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Love and Marriage Series
The Evolution of Sexual Morality
William Thurfton Brown
Principal "The Modern School"
PRICE 15 CENTS
Published by 'THE MODERN SCHOOL"
a happier and nobler race of men and women this booklet is dedicated by the Author
Evolution of Sexual Morality
William Thurston Brown.
We are to think together of the problems of sex and sex relationship. I am sure you will agree with me before I am through that no apology is needed for speaking or thinking frankly on this problem. If any apology is needed, it is an apology from physicians, teachers, preachers, and all whose function in society puts upon them social responsibility, because they have failed to inform themselves on this most vital of all human problems and give the benefit of their knowledge to boys and girls and young men and young women. The one irretrievable calamity of this world is ignorance.
It may be that some of you do not know yet how much this sex problem means. That would not be strange. Sad as (he confession must be, there are millions on millions of human beings on this earth who never once discover at all what this or any other serious problem of life is. There are millions of men and women today who only exist, where there are hundreds or perhaps scores who really live. That is the tragedy of all tragedies—that in a world in which some men and wofoen have lived and in which some now live, such multitudes
never dream there is such a thing as life, but only pass a miserable or a meaningless existence, and drop into a grave.
The possession of a brain does not necessarily mean that one thinks. There are two lobes of the brain, a right and a left lobe. Only one of these lobes functions in any man. It would not. be hard to believe that in most men and women even the one lobe that does function is not overworked. In like manner, possession of sex or even sexual functioning does not mean anything in itself. Not for human beings. Flies and bugs, fleas and gnats and mosquitoes, function sexually, I suppose. But men and women are more than gnats and mosquitoes and fleas and flies, and for that very reason sex should mean for them incomparably more than it ever can mean to any other member of the animal kingdom. Says Walt Whitman : "Sex contains all,
Bodies, souls, meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results, promulgations, Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the
seminal milk; All hopes, benefactions, bestowals. All the passions, loves, beauties, delights of the earth, All the governments, judges, gods, followed persons of the earth,
These are contained in sex, as parts of itself, and justifications of itself."
There is no fact or function we know anything about which is so inclusive or so sacred as the fact of sex.
Let me tell you two stories from human life, stories of fact. One of them is a story which some of you know. The other is a story whose truth you will not think of doubting.
On the fourth day of March, in the year 1809, a baby girl was born in the city of London, England, to Edward and Mary Barrett. To that baby girl the name of Elizabeth was given. It happened tiiat this baby girl, Elizabeth Barrett, came into a home of wealth and comfort and culture. Edward Barrett belonged to a family of wealthy West Indian land-owners. He belonged to the leisure class in society. Having inherited the sources and means of producing wealth, he could live in leisure and comfort. His was not the task of producing wealth--some one else did that for him. And that was one of the most decisive and determining facts in the life of Elizabeth Barrett. But for that fact we should never have heard of her. Her life would not have been lived, nor her story written. She was an invalid all her life after the age of fifteen, and but for the tender care which wealth could provide, she could not have survived, much less have realized anything at all in the form of culture.
Born and reared in a home of culture, of books and reading, and denied most of the activities natural to young people of that class, Elizabeth Barrett devoted much time to literature and early developed some gif s as a wrriter of verse. Possibly some things she wrote entitle her to be called a poet. But she was in no sense of the word a great poet.
Up to the age of 36, in' spite of all the comforts and privileges she had. Elizabeth Barrett's was a sad life. The note of sadness was in much she wrote, in almost all she did. It would have been strange had it not been so. It must be so in millions of women's lives, even when no outward sign is given. She was a woman. And in that very fact of sex. as nowhere else, was the supreme significance of life for her. In that lay her fulfillment. If fairly understood, sex is the supreme thing in any one's life. But invalidism seemed to have marked her for utter unfulfillment. Even when invalidism does not exist at all, millions of women nevertheless have no fulfillment and no chance of fulfillment in the society of today. Thirty per cent, of the women of Belgium and sometimes fifty per cent, of the women of Germany are unmarried.
And then, after she was 36 years Old, far beyond the prime of a woman's life, there came to Elizabeth Barrett the greatest thing that ever comes to a human being, when all is said. Kobert Browning, the poet, came into her life, loved her, was loved by her with all the passion of her being. Perhaps there never was a more wonderful transformation in a human life than in hers. That love brought new life into her pale face and wasted body and tired spirit. It accomplished what nothing else had ever* been able to do, and she, who before for years had hardly been able to leave the house, or even her room, was able in a few months to be married to her lover and elope with him to Italy. The whole courtship had to be carried on clandestinely, in the absence of her father, and the only possibility of their union lay in elopement. Robert Browning was only a poet, with no wealth, and Edward Barrett embodied the mistaken morality of his class and time.
