Sunday, April 29, 2012

Classical Liberalism's Gay Past?

Is classical liberal history devoid of gay people? Given the prominence of gay people in the modern libertarian movement, it would be odd indeed if this were the situation. But, as it often the case with the histories of the private lives of individuals living in intolerant eras, it is harder to document such relationships. I would like to suggest two gay couples in the history of classical liberal thought. The first is that of Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) and Felix Coudroy (unknown to me). The second is that of Etienne de la Boétie (1530-1563) and Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592).

I'm relatively sure, that Frederic Bastiat was probably gay. He married, but in a very odd way. The woman was wealthy and he needed the funds at the time for the family property. They married and then basically never saw one another after that, she pretty much disappears from his life. I believe he may have written her some notes now and then, but they never live together as man and wife. It was a property arrangement, as was often the case for the more wealthy individuals of the time.

When Bastiat was at home in Mugron he spent every day with Coudroy, and when he was away he wrote Coudroy regularly. His entire adult life revolved around Coudroy (in person when possible, by letter when not). Beth Hoffman, at FEE, told me she had the same conclusion in reading all the material they had regarding Bastiat.

There is little to nothing written about Bastiat and Coudroy and their possible relationship. But there much in regard to Etienne de La Boétie and Michel de Montaigne. Montaigne was forced into an arranged marriage, again it was property that dominated as his was an aristocratic family. It was Discourses that brought 18-year-old Etienne to Montaigne's attention. Montaigne said he had a special fondness for the piece because it was the piece that made him aware of Etienne.

Some have tried to rewrite history in order to attach La Boétie to their own brand of anarchism, but the man was no anarchist. He and Montaigne met in person because of their mutual work for the Bordeaux Parlement. La Boétie position was secured by royal appointment. He favored only limited religious freedom, claiming that to allow Protestants and Catholics to both have worship services in public would undermine the crown. And part of his duties was to visit plays as a censor. Montaigne was appointment the Parlement as well. And, then was courtier at the court of Charles IX until 1563, the year La Boétie died.

Harry Kurz of La Boétie and Montaigne: "This relationship was so extraordinary that its like will not be seen more than once in three centuries." Beryl Schlossman wrote: "La Boétie became Montaigne's ideal and intimate friend; without exaggerating, one could call him Montaigne's great love."

Montaigne was unusual in that other material he wrote mentioned marriages performed for gay couples in Rome. Montaigne was at the bedside when Etienne died (age 33). Montaigne wrote of it: "Since the time I lost him...I do languish, I do but sorrow... I was so accustomed to be ever two, so inured to be never single, that I think I am but half myself."

Montaigne argued that true friendship was not possible between men and women. And he wrote pfthe ideal male friendship: "Doubtless, if without a formal marriage contract, there could be such a free and voluntary familiarity contracted, where not only the souls might have this entire fruition, but the bodies also might share in the alliance, and a man be engaged throughout, the friendship would certainly be more full and perfect." His comment that the bodies "might share in the alliance" of this friendship does seem rather clear, at least as to what he considered ideal. But, given the time of the writing (1580) he noted that such "Grecian license" is "abhorred by our mores."

He did, however, oppose relationships between unequals, which was the foundation of much ancient homosexual relationships: unequal in status (Rome) or age (Greece). Montaigne believed in love between equals. He wrote: "Since it (Greek love) involved, according to their practice, such a necessary disparity in age and such a difference in the lovers' functions, it did not correspond closely enough with the perfect union and harmony that we require here...."

Of their first meeting Montaigne wrote: "At our first meeting, which was accidentally at a great city entertainment, we found ourselves so mutually taken with one another, so acquainted, and so endeared betwixt ourselves, that from thenceforward nothing was so near to us as one another."

He wrote: "If one were to press me to say why I loved him, I feel this cannot be expressed; it seems to me that there is, beyond all my discourse and all that I can say about it, I know now what dive and fatal force, mediatrix of this union. It is not one special consideration, nor two, nor three, nor four, nor a thousand. It is I know not what quintessence of all this mixture which, having seized all my will, led it to plunge and lose itself in his. I say lose in truth, leaving it nothing that was its or its own."

Now, the evidence of a romantic relationship between Montaigne and La Boétie is strong. Whether it was sexual is far more difficult to establish—as it would be given the times. While the love and equality and mutuality might be discussed, anything sexual would not be given airing given penalties of law. But, even in written form Montaigne seems to suggest that the idea was not adverse to him as the "bodies also might share in the alliance."

Interestingly, according to Montaigne, at his death Etienne, dismissed the priest who arrived to give him last rites. He said, “I protest that as I have been baptized as I have lived, so I want to die in the faith and religion which Moses first planted in Egypt, which the patriarchs then received in Judea, and which, from hand to hand, in the progress of time, has been brought into France.” This indicates he was a Marrano, a Jew whose family had been forced to convert to Catholicism. This is interesting as Montaigne’s maternal grandfather, Pedro Lopez, was also a Sephardic Jew who was forced to convert to Catholicsm, though it believe Montaigne was unaware of this himself.

The copious writings of Montaigne about La Boétie and himself are an advantage we don't have in regards to Bastiat. Bastiat, to a large extent, is a blank. We know his writings and his political activities. But his personal is rarely discussed. So one must be careful, but the relationship with Coudroy is, at the very least, very suggestive of a romantic involvement, and there is no evidence of any other romance in Bastiat's life.

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