Hedonism is a concept that has always fascinated me, in simple terms, hedonism means pleasure seeking. To the hedonists, pleasure or happiness has the highest value which shall be maximised against pain. Essentially, hedonists are individualist utilitarians who focuses on the self rather than a collective. So is there limit of pleasure seeking? In Objectivist terms that would mean not trampling your rights over others, otherwise it is not a right. But there is an extreme form of hedonism called libertinism that disregards any ethical constraints in favour of the sensuality.
There were many proponents of libertinism in France (given the French sounding of the term and origin), perhaps the most influential of the libertines was Marquis de Sade (2 June 1740 – 2 December 1814), famous of being the origin of the word sadism which means acting violently for sexual gratification. Marquis de Sade had 4 notable works, the first being The 120 Days of Sodom which tells a story of 4 of the most powerful elite abducted 46 boys and girls and subject them to extreme sexual and physical abuses. It was not published in his life time. His second novel was milder than the first called Justine which described the sexual abuse of a virtuous young woman in pre-revolutionary France. His third book was probably his magnum opus, Philosophy of the Bedroom which discussed the libertine philosophy in great details, albeit mixing it with a sexually explicit story. Lastly, he wrote Juliette, a sequel and contrast to Justine, which tells the story of Justine’s sister in a criminal rampage.
While I obviously reject the libertine philosophy, it is nevertheless fascinating to see his criticism of the powerful elites, censorship and the danger of ignoring morality. The reason why I am bringing up libertinism is because I want to address the baseless woozle effect some people have heard about Ayn Rand’s fascination with serial killer William Hickman. Dr. Diana Hsieh has a good explanation on the misconception. But what Ayn Rand did say regarding William Hickman was that she used the Hickman’s character as a basis for an unfinished story about a man committing a murder against a corrupt priest, obviously Marion Parker was not a corrupt priest but his crime did inspire a story for her. We have to remember that this happened when Ayn Rand was only 22 (which is my age now), she was still exploring her very own philosophy. Even if she may have deemed the destruction of a collectivist would be moral based on the horror she has experienced in Soviet Russia, we know that she has changed her stance later on when she coined the term second-hander. Maybe she was influenced by libertinism or maybe not, but we know she rejected this notion of subjective whims in favour of objective values when her theory was better developed.
Libertinism has many influences in the arts, such as Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini whose films have unrestrained sexuality and violence, he also directed the notorious film adaptation of The 120 Days of Sodom; Nagisa Oshima‘s In the Realm of the Senses; Antonin Artaud developed theatre of cruelty to shock the audience emotionally much like how de Sade shocked the readers with vivid imagery, this further influenced new French extremism. Last by not the least, Filmmaker, comedian, artist John Waters is heavily influenced by de Sade, though his films have a comical tone but contain extreme violence, gratuitous nudity, explicit sexuality and general degeneracy. Interestingly, John Waters’ libertine ideal channelled to positive outlets such as conflict of the normal and deviant groups of the society (Cry-baby, A Dirty Shame, Pecker, Hairspray, Cecil B. Demented), criticism of the uptight (Female Trouble, Polyester, Serial Mom) and the quest for better life (Multiple Maniacs, Desperate Living) and the futility of fame chasing (Pink Flamingos). Among other leftist philosophers, we can see Foucault‘s hebephilia and de beauvoir and Sartre‘s promiscuity being part of the influences of de Sade’s libertinism.