Degrade and Fall

Among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist.
—Edmund Burke

I was reading Arthur Goldhammer's translation of Maurice Lever's Sade as the Senator Packwood scandal raged on, and although I wouldn't want to draw any unwarranted comparisons between the two bonhommes, the parallels between Ancien Régime France and contemporary America are unmistakable. Debauchery reigns in the corridors of power in the United States today as freely as it did in 18th-century France, and it is the smell of corruption, more than any detail about the marquis de Sade's ignominious life, that remains with the reader of Lever's forthright and spirited biography. (Goldhammer's translation, while it leaves out some useful notes and appendices regarding family histories and genealogies, is lively and readable.)

Sade reads like a novel. Lever employs a "synoptic" rather than "linear" Christine Haynes is the assistant editor of Chronicles. method, which allows for a three-dimensional picture of the man, and he mixes serious analysis with sarcastic and ironic comments that at times make his talc almost farcical. Take, for instance, this description of Sade's introduction to his uncle's library, which included licentious works like the abbe Jacques Boileau's History of the Flagellants, in which the good...

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