1980s Anti-Porn Crusaders: Smut Caused the French Revolution

1980s Anti-Porn Crusaders: Smut Caused the French Revolution February 7, 2019

While writing about the 1980s anti-pornography campaign yesterday, I noticed a curious passage in the pornography section of Tim LaHaye’s 1983 The Battle for the Public Schools, on page 145:

Consider the following case in history. Every schoolchild used to learn that the plotters of the French Revolution (forerunners of the humanists) worked for years to destroy the morals of France. The country was flooded with pornographic literature; politicians were corrupted; faith in God was vigorously attacked by French skeptics; and the people were led into an abnormal obsession with sex.

In this case, LaHaye mangles something that actually happened, because he is seemingly unaware of the existence of what is called “political pornography.” Leading up the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette was portrayed as—for lack of a better word—a “loose woman” in sexually explicit pamphlets and literature. And this literature, yes, played a role in undermining the regime.

But those producing pornographic literature featuring Marie Antoinette were not working “to destroy the morals of France.” They were working to undermine the regime by portraying the regime as vulgar and sex-obsessed. There’s a big difference.

Remember, LaHaye uses the example of the French Revolution to claim that this is what is happening in the U.S. today. LaHaye equates sex education with pornography and argues that organized forces are feeding pornography to the nation’s youth (p. 150):

Many knowledgeable parents and taxpayer view this current sex-education assault on the minds and morals of our nations’ children as the result of a national conspiracy. They suggest the the entire package … originated as a means of so demoralizing our youth with a sexual obsession that they would lose interest in patriotism and defending their country. Consequently, they would be ripe for a Communist or humanist or one-world takeover. Whether such a plot was supposed to originate in the Kremlin, Stockholm, Manhattan Island, or the Rockefeller Center is unclear.

This is what makes the French Revolution example so odd—a Communist attempt to take over the U.S. using similar methods would involve political pornography featuring, perhaps, U.S. presidents and other political leaders—portraying them as vulgar and uncouth and sex-obsessed. Even if sex education were pornographic—and LaHaye’s assertions are not exactly what I would call trustworthy—I’ve never heard allegations that sex education involves making a fool out of U.S. Senators or Congressmen.

Interestingly, I came upon a similarly curious passage in Jerry Falwell’s 1980 book, Listen America! Here, on page 174:

When the Nazis took Poland in 1939 they flooded the bookshelves with pornography. They theory was that they would make individuals conscious of only their personal and sensual needs and thus render them more submissive to the oppression to come. The Nazis knew what moral decay would do to a people. We Americans are ripe for oppression.

Because there’s actually something behind LaHaye’s seemingly bizarre claim (albeit something he doesn’t actually understand), I spent some time googling this. I found a number of references to it, though much information is in Polish. What I’ve read suggests that the Nazis did think that proliferating pornography (as well as alcohol) would keep the Polish population docile. In addition, some references said the Nazis cracked down on all Polish cultural production except productions that were pornographic, which they invited foreign observers to attend in order to spread the notion that Polish culture was low and degraded.

Falwell misses the entirety of the situation—he overlooks the Nazi desire to portray Polish culture as uncouth. But Falwell also gets part of the story correct—it appears that the Nazis did believe that easily available pornography would make the Poles docile. The problem with Falwell’s use of this illustration to prove his point, though, is that the Nazis were wrong. Whatever they did or did not do to spread porn (or alcohol), it didn’t work. The Poles were anything but docile. They put up a strong resistance.

These claims are fascinating in part because they were not necessary. Anti-pornography crusaders could have argued simply that pornography is immoral, or that it creates moral decline, absent claims that it makes populations ripe for oppression and political upheaval. But then, it was the 1980s. Perhaps tying by tying concern about pornography to Cold War fears, anti-porn crusaders were able to more effectively bring it to national attention. Then again, such claims may have worked only with their base, who most shared their Cold War anxiety, while making their anti-pornography campaign sound like deprived ranting to others.

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