Not long before her marriage, this woman wrote what is perhaps the most exquisite expression of what love means that exists in any language. This poem, the flower of her love, is called "Sonnets from the Portuguese," but it was in no sense a translation from another language: it was the outpouring of Elizabeth Barrett's soul. Let me read to you two or three of the sonnets which make up this poem:
"The face of all the world is changed. I think, Since first 1 heard the footsteps of thy soul Move still, Oh, still, beside me; as they stole Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink Was caught up iuto love and taught the whole Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink. And praise its sweetness, sweet, with thee anear. The name of country, heaven, are changed away For where thou art or shalt be, there or here; And this—this lute and song—loved yesterday, (The singing angels know) are only dear, Because thy name moves right in what they say."
''Beloved, my Beloved, when I think That thou wast in the world a year ago, What time 1 sa! alone here in the snow And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink No moment at thy voice, but link by link Went counting all my chains as if that so They never could fall off at any blow Struck by thy possible hand—why, thus I drink Of life's great cup of wonder. Wonderful, Never to feel thee thrill the day or night With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white Thou sawest growing! * # • • *
"My own Beloved, who hast lifted me From this drear flat of earth where I was thrown, And in betwixt the languid ringlets, blown A life-breath, till the forehead hopefully Shines out again, as all the angels see, Before thy saving kiss! My own, my own, Who earnest to me when the world was gone, And I, who only looked for God, found thee! I find thee: I am safe and strong and glad. As one who stands in dewless asphodel Looks backward on the tedious time he had In the upper life—so I, with bosom-swell, Make witness here between the good and bad, That Love, as strong as Death, retrieves as well.
"How <lo I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of every day's Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise; I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith; I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death."
What was this love which so transformed. Elizabeth Barrett? It was the expression of sex. It was the blossom of sex. She had known' many women, far more women than men, fine women, rare souls. But no love of another woman ever could have inspired those sonnets or transformed life for her. Was it only the instinct of reproduction, the yearning for maternity? No. Maternity came to her. A son was born to Elizabeth and Robert Browning. But no relationship ever came to her or ever could that meant so much as her union with the man she loved. It is not as mother that the world thinks of her or can think, but as lover and wife. She had found her mate, her fulfillment. And though she died fifteen years after her marriage, there was or is no sense of lack in her life. Elizabeth Barrett lived.
"0 marvel of our nature, that one life Strikes through the thousand lives that fold it round, To find another, even as a sound Sweeps to a song through elemental strife!" But there is another story we need to know. In an American city, under the sacred stars and stripes, in this land of the free and home of the brave, less than fifty years ago another baby girl came into another home. The father and mother were working people: James and Nora Barry. Babies cannot choose their parents, cannot select the homes into which they will come. This baby came into a poor, ill-furnished home, 011 an alley, and was one of many children. She, too, was given the name of Elizabeth—Elizabeth Barry—how like in sound to Elizabeth Barrett, as indeed every girl is like every other girl in all essential ways, and yet, how different the surroundings of these two girls! Elizabeth Barry hardly had any childhood at all. Books there were none in her home, no reading, no culture. Only the stress of poverty and the pall of ignorance. With only the smattering of a few years in the lower grades of our so-called schools, economic necessity forces this girl to become a wage-slave at 13, and no other prospect lies before her. Iler only companions are girls like herself. Her training is the training of the street, rag-time music, rag-time conversation, ragtime everything. Her father is killed at his work, her mother dies of overwork, the children are scattered here and there, and Elizabeth Barry at 10 is a laundry worker at less than five dollars a week. Sixteen per cent, of all laundry workers receive less than $5 a week. Most people, I suppose, do not know what that means, is bound to mean. A plain truthful report of all the facts concerning just the girls employed in laundries would shock the nation, hard-hearted and indifferent, as it is. In one laundry in Salt Lake City, as a result of a strike a year ago. the sanitary conditions were found to be too horrible to be printed, and premature birth of so-called illegitimate children had occurred right on the floor of the laundry,
Elizabeth Barry is a woman, just as much as Elizabeth Barrett. The supreme thing in her is her sex. She is a possible mother, a possible mate, a possible sweetheart. A song of love and gratitude, and all the inexpressible happiness which breathes all through that poem of Mrs. Browning's, are just as much the natural, rightful fulfilment of this working girl, this other Elizabeth. But instead of that, she becomes a prostitute. She does not choose, she has no choice, absolutely none. That is her fate, under the existing system. Instead of sex in her finding fulfilment in a love and union that glorifies life and sheds a radiance over a whole century to come, Elizabeth Barry's sex becomes for her the only thing that can save her from starvation. The only world she knows, the only world there is for her, the only world she is permitted to know, is a world that makes it impossible for her to live by useful toil, a world which makes the sale of
her sex more profitable than the sale of her labor-power.
