The Hell-Fire Clubs conjure up images of aristocratic rakes outraging respectability at every turn, cutting a swath through the village maidens and celebrating Black Masses. While all this is true, it is not the whole story. The author of this volume has assembled an account of the Clubs and of their antecedents and descendants. At the centre of the book is the principal brotherhood, known by the Hell-Fire name - Sir Francis Dashwood's notorious Monks of Medmenham, with their strange rituals and initiation rites, library of erotica and nun companions recruited from the brothels of London. From this maverick group flow such notable literary libertines as Horace Walpole and Lord Byron. Pre-dating Medmenham are the figures of Rabelais and John Dee, both expounding philosophies of "do what you will" or "anything goes". Geoffrey Ashe traces the influence of libertarian philosphies on the world of the Enlightenment, showing how they met the need for a secular morality at a time when Christianity faced the onslaught of rationalism and empiricism. He follows the libertarian tradition through de Sade and into the 20th century, with discussions of Aleister Crowley, Charles Manson and Timothy Leary, delving below the scandals to reveal the social and political impact of "doing your own thing" which has roots far deeper than the post-war permissive society.