Sex, Power, and Money: A Lecture from Lois Waisbrooker, Part I
“Woman shall be free…to the use of her maternal functions in spite of law or priest…though it rock the nations from centre to circumference.”
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
Lois Waisbrooker was born during modern America’s fledgling days (1826). She came of age in the Jacksonian and Civil War eras; her career and influence flourished during Reconstruction, the “Gilded Age,” and the Progressive era. As an independent individualist‐feminist, Waisbrooker lectured and wrote fiction and non‐fiction for decades. She published her first novel in 1871 and her final ‘scientific’ book in 1907. Waisbrooker was the archetypical “thick” libertarian: she followed her political principles through to anarchism; her radical individualism led her to feminism; and her deep anti‐clericalism inspired her conversion to Spiritualism and her attendant activities as a spirit medium. In many ways, Americans throughout the nineteenth century experienced an endless series of personal existential crises. Adrift in a swiftly‐changing world, Americans struggled to find purpose and meaning for themselves. Those of a radical and libertarian temperament often followed their inclinations as far as they might go. To individuals like Lois Waisbrooker, spirit mediumship and feminism offered piercing and magnetic explanations for why the world was the way it was. What was more, they offered radical women opportunities to express themselves as unlimited individuals with existential purpose of their own making.
In her 1873 lecture on “The Sex Question and the Money Power,” Waisbrooker proposes to explain the connections between the American economic system and feminism. She begins by noting the abject failure of individualists to capture the course of history from those who wield economic and political power. She argues that those people–especially poor men–who have felt themselves ground under the wheels of the powerful do not need to wield power themselves. In fact, oppressed men need feminism. Ideas move history, she believed, and the feminist idea could turn money “from master to servant.” If men, especially, learned to temper their masculinity with a healthy, equal regard for femininity, humanity could combine in its natural strength to break history’s fetters, “though it rock the nations from centre to circumference.”
Originally delivered as a lecture at Jackson, Michigan (14 December, 1873). See: Three Pamphlets on the Occult Forces of Sex, New York: Murray Hill Publishing Co., 1891.
“The Sex Question and the Money Power: How Shall this Power Be Made to Serve Instead of Ruling Us?”
By Lois Waisbrooker
Money or its equivalent rules…where it should, in justice, serve. In vain the benevolent man regrets this state of things; in vain the tears of the widow or the cries of the orphan. The plea of suffering is as vain under the shadow of the tall steeple as it is in the by‐ways of degradation, for this power pervades every avenue of human life.
The head, the heart, the hands and the feet of the people are in its toils and forced to do its bidding.
We may assert our allegiance to humanity, to the divinity of love, to the guidance of wisdom; but hunger and cold are potent weapons and used as relentlessly as ever bigot drove the stake or piled the fagots.
We have failed, utterly failed, more than failed, in attempting to deal with the effects of this tyrannical control–have failed in our every effort to dethrone this selfish deity. But because we have thus failed shall we cease to struggle? Shall we give up in despair and say that there is no hope?
Shall we, with folded hands and benumbed brains, yield the conflict to the quiet of a grinding death? Shall we permit the heart’s best blood to congeal a frozen river over which the triumphal car of this demon power shall pass without even a jar?
Shall we? Your response is: “No–a thousand times, no.”
But what next? What new thing shall be tried; what new movement made? It must be something new, for there is no hope of the old. It has been tried and failed; “weighed in the balance and found wanting;” has been written against all its methods. Yes, we must have something new; but what shall it be?
Religion is powerless; Politics “a poison upas” (to use the language of one who was himself a politician, when arguing against woman’s entering this field); Philanthrophy can only paliate the sorrows of the living and help to bury the dead; Morality is but a gilded name to attract wealth; and the fear or the love of God, whither have they fled?
The Alcoholic demon stalks through the land gathering in his harvest of victims and each or all of the above combined are powerless to stay its march.
Mother‐love agonizes and father‐hearts groan in smothered anguish, but still sons continue to stagger into drunkards’ graves. Wives and children are made desolate by myriads, while this fiery demon sucks away the life blood of husbands and fathers. He fires the heart of the otherwise peaceful man with feelings of dire revenge, till red‐handed Murder shrieks in the midnight air, and still there is none to rescue.
None can stay the havoc of his tread, for the power of Wealth sustains him; the money king has set his seal upon him, demon though he be, and, riding over your tall steeples, he intercepts your prayers to heaven or consumes them in the blue blaze of alcoholic fire.
Governments fail to enact just laws, or, having enacted, fail to execute, for the hand of the money king is upon the mouths of the witnesses; he bribes the jurors, sways the judge, fees the lawyers against the truth, and even buys the lawmakers themselves.
