Sodomy and Usury

Aristotle thought that usury and sodomy were related because in both cases there was attempted reproduction in an unnatural way. (Yeah, I don’t get it either. The argument would have been better as an argument against cloning. No matter, the argument was influential).

In a very good piece, Jeet Heer contrasts the ancients with Adam Smith and the liberal, free market tradition:

Aristotle’s linkage of non-procreative sex with usury profoundly influenced Christian thinkers. Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa Theologica codified the fusion of Aristotle with Christianity, argued that sodomy and usury were both “sins against nature, in which the very order of nature is violated, an injury done to God himself, who sets nature in order.” Echoing Aquinas, Dante placed sodomites and usurers in the same circle of Hell in the Divine Comedy. In his 1935 tract “Social Credit,” Ezra Pound, whose obsession with crackpot economics took him down many historical byways, argued that “usury and sodomy, the Church condemned as a pair, to one hell, the same for one reason, namely that they are both against natural increase.”

There is a flipside to this tradition of seeing sodomy as the enemy of the natural economy of the household: The counter-tradition of liberal economics founded by Adam Smith challenged the household model by seeing economics as rooted in the free trade of goods between households and nations. Precisely because Smith was more receptive to previously condemned or taboo economic activities like trade and manufacturing, he was also more open to sexual liberalism.

Smith’s friend Alexander Dalrymple is now thought to have written an anonymous tract, Thoughts of an Old Man (1800), recalling that the founder of modern economics believed that “sodomy was a thing in itself indifferent”—a radical thing to say even in private at a time when sodomy was a capital offence, condemned by church and state.

…Smith’s new and somewhat inchoate ideas were pushed further by Bentham, who in an unpublished essay observed that sodomy “produces no pain in anyone” but “on the contrary it produces pleasure.”

…It’s no accident that in 1787 Bentham wrote a “Defence of Usury,” which tried to convince Adam Smith to take a more benevolent view of the hitherto morally sanctioned economic activity. On the subject of both usury and sodomy, Bentham’s inclination was to take Smith’s liberal impulses to their logical end. Bentham was in favour of consensual adult acts (be they sexual or economic) that led to greater happiness, whether they violated pre-existing taboos or not.

It was, of course, also no accident that Tyler posted on Bentham last week. Here is a good extract of Bentham on usury.

Hat tip: The Browser.


Funny how usury was considered sinful for so long, and then not. I see its rehabilitation as a result of Europeans getting Arabic numerals and the zero, making compound interest calculations easier. But correlation is not yada yada yada...

Even making more money than is "enough" has been considered if not sinful, at least not especially admirable for most of the history. The book "How much is enough" by Skidelskys discuss in length about how ethics towards usury and making money and capitalism in general has evolved over the history (they mention Aristotles relation between sodomy and usury also). By 15th century standards, most modern people would probably seem very greedy.

"By 15th century standards, most modern people would probably seem very greedy."

I wonder the extent to which this is also true for the poor residents of undeveloped countries - are they just baffled that Westerners, who have 100x what they have, are still not satisfied.

I think it's even true within America. Think of Office Space -- the man on the street thinks, "man, if I had a million dollars, I wouldn't do shit." Yet few millionaires think that way. (Maybe their kids do though).

Did medieval Europeans consider the nobles, princes, bishops, and sundry merchants of the trading towns etc. especially sinful? From the perspective of the lay population clearly a lot of the privileged class must have had more than "enough" money.

Yes, but they had more than enough money by the grace of God....

I think merchants belong in a second category (although it probably depends on what part of Europe you are talking about and which part of the medieval period).

Mercantile activity was traditionally seen as debasing and vulgar; a merchant is seen as someone who spends his life buying and selling in order to acquire money and further expand his buying and selling enterprise in a never ending and pointless cycle. A rat race, in modern terms. Same goes for the usurer. Nobles and religious authorities, on the other hand, might have been wealthy but were seen as devoting themselves to truly worthwhile, heroic activities: glory on the battlefield, establishing empires, serving God, and supporting the advancement of the arts and sciences. Since their wealth was frequently inherited, they couldn't be said to be guilty of greedy acquisition.

As Corey Robin put it recently in his article on Nietzsche, "The Greeks, by contrast, saw work as a “disgrace,” because the existence it serves—the finite life that each of us lives—“has no inherent value.”"

Speaking of Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, and usury...

There's a paper that might be of some interest to those interested in Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, and Jeremy Bentham right beneath this sentence.

The analogy between banking and sodomy is pretty obvious to me.

Andrew' ("Andrew Prime"?) wins the internet for the day.