Here is just one little chapter of the tragedy of this world in which you and I are living. That English girl lived, had a chance to live, came to know the fulness of life, found the rich fulfilment of her nature. She had lived, and because she had lived death was robbed of all meaning or dread. No man or woman anywhere who once has lived cares a rap about death or dying, or need to. But Elizabeth Barry, and millions like her, fail utterly to live at all. Through no fault of their own, they are robbed of life, deprived of life. They are subjected to a fate which no hell ever pictured can begin to match. Our preachers and churches have spent, a good deal of time talking about a hell in some unknown future. They have spent so much time discussing that future hell, that they have totally overlooked the fact that this very earth, this Christian civilization, this society of churches and creeds and evangelists and "Men and Religion Forward Movements" and Boy Scouts and militia and soldiers and police, has got any conception of a future hell beaten to a custard. Why, hell is right here, next door to them. They ought to be able to smell it, if they can't see it. Hell, why hell is what we are living in right now. Why bother about the pale and sickly thing over which an imaginary Satan is supposed to preside?
What is the sex question ? Let me tell you right now. it isn't faintly touched, it isn't seen with a telescope by these dear sisters of our churches and charitable societies who are just now busying themselves about sex
hygiene and the like. They are doing precisely what they have always been doing, all they know how to do; putting poultices on open sores, and making not the slightest effort to remove the cause; locking the barn after the horse is stolen, doing nothing whatever to stop the making of thieves.
No. the sex question is so big, so mighty, so sacred, that no one with only the training of a church can even see it, much less solve it. It is the fundamental question of life itself. In the sex question is bound up every human right, every human possibility, every human fulfilment. And you can't deal with this sex question sanely, manfully, effectively, without finding yourselves under obligation to completely overturn this whole system of things, and build a new society from the ground up. For the sex question is rooted, not in individual tastes or whims or caprices, not in statute laws, not in bibles or creeds or religions at all, but in the economic conditions into which people are born and under which they are forced to exist and be what they are.
And I can tell you right now, without going any farther, what the solution, and the only possible solution, of the sex question is. It is knowledge of the facts, all the facts, which relate to sex or which govern the expression of sex today. We shall not change these conditions until we know what they are. And that is one of the basic purposes of these talks and of the Modern School.
We are to think tonight, especially, about the evolution of sexual morality. And let me at. the very outset correct two or three possible misconceptions. Some of you may think that evolution means change for the better. But it doesn't mean anything of the kind. It simply means change. And some may think that morality means what is divinely or eternally right. But it doesn't. There is no such thing as a divine or unchanging right. Morality means what is the prevailing custom. And the evolution of sexual morality means the changes which have taken place in the form of sexual relationship.
There are, as a matter of fact, three kinds of morality; there is traditional morality, which is simply a morality founded on the customs and teachings of the past handed down to succeeding generations; we all know what it means, because it is preserved in us all in the form of what we call conscience and works automatically. Most of us have been taught as children that some things are right and other things are wrong. It is right to go to church on Sunday, or it is wrong to go fishing on Sunday. That is an example of traditional morality. Traditional morality in all cases is a morality that is out of date. It has no application at all to the present time. On the other hand, ideal morality points to the future. It is based, not on what people did at some former time, but on what changed conditions require. For instance, as regards prostitution, traditional morality defends prostitution, not for its own sake, but as a necessity in our marriage system, while ideal morality refuses to accept
the necessity of prostitution, and looks forward to changes in the economic bases of society which will modify and diminish, and finally put an end to prostitution.
