A libertine is one devoid of most moral restraints, which are seen as unnecessary or undesirable, especially one who ignores or even spurns accepted morals and forms of behaviour sanctified by the larger society. Libertines place value on physical pleasures, meaning those experienced through the senses. As a philosophy, libertinism gained new-found adherents in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, particularly in France and Great Britain. Notable among these were John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and the Marquis de Sade.
"Libertine" is defined today as "a dissolute person; usually a person who is morally unrestrained". Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand wrote that Joseph Bonaparte "sought only life's pleasures and easy access to libertinism" while on the throne of Naples.
History of the term
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The word "libertine" is derived from the Roman mythological figure, Liber (meaning "free"). Liber represented husbandry and crops and was celebrated by mystery religions including the Secret Order of Libertines. The term was also coined by John Calvin to negatively describe opponents of his policies in Geneva, Switzerland. This group, led by Ami Perrin, argued against Calvin's "insistence that church discipline should be enforced uniformly against all members of Genevan society". Perrin and his allies were elected to the town council in 1548, and "broadened their support base in Geneva by stirring up resentment among the older inhabitants against the increasing number of religious refugees who were fleeing France in even greater numbers". By 1555, Calvinists were firmly in place on the Genevan town council, so the Libertines, led by Perrin, responded with an "attempted coup against the government and called for the massacre of the French ... This was the last great political challenge Calvin had to face in Geneva".
"...the mere analysis of libertinism... carried out by a novelist with such a prodigious command of his medium... was enough to condemn it and play a large part in its destruction".
Agreeable to Calvin's emphasis on the need for uniformity of discipline in Geneva, Samuel Rutherford (Professor of Divinity in the University of St. Andrews, and Christian minister in 17th Century Scotland) offered a rigorous treatment of "Libertinism" in his polemical work "A Free Disputation against pretended Liberty of Conscience" (1649).
Some notable libertines include:
- Hellfire Club
- Don Juan
- Egoist anarchism
- LaVeyan Satanism
- The Libertine (2004 film)
- Individualist anarchism
- Libertine novel
- Rake (character)
- Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, "Napoleon's European Legacy, 1853", Napoleon: Symbol for an Age, A Brief History with Documents, ed. Rafe Blaufarb (New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008), 151.
- Zophy, Johnathan W. (2003). A Short History of Renaissance and Reformation Europe: Dances Over Fire and Water (Third Edition ed.). Prentice Hall. p. 226.
- Young, Wayland (1966). Eros Denied. New York: Grove.