The day is young! I might top myself. And if I could top myself, I might never leave the house.

I think you just topped yourself.

And I think that you just topped Andrew'.

Hooray for gay!

That Aristotle quote reminds me of the teaching from Borge's alternate-world Tlön: "Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men".

What about mental externalities? Why don't these count if a majority of people at a given time or place agree that certain types of private behavior is disgusting or morally wrong?

Landsburg made the mistake of publicly pondering this question once.

If the only people I engaged with commercially were family members and people from my town, I would view usury as immoral, or at least feel a little uneasy about it. When my sister occasionally asks for money to help with rent/an unexpected bill for the month, my moral intuition says it would be wrong to charge her interest. Maybe that's just me.

That's a good point and akin to what I was thinking. We don't really know what the exactly correct interest rate should be to purely balance time preferences and use the market rate as a proxy. Without that knowledge maybe you just round down to zero.

Poster feels somewhat defensive and apologetic for NOT charging interest to his sister: file under "the culture that is MR."

Now everyone does, we just make bankers rich so we don't have to feel awkward. Emos are awesome.

Did the traditional stigma of usury also apply to renting out tools?

Say, my neighbor wanted to borrow my plough or oxen for a week to work his field was it socially acceptable to charge him for it?

As long as he doesn't plant two types of seeds.
you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, Leviticus something something

Many societies had non-numerical debt systems (many still do, gift/return-the-favor obligations). So you might not charge anything up front and insist "No, no, my friend! Use it, have it! It is yours!" while fully expecting some future reciprocity. My understanding of this comes primarily from Graeber's Debt.

Nowadays there are lefties who are pro-sodomy and anti-usury and righties who are anti-sodomy and pro-usury. Maybe they both need to read more Smith and Bentham.

I'm guessing that this was actually a rude joke in ancient Greek that fails in translation.
Probably has something to do with "trade" and "sex" using the same/similar words and neither one involving actual production (i.e. having sex without producing children, making money without producing goods) .

Do you know what separates the men from the boys in Greek banking?

Very early retirement?

Neither a top nor a bottom be.

Alex's post is really getting the creative juices flowing.....

I thought it was a strange logic for the author of the main article to make this topic turn on "austerity".

Isn't it because with compound interest, debt grows exponentially? This is unlike any physical process in the world, making it unnatural in Aristotle's eyes. This would have been more apparent in the economic sphere in Aristotle's day because the economy was more agricultural and there was no exponential increase in the food supply. Even today after industrialization, there is no exponential increase in production.

The English philosopher Richard Price, who wrote about population growth and influenced Malthus, showed how the “geometric” growth of a penny invested at 5% at the time of Jesus’s birth would have grown to a solid sphere of gold extending from the Sun out beyond the orbit of Jupiter by his day (1776). He contrasted this “geometric” growth of savings invested at compound interest to the merely “arithmetic” growth of a similar sum invested at simple interest. Malthus adopted this metaphor to describe the growth of human populations in contrast to the means of subsistence.

Aristotle was a great empiricist - perhaps the first empiricist - and the fact of debts increasing exponentially and far faster than the "reproduction" of anything else he observed in the world - whether it was wheat in the fields, human and animal populations, furniture made by craftsmen, etc. - would have been staring him in the face.

I also sometimes give money to people and then put my penis into their anus.

I don't expect to be given the money back though.

Sodomy is man exploiting man.

Usury is the opposite.

Don't look now but those old bad guys were right (again).

andrew is right,I had seven home loans with PNC bank and I feel butt hurt!

Even his contemporaneous Greeks thought Aristotle was wrong on sodomy.

Tyler approvingly quotes Bentham: "sodomy 'produces no pain in anyone'"

I wonder if the victims of Jerry Sandusky are of the same opinion.

Steve, you and Bentham are not talking about the same thing. You might find it helpful to check out what Bentham wrote: "As to any primary mischief, it is evident that it produces no pain in anyone. On the contrary it produces pleasure, and that a pleasure which, by their perverted taste, is by this supposition preferred to that pleasure which is in general reputed the greatest. The partners are both willing. If either of them be unwilling, the act is not that which we have here in view: it is an offence totally different in its nature of effects: it is a personal injury; it is a kind of rape."

There's always exceptions, Steve.

e.g. Pretzels produce no pain in anyone, you'd think: Well, ask George Bush. He almost got killed by one.

Alex approvingly quotes Bentham: “sodomy ‘produces no pain in anyone.’”

The AIDS Epidemic was pain-free?

Oh, sorry, my mistake. Everybody today knows AIDS couldn't possibly have been spread by sodomy. Instead, we've all been informed that the AIDS Epidemic was the fault of Ronald Reagan.

