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Are the Classics Complicit in White Supremacy?

Editor’s note: This is the final instalment in a four-part series on the Classics.

As I’ve said before, for me, the debate about whether “Western Civ” should still be taught always comes back round to the situation facing my own field, classics.

And in recent years, the progressive classics website Eidolon has published a number of pieces suggesting that the idea of studying the Western classics in anything like a traditional way isn’t just ill-advised, but positively dangerous. Donna Zuckerberg, the editor of Eidolon, has warned that “Western Civ” is a slippery slope to white supremacy, for example, and Rebecca Kennedy has gone one further, arguing that classics as a field is in fact already complicit in white supremacy. I have no reason to believe that these scholars are motivated by anything other than a sincere belief that they are working for the good of their field and of society as a whole. But it’s my own sincere belief that their way of looking at this issue is fundamentally flawed, and that the kind of prescriptions they advance are likely to do more harm than good. 

So, is classics complicit in white supremacism? Before we get into the actual arguments, it’s worth noting how strong a claim this is. The claim isn’t (say) that classics could work harder to make itself welcoming to ethnic minorities, or that many classicists might be affected by implicit racial biases. The claim is that classics as a field is complicit in white supremacism, an ideology that holds that “the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races” (to use a standard definition that strikes me as reflecting most people’s understanding of the term).

As extreme as it may seem, that appears to be the claim. What kind of evidence would allow us to evaluate whether, or to what extent, this claim holds up? The kind of evidence that would convince me might include classics academics arguing that white people are inherently superior, organizing panels discussing how white people might gain control over people of other races, and so on. That may seem a pretty high bar, but that’s the bar that it seems appropriate to set in assessing the very ambitious claim that’s been made.

And I haven’t yet seen any evidence of that sort, or anything close to it. That may be because rather than trying to gather evidence of the sort that would support the claim (and maybe convince skeptics like me that classics is complicit in white supremacism after all), Zuckerberg, Kennedy, and others sympathetic to their take on this issue have focused their energies largely on documenting examples of members of the alt-right making use of classical material. Their main argument, it would seem, is that classics is complicit in white supremacy (or is a slippery slope to it) because white supremacists sometimes make use of classical material.

We can see a version of this argument behind Zuckerberg’s advice that if we’re tempted to entertain some common arguments against a “social justice” view of the classics, we should remember that these views have also been held by people like Daryush Valizadeh. That looks to me like the fallacy known as “guilt by association,” in which it’s inferred that if I agree with someone about one thing, I must agree with them about everything else. If I agree with one idea Zuckerberg mentions, that “we should study Classics because those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it,” does this mean that I necessarily also agree with Valizadeh’s claim that “women must have their behaviour and decisions controlled by men?”

I’ll change the example in case that helps some readers detect the fallacy. If a left-wing student thinks capitalism has its problems, and so did Mao, does that mean they should steer away from thinking critically about capitalism? Jordan Peterson took some heat for accepting a variant of this argument, that we should be wary of left-wing student activists since they’re influenced by the same philosophy that guided Mao. I think he was right to, and most Eidolon readers no doubt agree. But it’s essentially the same argument as Zuckerberg’s claim that anyone interested in Western Civ is enabling white supremacism.

Of course, it’s not clear that Zuckerberg is claiming that people who teach Western Civ courses are actively encouraging white supremacism, rather than just being on a slippery slope to white supremacism. I haven’t seen any data that would suggest that they are, but let’s again just change the terms of the argument while keeping its basic structure the same. Consider radical Islamism: we know that a lot of radical Islamists, and even some terrorists, admire classical Islamic culture and read the Koran. But so do a lot of moderate Muslims. Should we conclude that moderate Islam is a slippery slope to terrorism? Again, most Eidolon readers would probably reject that argument (rightly, in my view); but it’s essentially the same as the argument that your average student of Western Civ is enabling white supremacism.

Zuckerberg and Kennedy’s main argument, then—that alt-right use of classical material shows that classics is complicit in the alt-right, or a gateway to it—doesn’t hold up. To be fair, though, maybe the argument that classics is complicit in white supremacy is relying partly on the discipline’s past. Maybe the claim is partly that classics as a field has a long association with racism and colonialism.

That claim strikes me as undeniably true. Many, maybe even most, classicists throughout the field’s history were probably racists, and they were probably guilty of other forms of prejudice too. The field had a particularly close association with European colonialism; many of the men who served as officers as administrators in the British Empire in particular had an education in the classics. Some of the most unsavory movements in European history drew heavily on the classical past: the best example is probably the original Fascism, the Italian Fascism of Mussolini, which was a conscious and explicit attempt to bring back the “glory” of the Roman Empire.

Readers of Eidolon will no doubt be familiar with all of this. But there are a few things worth bearing in mind. The first is that classics is one of the oldest of all academic fields, with roots in antiquity itself. If a lot of classicists have been racists, that probably has more to do with the periods most of them lived in than with the nature of the field. And though it’s probably easier to find examples of great classicists with dubious views than great Media Studies scholars, that’s probably because Media Studies wasn’t even around in periods where views we now think of as dubious were widespread.

Another thing to take note of is that classics was, for most of history, the dominant form of education for elite Europeans. That means that we’d expect to find people with a background in classics at the forefront of virtually every political and cultural movement in Western history, both those that we’d now rather forget and those that we’re now inclined to celebrate. And that is exactly what we do find. In the nineteenth century, for example, imperialists certainly studied the classics, but so did abolitionists. Conservatives were steeped in the classics—but so were democratic reformers like George Grote. Karl Marx studied the classics, but so did Grote’s friend John Stuart Mill.

This pattern repeats itself for as long as classics retains its dominance at the top level of European education—even into the twentieth century. So it is that while a fair number of Fascists (both in Italy and Germany) had some familiarity with the classical world, so did a good number of their victims, as well as a good numbers of the politicians and military officers in the countries that eventually defeated them. Anyone trying to evaluate how complicit classics has been in white supremacy should take into account, alongside Mussolini, Jewish classicists (like Eduard Fraenkel, to give just one example) who were forced to flee their homelands. It should also take into account the many British and Commonwealth classicists who risked their lives (and in many cases lost them) in order to face down the most violent and successful white supremacist movement of them all.

One particularly well-known sub-set of these men found themselves putting their classical knowledge to good use as part of the Cretan resistance to Nazi rule. These included the Australian classicist Tom Dunbabin, his college friend Sandy Rendel, and the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. These men were celebrated above all for their daring plot to kidnap a German general, General Kreipe, a plot that they successfully carried out. At one point, Fermor found himself alone with the kidnapped general high in the Cretan mountains. When Kreipe began quoting sections of an ode by Horace, Fermor replied by the reciting the rest of the poem. As Fermor put it, “We had both drunk at the same fountains.”

The reason I’m repeating this anecdote here is because it encapsulates the point I’ve been making for the past few paragraphs—that a classical education was something that was common to virtually all elite Europeans, the ones that ended up fighting for Fascist countries and the ones that ended up fighting against it. And that suggests that a classical education in itself probably had relatively little influence on what side you ended up fighting on. Both fascists and democrats could find what they were looking for in the classics—hardly surprising, once we remember the long duration and vast diversity of the classical past.

To sum up, there’s no reason to believe that classics as a field has had any particular tendency towards white supremacism either in the present or in the past. If that’s comforting, it should also free us to deal more effectively with two problems that are currently facing our field.

The first is an enormous political imbalance. Academics in the humanities lean overwhelmingly to the left. According to one study from the U.S., conservatives make up only seven percent of professors in history, only four percent in philosophy, and only three percent in literature. I don’t know of any comparable figures for classics, but I think it’s a fair bet that the field isn’t wildly out of line with these related disciplines. Given what we know about our tendency as human beings for various types of in-group bias, this poses a moral challenge for anyone who wants to ensure that our field is genuinely open to people from across the political spectrum.

