A Problem in Modern Ethics/Chapter IV



Carlier's book deals with the external aspects of inverted sexuality, as this exists in Paris under the special form of prostitution. The author professes to know nothing more about the subject than what came beneath his notice in the daily practice of his trade as a policeman. He writes with excusable animosity. We see at once that he is neither a philosopher by nature, nor a man of science, but only a citizen, endowed with the normal citizen's antipathy for passions alien to his own. Placed at the head of the Bureau of Morals, Carlier was brought into collision with a tribe of people whom he could not legally arrest, but whom he cordially hated. They were patently vicious; and (what was peculiarly odious to the normal man) these degraded beings were all males. He saw that the public intolerance of "antiphysical passions," which he warmly shared, encouraged an organised system of chantage. Without entertaining the question whether public opinion might be modified, he denounced the noxious gang as pests of society. The fact that England, with her legal prohibitions, suffered to the same extent as France from the curse of "pæderasty," did not make him pause. Consequently, the light which he has thrown upon the subject of this treatise only illuminates the dark dens of male vice in a big city. He leaves us where we were about the psychological and ethical problem. He shows what deep roots the passion strikes in the centres of modern civilisation, and how it thrives under conditions at once painful to its victims and embarrassing to an agent of police.

Writers on forensic medicine take the next place in the row of literary witnesses. It is not their business to investigate the psychological condition of persons submitted to the action of the laws. They are concerned with the law itself, and with those physical circumstances which may bring the accused within its operation, or may dismiss him free from punishment.

Yet their function, by importing the quality of the physician into the sphere of jurisprudence, renders them more apprehensive of the underlying problem than a mere agent of police. We expect impartial scientific scrutiny in such authorities, and to some extent we find it.

The leading writers on forensic medicine at the present time in Europe are Casper (edited by Liman) for Germany, Tardieu for France, and Taylor for England. Taylor is so reticent upon the subject of unnatural crime that his handbook on "The Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence" does not demand minute examination. It may, however, be remarked that he believes false accusations to be even commoner in this matter than in the case of rape, since they are only too frequently made the means of blackmailing. For this reason he leaves the investigation of such crimes to the lawyers.

Both Casper and Tardieu discuss the topic of sexual inversion with antipathy. But there are notable points of difference in the method and in the conclusions of the two authors. Tardieu, perhaps because he is a Frenchman, educated in the school of Paris, which we have learned to know from Carlier, assumes that all subjects of the passion are criminal or vicious. He draws no psychological distinction between pæderast and pæderast. He finds no other name for them, and looks upon the whole class as voluntarily degraded beings who, for the gratification of monstrous desires, have unsexed themselves. A large part of his work is devoted to describing what he believes to be the signs of active and passive immorality in the bodies of persons addicted to these habits.[1] It is evident that imagination has acted powerfully in the formation of his theories. But this is not the place to discuss their details.[2]

Casper and Liman approach the subject with almost equal disgust, but with more regard for scientific truth than Tardieu. They point out that the term pæderast is wholly inadequate to describe the several classes of male persons afflicted with sexual inversion. They clearly expect, in course of time, a general mitigation of the penalties in force against such individuals. According to them, the penal laws of North Germany, on the occasion of their last revision, would probably have been altered, had not the jurists felt that the popular belief in the criminality of pæderasts ought to be considered.[3] Consequently, a large number of irresponsible persons, in the opinion of experts like Casper and Liman, are still exposed to punishment by laws enacted under the influence of vulgar errors.

These writers are not concerned with the framing of codes, nor again with the psychological diagnosis of accused persons. It is their business to lay down rules whereby a medical authority, consulted in a doubtful case, may form his own view as to the guilt or innocence of the accused. Their attention is therefore mainly directed to the detection of signs upon the bodies of incriminated individuals.

This question of physical diagnosis leads them into a severe critique of Tardieu. Their polemic attacks each of the points which he attempted to establish. I must content myself by referring to the passage of their work which deals with the important topic.[4] Suffice it here to say that they reject all signs as worse than doubtful, except a certain deformation of one part of the body, which may possibly be taken as the proof of habitual prostitution, when it occurs in quite young persons. Of course they admit that wounds, violent abrasions of the skin, in certain places, and some syphilitic affections strongly favour the presumption of a criminal act. Finally, after insisting on the insecurity of Tardieu's alleged signs, and pointing out the responsibility assumed by physicians who base a judgment on them, the two Germans sum up their conclusions in the following words (p. 178): "It is extremely remarkable that while Tardieu mentions 206 cases, and communicates a select list of 19, which appear to him to exhibit these peculiar conformations of the organs, he can only produce one single instance where the formation seemed indubitable. Let anyone peruse his 19 cases, and he will be horrified at the unhesitating condemnations pronounced by Tardieu." The two notes of exclamation which close this sentence in the original are fully justified. It is indeed horrifying to think that a person, implicated in some foul accusation, may have his doom fixed by a doctrinaire like Tardieu. Antipathy and ignorance in judges and the public, combined with erroneous canons of evidence in the expert, cannot fail to lead in such cases to some serious miscarriage of justice.

