Stoics and Romance

This essay was among the first I published when I began keeping an Internet Journal back in 2003. I thought it curious to see what had changed and what was the same. I was particularly interested to note that, while I was a diehard Atheist, I was not enamored of that meretricious and disgusting libertinism which is the leitmotif of our era. This is a position to which I was slowly and reluctantly forced by the logic of Stoic doctrine, very much against my own inclinations, and decidedly against my upbringing, which was modern.

It is a commonplace of the Leftists that the only motive for men to be chaste and decent in sexual matters is either the superstitions of religion or the suppressed hypocrisy of neurosis. Here below is at least one example to show that facile rhetoric to be a lie.

Stoics and Romance

Posted on May 14, 2003 by John C Wright

Stoicism, as far as I have read, is mute on the issue of the morality of romance, except for certain brief and severe injunctions to avoid indecorous conduct. Perhaps the stern old Roman writers thought the matter was too obvious for more exposition.

It is impossible to believe the Stoics could have approved of the libertine doctrines of the libertarians, or thought the sexual revolution was anything but the overthrow of the monarch Reason by a mob of rebel appetites. If moderation and temperance are virtues, than mere pleasure is not a sufficient excuse for anything.

If good fortune or bad should keep the moderate man away from his wine-glass or his wife’s kisses for a time, he does not grieve: but the drunkard kept from his wine is tormented. The adulterer would not seek to embrace another man’s wife unless either his passion were so violent and uncontrolled that his fidelity means nothing in contrast; or he is so light-hearted and false to being with, that he never meant his marriage vows even when he took them.

It is seem incredible to any modern reader that our fathers once took sex so seriously that they would not permit it to anyone but him who had vowed eternal love to one perfect woman, his mate, and the vow was meant in all seriousness to restrict the wild lusts into a creative and reproductive use, so that love would produce only more love, and not, as it does today, hatred, indifference, broken hearts, fatherless children. The modern view of sex is dull and unromantic because it is so pathetically immoderate.

All that aside, for this essay it need merely be noted that the moderate man is concerned mainly with self-control, and if he woos and wins a wife, and remains faithful to his love, or if he loves and looses his beloved, but keeps his faithfulness and chastity intact, his virtue is the same. In other words, whether fate is kind or unkind, the praise owed a moderate man for his moderation is the same. Cupid is a willful and naughty god, and it is most unwise to place one’s happiness in his hands.

This point merits further emphasis. We are contrasting what a virtuous man would blame or praise a man for, versus what a modern worldly man would do. The virtuous man would praise an athlete for his sportsmanlike conduct whether the sportsman won or lost the game: worldly man would praise only the winner, and care a tinker’s damn for whether the winner was sportsmanlike or not.

The virtuous man would praise Penelope’s faithfulness to Odysseus, whether or not the hero (less faithful, one must note: just ask Calypso) returns home to Ithaca. Compare that with the modern and worldly notion that Don Juan or James Bond is the exemplar of proper sexual conduct: the worldly man will hoot and mock the would-be Don Juan when that famous lover cannot win the heart, and demean the body, of some fair virgin.

Picture the admiration of a teenage boy for James Bond’s animal magnetism: now try to imagine that same admiration directed toward James Bond if the Bond Girls were wise enough or proud enough to insist on donning a wedding ring before doffing their panties. If Bond cannot bed the girl, the teenage will mock him, not admire. The teen only cares about results. But the admiration Penelope is owed is unchanged, whether Odysseus is true or not, returns home or not.

Bond would be no more than a clown in a world where all women acted like Penelope, or, better yet, acted like Eve of Milton’s Paradise Lost, whose “innocence and virgin modesty, Her virtue, and the conscience of her worth, That would be wooed, and not unsought be won” does not allow her to yield in blushing submission to any man of lesser stature than Adam himself, and, even at that, only after sweet and amorous delay, will she “with obsequious majesty approve” his pleaded reason.

Let Bond be just as charming, just as debonair, charismatic and cool as Sean Connery can make him: but if the Bond Girls were “conscious of their worth”, and will not give away the pleasures of their wedding night prematurely to the man who has not earned the right, then there is nothing in the character of the charming playboy to admire.

The teen’s admiration for Bond is like the admiration for a bold and dashing highwayman or debonair pirate, the gentleman-thief who appears in popular literature: the fact that he is doing what is forbidden is the source of the admiration.

If Bond were wooing a woman he intended to wed, he’s not cool any more. Only the supposed existence of a class of nubile and curvaceous females ready, willing, and able to deliver their most intimate pleasures to a strange but good-looking slab of male meat during a one-night fling makes such a character possible. In the real world, girls who look like Bond Girls usually have boyfriends already.

To the worldly man, women are not queens to be won by great deeds and poetic words: they are fish to be caught by a fisherman. The virtuous man wants a chaste fiancée because he wants a chaste wife; the worldly man does not want a wife at all, and a chaste beloved is merely, to him, the fish that got away.

This is particularly true if the beloved thinks well enough of her own value, that she will not surrender herself to any man less than her own true love, and wise enough to be suspicious of a boy who vows true love beneath her balcony by moonlight but balks at vowing it before an altar, before the eyes of the world.

The worldly man insults all womankind, by regarding them as fish to be lured, but tossed back with a shudder when his momentary pleasure has been exhausted: the worldly woman insults herself more grievously than this, by regarding herself as worth no more than a fish, and advertising to the world that she deserves no more consideration than a momentary exploitation.

Astonishing that this doctrine, so hateful to women, has been propounded under the incredible shibboleth that demeaning women makes them the equal of man. Horrors! My wife is a goddess among women, and I was in my right senses when I bent my knee to ask her hand in marriage: if I am now her lord and master, it is because she used the divine power granted by the winged god of love to elevated me to her Olympian stature. Most young men suffer from testosterone poisoning, and chase fair beauties where they find them, like satyrs in a rut. Far more incompetent than most lusty boys, I was nonetheless maddened by lust at that age. For my fair wife to be “the equal” of the rude and lusty boy I was would have been to demean her. I cannot see the great attraction of toppling the idol from her pedestal, if the only place to topple her into the gutter.