The other problem is declining enrollments. Humanities majors as a share of all majors in the U.S. have been falling for quite some time, and as far as I can tell a lot of classics departments are under considerable pressure across the English-speaking world. Economic factors may well explain a lot of this (even most of it), but it may be that the political imbalance I just mentioned also plays some role. That, at any rate, is the implication of a Pew Research study that found that a majority of U.S. Republicans now believe that universities do more harm than good—something that wasn’t true until 2015, but is true now.

I would suggest that one way of ameliorating both these problems would be to engage more positively with people who want to study classics in a more traditional way, including from a “Western Civ” perspective. Since our field is composed largely of people on the Left, we should try especially hard to off-set out natural biases and be accommodating to the considerable proportion of our societies that don’t identify as left-wing. This has the potential not only to help us meet the moral challenge of being genuinely open to everyone—it also might just help us secure the future of our discipline by making sure we’re not unnecessarily turning off a good number of our potential students.

Finally, genuinely embracing students from the moderate Right may well be the best way to ensure that they don’t fall onto any slippery slopes to white supremacism. After all, if people don’t think there’s a place for them in university classics departments, it’s likely that they’ll simply pursue any interest they might have in the classical world through video games or on YouTube. That means they’ll be less likely to be exposed to left-wing ideas, less likely to have their own ideas challenged, and less likely to be given access to high-quality information about the ancient world. Some of them may even drift towards the radical Right—a result that nobody wants, least of all the good editors of Eidolon.


James Kierstead is Senior Lecturer in Classics at Victoria University of Wellington and the current co-ordinator of Heterodox Classics, endorsed by Heterodox Academy. Follow him on Twitter @Kleisthenes2.


  1. “slippery slopes to white supremacism…”.

    I’ve been around for 35-odd years, lived in a few different western countries, and I have run into one person who described themselves as a white supremacist. That’s one person out of thousands and thousands over the years.

    I run into people quite often on the far-left, which isn’t difficult considering I live in Melbourne.

    Subjective statements, yes.

    Meanwhile, I continually hear from the media about people who are white supremacists. Jordan Peterson, Sargon of Akkad, Dave Rubin, etc. It’s got to the point whereby I simply don’t believe any claim of someone being a white supremacist anymore without a video of the person, clearly identified, stating as such.

    The whole idea of so-called “white supremacy” has been blown completely out of proportion by grievance studies at universities, the far left, and the silly media that follow along.

    We should be pushing back against this nonsense and forcing people like Zuckerberg to provide actual proof. I rarely actually see proper proof of these claims.

    • The drive to “root out” white supremacy is a nihilistic exercise, an attempt to tear down the existing structure without offering anything equal or better in its place.

      Only two generations ago, people inside and outside the traditional West were clamoring for equal access to the academic and civilizational products of this classical civilization. They won, and everyone rejoiced. But today the legacy of the freedom fighters is in tatters and we all face barbarians inside as well as outside the gates. What happened? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that ancient philosophers are not to blame, and they may actually offer clues to get out of this mess. So let’s burn their legacy instead. Let’s break the chain of knowledge that has sustained us since the Renaissance, and that propelled the ancients from barbarism to self-knowledge and civilization.


      • Charlie says

        What happened ?. Simple. Since post 1960s at the latest and possible from the mid 1930s entry requirements for universities have declined. Those readings Classics pre 1914 already had sufficient training to be able to understand, appreciate and respect what had been achieved . The lowering of standards at least post 1960 , if not before, means those entering university no longer have an adequate training, recognise their inadequacy and feel humiliated. The rigours of Shakespeare’s school education shows the inadequacy of those who criticise The Classics. Consequently, the Left destroys that which humiliates them and shows them to be an empty can, hollow and makes plenty of noise.

    • You were five years old the last time I ran into a person openly declaring they were white supremacist. I don’t even think that guy is alive any longer.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Every person not of color you encountered for those 35-odd years was a white supremacist, because possessing that kind of skin is ipso facto white supremacism. That’s the mindset being discussed here. These people are waving around their version of the Little Red Book and consider themselves woke and cutting-edge. Time to turn them all into subsistence farmers.

      • My experience has been similar to yours, Mark. I’ve never met a person in my life who told me that white people were superior to black people because of their race (and I’ve lived in half a dozen different countries). My sister did tell me that my grandmother (a rural New Brunswick Baptist) once indicated that she didn’t think mixed-race couples were a good thing, and if you look at polling data that attitude wasn’t untypical of previous generations. But, as I say, in my own lifetime I’ve found attitudes like that not just rare, but virtually non-existent.

        I could say the same for the field of classics. I went to some pretty conservative schools in England, and was taught by some solidly Tory Anglican classics masters, some of whom had been born during or just after the war. My first Latin teacher was actually a white South African. And again, I never heard a single comment from any of them that suggested that they thought white people were inherently superior. And, as it happens, I sometimes heard them explicitly deny this (including the South African, who told us he’d left his native country after being investigated for writing letters to the newspapers that were critical of apartheid). I even remember a sermon in school chapel telling us that the old idea that some races were inferior was simply false, the way many outmoded theories from the past were straightforwardly false.

        When I moved on to Oxford and London, I again failed to hear anything that might suggest that white people were ethnically superior; and again I encountered a lot of people who were keen to point out that racialism was false and wrong. When I went to Stanford, I found that a good number of people were actively engaged in criticizing and fighting racism, and nobody that I ever met said that racism was true or good.

        Now, as you say, Mark, this is subjective, or, as I would say, anecdotal. It might be that I simply failed to come across all the white supremacists in my field. I try to be open-minded: maybe there are white supremacists out there teaching Latin. If so, I would ask Zuckerberg and Kennedy to provide good evidence of them, and to show how many of them there are, and what positions they hold. I do wonder whether it’s partly the difficulty of finding any evidence of white supremacism in the field that has led them to emphasize the argument I discuss in the piece, that we are complicit because some extremists make use of classical material. But, for the reasons I state, I don’t think that’s a strong argument.

  2. Donald Collins says

    Are you worried about Black Supremacy movements? Louis Farrakhan runs a pretty big one that has many more members than the total of white groups out there, which has been put at about 10K, but I don’t care if you say its 100K still the same,.. between the BLM, the Louis Farrakhan and the ANTIFA folks that spew hate, white supremacists are positive daft in their influence, as in they have none, whereas the groups I just mentioned have political overt allies.

    Do you see any Western classical values in any of those organizations?

    If you want to prop up boogeymen for your arguments, then maybe include all boogeymen, particularly those that have actual political power, and believe it or not, its color isn’t white, or you wouldn’t see the cow towing to the previous mentioned groups.

    Voltaire said “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

    • Doug Deeper says

      James Kierstead seems like a very nice fellow with very nice suggestions to help his field entice more students. He suggests that the humanities “be accommodating to the considerable proportion of our societies that don’t identify as left-wing.” What a pleasant and utterly unattainable goal.
      It appears to me that humanities departments repel non-leftists for obvious reasons – the humanities has made it clear that non-leftists are not only unwelcome, but vile people. It is clear that if people who run the humanities departments today had their way they would classify so-called populists as sub-human. They provide a good bit of the rationalization that drives the antifa crowd to violence against the non-leftists.
      The fact that Mr. Kierstead works among them testifies to his stunning naivete. With any luck Jordan Peterson will grow his Humanities U concept, and start educating young people again in the humanities without regard to their political opinions, skin pigment or lack thereof, gender, or any of the other traits the current humanities departments use to separate the “human from sub-human.”

      • Donald, I think we should reject racism of all types. This piece, though, is a response a specific claim that Zuckerberg, Kennedy, and a few other classical scholars have made, that our field is complicit specifically in white supremacy. It does strike me that, if their arguments are valid, our field is equally complicit in various types of left-wing extremism. But I’d rather not press that line of attack, since a) their ‘slippery-slope’ argument are not valid in my view (for the reasons given above), so they wouldn’t be any less invalid in my hands; and b) I’d rather all ideas be allowed to flourish in academia, where they can then be rationally criticized rather than denounced, as is currently so fashionable, with their proponents smeared by ‘guilt by association’ tactics.