But while traditional morality and ideal morality are concerned with what people ought to do, each for a different reason, practical morality doesn't ask what people ought to do, but what they are actually doing. And for (hat reason, practical morality is the only sort of morality that can give us much useful information. The founder of the Montessori system of teaching children, Madame Montessori, declares that what we must do in regard to children is not mould them or coerce them, but study them. We know very little about them. And until we know about them, what they are, what they want, what their natures seek, what their natural bent or expression is, it is idle to talk about educating them. The first duty of the teacher is to study and know the child. In the same way, the first duty of men and women who would deal with sexual morality, or anything else, is to study the facts of sexual expression right now and here. Those facts are worth more than all the theories.
And the very first thing we discover when we undertake such a study is the fact that sexual morality has changed many times, and further still that it is now changing before our very eyes. That is to say, many widely different practices in sexual relationship and expression have prevailed, and have been called right, and nothing is more certain than that we have not yet reached the end of these changes.
Just a word about what makes actions right or wrong. Says Ilavelock Ellis: "The actions of a community are determined by the vital needs of a community under the special circumstances of its culture, time and land. When it is the general custom for children to kill their aged parents, that custom is always found to be best not only for the community, but even for the old people themselves. who desire it. The action is both theoretically and practically moral. And when, as among ourselves, the aged are kept alive, that action is also moral; it is in no wise dependent on any law or rule opposed to taking life, for we glory in the taking of life under the patriotic name of war, and are fairly indifferent to it when involved by fhe demands of our industrial system; but the killing of the aged no longer subserves any social need and their preservation ministers to our civilized emotional needs." Every land and every age has its own morality.
Really, the most important fact we can possibly know in regard to the causes of change in standards of sexual morality is this; that these standards have largely grown out of economic conditions, especially out of the prevailing form of economic production and the social forms which that naturally produces. For example, sexual morality began in savagery. That was the first form of human society, and it comprises at least nine-tenths of the whole period that man has existed on the earth. That is to say, if human history covers a hundred thousand
years, ninety thousand of them were spent by the human race in the state known as savagery. The economic form of savagery is tribal communism. All except a fewr trivial articles of clothing or ornament were the property of the tribe. The interests of all were common. In that primitive communism, sexual morality and sexual relationship were very different from anything known since. There was no marriage rite or contract. All the women of the tribe were the wives of all the men of the tribe.
But do not make the mistake of thinking that sexual practice was a matter of promiscuity. It was nothing of the kind. Taken as a whole, there has never been less promiscuity in sex relationship than under savagery, probably. There is far more of sexual promiscuity and sexual excesses and therefore sexual diseases under civilization than under any other form of social organization the world has ever known. There is very little sexual promiscuity and no sexual excesses or sexual diseases among the so-called lower animals. It is only among humans that these things are found. It is worth our while to know that.
In the free life of savagery, there was no such thing as sexual immorality. There cannot be under free conditions anywhere. Find sexual immorality anywhere, and you will find this to be true: if it is .something really bad, it is due to the fact that freedom does not exist at all. We have prostitution today in civilization because we haven't freedom, not because we have freedom. The whole vast army of hundreds of thousands of prostitutes
in this country and elsewhere are recruited from women who are not free, from women who are hopeless wage-slaves.
There is no shame in primitive savagery, no prostitution. There could not be. No woman had any reason for selling her sex. because she had all that any one else had. The only law controlling sex relations was natural law, which is altogether the best law. Natural law carries its own penalties with it.
The one thing which produced a change in sexual custom or morality was the break up of the primitive tribal communism caused by the in'roduction of private property. Just as soon as people began to accumulate property. to buy and sell things for gain, sex itself became a thing to be bought, and sold. Woman became a slave, a piece of property, after the break up of savagery. Under savagery, she was the equal of man. in some respects his superior in honor. This is the record of all primitive tribes. Hut when private property was introduced, woman became a commodity, and she is so still. And she will be a commodity and her sex as well, exactly as long as the system of private ownership of social wealth and the exploitation of man by man remains. She can no more escape it than she can escape her shadow.
Our sisters of the woman suffrage movement, sincere and earnest as they are, for the most part, are very shortsighted and one-sided. At best, they are seeking only a partial freedom. The winning of the ballot will not make them free, for it hasn't made free the men who have it
now. Eighty-three per cent, of the people of the United States are working people. It is safe to say that eighty-three per cent, of the votes are cast by working men. And yet, though they have had the franchise for over a hundred years, this eighty-three per cent, of our population are wage-slaves still, their very existence dependent upon their ability to find a master to give them a job. Our suffrage sisters are not yet fighting for the emancipation of the whole sex at all. They are seeking the emancipation of merely the property-owning part of their sex. And even if they get the ballot they cannot with the ballot touch the root of that system which compels the vast majority of women today either to remain celibates or else to make a commodity of their sex.
