National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science, No. 45: Radical Sexual Hedonism Vs. ‘Rightly-Ordered Love’

“Virtue is rightly-ordered love.” – St. Augustine, “City of God.” The concept of “virtue,” descriptive through history of the most highly-valued human qualities, is, truth be told, the invention of homosexuals.

But it has almost disappeared from our language, a primary victim of the last 40 years’ shift in social mores brought on by a “counterculture” that sees “virtue” as a primary target for destruction. “Virtue,” after all, centers human behavior on love, courage, consideration and justice, while anarcho-hedonist “counterculture” values are centered entirely on selfish self-interest.

The 19th century philosopher Neitzsche ridiculed “virtue,” and he was a seminal influence in the post-World War II rise of the radical anarcho-hedonist movement.
Tragically, anarcho-hedonism smothered the gay liberation movement in its cradle in the late 60s and early 70s, fomenting an urban gay culture of startling sexual excess, among other things, the precondition for the AIDS horror.

But the homosexuals’ invention of “virtue” was a lawful product of our natural role in creation as ones not primarily driven by an impulse for physical species procreation, but instead for the procreation of civilization, itself.

Concepts of “virtue” appear in the ancient writings of homosexuals Plato and Socrates who defined it as a blend of temperance, prudence, courage and justice. The Apostle Paul defines it as inclusive of “faith, hope and love” in I Corinthians 13, and in his letter to Galatians, broadens it to include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Paul’s allegedly anti-homosexual commentary in his letter to the Romans was against predatory lust, not virtuous love.

St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) defines “virtue” as “rightly-ordered love,” consisting of all the above-mentioned qualities. Augustine is rightly included in Paul Russell’s “The Gay 100” volume (1995) because he acknowledged in his autobiographical “Confessions” passionate same-sex relations as a young man.
But few knew better than Augustine the consequences for civilization of wanton, out of control hedonism, being an eyewitness to the unraveling of the Roman Empire.

Augustine’s “City of God” was a critique of the collapsing empire, and how hedonistic rituals, including profuse homosexual acts performed by Galli priest-prostitutes, contributed to it. He observed that Rome’s rulers cared not a hoot for morality, but solely for the docility of their subjects.

Like Plato and Paul, Augustine counseled restraint – or better, “virtue” – in cultures where massive hedonistic excess led swiftly to death, both of persons and societies. He was not anti-homosexual, but anti-dehumanizing hedonistic excess. He elevated love and virtue, with particular regard for the well-being of the beloved, over sexual hedonism.

It is a challenge to see St. Augustine for who he really was in his time, and not as distorted by the cloudy prism of 1500 years of subsequent history. A critic of a crumbling civilization, he struggled to build a bastion to salvage humanity. He wrote and preached prolifically. In fact, rather than denounce virtuous same-sex intimacy, he affirmed it. He endorsed the kind of relationships we see exhibited, for example, between medieval priests played by Sean Connery and Christian Slater in the mesmerizing film version of Umberto Eco’s novel, “The Name of the Rose” (1986).

Subsequently, of course, brutal repression in the name of religion, including of all same-sex relations, accompanied the advance of civilization.

It was not until the rise of gay liberation in the late 1960s that the opportunity arose for all homosexuals to affirm their true selves openly. Then, it became possible to exercise virtuous same-sex love openly and proudly for the first time. Most homosexuals are, after all, the most beautiful, loving, creative people in the world, especially when we are free to claim our integrity.

The author of the poignant AIDS-era novel “Borrowed Time,” Paul Monette (1945-1995), put it in in a most inspired way in his essay, “On Becoming,” in Mark Thompson’s “Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature” (1990).

“It has been my experience,” he wrote, “that gay and lesbian people who have fought through their self-hatred and their self-recriminations have a capacity for empathy that is glorious and a capacity to find a laughter in things that is like praising God. There is a kind of flagrant joy about us that goes very deep and is not available to most people.”

Echoing what I’ve affirmed in these chapters all along, he added, “Being gay is about something more profound than my sexual nature.”

We homosexuals really did not deserve what the ugly counterculture of anarcho-hedonistic excess imposed on us in the late 1960s, nor did we deserve the consequences. “Virtue” was the targeted enemy of the counterculture, which forcibly imposed incredible vulgarity and selfish disrespect for persons. Women in that male-dominated counterculture were particularly degraded. Drugs were rampant, dulling resistance to this new culture, and all was perpetrated in the name of “revolution,” “freedom,” and “liberation.”