Yeah, centuries of vaginal copulation came with no pain. Gonorrhea and syphilis were essentially painless or spread through air.

its about interests. homosexual lifestyle is promoted almost exclusively in white homelands Europe & America to suppress white fertility, destroy white families.

Homosexual agenda is Jewish controlled media driven. Its deliberate. Not spontaneous social development.

HIV can be spread by any form of sexual contact.

And, obviously, usury produces no pain in anyone. The Subprime catastrophe was completely pain-free.

Sodomy and usury live together in perfect harmony....

That's a good one.

"The Gods of the Copybook Headings" by Rudyard Kipling

["Copybook headings" are old-fashioned moral maxims.]

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Perhaps something like the contemporary student loan situation is what Aristotle had in mind.

The decision by young people to leave their “podunk hometowns” and go off to “get an education” is being exposed as the destruction of human and social capital it is — driven largely by the bad assumptions of the economics of family formation. Enormous student loans that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy (in exchange for an education of questionable value) drive large numbers of young people to urban areas to, basically, be gelded.

Huh? Young people who are college educated and obtain gainful employment generally end up in the suburbs getting (and often staying) married and having children. Sure, they may spend a few years partying in cities, but eventually they settle down and have families.

Moreover the pattern of young men (at least) from the country flocking into cities for opportunity is an exceedingly ancient one. Rural areas always produced more people than there was arable land for, while cities, until the mid 1800s, always had higher death rates than birth rates-- with the result that cities survived only by renewing their numbers with in-migration from the countryside, which obligingly had excess population to supply.

Young people with greater debt loads and who spend more time in cities delay family formation and end up having fewer or no kids at all. A couple of 35 year olds that finally moves to the suburbs to start a family will not have many years left to have kids.

Yes, cities have always been population sinks and they still are population sinks. They consume population. The fertility rates of those who move to cities today generally collapse. They're being selected out of the gene pool.

How is (almost all) money created? Usury. All of that money is then owed to usurers plus interest, so we need to borrow from usurers to pay off the usurers creating more money and the need to borrow even more...

This is what Aristotle had in mind. Has anybody noticed that usurers pretty much run everything that matters in the world, that any technology driven economic growth all pretty much ends up owed to some usurer or another? Why am I supposed to think the church was wrong?

The clue to Alex's beffudledness re Aristotle (and Aquinas) is metaphysics. If you understand that much, their conclusions follow trivially.

Seriously, read a book. The Scholastic Analysis of Usury by Noonan is a good place to start.

Aristotle thought that usury and sodomy were related because in both cases there was attempted reproduction in an unnatural way. (Yeah, I don’t get it either.
Jct: Grandfather Adelard Turmel had two axioms he loved to repeat: Money has no babies; interest is theft! If everyone borrows 10 head of cattle and promise to return 11, little problem. But borrow 10 pieces of gold or computer credits that don't have babies and it creates a mort-gage death-gamble where someone has to get knocked out of the game into foreclosure, poverty and often mort. So the demand that money produce babies is as sterile as the demand that gays produce babies.

The ancients really didn't really have the concepts of productive assets and rates of return. If I borrow money to purchase 10 cattle at 5% interest and then, after 1 year, I have 11 cattle, both of us are fine.

In Dante, the sodomites and usurers are in the Seventh Circle of Hell. A commentator quoted in the Dorothy Sayers translation says this is because the former make sterile that which should be fruitful, and the latter make fruitful that which should be sterile.
I think a useful distinction can be made between capital investment as we understand it, and usury as Dante and Aristotle probably understood it. Investment really does make wealth fruitful—that is, capital is wealth that is used to increase the total amount of wealth in the world. Usury is the process of getting people in debt and then squeezing all you can out of them, which in my opinion really is a sin.

Which is why Dante, Aristotle, Aquinas et al were wrong about usury. While a chest of gold does not produce more gold if buried in the ground (Aquinas' example) wealth, put to work, actually can be fruitful.

On the matter of sodomy, Dante et al are only right is the only valid purpose for sexual intercourse is procreation. Among animals that may well be true. Among humans it is not.

Why are moralists always so quick to equate sodomy with homosexuality when it should be readily apparent to anyone with even the most rudimentary grasp of statistics and experience of the adult world that the overwhelming majority of acts of sodomy are most certainly committed by heterosexual and often married couples?

Since the invention and popularization of cheap and effective birth control, the vast majority of heterosexual coupling is intentionally non-procreative whether it is technically sodomy in the older sense or not. As Richard Nixon might have said, we're all sodomites now. Thus, it is fitting that sodomy join usury on the historical waste pile of imaginary moral transgressions.