Invention fails, for the telegraph, the railroad and all the grand achievements of mechanical art, the result of brain‐work, intended to lessen the labor of the poor while bringing them greater returns–these, all these, have been confiscated to this money king and are being used to fill the coffers of the rich. The poor gain nothing; their children and themselves are hopeless, grow more so each succeeding year, while the children of the rich ruin themselves and all with whom they come in contact, wherever Wealth can corrupt tor Virtue be driven to the wall; and the 60 thousand of the so‐called ministers of the eternal God bring us no relief.
At the command of this tyrant father forgets his home or remembers it only as a place to board and lodge. He buries himself in his business and leaves his children to go to moral ruin, that he may gain the wealth which will show to the world that he stands among the lords of this terrible king’s court. The wife forgets her babes or murders them before birth, and all to the same end. Dress and show, parties and travel, stopping at first‐class hotels, riding in first‐class cars and paying first‐class bills—all this that they may belong to this king’s retinue; while the laborer, the honest toiler, is but the serf, the slave who bears the burdens of all above him.
How shall we dethrone this usurper who thus rides over hearts, grinding them into dust? How shall we escape the power of this bloated monster who feeds upon all beautiful, all holy, all divine things as his natural food?…
We need money; but shall it be as servant or master?…
Go, gather the hearts made desolate in a single year by his relentless power. Look at the mighty army of prostitutes–of homeless laborers made destitute and driven to desperation by financial crashes. Look at them as they plunge into crime and are then shut up in prison. See the poor needle‐woman, as she stitches away her life to adorn the garments that are to cover the courtiers and mistresses of this king. Listen to the little ones as they cry for bread, while this king and his retinue waste the products of their fathers’ toil. Gather them all together—all the victims. Let them stand out before you in all their misery. Look into their hollow eyes; mark their pale, sunken cheeks ; note their ragged garments and the shiver which runs through their frames as the chill breath of Autumn tells of Winter. Great heavens! Look at them and then tell me if there is no way to save this motley host from an earthly hell–no way to remove the causes which have made them what they are.
It is for these that we toil. It is for these that our hearts agonize. It is for these, all these, and millions more who must follow in their track if we cannot bring about a different order of things, that we ask you to aid us in our work–to devote time, talents, means…
The key that will unlock the door which leads to the guarded chamber of this monarch lies concealed in this vexed sex question. He draws his life‐power from the sex fountain, and this fountain must be closed against him and open only to the demands of love, ere his reign will cease.
Yes, I know just what I am saying, and my position is as impregnable as are the axioms of mathematics. Solve the sex problem, free woman from her thraldom here, and Money, instead of being (as now) a tyrant king, will henceforth be the servant of Love…
Swedenborg says that everyone “is as is the riding love.” No matter how imperfect the results as to the carrying out the legitimate ends of that love, the love which rules decides the character. Is there any thinking man or woman who will deny that this is so?
Are not all our decisions as to the real character of an individual based upon the motive which prompts to action, rather than upon the result of the act itself?…
Another point: All the forces, all the powers of the being will be used (wisely or unwisely, as the intelligence of the individual shall determine); but all will necessarily be used, so far as they are used at all, to forward the objects of the ruling love. There can be no difference of opinion here; the statement has only to be understood to command assent.
Still another point: It has been demonstrated beyond the power of contradiction that without the union of the two forces known as masculine and feminine there is, there can be no form of life, of growth. And, still further, the nature of all forms of life is decided, first, by the ruling force or element of said compound; second, by the degree of the development of the elements entering in the compound.
I wish to state the above in still another form, for sexuality has been so degraded, so spit upon, so despised, that I sometimes wonder that we have not been permitted to fall into annihilation; and but for the continued action of this sex‐law we should have done. I repeat:…Sex-union is the fountain from which springs all life–not merely human life but all forms and states of life.
When I speak of the sex fountain I do not mean an inactive, a stagnant fountain, neither one of which there is unnatural action; for the first is ice‐bound death and the last putrid death. I mean a fountain in which there is the natural ebb and flow of reciprocal action between the positive and negative, the male and female forces, of which it is constituted.
LIFE IS POWER: consequently the fountain of sex, if the source of all life, must be the source of all power.
The degree, the range, of the life resulting from sex‐union depends upon the channels through which it acts. If the two forces blend in the mineral kingdom we have iron, lead, silver, gold, the diamond, pearl, etc., and each pure, free from dross, just in accordance with the strength and purity of the different blendings; and so in the vegetable, the animal, the human, or the angel kingdoms…
Or, in other words, the predominant feeling, the ruling love, takes control of, shapes and directs the life‐power which flows both from sex‐union and sex‐blending. By “sex‐blending” I mean that blending of sex atmosphere which takes place without sex contact.