        Doug, thanks for the compliment – I hope I’m nice, since niceness is certainly something I’ve appreciated in other people. (Though, of course, agreeableness can go too far, and that may be part of the reasons universities are in the state they are at the moment). I basically agree with what you say, although I wouldn’t put it as strongly. I don’t think most of my colleagues would say right-wingers are vile – I think a tiny (but surprisingly influential) minority might say things approaching that, and many others fail to stand up to it because it comes from a left-wing direction that they (because of their own political slant) assume is well-intentioned and along the right lines. There’s a good piece by Lee Jussim in Areo that describes this situation quite well.

        So, that means I’m not sure the universities are completely lost right at the moment, though they’re definitely failing in their mission to be genuinely open to all already. I certainly hope they’re not lost, because they’ve built up so many resources over the years, and have so many good and knowledgeable people in them, that it would be much easier if they could simply correct the current drift towards cultishness – easier than starting up a whole new university system! But we’ll see how things go. In the meantime, I’d urge people who do care about the universities to join groups that emphasize political balance like Heterodox Academy. I’d also urge conservatives (and anyone who doesn’t agree with identity politics, including centrist liberals like myself) not to abandon the universities, but to get involved in campus politics, make yourselves heard, and defend the kind of values that ensure that a range of different ideas can be heard.

  3. Stephanie says

    It’s hard for me to say whether I agree with the notion that the classics lead to white supremacy, having exactly no knowledge of the classics.

    Assuming the comparisons the author makes are valid, I’ll address those: does admiring Mao mean a leftist can be lead towards supporting totalitarianism? Absolutely, how else does one interpret sympathy for Mao?

    Does being a “moderate” Muslim lead to being an extremist or terrorist? Well, calling oneself a Muslim to begin with means belief at least in the impeccable virtue of Prophet Muhammad, who’s directives are what we would call “extremist.” Pew research shows “extreme” opinions are indeed very common among Muslims. So, yes, adherence to an ideology with “extreme” dictates does appear to lead you to extremism.

    If we apply these examples to inform on the question of whether the classics lead to white supremacy, the first thing to establish would be whether the classics (wholly or in part) preach white supremacy. If they do, are those who study classics taking them as gospel, the way they would be if they were a religious text like the Koran or Hadith? If not as a religious text, are the classics taken as espousing an ideology those who study them are committed to, like the Maoists and Marxists?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’d hazard a guess that study of the classics occurs through a critical lens. I doubt it is taken as dogma, or it would not qualify as an academic discipline. I’d imagine it is dissected from every angle, put into historical context, and distilled for meaning useful and informative to today.

    If this is the case, then calling the classics a gateway to white supremacy betrays the accusers dogmatic approach to study and inability to handle material they don’t agree with entirely. This precludes a real study of history or culture, and is a deeply anti-knowledge attitude that ought to be fought at every opportunity.

    I appreciate the author’s contribution, but I would have preferred to see a more full-throated defense of his field.

    • Seems as if you have academic knowledge of Mao and Mohammad, therefore totalitarianism and (extreme?) Islam, Yet you would assert that gaining knowledge pertaining to Western Civilization and the classics is somehow unacceptable.

    • harrync says

      Stephanie – I just want to let you know that if don’t understand ra’s reply to you, I don’t understand it either. Maybe ra would like to explain more about how you “would assert that gaining knowledge pertaining to Western Civilization and the classics is somehow unacceptable.” I didn’t see anything like that in your post.

    • Rich Dilorenzo says

      I don’t really understand this belief that reading “the classics” is somehow a radical idea. Look at the list of the “103 Great Ideas” a list compiled by Mortimer Adler a Great Books proponent extraordinaire. Idea are NOT particularly gender specific nor are they racially dependent. They are specifics of human experience when we actually take the time to consider them. Beauty, equality, honor, courage, wisdom, wealth, family, labor, progress, war and peace, rhetoric, logic, eternity, time, metaphysics, God, change, infinity. Who in the world would think that every human in some way is not at least curious about these and all the rest? The absurdity of the obsession with race and gender and so forth is completely out of place it seems to me in this context. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bath. Any normally intelligent human being of any race or gender who doesn’t believe that the Great Ideas exist and are not only worthy of interest, but essential to a fuller development of personality and mind seems to me to be missing the boat and cannot see the forest for the trees. Forget the classics if you will, but it is like driving past the Grand Canyon on the Highway and not taking the time to go take a look.

      • Thanks Stephanie, though I think you might have misinterpreted my argument about Mao: the question is not ‘does admiring Mao mean a leftist can be led towards supporting totalitarianism?’ But ‘if a student thinks there are problems with capitalism, and so did Mao, does that mean we should treat the student as complicit in the crimes of Mao?’

        What you say about Islam gets the form of my argument right, but I’m not sure I agree with your reaction to it. This is mainly because, whatever attitudes intellectuals may think are entailed by the Koran, it would seem that most moderate Muslims don’t hold them, or, at least (this is in response to the Pew data) don’t act on them. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Koran was not a nice text in a number of ways (though I haven’t read it all the way through), but, of course, you could say similar things about the Old Testament. In neither cases does simply reading the text seem to predict harmful sorts of zeal very effectively. (In fact, I do wonder whether reading texts in critical and open-minded settings doesn’t do a lot to help people put aside some of their less helpful recommendations).

        Anyway, the examples were, of course, exempli gratia: my main point was simply that arguments of the form ‘Extremists believe extreme X, therefore we shouldn’t let people study X or espouse moderate X’ aren’t strong, and would have a potentially catastrophic effect on the whole idea of a liberal education.

  4. codadmin says

    Are the Western classics implicit in white supremacy?

    No. And anyone who says they are is a vile racist.

    • I agree that the answer is ‘no,’ but I wouldn’t say that anyone who disagrees is a vile racist. It seems to me to be quite possible to think that the classics are complicit in white supremacy and also not be a racist. And, of course, even if those people were racists it wouldn’t necessarily affect their arguments.

      • Sarka says

        Wot, you mean Aristotle and co wrote stuff like “Democracy for Dummies”??? Or “The Idiots Guide to Democracy”…. That’s awesome, I guess they made a lot of money….

          • It’s hard to say who invented democracy, since different people mean different things by the term (was the relative egalitarianism of the hunter-gatherers ‘democratic’?), and the evidence for early periods of human history is so scarce. If we’re talking about genuine popular control of a government or state, though, I do think that the Greek democracies are the earliest ones that we have good evidence for. I’ve seen some claims for earlier city-states in Sumeria/Mesopotamia, but I have to say I haven’t been convinced by the evidence that’s been adduced (which is pretty thin in my view). There is some slightly better (but still pretty thin) evidence for democracy (or a form of republicanism) in Indian city-states, but these actually come later than the Greek democracies I’ve just mentioned. So the Greeks were probably first, although there may have been several different ‘discoveries’ of majoritarian principles in other parts of the world that can’t really be traced back to the Greeks (some Jewish communities, Buddhist monasteries, and Icelandic/Germanic groups that had some form of ‘one person, one vote’).

  5. Farris says

    Western civilization like other civilizations practiced slavery and denied women suffrage and equal rights. Western civilization is the only civilization to right both these wrongs.

    • I believe what you say is historically accurate. Why this was the case is, like most questions dealing with historical causality, a complex one.

  6. Alan Green says

    The fact that this question is even under discussion points, in my view, to the failure of the study of the Classics/Western Civ.

    It’s certainly a legitimate critique to ask why Western studies are more important than, say, Chinese studies. I believe the answer lies in the fact that something extraordinary occurred within western cultures over the last 300+ years that was revolutionary – probably the most fundamental change in human society since the agricultural revolution. Prior to this period human civilization had for several millennia followed a remarkably similar structure: a “layered” society with a divinely-appointed ruler (“God-King”) at the top. Next came some form of royalty: sometimes a warrior class, sometimes a priestly class, but almost always the position came through inheritance. Next came a sometimes multi-layered group of commoners: at a minimum a merchant class & a peasant/farmer class. Finally came slavery of some form: not always for life nor based on race, but never the less almost universal. Women were second class citizens within each class. From ancient China, to the Pharaohs pf Egypt, to Europe, to the Aztecs & Incas, if one didn’t still live in a tribal hunter/gatherer society, one lived under some variation of this regime.

