The Marquis de Sade and the question of population

By Jean-Marc Rohrbasser, Jacques Véron, Bernard Cohen

In four major texts written between 1795 and 1799 (Aline et Valcour, Histoire de Juliette, La Nouvelle Justine, and La Philosophie dans le boudoir), Sade shows a keen interest in the question of population. He develops something approaching a coherent system, in which ‘propagation of the human species’ is considered an impediment to well-being, both for the individual and for society as a whole. Sade contends that no effort should be spared to limit human ‘propagation’, arguing that the species holds no exceptional status in nature. Child abandonment, infanticide, sodomy, and abortion are presented as checks on population. Further, like Malthus at the same time, Sade fears an increase in the numbers of the poor; he expresses outright hostility to any efforts to relieve their condition. Whatever the excesses of Sade’s characters, the ideas articulated in their ‘disquisitions’, owing to their coherence and originality, warrant serious examination. Whereas for Malthus the principle of population ultimately justifies moral restraint, for Sade, the pursuit of pleasure must always prevail. The Sadean theory of population is founded on the dialectic between destruction and creation.

  • Sade
  • nature
  • materialism
  • pleasure
  • vice
  • human propagation
  • sexuality
  • libertinage
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