Wednesday, February 20, 2013

C8.  Homosexuality is typically an aristocratic vice and is generally absent from the common person - unless suborned by money or favors.

A .  The Charge.  Over the centuries, indulgence in homosexual behavior has been more prevalent among wealthy, privileged people than among ordinary folk.  There are two main schools of thought on this phenomenon.  The predilection could be a) hereditary and constitutional; or b) cultural and environmental.

The hereditary approach claims that through inbreeding the aristocratic stock has become effete and degenerate.  This factor has been explored by such perceptive writers as Joris-Karl Huysmans, Max Nordau, and Marcel Proust. 

The other approach, emphasizing culture and environment, notes that the wealthy and privileged tend to pamper themselves with all sorts of indulgences including fancy meals, liqueurs, and prostitutes of either the opposite or the same sex.  In order to satisfy their blood lusts and other proclivities, they prey on the working class. Feigning unawareness of the consequences of their behavior, they turn a blind eye to conscience or regret. Their soulless aim is to use their money and privilege to corrupt innocent youth. This deplorable pattern was ornately illustrated by the careers of Lord Alfred Douglas and his partner in crime, the playwright, poet, and epigramist Oscar Wilde. 

Education (classical studies and travel in particular) acquaints privileged classes with “variant” forms of sexual behavior.  This background encourages them in their folly that they can yield to this indulgence with impunity.  In addition, the confinement of young men in one-sex schools, as in England, has tended to encourage such deviance.

B.  Historical Background.  In reality, little meaningful study has been accomplished on the role that class differences play in the incidence of same-sex behavior. The findings of the first Kinsey Report (1948), which appeared to show greater prevalence of homosexuality among the less educated, have been criticized, because of the large proportion of prisoners included, individuals who tend to be poor and disadvantaged.

In the absence of concrete data, stereotypes have flourished.

The notion of homosexuality as a distinctively aristocratic vice has a considerable history. In the seventeenth century Sir Edward Coke attributed the origin of sodomy to "pride, excess of diet, idleness and contempt of the poor." The noted English jurist was in fact offering a variation on a formula found in the prophet Ezekiel (16:49). This accusation reflects the perennial truism that wealth, idleness, and lust tend to go together - a cluster summed up in the Latin term luxuria. Sometimes the view is expressed that the confirmed debauchee, having run through virtually the whole gamut of sexual sins, turns to sodomy as a last resort to revive a jaded appetite.

A forerunner of this thought complex appears in the ancient Greek comedies of Aristophanes (ca. 450-385 BCE), who satirized the pederastic foibles of Athenian politicians and dandies. In the first century of our era, the Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria regarded Sodom as the archetype of the link between homosexuality and luxury: "The inhabitants owed this extreme license to the never-failing lavishness of their sources of wealth. . . . Incapable of bearing such satiety, plunging like cattle, they threw off from their necks the law of nature, applied themselves to deep drinking of strong liquor... dainty feeding and forbidden forms of intercourse."

The scholastic theologian Albertus Magnus (d. 1280) held that the vice of sodomy was "more common in persons of high station than in humble persons." This impression reflects in part the greater visibility of the doings of the privileged, and also the fact that, through their status or influence, the nobility could frequently escape with a reprimand for the commission of crimes which were subject to capi­tal punishment when committed by commoners. This aspect of class justice has fueled social envy, leading to the demand on the part of the straitlaced middle class that the aristocracy be disciplined and compelled to adhere to the narrow canons of petty bourgeois morality.

In England the claim that homosexuality was an aristocratic failing fell together with the prejudice that the predilection for the behavior was of foreign derivation; the fondness of the noble lords for the Grand Tour of the continent brought them into contact with the vice - which they then conveyed to England, where it was supposedly not native. A curious episode of this phase of British social history was the Macaroni Club, an association of cosmopolites formed in London about 1760 to banquet on that exotic cuisine. Their foppish, extravagant dress was regarded as bordering on transvestism. This fashion explains an otherwise mysterious allusion in an American song of the period: "Yankee Doodle came to town/upon a little pony;/ he stuck a feather in his hat/and called it macaroni" (1767). The colonial dandy's attempt to play the exquisite exposed him to the danger of ridicule as a milquetoast - or worse.

The stereotype of aristocratic vice has a sequel in the early twentieth-century Marxist notion that the purported increase of homosexuality in modem industrial states stems from the decadence of capitalism; in this view the workers fortunately remain psychologically healthy and thus untainted by the debilitating proclivity. In the Krupp and von Moltke-Eulenburg scandals in Germany in 1903-08, journalists of the socialist press did their best to inflame their readership against the unnatural vices of the aristocracy, which were bringing the nation to the brink of ruin.

In the late nineteenth century, homosexual vanguard writers such as Edward Carpenter and John Addington Symonds maintained an opposing thesis. They held that it was precisely the fact that gay contacts tended to link the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, that made them suited to advancing democracy and the social integration of previously antagonistic classes.

While gay men like Carpenter and Symonds have idolized the working class, others do just the opposite. These people are fascinated by the doings of members of the British and European nobility, especially the royals.  A recent instance of this penchant was the massive outpouring of grief among gay men over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales,who died in a car accident in Paris on August 31, 1997.

C. Response.  Class differences persist in these our modern times.  Yet film and television, together with popular music, are helping to promote a common culture. Coeducational schools are now the norm.  With the fading of overt class markers, the problem of the “aristocratic vice” seems merely historical,

BIBLIOGRAPHY.  Matt Cook, ed., A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men since the Middle Ages, Oxford: Greenwood, 2007.


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