Passing from the problem of diagnosis and the polemic against Tardieu, it must be remarked that Casper was the first writer of this class to lay down the distinction between inborn and acquired perversion of the sexual instinct. The law does not recognise this distinction. If a criminal act be proved, the psychological condition of the agent is legally indifferent—unless it can be shown that he was clearly mad and irresponsible, in which case he may be consigned to a lunatic asylum instead of a jail. But Casper and Liman, having studied the question of sexual maladies in general, and given due weight to the works of Ulrichs, call attention to the broad differences which exist between persons in whom abnormal appetites are innate and those in whom they are acquired. Their companion sketches of the two types deserve to be translated and presented in a somewhat condensed form.[5]

"In the majority of persons who are subject to this vice, it is congenital; or at any rate the sexual inclination can be followed back into the years of childhood, like a kind of physical hermaphroditism. Sexual contact with a woman inspires them with real disgust. Their imagination delights in handsome young men, and statues or pictures of the same. In the case of this numerous class of pæderasts there is therefore no depraved fancy at work, no demoralisation through satiety of natural sexual appetite,[6] Their congenital impulse explains the fact, moreover, that very many pæderasts are addicted to what may be termed a Platonic voluptuousness, and feel themselves drawn towards the objects of their desire with a warmth of passion more fervent than is common in the relations of the opposed sexes; that, in other cases again, they are satisfied with embracements, from which they derive a mutual pleasure. Westphal maintains that this anomalous direction of the sexual appetite is more often the symptom of a psychopathical, neuropathical condition than people commonly suppose."[7]

"In the case of another class of men, upon the contrary, the taste for this vice has been acquired in life, and is the result of over-satiety with natural pleasures. People of this stamp sometimes indulge their gross appetites alternately with either sex. I once observed a man, after contracting a venereal disease with women, adopt pæderasty out of fear of another infection; but he was, it must be admitted, a weak-minded individual. In all the great towns of Europe the vice goes creeping around, unobserved by the uninitiated. It appears that there is no inhabited spot of the globe where it may not be discovered. I said, unobserved by the uninitiated, advisedly. In antiquity the members of the sect had their own means of mutual recognition. And at the present time, these men know each other at first sight; moreover, they are found everywhere, in every station of society, without a single exception. 'We recognise each other at once,' says the writer of a report which I shall communicate below: 'A mere glance of the eye suffices; and I have never been deceived. On the Rigi, at Palermo, in the Louvre, in the Highlands of Scotland, in Petersburg, on disembarking at the port of Barcelona, I have found people, never seen by me before, and whom I discriminated in a second.' Several men of this sort whom I have known (continues Casper) are certainly accustomed to dress and adorn themselves in a rather feminine way. Nevertheless, there are indisputable pæderasts, who present an entirely different aspect, some of them elderly and negligent in their attire, and people of the lower classes, distinguished by absolutely nothing in their exterior from other persons of the same rank."

Medico-juristic science made a considerable step when Casper adopted this distinction of two types of sexual inversion. But, as is always the case in the analysis of hitherto neglected phenomena, his classification falls far short of the necessities of the problem. While treating of acquired sexual inversion, he only thinks of debauchees. He does not seem to have considered a deeper question—deeper in its bearing upon the way in which society will have to deal with the whole problem—the question of how far these instincts are capable of being communicated by contagion to persons in their fullest exercise of sexual vigour. Taste, fashion, preference, as factors in the dissemination of anomalous passions, he has left out of his account. It is also, but this is a minor matter, singular that he should have restricted his observations on the freemasonry among pæderasts to those in whom the instinct is acquired. That exists quite as much or even more among those in whom it is congenital.

The upshot of the whole matter, however, is that the best book on medical jurisprudence now extant repudiates the enormities of Tardieu's method, and lays it down for proved that "the majority of persons who are subject" to sexual inversion come into the world, or issue from the cradle, with their inclination clearly marked.

  1. Tardieu, op. cit., pp. 213-255.
  2. In dealing with Tardieu, Casper-Liman, and Tarnowsky, I have directed the reader to passages in the works of the three medical authorities who have spoken most decidedly upon this topic. After comparing their evidence, the case seems to me to stand thus. Both male and female prostitutes are exposed to considerable risks of physical deformation in the exercise of their illicit trade. But males and females, if they keep their vicious propensities within the bounds of temperance, offer no physical deformations to observation. Only those men who for years have practised promiscuous prostitution earn epithets like the Greek slang εὑρὑπρωκτος, or the Italian culo rotto.
  3. Casper-Liman, op. cit., vol. i. p. 164.
  4. Casper-Liman, op. cit., vol. i. pp. 174-181.
  5. Op. cit., vol. i. pp. 164-166.
  6. Having criticised Tardieu for his use of the phrase pæderast, Casper and Liman can find no better.
  7. Westphal: Die Conträre Sexualempfindung. Archiv für Psychatrie, vol. ii. I.