You may be surprised to learn, but a very little reflection will convince you of it. that we have no such thing at present as a real sexual morality. Really, one of the most significant and important movements now going on is that which is seeking to create a sexual morality. We have a morality, it is true, which is applied to this matter of sex relationship." but it is a morality that is derived from the sphere of property. This should surprise no one. Recall the fact that the opening words of the Declaration of Independence, the first public expression of the political faith of this new republic, were the assertion of human rights, the rights of life, not the rights of property. And yet, you know perfectly well that the Constitution is a political document intended to secure the rights of property, and not the rights of men
at all. And everywhere and always, in our courts and legislatures and Congress, not only the so-called rights of men, but even the interests of men, go down before the rights or interests of property. The militia of Massachusetts and the other thugs with brass buttons and clubs are beating up helpless women in Lawrence when they attempt to send their children out of the city to be cared for, why? Why have these soldiers and policemen suddenly been changed into fiends incarnate, unsurpassed in all the annals of brutality? Because they are the servants of a system which puts property above men always and everywhere. And so every commonest instinct of decency, of humanity, of everything that makes us human, is being violated for the benefit of the owners of those mills.
If you will think about it, you will see at once that the only physiological or moral basis of sexual relationship is and must be love, or at least sexual desire. But what is called and recognized far and wide today as sexual morality is based on nothing of the kind. Our sexual morality today makes contracts, arranges sexual relationships beforehand, and proposes to guarantee permanency of sexual inclination. The State puts the seal of its sanction, and the church adds what it regards as a still more solemn and binding sanction, upon a relationship between a man and woman without having the slightest idea whether love is the basis of that relationship or not. Indeed, without really inquiring whether it is or caring whether it is. The parties themselves do not know in
five eases out of ten whether love is Ihe basis of that relationship, and most of them cannot know. They can know that, in many cases, only from experience. You need not take my word for it. Look at Ihe multiplication of divorces. And you know perfectly well that for every divorce that, is sought today, there are several married people who would seek a divorce but for their dread of publicity or some other consideration. That is to say, sexual relationship in marriage today, in a large measure, is an unsatisfying, humiliating, degrading, demoralizing experience. Talk about the prostitution of the redlight district. Why, apart, from the shorter lives those women live, their lot isn't half as tragic or pitiful or degrading or horrible as that of hundreds of thousands of married women in all classes of society.
If you don't believe that, our current sexual morality is based on property considerations, consider this fact: that if a wife has sexual relations with other men or another man than her lawful husband, she commits a most serious offense: she is condemned by overy one, men and women alike. Does the same condemnation follow a similar act on the part of her husband? By no means. Why not? Because if the wife has sexual relations with other men, her husband's property might go to another man's child. But the sexual relations of the husband with other women are not followed by any such risk. As Mr. Ellis says: "Our sexual morality is in reality a bastard born of the union of property morality
with primitive ascetic morality, and in no sense out of the vital facts of sexual life."
I ask you now to think of the three forms of sexual morality which I have named in relation to the facts as we know them. First of all is the theoretical traditional morality as regards sexual relations which we associate chiefly with the church, but also with the State and with what may be called conventional society. It would perhaps seem to the average person today that the standards of sexual morality fostered and taught by the Christian Church would really be the highest and best, in existence. It has so often been claimed that the Church has done so much for women, and the Church is supposed to be the great representative of the highest morality. But when you come to examine the facts, you find that nothing of the kind is true. The Christian Church has nowhere and never given the subject of sexual relationship any study. The church and the preachers and priests of the church are the most ignorant class of people in society regarding exactly this great central fact of human life. This is not to be wondered at when you remember that the church has industriously persecuted every man who had a new idea. The church has been opposed to every movement in the direction of learning the fundamental facts about anything. Witness its attitude toward all the pioneers in the study of astronomy, geology, biology, sociology, and even physiology and psychology. The church, as a matter of fact, never has given a thoroughly serious treatment to any subject whatever. No institution which bases itself on authority can. No institution which rests on the foolish claim that all the wisdom of the world is included within the lids of one book can he a source of knowledge in any sphere of life or thought.
