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livres philosophiques: A Critique of ‘Justine’ pt. 2

by on April 26, 2011

‘The idea of God is the sole wrong for which I cannot forgive mankind.’—Marquis de Sade

‘Is man merely a mistake of God’s? Or God merely a mistake of man?’-Friedrich Nietzsche


Now, in the context of ‘Justine,’ the battle is found in the idea of a world with God (universal ethics, Providence) and a world where the rules of amoral Nature filter down into the hearts of man (nihilism, egoism, libertinage). Justine, as stated in the previous piece, represented Virtue- and its foundation is found on the idea of a supreme God. For example, when Justine runs into her first libertine experience, she pleads the following which should help elucidate the moral foundation found in de Sade’s notion of Virtue:

“Oh Monsieur,” says I, weeping, clutching the wicked man’s knees, ‘unbend, I beseech you; to be so generous as to relieve me without requiring what would be so costly I should rather offer you my life than to submit to it…Yes, I prefer to die a thousand times over than violate the principles I received in my childhood.” (Justine, pg 473, italics my addition)

It surely does seem about halfway through the book that Justine is just a gullible, idealistic child in the face of the reality of the world she has been thrown into. Continually, she invokes God, altruism, and kindness to open ears but closed minds.

                Friedrich Nietzsche and Marquis de Sade would agree on the notions of Judeo-Christian morality and the concept of metaphysics in general. Nietzsche famously referred to the devotion of metaphysics as ‘other-worldly;’ meaning, that it took attention away from this world, it inhibited the natural inclinations of man under an abstract sense of ‘right’ and wrong.’ The Marquis seems to be hinting at something similar by his continual insistence that it is Nature that should guide us- hardly a metaphysical postulate.  The difference between the two lay in de Sade’s advocacy of libertinage vs. Nietzsche’s insistence on ‘self-cultivation,’ or as the ancient Pindar famously said, ‘Become who you are.’ Nietzsche, for example, would laugh at the Catholic ‘Seven Deadly Sins,’ for they require no responsibility, no self-responsibility, but merely obedience- a robotic following of rules that are inhuman. Marquis de Sade actually advocates the exact opposite of the morality- seeing that any system of morality is itself antithetical to human nature.

                Marquis de Sade’s libertines in ‘Justine’ often seem to be happier, fulfilled, prosperous, powerful, and cunning- this can be accounted for by the staunch egoism they practice in the face of Justine’s insistence that it is by the hands of God that man should be ‘nice,’ and continue to strive for a moral social cohesion.  As Maurice Blanchot points out concerning the linear thought process de Sade uses to arrive at libertinage:

“Sadean man denies man, and this negation is achieved through the intermediary of the notion of God. He temporarily makes himself God, so that there before him men are reduced to nothing and discover the nothingness of a being before God.” (Justine, pg. 59)

De Sade flips the egalitarian notions involved in Christianity on its head to apply the negation of man. For if all man is equal, then each man holds no significance and by the process of staunch egoism (‘He temporarily makes himself God), the power of one is the only determining factor in action. It is by the process of making oneself God and the logical consequences of egalitarianism that libertinage finds its ultimate justification.

                Friedrich Nietzsche in works such as ‘Human all too Human,’ attempts to abolish the notions of egalitarianism but without the negation of man itself. Nietzsche argued that all men are not born equal, nor is there enough free will or a Lockean tabula rasa (‘blank slate’) to ensure that each person will become a Goethe or a Beethoven. Nietzsche’s theory of ‘amor fati’ (‘love of fate’) then comes into play as a substitute for the notions of free will and egalitarianism.

In the context of an atheist world, Nietzsche seems to be a pseudo-Machiavellian moralist while de Sade comes across as the ten yr old boy at home alone and being gripped by his wandering imagination. This isn’t to say that de Sade is necessarily being juvenile, but it illustrates the extent that de Sade’s egoism manifests itself. In their insistence of the ‘death of God’ and the ‘reevaluation of morals,’ Nietzsche states:

‘After the Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave- a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.- And we- we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.’ (The Gay Science’)

It seems through the acts of staunch egoism and libertinage that de Sade wants the shadow not only vanquished but absolutely destroyed in a crowd of the most pious.



From → Philosophy

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