Does the moral character of an orgy change when its participants wear Nazi uniforms?

[This question was included on a recent Examination Fellowship paper for admission to All Souls College, University of Oxford]

Everything in the world is about sex, except for sex, which is about power.’ – Oscar Wilde

nazis

Max Mosley, son of British fascist leader Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford, and former president of the Formula 1 governing body FIA, gave both the mass media and anthropological sciences a bit of a talking point when the News of the World reported in 2008 (apparently falsely) that he had taken part in a Nazi-themed orgy. Two court victories, connected in part with the Murdoch-Empire phone hacking scandal, rescinded the newspaper’s claims. But the legacy of the matter has thrown up several theoretical questions concerning the connection between sex, power and gender identity, to the extent that All Souls College, Oxford, whose members are entirely fellows (not undergraduates) and are elected by means of examination, included this title question on one of its recent entrance papers. It is the thesis of this article that, by drawing from ideas such as Oscar Wilde’s assertion above on the relationship between sex and power, in an abstract sense, a Nazi theme makes little difference to the moral character of an orgy because of the gendered anthropological connection between sexual domination and the political orientation of Nazism (specifically, German Nazism).

Sex as a Power Relation

Given the somewhat ‘irrationality’ of love, it is important to define sex as removed from the human (debatably?) social concept of love; i.e. sex as an entirely carnal phenomenon. It can also be given that, seeing as the discussion of sex in this context is between more than two people, that love in the ‘kinship’ or ‘friendship’ manner cannot be particularly apparent in an orgy. If, thus, sex is removed from genuine love, what is sexual desire? Is it a means of intensifying reproductive frequency? After all, if a woman of childbearing ability has sex with several men at once, her chances of conceiving are logically higher than if she stuck to monogamous sex. Separately, can sex be conceptualised as an extension of social relations based on gender or other forms of segregation (such as social or political class)?

If one discerns sex in this last way, several interesting ideas come to light, highlighted by the radical academic feminist movement which took part in the so-called ‘sex wars’ of the 1970s and 1980s (and continue in various forms today). Scholars such as Catharine MacKinnon have brought anthropological feminist theory to sexual relations, suggesting that the domineering nature of modern sexual fantasy (as evidential in much pornography, and in some social studies into the sexual desires/fantasies of both men and women) reveals sex as a relationship of power. This power, specifically, is wielded by men over women; more specifically, the male over the female. For instance, sex, in everyday language, is commonly defined by male rather than female pleasure (e.g. the end of a sexual encounter as the instance of male orgasm), and can be related to semi-Marxist notions of gender divide in socioeconomic structures; i.e. the Western tradition of a male breadwinner ­vis-à-vis a childbearing female. Sex, MacKinnon argues, reinforces and, in fact, diversifies this gender divide, and highlights the distinct power relations at work between men and women in a very carnal sense. MacKinnon in fact takes this notion further by arguing that patriarchy, which stems in part from sexual domination, is a consequence of class relations and private property. (The second ever publication on this website was in fact concerned with the connection between capital and patriarchy, see http://wp.me/p3g0mz-e).

Hence, sex is fundamentally about power, even when the ‘irrationality’ of love (which, in the traditional sense, only helps to reinforce the structures of patriarchy, given the biological nature of childbearing) is brought into the matter. How, then, do these sexual power relations play out in an orgy, and what difference does a Nazi theme make to them?

Sexual Power in an Orgy

In this anthropological sense, an orgy is quite a strange concept, because it defies the boundaries set, not by monogamy, but by the logical assertion that a male-defined sexual encounter is just between one man and one woman. An orgy, of course, could be between many men and women, or indeed, between just men or just women. Regardless, the ‘traditional’ Marxist power relations, as conceptualised by MacKinnon are blurred somewhat. Still, there is theory to suggest that the domineering nature of sex, especially, but not excusive to heterosexual sex, prevails in an orgy.