The church has had a mixed morality in regard to sexual matters. Theoretically, it has professed to believe in asceticism, that it is better not to marry at all, not to have any sex expression in one's life. But if people must marry, then the only sexual action that was moral or right was that, for the propagation of children. This was the doctrine of the. Catholic church. Luther went beyond that, as a compromise. For the Reformation was a compromise all through. "To the gross apprehension of the Reformation period," says Ellen Key, "the choice of a personal love meant, nothing. With marriage possible from the natural point of view alone, it might be contracted with any one; indeed, to the genuinely pious it seemed a higher thing to enter into matrimony without any earthly love, which interfered with the love of God. The Lutheran doctrine of marriage made God indulgent toward all the impurity that the sexual life shut up within the whited sepulchcrs of lawful wedlock. lie has shut his eyes to all the wife-murders that the command of fecundity involved; to all the worthless children produced by ill-matched and impure marriages. |Ie has blessed all unions entered into, even though from the lowest motives, under the most unnatural circumstances: between a sick person and a healthy one, an old and a young, a willing and an unwilling, or (wo unwilling ones, coupled together by their families. Today countless women are still being sacrificed to this doctrine of marriage, or to its unconscious effects; their exhausted wombs are a poor soil for the new generation; their crushed souls a broken support for the growth of new wills. For one woman who defends herself with the resolution lent by horror, there are thousands who have conceived and still conceive children in loathing. For one wife who is met with the modest prayer of love, there are thousands who with a feeling of humiliation concede to their proprietors the right inculcated by the Lutheran doctrine of matrimony."
The Christian church, following the lead of property interests, has exalted the virtues of monogamy—with the exception, one must say, of the Mormon Church. But the monogamy which it exalts has never existed. Indeed Ellen Key states the exact truth when she declares that "few propositions are so lacking in proof as that monogamy is the form of sexual life which is indispensable to the vitality and culture of nations. Monogamy, in the strict sense of the word, has never yet. been a reality even among the Christian nations, except for a minority of individuals; all progress that is ascribed to Christian civilization has taken place while monogamy was indeed the law, but polygamy the custom." France in the 18th century could hardly be called a monogamous nation. And yet she had sufficient vitality to determine the history of Europe by her economic, intellectual and military power.
The truth of the matter is, traditional morality has been an empty theory. It has been practical morality that has prevailed. And it is this same practical morality in the sexual relations which prevails today. In spite of the fact that church and state combine to put the ban of shame upon any sexual union not bearing Ihcir label, the records show that another law operates everywhere. It was stated by a French authority that thirty years ago in an average district nine out of ten legal marriages were the consolidation of a free union. At least half of the marriages in Paris today are said to be of that kind. Ellen Key says that the majority of the population in Sweden begin married life or sexual relations without any legal ceremony, and that marital fidelity is as great as pre-marital freedom is unbounded. In Germany it is declared that ante-nuptial conceptions take place in nearly half of the marriages, and sometimes in the majority. It is an unquestionable fact, says Prof. Bruno Meyer, that far more than the half of sexual intercourse now takes place outside of legal marriage.
I bring these facts to your attention because they are facts. Facts are worth infinitely more than theories. The method of science, by the way, is not to fit facts to theories, but to get theories from facts. The facts are the important thing. And one fact must be clear, and that is that while we humans are preaching one kind of sexual morality, or hiring preachers and moralists to do it for us, we are practicing a very different one. And we do not get rid of this fact of prevalent sexual morality
or custom or immorality, as you may wish to call it, by closing our eyes to it or by dividing the whole world intc "sheep'' and 44goats.'' There are just as good people in one class as in another. When we recall the fact that Victor Hugo lived fifty or sixty years of his life having both a legal wife and a mistress, and when we remember also that Ellen Key, for twenty years professor of the History of Civilization in the University of Sweden and one of the leading educators of the world, is the mother of two or three children though she has never submitted to a marriage ceremony, it is idle for us or any one to say that either high intellectual gifts or noble moral ideals are inconsistent with wide departures from conventional notions of sexual morality. As a matter of fact, there hasn't been a single great soul in all the history of the world, not one man or woman whose memory is capable of inspiring enthusiasm or reverence or gratitude today, who did not in some form violate the current conventional morality of his or her time. That is the only possible way of making any advance at all over worn out traditions of morality and degrading systems of conduct.
But the question -which it is alone worth while to ask is, What is the reason for this state of things? Why have we so many free unions ? Why are so many children born or conceived before marriage? Why have we a condition of practically "trial marriage" in many of the countries of Europe? It will not do to say that all these people who are practicing this kind of sexual
morality are bad, wicked, low, vile people. They are nothing of the kind. On the contrary, it is among the best men and women, among the most cultured, the most widely read, the most advanced, the most active in all progressive movements, the most admirable in every way, that this new morality as regards sex relationship is manifesting itself. We can answer these questions only as we understand something about another form of sexual morality which is now arising.
