Tag Archives: serial killer

Marie Bonaparte on humankind’s deep-rooted sadism

A few days ago, while studying Goya and his depiction of the horrors of life, I was reminded of a dictum on rape:

“if a woman is raped by an individual, she stands a good chance of surviving the ordeal. If, however, she is raped by a multitude, a mob, the risk is real that she will pay for it with her life.”

It’s from a book by Roland Villeneuve (1922 – 2003), either from Le Musée des supplices or La Beauté du diable, since these are the only two books by him I own.

I started googling for the exact quotation.


I did find this intriguing dictum instead:

“When one of these great perverts such as Vacher [a French serial killer] or Kürten [a German serial killer] appears on the scene, men who kill simply for pleasure, a wave of excitement sweeps through the masses. Not only by the mere horror, but by a strange interest in the crime, which is our deep-rooted sadism‘s response to theirs. It is as though, civilized and wretched, with our instincts fettered, we were all, in some way, grateful to these great and disinterested criminals for offering us, from time to time, the spectacle of our most culpable, primitive desires at last enacted.” —[…]

These words are from Marie Bonaparte (descendant of Napoleon and known for surgically displacing her clitoris at least two times), from her book The Life and Works of E. A. Poe: a Psychoanalytic Interpretation which I reviewed a while back[1].

The dictum diagnoses human nature as inherently cruel and sadistic, which is hardly a secret when taking into account for example the historic fascination with public executions.

What Marie is saying is that there is a sadist in all of us. That humankind’s collective unconscious is a bit like that of a cruel serial killer.

That’s sociatry for you.

Isn’t it?