    But in the course of this short 300 year period, ideas emerged in Western Civilization that not only overthrew this framework, but also ushered in such concepts as reason, science, human rights, democracy, & equality. It also didn’t take long for these principles to spread to the rest of the world, improving the lives of billions of people.

    How did this happen? What were the historical thoughts that made this revolution occur? Who were the major players? Remarkably, my two daughters, one in college, one in high school, no nothing of these revolutionary changes.

    Presumably the importance of studying classical Western Civilization is to better understand the role Greece & Rome played as early partial exceptions to the general rule. But somewhere along the way this message went missing. Hence, the ideas of the Enlightenment seem to be dying.

    I recommend a change from the study of Western civilization to a study of the Enlightenment. To the degree ancient Western society contributed to this movement, it should be included. This would remove the hint of “White Supremacy” inherent in any course of study called “Western”, & replace it with an overt assertion of why these ideas are so important.

    • “It’s certainly a legitimate critique to ask why Western studies are more important than, say, Chinese studies.”
      If you refer to those living and studying in the west then no it is absolutely not a legitimate critique any more than complaining there is too much of a focus on Chinese studies in China. Or that people in India are studying the Vedas too much.
      If you are attending school in Ghana and all your kids are learning about is European history then you have grounds for complaint.
      This entire argument is absurd.

      • Alan Green says

        I agree, so maybe I didn’t express my point clearly.

        It’s certainly legitimate for any culture to “study itself”: Chinese studies in China, India studying the Vedas, or the western classics in western nations.

        My point is that the Enlightenment, separate & apart from it’s attachment to western culture, is worthy of study in ANY culture anywhere due to it’s revolutionary impact on most of the world (certainly a non-western culture would be expected to add a great deal about the specific thinkers who brought Enlightenment ideas to their own culture – for instance, any South American country would include the ideas & actions of Simon Bolivar).

        The sentence you quoted above was intended as an expression of a hypothetical multiculturalist’s opposition to teaching classical western civilization in the west. And you’re perfectly correct that there should be nothing wrong with doing so simply because we’re a western nation, to which, I suspect, the multiculturalist would reply with accusations of white supremacy, bigotry, etc, etc.

        But it’s my suspicion that multiculturalism is simply a tactic to suppress the ideas of the enlightenment. I’m attempting to address this head-on by expressing Enlightenment ideas as something much bigger & universal than simply the ramblings of “dead white males”.

        • Thanks, Alan. You’re basically proposing that we foreground the astounding historical turn produced by the Industrial Revolution, when living standards shot up, first in the West, then elsewhere too. I agree that this is one of the most impactful events in human history (only the Neolithic/agricultural revolution really compares), and is well worth studying. As for justifying the study of the West entirely through that, I have a couple of concerns:

          1) Asking the important question ‘Why did the Industrial Revolution happen when and where it did?’ really only justifies studying Western history in the years running up to that event. (The theory that the IR was locked in from ancient times is, I think, implausible, especially when you look at the scientific lead Islam and China had at various points before that.) It doesn’t help me justify the study of ancient history: even if (as you seem to suggest) a place like classical Athens was sort of a precursor to modernity, that still leaves most of ancient history, that clearly wasn’t.

          2) And I do think students should know a bit about ancient history, mainly because it’s part of the larger story of human history. We can’t really see the whole road if we leave that rather extensive stretch out. Even the claim (correct, in my view) ‘the Industrial Revolution led to unprecedented levels of economic growth’ is dependent on a careful study of the evidence relating to the ancient economy. (See Alain Bresson’s work for a masterclass on that.)

          3) Finally, though the astounding fact of the IR may justify us in studying Western science and technology, and maybe even some branches of philosophy, it’s difficult to see how it would justify us studying other parts of Western culture, such as sculpture and poetry. And I think such things are a worthwhile part of a humanistic education, not to mention part of a rounded picture of Western civilization.

  7. Farris says

    A Leftist will tell you you’re fortunate and privileged to be born in affluent western country and then tell you how oppressive and unjust that same country is.

  8. jimhaz says

    “The claim is that classics as a field is complicit in white supremacism, an ideology that holds that “the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races”

    This definition does sound extreme. I don’t know much about hard core white supremacists, but my guess would be – Of those in white supremacist groups all would think they are inherently superior, and in white majority countries would expect to maintain that which they believe makes them superior, which means controlling minorities to the degree they are perceived to harm the sustainability of that majority and its systems or operations – but I doubt they care much about controlling the non-white people of other nations providing they are not a potential threat. What I mean is that they are just protecting their territory like say a pack of wolves would.

    The classics I suppose would all be set within imperialistic dynamics, where the object was to gain control over other nations for resources to compete better with their competitors. In this setting – yes it was control over other non-domestic races. With the outcomes of modern capitalism however the need for military imperialism is far less required – as competitors all want the fruits of capitalism, they progressively undertake measures to adopt it without being forced to by whites. Last century military imperialism was replaced with political imperialism, but unfortunately many nations still have the “God-King” mentality (as per Alan Greens post) and fail to successfully change as a result.

  9. Everyone’s “racist.” In the sense they look out for their own kind. As a matter of fact, the least “racist” people on earth are white hetero males.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


      Exactly. Only white hetero males will allow themselves to be vilified by the very people who the former have given so much to. The Western woman is the most prosperous and free and, yes, Privileged woman the world has ever seen. The Negro privileged to live in the West has a standard of living 10X that of his African brothers. The Muslim living in the West is freer, even in matters of religion, than anyone living in the Muslim world. They all agree they are Oppressed, yet none of them seem to want to leave and, to the contrary, we see hordes of people from Black and Muslim countries trying to get in. What they really want is power, but how wisely will they wield it?

    • Marian Hennings says

      What, exactly, determines one’s kind? I have had more in common culturally with some nonwhites than some whites regarding music, art, religion, politics, food, and sporting enthusiasms. I know that this is true of many other people as well.

  10. jimhaz says

    “women must have their behaviour and decisions controlled by men?”

    Personally, I agree with this at the broad context level. But I also agree with its opposite, that men must have their behaviour and decisions controlled by women.

    The thing that scares me most about women having equality in politics, is that where not moderated by real men (real = masculine minded) the world of men will become smothered by over-mothering.

    Women have forever moderated the selfishness of men and learnt certain skills and HABITS that given equal political power may lead to the abuse of men (as in restricting the actions of men to such a degree that they do not have the freedom to be masculine, which includes making mistakes). The trend in modern politics is that women will control men both at the macro level and the traditional micro level.

    • Robert Paulson says

      “I have no reason to believe that these scholars are motivated by anything other than a sincere belief that they are working for the good of their field and of society as a whole.”

      I stopped reading here. Its this is the kind of spineless, milquetoast response I’ve come to expect from “classical” liberals as our civilization and history is in the process of being wiped out by these radicals. In many ways, this author and his kind are worse than our revolutionary friends on the left, who least they have the strength and conviction to battle for what they believe while these useless liberals make futile pleas “calm” on “all sides” and even ask us to take seriously the idea that our sworn enemies are simply “misguided” and have “good intentions” – something they would never afford any of us. Its this weak bourgeois concern for civility above all else that has allowed our institutions to be taken over from the inside out without a shot fired.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

        @Robert Paulson

        Well, yes, that’s it exactly. It is time to declare war. However, whereas the time is long past to attempt to reason with the PC Warriors, I think we have no choice but to continue to reason with our reasonable brothers and sisters as to the need to stop trying to reason with the real enemy since the latter have openly renounced reason anyway. We can’t afford internal division, therefore I do not risk alienating someone like the author, I rather gently — or sharply — advise him to understand that the time for persuasion is past. But time is short, the Warriors now control politics and they are on the verge of taking over the courts.