Perhaps the most conspicuous representative of this new sexual morality is Ellen Key. In her book on "Love and Marriage" she has already given her views on this subject and that book has recently been followed by still another on "The Morality of WTomen, and Other Essays." Ellen Key, to say nothing of hundreds of other intelligent people, has seen that a revaluation of all our values has become the supreme ethical necessity of life today. We are under no obligation so imperative as that of formulating a sexual morality. We can no longer accept as a moral standard of sexual relationship the ethical standards of the market for commodities. The time has come when sex must cease to be or to be regarded or treated as a commodity in any sense of the word. At least, that must be the case, or the alternative will be something which we canuot contemplate with anything but gravest dismay. I do not mean to say that the only thing necessary to do is to formulate an adequate sexual morality in theory. That is important, but alone it will be futile. And yet, the knowledge of what sex itself demands can-
not but be a help toward shaping other conditions for its realization. We can know what sexual morality is, only as we discover the deepest purpose of this sexual relationship, and what alone justifies it. This fundamental principle, as Ellen Key defines it, is this: that the only use of the sexual functions that is right or good is such as shall enhance both the life of the individual and the' life of the race. Life-enhancement—that alone can ever be the moral justification of sexual relationship or any other relationship.
That is the fine thing about this principle: it applies to anything else just as much as it applies to sex. Whatever makes life richer—the life of individuals or the life of the race—whatever makes life finer, nobler, stronger, happier, higher, that use or expression of sexual functions alone is right or good.
"The import, of the moral controversies which now arise with increasing frequency," says Ellen Key, "is the examination of the relatively higher value for real sexual morality of marriage or love."
Do you understand what that means? That is a condition which has been forced upon the world by the failure of the so-called religious and moral forces of society —the Church and the State—to know anything about the demands of sexuality, their failure to do any thinking, and their blind and stupid method of declaring right relationships which violate every instinct of sanctity that men and women know, merely because a preacher or a magistrate has said some words over two ignorant vie-tims. Legal marriage has created a certain standard, and that standard has been maintained, not by reason or justice or any such thing, but by all the cruel force of ignorant public opinion, by all the penalties of courts and prisons, and by the added threat of eternal damnation which an ignorant and cowardly Church has always been ready to furnish. And this standard has had absolutely nothing whatever to do with love. Marriage is in no sense of the word synonymous for love. Not at all. Marriage is synonymous for authority, for legality, for formality, for conventional conformity, and often for a most degrading bargain. Marriage, indeed, as the divorce records conclusively prove, has become in many cases a legalized and respectable form of prostitution, a cover under which men can—under which some men do —purchase a mistress who is also housekeeper, and enjoy the privileges of a roue without any of the obloquy such a thing invites. I don't say that all marriage is that. It isn't. There are marriages and marriages. But marriage alone does not symbolize love, does not imply love. And we all know it. And because that is true, love, in its turn, does not imply legal marriage. The new morality insists that, there must be a change in this respect, that love itself must be the absolute condition of marriage, that nothing should be recognized as marriage at all which is not based squarely on love, which does not grow out of love. That is the essence of the new sexual morality which is now asserting itself and will continue to assert itself.
The inadequate and discarded sexual morality of the Christian Church, teaching the baseless notion that man is a fallen creature, has inculcated the idea that men and women are sinners when, as they say, the flesh seems to triumph over the spirit. That is, when physical passion asserts itself in love relations. But, says Ellen Key, "it was evolutionism which first gave man courage to wonder whether he may not also be sinning when the spirit triumphs over the flesh; to ask himself whether perchance marriage did not exist for mankind, and not mankind for marriage; to assert the right of the present time to more universal experience with regard to sexual customs most favorable to the development of the race."
