The alt-right have a fondness for justifying their beliefs with mangled historical references and assertions that only white people have contributed significantly to culture. The historians and classicists have noticed, and are beginning to marshal resources to fight back. So here you go, a preliminary list of articles that rebut fascist claims. The Nazi wanna-bes are going to hate it. But, as Donna Zuckerberg frankly admits, there is a danger of temptation.
The Alt-Right is hungry to learn more about the ancient world. It believes that the classics are integral to education. It is utterly convinced that classical antiquity is relevant to the world we live in today, a comfort to classicists who have spent decades worrying that the field may be sliding into irrelevance in the eyes of the public.
The next four years are going to be a very difficult time for many people. But if we’re not careful, it could be a dangerously easy time for those who study ancient Greece and Rome. Classics, supported by the worst men on the Internet, could experience a renaissance and be propelled to a position of ultimate prestige within the humanities during the Trump administration, as it was in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Classics made great again.
This is my call to arms for all classicists. No matter how white and male Classics once was, we are not that anymore. In spite of the numerous obstacles that remain, our field is now more diverse than ever, and that is something to be proud of.
These men are positioning themselves as the defenders of Western Civilization. Classicists, when you see this rhetoric, fight back. We must not allow the Alt-Right to define what Classics will mean in Trump’s America.
But she also points out what needs to be done.
It is time for Classics as a discipline to say to these men: we will not give you more fodder for your ludicrous theory that white men are morally and intellectually superior to all other races and genders. We do not support your myopic vision of “Western Civilization.” Your version of antiquity is shallow, poorly contextualized, and unnuanced. When you use the classics to support your hateful ideas, we will push back by exposing just how weak your understanding is, how much you have invested in something about which you know so little.
She also provides a specific list of actions classics experts should take, as the alt-right continues to invade and appropriate their discipline, especially in light of the fact that classics already has a problem with people who see the field as “the study of one elite white man after another”. Boy, does this resonate: this is exactly the problem we have in atheism, too. Some of these solutions apply to us.
When you hear someone —be they a student, a colleague, or an amateur — say that they are interested in Classics because of “the Greek miracle” or because Classics is “the foundation of Western civilization and culture,” challenge that viewpoint respectfully but forcefully. Engage them on their assumed definitions of “foundation,” “Western,” “civilization,” and “culture.” Point out that such ideas are a slippery slope to white supremacy. Seek better reasons for studying Classics.
In your scholarship, focus on the parts of antiquity that aren’t elite white men. Read and cite the work of scholars who write about race, gender, and class in the ancient world. Be open about the marginalization and bias that exists within our discipline. Model a kind of Classics that isn’t quite so congenial to the neo-Nazis of the Alt-Right.
As the Alt-Right becomes more vocal and normalized, we may face pressure to frame our research and teaching in a way that will appeal to this new audience of Classics enthusiasts. Resist that pressure.
Do not write content for these men. Sometimes they publish articles such as “Mate, Hate is Great! A Philosophical Defense of Misogyny”; if you are approached to contribute to such a blog, refuse and write about the incident instead.
Consider coming out in support of progressive student and community movements. Classics has a long history of regressive politics, and if we are serious about social justice and activism, we must speak out.
Write to professional Classics organizations, including the Society for Classical Studies, and encourage them to take a stand against these groups. Samuel Huskey has written and shared a lovely example of such a letter.
If you are so inclined, engage with the classical reception that these men produce. There is a narrative blooming that you can see in that Breitbart Guide to the Alt-Right, where the writers claim, “Skinheads, by and large, are low-information, low-IQ thugs driven by the thrill of violence and tribal hatred. The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They’re dangerously bright.” But the Alt-Right are not “dangerously bright.” They are young men — if you’ll excuse the pun, the kids are alt-right — whose inane readings of classical texts often provide a window into their intellectual shortcomings.
I am considering creating a Tumblr to document examples of Alt-Right Classics. If you are interested in contributing, contact the Eidolon team (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Note especially #4, which is particularly relevant given recent attempts to draft popular atheists to attend and speak at alt-right conferences. Zuckerberg’s response to that would be…don’t.
I have to add this statement from the Society for Classical Studies:
…the Society strongly supports efforts to include all groups among those who study and teach the ancient world, and to encourage understanding of antiquity by all. It vigorously and unequivocally opposes any attempt to distort the diverse realities of the Greek and Roman world by enlisting the Classics in the service of ideologies of exclusion, whether based on race, color, national origin, gender, or any other criterion. As scholars and teachers, we condemn the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.