  11. Anne O'Nymous says

    In a curious coincidence, the following post appeared on Rod Dreher’s blog on ‘The American Conservative’ shortly after this piece was published: . In the 1980s and 1990s classicists were angry, frustrated and desperate because administrators were killing off their academic discipline. Basically they just wanted to kill themselves and resented the outside help. I feel bad for them though. Can’t we do something to help them? Like pull the plug?

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      @Anne O’Nymous

      The professor at the center of Dreher’s smear is Dr. Dan-el Padilla Peralta. He was the recipient of a personal racist taunt from an independent classics scholar at the recent annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies.

      You can read about his academic career here:

      Some highlights:

      Padilla was born in 1984 in the Dominican Republic. His family entered the US legally on a temporary visa, so that his mother could obtain emergency medical care. The family applied for a further visa extension but never heard back from the INS.

      Padilla’s father returned home while his mother overstayed her visa [GASP!] to raise Padilla and his infant brother in homeless shelters in New York City. He won a scholarship to Collegiate School in Manhattan, where he learned Greek, Latin, and French. Padilla applied for early admission to Princeton and was accepted in December, 2001, even though he admitted on his application that he was in the US illegally. Princeton nevertheless awarded him a full scholarship out of its own funds; He graduated summa cum laude.

      Padilla then obtained a scholarship to read for the M.Phil. in Greek and Roman History at Oxford U. (2008), followed by a Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford (2014). After a two-year postdoctoral stint at Columbia’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities, he returned to Princeton as assistant professor of Classics.

      See also, from which the above is adapted.

      Why can’t people like Dreher celebrate the success of people like Padilla, instead of smearing him?

      • Anne O'Nymous says

        Thanks for this. Dreher wrote a follow-up: .

        I see a sneer, but no “smear”. Could you point out specifically what is a “smear”? Not asking passive-aggressively. I genuinely don’t see what counts as a “smear” there. “Sneer” on the other hand, sure. Absolutely.

        Just to be clear, I don’t think anybody’s letting that “independent scholar” off the hook for her stupid rant. Outbursts like that ought to have consequences. Anybody who denies that isn’t right in the head or has some sinister motive.

        BUT Peralta’s reaction is pretty outrageous too. It’s difficult to defend his position, and in fact it’s disappointing when you consider how heroic his life has been.

        Someone accuses him of getting his position because he’s black, which is an outrage. He replies by insisting that he deserves his position precisely because he’s black (rather than because he’s a brilliantly gifted, talented, learned scholar who overcame immense obstacles to rise to his position).

        That’s an outrage too.

        No hero in this sorry story.

        • X. Citoyen says

          He also could’ve cited all his articles in peer-reviewed classics journals. But then he doesn’t have any—none. For all the awards and ivyed accolades heaped on him, he’s produced nothing of substance. Even his dissertation hasn’t been published. So I think we should wait awhile before calling him a “learned scholar.”

        • Jack B. Nimble says

          @Anne O’Nymous

          The smear consists of loaded, unfounded words and phrases like lunacy, nihilistic, racialist, and absurd threat. Admittedly, most of that long post was a cut-n-paste from one of Dreher’s readers.

          Apart from his academic training, Padilla’s personal history is an extra qualification for studying the ancient world. Colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples were a constant theme in Roman history, just as it was in the history of the Caribbean. And scholars of color DO bring different and valuable perspectives to the classics, in roughly the same way that women scholars do. I suspect that is what Padilla meant when he said that he should have been hired because he was Black. In any case, it was a neat way to turn the racist taunt back at the taunter.

          • Anne O'Nymous says

            Thank you for specifying what you mean.

            -“Lunacy” is a charged term; though it at least seems fair to describe this scholar’s position as incoherent if you see it as such.

            -“Nihilistic” is not necessarily a censure, just an attempted description of this position.

            -“Racialist” too seems a reasonable means of discussing a position which (unlike a “racist” one) does not maintain some sort of hierarchy of this “race” above that “race”. But it still involves thinking about people primarily or principally in terms of “race” and I at least don’t see another neutral term that fairly encapsulates this scholar’s position.

            -“Absurd”: again, a charged term. But I know I would struggle to describe this scholar’s position in plain language to a non-scholar without making that person think that this set of views is incoherent enough that it would be impossible to come up with internally coherent policies based on them that would be applicable in the real world and could withstand repeated testing in a court of law. This is not the word that I would use, but I do not think this a “smear”.

            You see why I characterise this as a “sneer” rather than a “smear”. Sneering is OK. Scholars do this all the time. It accounts for most of the dwindling quantity of social power academics have left. It does not constitute slander, calumny or libel.

            I see your point about this scholar’s “extra qualification” for studying the ancient world. I don’t buy it.

            I’m the immigrant daughter of immigrants. I want to think I have special insight into things based on my personal history that help me understand my subject. The truth is I don’t. I tell lies about this sort of thing on application forms to get funding or give me an edge in the job market. But my experience does not give me any extra skills in understanding or processing texts or materials, does not give me extra material that sheds any light on the subject, and does not give me any special insight into anything.

            If you believe in this hocus pocus then you know nothing about history. History is not a journalling exercise or a creative writing class. I have read too many junk articles about the Roman conquest of Italy, Gaul, Britain and everywhere else to be able to believe with a straight face that I have something special to say about that subject just because British and French people conquered and subjugated most of my ancestors.

            The sort of knowledge that I gained from experience and family history and all that is totally irrelevant to anything that matters in academic history. Maybe I could write a novel. But I don’t have any writing talent and even if I did nobody would care.

            I am sorry to people more qualified and talented than I am that I have lied on application forms and in interviews about this sort of thing. But there aren’t many academic jobs to go around so I will anything and everything I have to get tenure so I can have a stable life. Once I have it maybe then I can be honest about all the lies I have told to get my job. People will hate me but will not be able to punish me. That’s what really matters in the end.

            I’m sorry if you believe what people like me write. Actually I’m not that sorry. I should thank you for being credulous.

            Forgive me if I disagree that that was a neat way to turn a taunt back at a taunter. Maybe to other academics that looks like the brilliance of Cicero and Demosthenes. To a normal person that looks like a reckless admission of a cynical power strategy. Maybe it’s cynical. At least it wins for now because normal people are not paying attention. If they do, all of us academics are screwed.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Anne O’Nymous

            I said “different and valuable perspectives”, not “special insight.”

            I’m not interested in parsing the difference between ‘different’ and ‘special’ or between ‘sneer’ and ‘smear.’

            However, I’m interested in your claim that you have lied repeatedly to advance your academic career, and in why you think that people would hate you if the lies were revealed. Since you are commenting Anne O’Nymous-ly, could you be more specific? More generally, do you think that lying [as opposed to resume inflation] is common among job-seeking academics?

            PS: Tenure doesn’t guarantee a stable life. In my own former dept.–over a 30 year period–the various chairs were willing to put enough pressure on three under-performing tenured professors that they quit or took early retirement. In other departments, a few tenured but disfavored faculty members were simply fired.

          • Anne O'Nymous says

            Many thanks in particular for the warning about tenure!

            Of course tenure is not about any easy life, it’s about not being fired for holding the wrong beliefs. I would have never found an academic job if anybody knew what I really think about Donald Trump, Brexit, the EU, socialism, abortion, gay marriage, transgenderism et cetera. Because I say I’m a vegan people assume I have the views of a vegan. Actually I’m not really a vegan. I just try to send off the right signals to avoid getting professionally punished for what I think.

            When I say I lie, I mean it. On my CV I lie about my publications. Sometimes I also leave out information so ( e. g. ) nobody knows I went to private school. More often I say I had a scholarship and then lie about how poor my parents were or tell a sob story.

            I also lie about scholarships and academic awards that I never received. I lie about conferences I have attended and papers I have given. I also change the titles of my papers if I know who is on a committee so that it looks like we have the same interests when we really don’t. I can do this and get away with it because these days committees receive so many job applications for one job that academics are always too lazy to check whether applicants are telling the truth. Not everybody does this. Only the ones who get jobs do.