An orgy is fundamentally about sexual – perhaps carnal – desire (which, as explained, is concerned with gender power) as opposed to love, again perhaps most logically from the male point of view. Love is generally accepted, not universally admittedly, as monogamous (or at least, that is what social conventions tell us about love). Therefore, an orgy can be said to cut love out of the equation. The male, then, could be said to take part in order to exert his power over other members of the group, and the more the merrier. Is an orgy, thus, simply a greater opportunity for the male to reinforce notions of patriarchy, even if other men take part as well, and even if he partakes in homosexual encounters? Let us take this to be the case.

Male power is thus exerted most effectively through sex, and through as much sex with as many people as possible, for the exact reason that modern sex is conceptualised in a male-dominated format. Power, then, reverberates around the proverbial sex dungeon (as the News of the World termed Mosley’s basement) in distinct favour of the male participants (or, in an entirely female orgy, those women ‘giving’ the pleasure). This discussion, without laying any judgements on the reader or revealing the libido of the author, has taken place on the basis of a naked group of people. Let us now throw in some extremist politics in the form of costume.

Nazism and Sexual Power

SSAllgTunic200Nazism as a political ideology draws from concepts such as scientific racism and social Darwinism, which developed into intense nationalism and confused notions of socialism and fascism (too many ‘isms’, see Ferris Bueller for the dangers of the overuse of ‘ism’), most famously in Germany but also in other parts of Europe during the early twentieth century. The theoretical basis of Nazism is not perhaps as useful to this discussion as the material manifestation of the ideology. Notably, the uniform of a German Nazi SS soldier: a black or dark green coat with a black collar, and a red band around the left upper arm denoting the black swastika on a white circle (see left). This famous image conjures connotations of domination and absolute power – just two of the many characteristics of fascist politics – and both of which, in different levels of intensity admittedly, appear in the dynamic of an orgy.

How, then, if sex is concerned with power, and the orgy is an effective encounter by which to exert power, does Nazism relate to such ideas? In effect, the moral character of an orgy is not changed at all if its participants wear Nazi uniforms, because all such costumes do is intensify the already domineering nature of the sexual encounter. In this sense, sex and politics combine: the common Nazi solider, in popular historical culture (not necessarily universal fact), was brutal and authoritarian. The projection of the male in modern sexual culture, as argued by MacKinnon and others, is much the same – be it without the political nuances of anti-Semitism and mass murder. Hence, it could be considered only ‘natural’ that male (straight, perhaps) participants in an orgy wish to enhance the image of their power to the extent of wearing costumes associated with such acts of atrocity.

The complications come when Nazi uniforms are worn by all group members, or perhaps just women in a mixed-sex orgy. Still, it could be argued that a man wishing to be dominated in such as manner held fantasies that equally uphold the dichotomy between the male and female sexual forms. It does not necessarily change any relational norms, the point being that Nazism holds a direct connection to power, as does sex, regardless of which gender appears to be dominant.

Conclusion

It is admitted that sex has been conceptualised in a very particular manner in this article, ignoring the dynamic of, firstly, natural sex for the purposes of conception, and secondly, sexual love between two individuals for the purposes of maintaining a monogamous relationship. However, given the psychological and emotional ideas required to study these dynamics, it can be useful to reduce sex to an abstract concept of power – i.e. sex for the sake of satisfying a libido. Oscar Wilde, whose own sexual history is perhaps a complicated story in itself, was onto something when he said that ‘everything in the world is about sex, except for sex, which is about power’. This assertion suggests that Mosley’s (debated) desire to take part in a Nazi orgy was not as crazy as the News of the World may have made out. It is therefore concluded that, given the structural dynamic of an orgy, the addition of Nazism makes little difference to its moral character.

 

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One thought on “Does the moral character of an orgy change when its participants wear Nazi uniforms?

  1. In fairness to Mosley, after detailed examination of the evidence, including testimony from the four women involved, the High Court found there was no truth in the News of the World’s Nazi allegation.

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