"Sodomy" traditionally refers to anal penetration and oral penetration. So it refers to those acts whether they're performed by a man and a woman or by two men. It's associated with homosexuality since, unlike heterosexual couples, homosexual activity will be exclusively sodomitic. Unlike heterosexual couples, homosexual couples are unable to have sex. They can only engage in sodomy.

Peter, thank you for stating the obvious. I took it for granted that everyone understood all of that.

My point is that very nearly every heterosexual couple engages in sodomy, even in the more narrow traditional sense. The vast numerical preponderance of heterosexual coupling ensures that the majority of acts of sodomy will occur between heterosexual couples. However, your definition is really a bit too narrow, even traditionally speaking. Thus, church condemnation of masturbation, be it solo or partnered, and contraception. Sodomy is intentionally non-procreative sex acts and has traditionally included a variety of non-penetrative acts, such as those practiced by lesbians. Again, we are all sodomites now.

Anal sodomy among heterosexual couples is still rare. Only a minority of heterosexual couples appear to engage in it.

Oral sodomy is more common.

It appears that around 60% or so of heterosexual couples engage in oral sodomy.

It seems safe to assume that the small percentage of heterosexual couples that engage in anal sodomy also engage in oral sodomy, so the overall sodomy rate among heterosexual couples appears to be around 60%.

So it's not that "we are all sodomites". It'd be more accurate to say that around 60% are sodomites now. It'd be even more accurate to say that around 60% are oral sodomites now.

The data I based my comment on is from the Inductivist blog.

There are a few posts there with data from surveys asking heterosexuals whether they engage in anal or oral sodomy. I can't link to them directly because the comment doesn't go through if I do.

A study from 1994 suggested that most people don't engage in sodomy:

90% of men and 86% of women have had sex in the past year
27% of men and 19% of women have had oral sex in the past year
23% of men and 11% of women have bought X-rated movies or videos
10% of men and 9% of women have had anal sex in the past year.

NSSHB 2010 under "Sexual Practices" contradicts the 1994 study. About 78% of men 25 through 39 received oral sex from women (N=5865), with a very small minority only engaging in vaginal sex. I believe this study more, or do I just live in a perverse bubble?

Thanks for doing my research for me. Taking your most conservative estimate we have 9% of women who are presumably coupling with a like number of men vs. 3-5% of the male population who are homosexual and presumably coupling with each other. Further, 25-30% of male homosexuals eschew anal sex. So even when most narrowly defined, the heterosexual super-majority still takes the prize.

Again, I think this should be obvious to anyone with even basic math skills who has taken a minute to think about it.

Well basic math skills tell us that the claim "we are all sodomites now" is not true.

It’d be more accurate to say that around 60% are sodomites now, specifically oral sodomites. 60% is by no means "all". This means a significant minority of heterosexuals are not sodomites.

Regarding the definitions of "sodomy" -- it's my understanding that a very, very ancient rabbinical tradition takes the phrase "as with a woman" (Lev. 18:22 and 20:13) to mean "in imitation of vaginal intercourse." Which is to say, these passages referred to male/male anal buggery, period.

To be clear, Jewish tradition is also clear that ALL homosexual acts are sinful -- but passages other than those two famous lines from Leviticus are used as the basis for condemning homosexual acts. (For one thing, Jewish teaching prohibits men from "spilling seed in vain"; thus, solo masturbation by a Jewish man is a sin, and since "spilling seed in vain" is generally the purpose of male homosexual acts, such acts must be at least as sinful as solo masturbation! And, incidentally, In his "Summa contra Gentiles," Aquinas also makes a comparison between "the sin of Sodom" and such acts as solo masturbation or coitus interruptus, which "spill the seed in vain".)

Nonetheless, there is an ancient precedent for singling out "buggery" in a special category of taboo-ness, apart from other non-procreative sex acts. The ancient Greeks thought it was shameful for free adult men to engage in receptive anal intercourse. In the military code of Tsarist Russia, anal sodomy between two men was a hanging offense; oral sodomy was a whipping offense. Oscar Wilde got two years in Reading Gaol, rather than 20 years, because the prosecutors found lots and lots of male prostitutes who'd had fellatio with Wilde, but couldn't find a shred of evidence that Wilde had ever engaged in anal sodomy.

And I think this distinction may be important in interpreting Aristotle, Aquinas, and Dante, because of a longstanding assumption that anal penetration is A FORM OF VIOLENCE. This may be a false assumption, as Bentham argued, but nonetheless it was a widespread view.

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