utopia that our society deserves.
Or you could put it in the context of de Sade and the popularity of his works right before the eruption of mass violence that was the French Revolution. Justine is much filthier than 50 Shades, with the implicit atheism of the former being absolutely key to understanding why French society came unraveled when it did, and in the way that it did.
This is what Erik von Kuenelt-Leddihn did in Leftism: Revisited. The funny thing about the modern Jacobins is that they tend to accuse conservatives of abetting “rape culture,” whereas the revolution of 1789 was in part built upon best-selling works of anti-moral erotic rape fiction. It’s pure projection; not that the inconsistency would bother many of them.
In the contemporary world, when we think of sexuality as it tends to be popularly represented in romantic films, we tend to see an idealization of a merging of two near-equals. What this usually results in in reality is total chaos, a loss of sexual attraction, and then later, legal chaos, if it’s a marriage.
What kink as a set of etiquette instruction gives to moderns is a way to at least put someone in charge, to establish a sort of temporary hierarchy away from the prying eyes of the public.
People need rules, or, even better, values, a sense of life, a tradition that protects them from error, to live by.
Just as dogs become neurotic, messy, erratic, and aggressive when there’s no pack leader, so do people. When there’s no leader, the instinctive desire for security kicks in, and power struggles begin. For typical bourgeois moderns, their education and training teaches them that either the woman should be in charge of the household, or else that it should be a negotiated partnership in which there is no obvious leader. In some cases with children, the children can take a bizarre sort of leadership over the household, as the parents become slaves to either the whims of the kids or to the demands of the striver-industrial-complex.
Pop kink finds many adherents because it rushes in to fill the vacuum that’s been left behind. It also has costumes, which helps to fill the need in the human animal for actual differences in how the sexes dress and present themselves. The woman who wears an androgynous pantsuit everywhere, if she’s going to get anything out of her schlub of a man (who lives in terror of a sexual harassment lawsuit or divorce order) is going to get some mileage out of the latex.
For those with dulled sensitivities that come inevitably from the long line of ‘partners’ from ‘relationships’ that many go through, the hunger for paraphernalia, pretense, and novelty multiplies. Not to mention the inherent sterility that comes with sex ripped away from its actual biological purpose.
The other leftist innovation that kink rushes in to correct is the forced mingling between men and women in every conceivable institution.
Neither sex has roles, buildings, and groups to themselves anymore, except in limited, contingent senses. Daughters are no longer sheltered. Parents instead actively pressure them to behave like men. Women rarely wear veils or headscarves unless they’re particularly religious, old, or eccentric. Modesty, which actually served to make attraction more passionately felt, has given way to bare legs and muscle-shirts, which can dull the sense of desire.
If you were a human-farmer trying to make the people in your barn less sexually attractive to each other, you’d do what the leftists do to mores around gender and sex. This particular critique of the Soviet Union, popular when our friends at the CIA were undermining Soviet culture, has entered the memory hole in our own, as our own leftists have resumed the work of the Soviets in demonizing useful things like make-up and beautiful things like skirts.
This isn’t an attempt to somehow make a National Review-ready trite article about the “unconventional conservatism of bondage,” or “how watersports made me a better Christian” but instead to point out that it’s yet another unprincipled exception that leftists use to get out of at least some of the consequences of their earlier destruction of our culture.
So when conservatives rush to attack the degenerate behavior on the part of lovelorn women, they tend to miss the larger picture, especially because they’re unwilling to stand up on a podium and tell people directly that Paul was right and that the 60s were a mistake. Actual leadership is a heavy responsibility, and few want to risk what little status they have.
Even in most Christian churches, it’d be a whole lot safer to admit to being a pervert than it would to admit to believing that men should lead their households, that the patriarchal family is a religious & moral obligation, and that there are rational arguments going back over 2,000 years which support that way of life.
By ceding the realm of sex to the left, conservatives have royally screwed themselves over. In the surface world that everyone presents to one another, both the liberals and the conservatives seem to offer a hypocritical landmine of contradictory rules which are impossible to follow and also remain human. With a surface world of absurdity, people will tunnel under it to satisfy the drives that nature has yoked to them.
Conservatives funnel their children into egalitarian institutions, demand inhuman powers of chastity from their children, and then become shocked — just shocked — when the impossible rules result in their cheerleader daughter getting a big belly without knowing who the father is. The absurdity of expecting inhuman levels of restraint from people is also mirrored by the leftist reign of regulations in sexual harassment. Men and women must be forced to be the same, and any outburst of natural attraction is to be punished by the full force of the legal system.
Leftists, taking advantage at the same chaotic pile of rules, then declare that all the rules and values ought to be void, encouraging people to sterilize themselves and find joy in polymorphous perversity. Then, in comes the commissar blowing the rape-whistle frantically, upon discovery that the polymorphous really are much more perverse than you’d ever expect them to be in theory.
With sources of real strength so absent, people instead look for alternative rituals, just to get something real in their lives, like pain and a sense of being under the protection of a stable authority. Once we understand this a little better, it becomes easier to formulate a saner moral response.