We find, then, that character–both that of individuals and of communities–is as is the ruling love.
Now, what is the ruling love of society to‐day?
Need we ask…when without it we are the slaves and with it we are masters of the situation?
Money has hitherto been spoken of as “king.”
We will now take still stronger grounds and assert that, to all intents and purposes, “Money is god!”
Yes, Money is god–and all the people obey. Love, Tenderness, Charity, Religion, all–all! are bond servants to this money god–chained to his chariot-wheels–and crushed by his relentless tread if they dare to put themselves in his way!
But we must remember that all life, all activity, is generated by the union of the two forces known as masculine and feminine…
We find that not only are certain forces necessary to the organization of individual life and of society life but that that upon which said life is continued must possess the same elements. The man whose ruling love is money is not at home with those whose ruling love is benevolence, for the atmosphere generated by the latter does not furnish the element needed to enable the money‐love to hold its supremacy, and, being the ruling love, it takes the man to an atmosphere generated by the money power, for there only can it breathe freely…
The man whose ruling love is money cannot breathe freely, cannot have an atmosphere suited to the supremacy of said love unless he mingles with women whose ruling love is also money; and he must not only mingle with them fraternally but sexually—that is, either directly or indirectly…
So long as the money power is in the ascendancy woman must of necessity be mercenary in her love; and, if not naturally so, must be made and held so by the force of circumstances; and in no way could this have been done so effectually as it has by making her subject to man in the matter of sex–dependent on him for support, protection.
Woman’s whole being is subject to man, in the present order of society, just so far as that which constitutes her woman affects her life or happiness. She must wait till man asks her to be his wife. She must not herself make a movement looking in that direction or she is considered unwomanly. So she must wait her natural life alone or accept something short of that which is recognized as marriage; and, if the latter, then she is ostracized, shut up to the merchandize of herself for support.
Man has control of the avenues of wealth and will hold woman’s wages to the lowest point possible–that is, the wages of labor–while he uses the money that has been wrung from the virtuous woman’s toil to pay for sex gratification. He does this at the command of the ruling love, which is that of money, and, true to the universal law (which demands two forces in union in order to obtain active, successful life), he tempts woman to a mercenary use of her sexual nature–tempts her from one direction and drives her from another–forces necessities upon her through the control of the wealth of the world and then tempts these necessities with money rewards.
Man’s natural sphere is that of the accumulative, and it is right that he should gather, but not to abuse. Yet just so long as he controls as well as accumulates just so long will Acquisitiveness hold the reins of power–just so long will Wealth rule–Money be the god before which the people will bow. In a true state of society Acquisitiveness will gather for Love to use. Acquisitiveness cannot use, distribute wisely, justly, any more than man can be mother or woman father. This latter is the work of Love, guided by the wisdom of Justice.
Man loves to acquire. It is his sphere–his delight. But the ruling love which uses wisely for the good of all–this love is woman’s–it is the ruling power of her soul: love, devotion, maternal, filial or conjugal–love in some or all of these forms combined. And this is particularly true of her sex‐nature; she yields it where she loves, and only there when left free from outside pressure. This sex‐life of woman–controlled by and giving life to (first) the special and (secondly) the universal maternal–would, in freedom, control all the other organs of the brain, or the powers of the spirit through them, in the service of humanity, acquisitiveness not excepted.
With this, the ruling love of woman, to wit, the maternal, in the ascendancy–as it would be if she had the entire control of her sex‐nature, making man subject to her in this direction–the sex magnetism, in vitalizing life’s activities, would not then, could not be from the money but from the love plane. With this, the ruling love of woman, in the ascendancy, monopolies of wealth to the injury of the masses would be impossible, for the vitalizing life for such a condition would be wanting, and, of course, the condition itself could not exist.
The mockeries of wealth, in contrast with the wretchedness of hunger and rags, would no more be known; for the woman hand, guided by the woman heart unperverted by forced obedience to the money god–now god no longer–that hand, guided by the true, maternal heart of woman, would wipe the tears from off all faces.
Glorious consummation! One long prayed for; but when a few of us see the way to its realization and go to work in live earnest then comes the tug of war–then the hounds of Slander and Malice are let loose.
The prayer of words does not alarm in the least, but when the prayer of deeds commences then this money god begins to look after the slaves who have sustained his throne by holding their sex subject to his will, or, rather, submitting their sex to his use because they saw no way of escape…
We have laid hands upon the recognized standard of marriage; we have claimed that woman shall be free, declared our belief in her innate soul purity and her right to the use of her maternal functions in spite of law or priest; and from the outcry made we know that we have found the vital point of the disease; and, further, we shall lay bare and probe, though it rock the nations from centre to circumference…