            My proposals are a lie too. To get past the gatekeepers I have to pretend I am interested in race, class and gender issues, and I also put in irrelevant personal information to make them pity me. They never openly question whether this is true because they know it could cost them. I can get away with this because I am not a white man.

            Application forms are a rhetorical exercise to show how you can say the right things in the right language. If you’re convincing enough you will be left alone to do what you are really there to do. Colleagues are too lazy and apathetic to check on my research. They don’t care what I do as long as nobody gets punished by admin.

            For now I get by publishing in second-rate European journals where there is no ideological test. Peer review in Anglophone countries is risky if you want to do real scholarship because peer reviewers are now more interested in ideological conformity than accurate scholarship. For my first book I am skipping prestigious university presses and going to Brill, because Brill has no standards but at least there are no ideological censors yet.

            I also lie in interviews. I cannot get a university job if I am honest about what I believe.

            When I go to conferences I tell lies about how much I admire people’s work and learned a lot from their papers and enjoyed meeting them. Everybody else does that too. My lying is more extreme because during networking events I join in and laugh when people start attacking people who share my beliefs. This is professional survival.

            Maybe by academic standards I’m not a pathological liar. By real world standards I absolutely am. I know because I never keep my lies a secret from my husband, my family or my friends in the real world. Some of them have to lie for professional reasons too but nobody has to lie on a daily basis as much as a junior academic does. I have to make sure I tell people I trust about these lies on a regular basis. If I keep them a secret I might start to believe them.

            “Different and valuable perspectives”: I still don’t buy it. I just never see work like that in ancient history that ever tells me anything I don’t know. It adds nothing to the conversation. Personally I have a “different and valuable perspective” too and I can tell you honestly it sheds no new light on anything. Maybe you read one of my proposals and fell for it.

            The difference between “sneer” and “smear” is actually important. “Sneer” is tone and style. “Sneer” is saying “You do subpar work” or “this is incompetent”. “Smear” is actual libel, calumny or slander. If I “smear” you, I say ( e. g. ) “you’re anti-Semitic” with no evidence or “he is a child molester” when I know that isn’t true but I want to do harm. This is not just splitting hairs. “Sneering” is bad manners. “Smearing” is criminal.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Anne O’Nymous

            “…..On my CV I lie about my publications…..I lie about conferences I have attended and papers I have given. I also change the titles of my papers if I know who is on a committee so that it looks like we have the same interests when we really don’t. I can do this and get away with it because these days committees receive so many job applications for one job that academics are always too lazy to check whether applicants are telling the truth. Not everybody does this. Only the ones who get jobs do…..”

            Wow……. just wow.

            In my former dept., job applicants had to submit hard copies of their publications [later, PDFs that were put on a secure web site] as part of their application. Letters of recommendation were also required–it’s really hard for me to imagine letter writers going along with a deceptive job application. I worked for 30 years in a ‘hard science’ department in the US, and things are probably different elsewhere. But still…..

            In most depts. I have been affiliated with, deans and chairs were brutally honest that the three most important requirements for promotion and tenure were:

            1. Research grants, preferably those with the largest ‘overhead’
            2. Research contracts
            3. Other extramural funding

            Bottom line: although ethnicity and gender sometimes play a role in hiring and promotion decisions, grantsmanship is given the heaviest weight at research universities, at least in the sciences. Publications matter somewhat, but only if they are in ‘top-tier’ journals. Publishing in lower quality journals can actually be a negative.

          • Anne O'Nymous says

            You see, the humanities are probably corrupt beyond redemption. Nobody will speak out about this because all of us have dirty hands. I don’t know anybody under 55 who doesn’t and has a relatively secure job. If you are under 40 you are either there for ideological or tribal reasons (someone selected you) or else you have sold your soul like I have.

            I see your point about publications, and if you’re in the sciences there is probably still such a thing as a top-tier journal. Top-tier journals in the humanities no longer exist in my field.

            Institutional capture is real. If you just want to present data for discussion hoping it’s going to be useful to someone in a search for the truth, then you have to publish in a second-rate Continental journal, because then there is some hope that there will be high technical and editorial standards if you choose the right one. Also, you still have some real scholars left who will read your work if you publish there. They will all be nobodies from obscure universities so they can do nothing for your career. At least they still have standards.

            All of the English language ones that used to be distinguished have been taken over by ideological censors. At some point I will probably have to write a lie-filled ideological exercise that one of these journals will want to publish. I am putting this off because it is corrosive and I did not spend all those years getting a doctorate to write junk articles that nobody is going to read anyway. You cannot even write an honest book review for these journals anymore. You have to say what you are supposed to say and nothing else.

            The only reason I stay in this rotten, poisonous system is if I go there will be nobody left who realises what a toxic waste dump my field is. Hiring committees are going to ensure that nobody like me gets past their radar without being fatally compromised the way I am.

            This is the humanities right now. No honest academic in this area will deny this in private unless clueless or brainwashed.

          • Anne O'Nymous says

            PS: I already have a good record of getting funding because I know how to lie on funding applications. Also I know who is in charge of funding and behave accordingly towards those people. Funding in the humanities is not done blindly or impartially. If you think otherwise you will never get a major research grant. This is not an honourable system. It only pretends to be. I hope the hard sciences are still better.

          • Anne O'Nymous says

            I forgot to add that the reference letter system no longer works. Referees have to send out 50 or 60 reference emails a year minimum for each student so never bother to check details of CV or proposal to make sure they are accurate. Maybe the system worked 20 or 30 years ago. Not now. One of my referees is so lazy he asks me to write the reference for him, then he rewrites it slightly (but not really) and sends it away. I hope things are not this rotten in the hard sciences. This is supposed to be a system based on trust and nobody in it is trustworthy.

  12. Rohit says

    It isn’t white supremacy as such as western ignorance of non-western cultures. For instance the book The Shape of Ancient Thought gives clear evidence of a dialogue between Greek and Indian philosophy. But Indian philosophy hardly receives any attention in western philosophy departments.
    There an enormous amount of arrogance and ignorance on the part of the West. This is not to deny that as individuals, westerners are quite nice (in my experience) but there is enormous ignorance of the contributions of other civilizations combined with the blithe attitude, “they must catch up with us.”

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


      Yes, they must catch up with us. Why is it that ‘they’ in their millions are trying to get in to our countries? Because they have not caught up. Our countries are better than their countries. Migration is the sincerest form of flattery.

      • @ Ray Andrews (the dolphin)

        I don’t think there are many Indians in their millions clamouring to get to West. Two major sources are Middle East and Africa. One wonders why they are all that upset…

    • Robert Paulson says


      Nobody seems to have a problem with non-Westerners believing their own cultures are superior, or trumpeting their own accomplishments. Nobody chastises Indians, Chinese or Arabs for boasting of the Indian, Chinese, and Islamic contributions to mathematics, and rightly so. It isn’t bigotry or ignorance to celebrate your own culture and make it the focus of your study should you chose to study culture, philosophy and history.

      As an aside, while cross-cultural influences are real, I often notice how their existence is used to by leftists to “debunk” the accomplishments of the Greeks or Romans, as if the influencing culture can now take all the credit all subsequent accomplishments, when again, nobody would apply that same standard to non-Western cultures.

      Regarding the need to “catch up”, I couldn’t agree with you more. I find myself annoyed when liberals (classical or otherwise) act as though their ideas of “human rights” are universal and that its only a matter of time before the rest of the world bows to the inevitable march of Progress. The same could be said of neoconservatives (which I consider to be on the same branch as liberals on the ideological family tree) when they think that we can spread liberal democracy at the tip of a missile.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

        @Robert Paulson

        One borrowed idea invalidates any claim the West might have had to ever have produced anything. OTOH one white footprint on the soil of Africa forever and ever is the cause of all failures on that continent. Effectively all good contributions of the West can be diminished to nothing, whereas all all bad contributions are expanded to infinity.