This movement directed toward the formulation of a new sexual morality is not the invention or the scheme of this or that individual or group of individuals. It is only one part of that world-wTide awakening, the formation, slowly and painfully, to be sure, of a growing resolution that the subordination of men and women to property interests, to the State and the Church, shall cease, and that all other things shall be subordinated to the interests and needs of human life. The time is coming when we shall no longer submit to the crucifixion of human beings on the cross of this or that conventional institution, but when we shall bend all kinds of institutions to the needs and demands of life, of happiness, of health, both for men and for women. The assumption of men of the type of Mr. Roosevelt that the sole purpose of sexual relationship or expression is to be found in
the reproduction of the species is nothing short of a calamity. Just because, under this system of economic slavery, multitudes of men and some women are treating sex either as a mere plaything or a commodity and have substituted lust for love, it does not follow by any means that, sexual expression does not have, and that sexual morality must not include, far more than the purpose of reproduction. On the contrary, the use of sexual relationships for nothing except the reproduction of the species is itself a profanation of life, is itself a violation of nature and a defeat of the noblest possibilities of human beings. The only significance sex has in the lower forms of life is the reproduction of the species. And animal instinct confines its expression to that single purpose. But what a shallow and contemptible conception it is of human life to suppose that sexuality in men and women means no more than sexuality in a bug or a fly or a mouse! It is no more imperative that we recognize the fact that the function of the brain in man has been almost infinitely raised above the level of the function of brain in the lower animals, than it is to recognize the fact that the function of sex in man is also raised almost infinitely above the function of sex in the lower animals. That asceticism which would so violate human life as to teach that human sexuality means no more, has no more service to perform in our life than that of keeping alive our species, would try to smother the sacredest possibilities of character and growth and spiritual attainment. What is needed today is not a revamping of some old
and baseless asceticism, but a positive gospel of joy, of fulfilment, of sacredness, of noblest possibility and necessity in the sexual relations of men and women. As Ellen Key says: "The new love is still the natural attraction of man and woman to each other for the continuance of the race. It is still the desire of the active human being to relieve through comradeship the hardships of another and of himself at the same time. But above this eternal nature of love, beyond this primeval cause of marriage, another longing has grown with increasing strength. This is not directed toward the continuance of the race. It has sprung from man's sense of loneliness within his race, a loneliness which is ever greater in proportion as his soul is exceptional. It is the pining for that other soul which is to release our own from this torment of solitude; a torment which was formerly allayed by repose in God, but which now seeks its rest with an equal, with a soul that has itself lain wakeful with eyelids heated from the same longing; a soul empowered by love to the miracle of redeeming our soul —as itaelf by ours is redeemed—from the sense of being a stranger upon earth; a soul before whose warmth our own lets fall the covering that the world's coldness has imposed upon it and shows its secrets and its glories without shame.
"An ever greater number know that love is the absorption into that spirit, in which one's own finds its foothold without losing its freedom; the nearness of that heart, which stills the disquiet in our own; that atten-five ear which catches what is unspoken and unspeakable; the clear sight of those eyes which see the realization of our best possibilities; the touch of those hands, which, dying, we would feel closed on our own."
This new sexual morality is not to be realized by any miracle. No intellectual or moral crusade will put us in possession of it. No economic revolution will create it over night. Economic revolution, by which all kinds of slavery are abolished and all kinds of mastership, will indeed be the ground upon which the structure of this new morality for all can safely be erected. But discipline, control, experience, education and years of striving will be necessary to its fulfilment. But its realization is demanded alike by all the needs of a higher and better race of human beings as well as by the deepest demands of the human soul itself. Not only the interests of childhood, but those of manhood and womanhood, absolutely require the realization of this new morality of sexual relationship.
Published Lectures by William Thurston Brown;
Will You Have War or Peace t A Plain Question to
Capitalist Society ................................32pp. 10c
Is Humanity Hungering for God! The Answer of History and Social Science...........................32pp. 10c
What Socialism Means as a Philosophy and as a Movement ...........................................32pp. 10c
Walt Whitman: Poet of the Human Whole............32pp. 15c
Socialism and the Individual.. ........................32pp. 15c
The Church and Human Progress.....................32pp. 10c
The Hell of War: Who Pays the Bills.................32pp. 10c
The Revolutionary Proletariat. (In preparation)......32pp. 10c
Love and Marriage Series:
L The Evolution of Sexual Morality.............32pp. 15c
II. Love's Freedom and Fulfilment..............32pp. 15c
III. The Moral Basis of the Demand for Free Divorce ....................................32pp. 15c
IV. Economic and Ethical- Conditions of Marital Happiness. (In preparation) ...............,32pp. 15c
These booklets will be sent postpaid at prices here indicated: When ordered by the hundred, ten cent books will be sent, express prepaid at $6.00 per " hundred; fifteen cent books, $8.00 per hundred -
'The Modern School" or William Thurston Brown
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is the most important condition
U HE happiness of the individual
also for the enhancement of the race.
"The word, which through Eros became flesh and dwells among us, is the profoundest of all: Joy is perfection.'' >_
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