Karl Marx is often quoted for his comment " religion is the opiate of the people" - or a variant on this.
In my search on this term I found that it was used first by the Marquis de Sade....the epitome of rebellion: there is some thing about him and his life which should shock the values of each and all. Sadism is derived from him...a frightening and horrific concept. And yet at the same time his drive to make statement with action against the status quo amazes me...and without doubt his influence in this regard has been momentous.
His commentary on the 'opiate of the people' as used in "Juliette" is extremely poignant in my opinion.
In the Marquis de Sade's Juliette, published in 1797 (trans. Austryn Wainhouse, 1968), Sade uses the term in a scene where Juliette explains to King Ferdinand the consequences of his policies:
Though nature lavishes much upon your people, their circumstances are strait. But this is not the effect of their laziness; this general paralysis has its source in your policy which, from maintaining the people in dependence, shuts them out from wealth; their ills are thus rendered beyond remedy, and the political state is in a situation no less grave than the civil government, since it must seek its strength in its very weakness. Your apprehension, Ferdinand, lest someone discover the things I have been telling you leads you to exile arts and talents from your realm. You fear the powerful eye of genius, that is why you encourage ignorance. This opium you feed your people, so that, drugged, they do not feel their hurts, inflicted by you. And that is why where you reign no establishments are to be found giving great men to the homeland; the rewards due knowledge are unknown here, and as there is neither honor nor profit in being wise, nobody seeks after wisdom.
I have studied your civil laws, they are good, but poorly enforced, and as a result they sink into ever further decay. And the consequences thereof? A man prefers to live amidst their corruption rather than plead for their reform, because he fears, and with reason, that this reform will engender infinitely more abuses than it will do away with; things are left as they are. Nevertheless, everything goes askew and awry and as a career in government has no more attractions than one in the arts, nobody involves himself in public affairs; and for all this compensation is offered in the form of luxury, of frivolity, of entertainments. So it is that among you a taste for trivial things replaces a taste for great ones, that the time which ought to be devoted to the latter is frittered away on futilities, and that you will be subjugated sooner or later and again and again by any foe who bothers to make the effort.