    • Carl Bankston says

      “… on the part of the West”? That is an astoundingly simplistic, prejudicial, and misleading generalization. It sounds like others who say that they don’t deny that members of other races, ethnicities, or religions “are quite nice as individuals, but …” Having lived a decade in Asia and learned Asian languages, I haven’t seen any more or less “arrogance and ignorance” in that part of the world than in America or Europe. It is not at all uncommon among western students of philosophy, by the way, to speculate that early Greek philosophy was influenced by or even inspired by contacts with the Indian subcontinent. In the other direction, Indo-Greek influences on Buddhist sculpture are part of the scholarly conventional wisdom.

    • Stephanie says

      @Rohit, perhaps because anyone who wishes to study Indian philosophy is better off doing so at an Indian university?

      Of course even those who complain about the lack of representation never will, because for all the talk of campus rape culture, students are aware that India has an actual rape culture. One in two people, they estimate, have been raped, and even leftist BuzzFeed authors with the foolish idea that everywhere in the world shares our values come back from a few months there raped thrice. Is that worth it to study Indian philosophy? Clearly students agree it is not. Not until they “catch up,” in any case ?

      • @ Stephanie

        “that India has an actual rape culture”


  13. Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

    May one be a white supremacist lite? Using the standard color codes, if aliens beamed me up to their ship for the experiments they usually perform on bored midwestern housewives, and then said: ‘Ooops. we forgot where we abducted you from, however, noting that your species has several subgroups, would you like to be beamed back into an area where whites dominate, or where blacks dominate, or yellow or brown?’ I know that I would answer ‘the white dominant area please!’. And I suspect that virtually ever last person, wherever they might have originated, would answer the same. Is that a sort of white supremacy?

    • Hello!

      Very interesting thought experiment!

      Let me ask though;

      Would you rather be beamed back to a Maoist revolution or an ancient Athenian democracy OR today – with all its faults and pluses?

      EVERYONE I know chooses the last one; regardless of the “race” of the main players.

      Please enjoy life, learn love and keep contributing interesting ideas like this 🙂

  14. The Cookie Monster says

    I live in Melbourne too.
    The “far left” is an interesting very vague catch all polemical concept
    Please list some specific examples of individuals and groups associated with the “far left”. And of the real cultural and political power that they hold and wield.
    The term the “far left” is quite often used by the culture warriors that write for the Australian newspaper. Again they never ever give specific examples.

    • Stephanie says

      @Cookie Monster, if you’re familiar with Sydney, all of Newtown is far left: decrepit buildings, garbage everywhere, graffiti everywhere, posters advocating socialism, antifa, and Aboriginal liberation, strangely dressed people with unnaturally coloured hair and too many facial piercings, hostility to white males that look too alpha, liquor lockouts to contain the rampant hooliganism… And that’s just what you can see on the surface.

      • @ Stephanie

        “all of Newtown is far left”

        What does this even mean? Have you polls of residence and their political beliefs?

  15. Fickle Pickle says

    All of the usual chit-chat about the influence and state of Western Civilization seems to forget the 1922 poem by T S Eliot titled The Waste Land in which he described the state of Western culture and Civilization as it then was.
    Then World War II finished off the cultural devastation that began with World War I.
    Underneath the outward glamor and seeming success there is now hardly any real civilization left.
    The appearance of the Golden Golem of Greatness being in-your-face evidence of such.

    Following on from the Waste Land theme is anyone familiar with the 1972 book by Theodore Roszak titled Where the Waste Land Ends. The cultural absurdities described in that book are now turbo-charged, with the Golden Golem of Greatness leading the charge.

  16. Randolf12 says

    Good grief. These “fair and balanced” “objective and critical” appraisals of bullshit ideas are getting very, very old.

  17. johno says

    Instead of embracing the idea that the western nations should hang their heads in shame for what they’ve given the world, the rest of the world should study their success and emulate it.

    For the last 100 years, the Asians have been doing just that. Look where they are now.

    • peanu gallery says

      “Asians” is really non-specific. Also, “they” each have their own problems. There is a gulf between Tokyo and Manila.

  18. Fickle Pickle says

    Almost all of the “great books” of Western Civilization were written before the age of industrialization or the age of the machine.
    None of them were written during the present Quantum Age in which everyone and everything is instantaneously inter-connected via the internet.
    One micro-electronic device alone has caused, and is continuing to cause unpredictable and uncontrollable changes in almost everything that we do. That is the I-phone.

    So too with the various classic religious texts, most/all of which should now be considered as nothing more than prime examples of and justifications for the presumed “religious” superiority of Christian-ism. And the dim-witted “religious” provincialism of the advocates on institutional religiosity.

    In this now Quantum Age of what possible relevance to modern human beings are the rantings of Martin Luther or John Calvin?

    Will the study of any or all of these books really equip anyone to live with real adaptive intelligence in the years and decades to come?

    Furthermore the principal causative factor in all social change, and therefore most cultural upheavals is TECHNOLOGY. All new technologies cause all-the-way-down-the-line cultural consequences, and the various power relationships that exist in any particular time and place.

    A prime example of that was the movable type printing press. Check out this reference:

    Furthermore again, we are now all living in the shadow/shock of Sept 11.which signaled to the American’s (in particular) that you are not really in charge of anything (and never were). That you are no longer the “exceptional” nation and that you do not live in the paradise of Western democracy but in a collective state of hell-deep mortal fear.

    The after-shock of Sept 11 metastasized as the open ended (Orwellian) “war against terror” with the chaos and destruction all over the Middle East as the blood-soaked proof. It also helped to consolidate America as a permanent warfare state.

    • Re: 9/11

      I think I recall reading a statement by Osama bin Laden to the effect that the intent of the attack was catalyze the self-destruction of the US. It certainly seems to have worked. Bin Laden found a long enough lever and a place to stand and did indeed move the world.

    • Charlie says

      Fickle Pickle. Logic comes from the Greeks. Russell and Whitehead wrote
      a development of Russell’s earlier

      These books combine mathematics and logic and derive their ideas from the Greeks and provide the foundations of much of the information age – logic circuits..

      Technology is the product of a civilisation., hence Needham’s question ” Why did China and India stop evolving ?”. We can ask the same question say about Italy ” Why was Caravaggio the last Master painter of the Italian renaissance ?”. Ibn Khaldun said civilisations collapse when they lose vitality and solidarity: he is probably correct.

      The Protestant theologians led to the Protestant Work Ethic which was based on the idea that honest hard working God fearing people would be rewarded in this life. The Industrial Revolution was a Protestant creation- Huguenots, Dutch and Quakers/Non Conformists in the UK.

      You may live in mortal fear, I do not. People who appear to be fearful and timid assume others have similar problems.

      What is amazing is that not only the Enlightenment being criticised but that that it is based upon ignorance of history. The rediscovery of Greek thought in the late 17th century is the way the West overcame the superstition of the Middle Ages, which in turn put a stop to the mass slaughter of the Dark Ages which came about due to the migration of the Huns under Attila.

      If one looks at warfare of the 18th century, the numbers killed are minute compared to those killed in the 20th century due to the use of technology

      • TarsTarkas says

        Followed by the Avars and then Magyars and aided and abetted by Muslim pirates and Norse raiders. The migratory German tribes did a pretty good job too during all this. Huge swathes of Europe returned to forest.

  19. psg82 says

    “Jordan Peterson took some heat for accepting a variant of this argument, that we should be wary of left-wing student activists since they’re influenced by the same philosophy that guided Mao. I think he was right to, and most Eidolon readers no doubt agree. But it’s essentially the same argument as Zuckerberg’s claim that anyone interested in Western Civ is enabling white supremacism.”

    Not a fair comparison IMO. Being interested (in Western Civ) and actually be influenced by – as shown in your actions – are very different.

