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Classical Scholars against the Identitarian Right

In the mid-point to the last quarter of 2018, many articles were written across platforms and the internet on how the Alt-Right and Conservatives were misappropriating “the Greek and Latin Classics” to lend credibility to vicious and vindictive white supremacist and Identitarian ideology. I have compiled several to introduce to us a problem.

Classics and the Alt-Right Conundrum featured three classicists to react to this same topic with Denise Eileen McCoskey, Donna Zuckerberg, and Curtis Dozier on an episode of History Talk, hosted by Jessica Viñas-Nelson and Brenna Miller. It can be listened to here. Classics at the Intersection: White Supremacy and Classics Scholarship on Race and Ethnicity also discusses the topic. In this collection, I’ve also included Sententiae Antiquae, a teacher and classicist with a blog by the same title I enjoy reading.

How to Be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor

Donna Zuckerberg

“A specter is haunting the Internet — the specter of the “alt-right.” The forces of white supremacy and toxic masculinity, fueled by a sense of entitlement dwarfed only by their inflated estimation of their own intelligence, have entered into an unholy alliance to remove feminism, political correctness, and multiculturalism from America. And on November 8th, 2016, after enduring years of mockery, months of being told that the arc of the moral universe would never let it win, the Alt-Right scored its first significant political victory: the election of Donald Trump to the highest office of the most powerful country in the world.

Who are these people? They are part of a group of a few hundred thousand men who have “swallowed the red pill” and belong to a few allied online movements: not just the Alt-Right, but also men’s rights activists, the manosphere, and GamerGate. At times these groups seem more clearly defined by what they oppose than what they support, but they’ve also mobilized to fight for men’s rights in a “gynocentric” society, harass women on Twitter, and redefine Pepe the Frog. They are younger than the typical conservative establishment, white, and male. They are antisemitic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic. Some are self-described Neo-Nazis.

They also love the classics.”

Guess who’s championing Homer? Radical online conservatives, Nov. 2. 2018.

As explained by editor-in-chief of Eidolon, classics scholar and the author of “Not All Dead White Men,” Donna Zuckerberg (sister of Mark Zuckerberg):

“For years, champions of Greek and Roman classical literature have worried about its declining prominence in American culture. In 1998, for instance, classicists Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath, in “Who Killed Homer?,” blamed overspecialized, jargon-spouting academics for losing sight of everything about the ancient Greeks that made them worth studying — and for not “demonstrating to the living the importance and relevance of the long-ago dead.”

Today, economic worries are further sidelining the classics. Debt-burdened students are shifting away from liberal arts to supposedly more-lucrative majors, like business, and some colleges are dropping classics and other humanities majors. But recently, a surprising group outside the university walls has taken up the mantle of explaining why the study of the ancient Greeks and Romans remains vitally important: the alt-right.

Along with related far-right online communities that share similar politics — pickup artists, men’s rights activists and others — the alt-right is fascinated by the ancient Mediterranean and often references its texts and historical figures to promote a reactionary ideology. It’s not the revival that advocates of the classics expected or wanted, but there is no denying the fervor of these writers.

Outsiders may know the alt-right from its disdain for liberal democracy, its belief in hard-wired racial and gender distinctions, and its use of crude online memes to promote President Trump and ridicule its enemies (disproportionately women, Jews and members of minority groups). But the alt-right is also fiercely committed to preserving and championing the great works of Western civilization. In its adherents’ eyes, politically correct “social justice warriors” want to kill the classics, maliciously, as part of a larger project of “white genocide,” which they define as the erasure of the white race and its culture through interracial reproduction and the celebration of diversity.

Defending the classics against this purported coldblooded attempted murder has been of paramount importance to the alt-right almost since its inception.”


“In our time, Classics is being threatened by a familiar (but resurgent) enemy: a set of dangerous reactionaries who want to read their own disturbing ideology into the Classics as a form of cultural appropriation; it is thought that Classical precedent confers legitimacy upon their thinking. For that reason, we ought to carefully examine and attempt to understand the nature of this type of cultural appropriation…”

“Lately a large percentage of this account’s followers espouse beliefs—or at least retweet ideas—that align with alt-right or extremely conservative viewpoints. At several points over the last year, some followers have complained about the political content of this account

There is an erroneous and pernicious view that material from Greece and Rome is somehow of political or ideological content. This is a political and ideological view itself.

We welcome followers of all backgrounds, but we will not be cowed from expressing, implying, or amplifying viewpoints that come from the modern world.

The past is not an ideological blank slate innocent of political ramifications in the present. Our current identities are always being written and rewritten in dialogue with the past.

This dialogue necessarily entails re-appropriation and re-interpretation of the past. The very act of excerpting a quotation and transferring it from one context to another is a reappropriation.

This account is run by human beings who exist in the world and time and have political viewpoints about the world and its ‘progress’ based on our own education and experience.

These human beings are also educators who believe that the past is misused to justify and perpetuate harmful ideas about the past in order to shape the present.

This account’s purpose is (1) to educate and entertain, (2) to offer real quotations with original text and information for context, and (3) to perform outreach to show how Classics still pertains to the modern world.

But it is also (4) to combat insidious use of Classical texts and (5) to act as a force of good in the world.

We do not idealize Greece and Rome. We study the past as a means to better understand our origins, our mistakes, the course and patterns of history, and what it means to be a human being. We do not want to replicate the past…”

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