  20. E. Olson says

    The author defines white supremacy in a way that would exclude virtually all of the few thousand remaining active members of the KKK and Nazi party from being considered white supremists, because while most believe in the superiority of the white race they also desire to be physically removed from non-whites not control them, which is why they tend to live in rural Idaho rather than Harlem. In contrast, the white Left seems to believe in the inferiority of the white race but has a strong desire to control non-whites through government welfare policies, subsidies, regulations (quotas and set-asides), and police force. The Left’s dislike of Western culture seems very strange since it seems to be based on the idea that all good things in the West were stolen from other “superior” cultures, yet it is always unclear to me how an “inferior” white culture can achieve such complete dominance over “superior” cultures of color, and why the “superior” cultures with such a head start on the “stealing” West could fall so far behind the West in modern times, especially on measures such as women’s rights, homosexual rights, anti-racism, slavery prohibition, poverty eradication, etc. that are supposedly so important to the Left.

  21. You could make arguments similar to those of the anti-classics-ists to object to the study of almost any culture.

    For example, to argue that we should not study classical Indian culture because that is largely the culture of the brahmins, who have been repressing and exploiting the people of the Indian subcontinent for 3000 years.

  22. Mark Beal says

    Er, excuse me, Ms, but it might be quite nice to… er… I’m sure you’re a good person, Ms… if that’s the right pronoun, um, title, um… but I was wondering if I might be permitted to read this… *pause to adopt even more contrite whisper*… dead white bloke while… er… properly checking my own privilege and using… um… proper safety equipment so I don’t… er… come a cropper on this… er… patriarchally glacial slope… um… begging your pardon, Ms… or other pronoun… title… Ms.

    The slippery slope argument is a red herring. What you find is that a very few people are white supremacists, and those who are will be prepared to appropriate pretty much anything they feel might strengthen their case, in the same way that people who are believers in universal oppression of anyone who is not a white male will find offence in the most innocuous of utterances. The problem here stems from the PC brigade’s conviction that all texts are essentially political, and if they’re written by white men (dead or otherwise), positively sinister.

    All texts contain ideas of some kind; some are extremely shallow, some are startlingly brilliant. The point, which should be clear to academics, is that texts are there to be engaged with, neither to be read as gospel nor to be rejected out of hand, but to be reflected upon and discussed as a collection of ideas; good, bad, useful, unworkable, influential, dead-ends – but only political if and when they’re advocated or manifested in the political sphere. You’re an idiot if you agree with everything Plato wrote, and just as big an idiot if you think Plato was a total idiot. You’re an ever bigger idiot if you think reading Plato will necessarily incline someone towards the KKK, or even necessarily incline them to believe that society would be better if it was ruled by Philosopher Kings. Critically evaluating Plato’s influence on western culture is, of course, a perfectly legitimate pursuit, but if your starting point is the assumption that western civilization is essentially “problematic”, you’ve already ensured that bias will render your evaluation useless.

    By the way, I think I’m right in saying that Margaret Thatcher was the first British prime minister who had not studied the classics at university. By Ms Zuckerberg’s standards presumably a paragon of intersectionalist virtue. Or maybe not.

    • X. Citoyen says

      I realize yours was a rhetorical flourish, but, as a matter of fact, Plato was right about everything. That error aside, I agree more or less with the rest.

    • Charlie says

      Wilson and Heath read PPE, Eden read Persian and Arabic, Attlee read law, Gladstone read Greats and Maths,

  23. Victoria says

    “I have no reason to believe that these scholars are motivated by anything other than a sincere belief that they are working for the good of their field and of society as a whole. ”

    You mean no reason other than the blindingly-obvious one of career advancement and enhanced visibility in a crowded media landscape?

    Increasingly extreme positions and careerism in non-empirical academic fields go hand in hand. The phenomenon is even worse in the post-1960’s disciplines, like media studies, which were all but conceived of as ideological, rather than scholarly vehicles.

    Another obvious point you miss is that literally every producer of content in literate civilizations was likely to be sexist, and in addition homophobic and/or racist until the last few decades.

    Your contextualization of sins of prejudice in the classics within European history, while apt in and of itself, fails to actual contextualize it in the human condition. In that way, ‘woke’ whites like Zuckerberg are failing to acknowledge the common humanity that their theatrical anti-racism supposedly rests upon. In other words white people remain surprisingly unique and special, but simply in a pejorative sense, for Zuckerberg et al.

    • X. Citoyen says

      This is an important point. I saw it play out for years. Old-fashioned liberals like Kierstead are good people, but they can’t deal with progressive activists who have tailored their positions, their demands, and their rhetoric to neutralize liberal defences against their extremism. This is, in a nutshell, the entire problem in the academy.

      Zuckerberg’s argument is childish: Some bloggers no one’s heard of quote some classical writers; therefore, classics is racist. Anyone who makes an argument so ridiculous ought to be shamed out of the academy. Yet Kierstead treats Zuckerberg with the kind of kid-gloves, when he’d be going bare-knuckles against a comparable claim by a right-wing nut.

      • TarsTarkas says

        Marquis of Queensbury rules for thee, but not for me! Because White Supremacism, etc. etc.

  24. Pretty funny to see the first, best example of a white supremacist is someone your average white supremacist would not accept as white. RooshV? Talk about a soft target! As flies to wanton boys, so is Roosh to the Progressives.

  25. S. Pimpernel says

    Doesn’t the Bible support slavery and genocide, as well as being a manual for patriarchy?

    • Charlie says

      No. It is the history of the Israelites and the evolution of a moral code. Human sacrifice was common 4000 years ago and God stopping Abraham from killing Isaac shows God does not want a human offering. The 10 Commandments are simple laws which help people live together. God forbidding child sacrifice, reduces suffering. Sins of Moloch . The Canaanites and Phoenicians appeared to be a blood thirsty bunch.

      In a time when warriors wielded the power of life and death, The Bible provides safety for women by developing a moral code..

  26. Caligula says

    Of course, it’s not just classicism that’s under attack, but medievalism as well. For it’s surely undeniable that many 19th century European nationalists promoted a sort of kitsch medievalism to support their claims of national superiority. As well as a general conflation of nationalism with racism in the years before WWI, as nationalists spoke incessantly of “The English race,” or, “The Germain race” (etc).

    Indeed, one can make afar stronger claim that medievalists are more Eurocentric than classicists, as the latter is Mediterranean-centric, Which would at least include North Africa and the Middle East.

    To which a reasonable reply might be, “So what?” Even aside from the guilt-by-association argument (Mussolinie, and continuing, contemporary alt-right interest in a kitsch medievalism) some history and culture is Eurocentric, some is not, and why would oen be more or less worthy than the other?

    The danger here is that this sort of piecemeal defense of one’s scholarly field can only be ineffective, as year by year more areas of studies become “problematic” and this career-threatening to persue. Perhaps what’s really needed is just a full-throated roar, “No, Political Commissars Are NOT Welcome At This University!”?

    For ultimately this can only become a rejection of all cultural products that fail to meet current political standards. Which few works of the past can do.

    Except (of course) non-Western cultures are excused from this demand, because (insert reason here). And therefore the political demands reduce to a demand that anything attributable to a Western Culture be at least deprecated, if not simply destroyed. It’s not about widening scholarship to include “the rest” it’s about power, along the lines of Orwell’s “Those who control the present control the past, and those who control the past control the future.”

    Studying the cultures and works of classical antiquity disparages no one, and there’s a vast difference between saying “I think your scholarship is wrong because …” and “Your field must be shut down if it can’t or won’t meet our (ever-expanding) political demands.”

    Attempts to negotiate reasonable limits over what’s “acceptable” scholarship and what is not, driven not by standards of scholarshp but by politics, can only result in new demands followed by new concessions until the region of acceptability is so small as to be meaningless. Why not just start by saying “no” to any and all attempts at such political control?

  27. Thinking more about this essay, I think it inadvertently shows how the liberal element in academia lost control to the Marxist-derived left and is almost constitutionally incapable of winning it back under present conditions.

    Kierstead is so determined to see Zuckerberg and her ilk as “good people” — despite their public record of repugnant zealotry — one wonders what if any outpouring of racialized venom, lack of perspective, and misrepresentation could cause him to find fault with their conduct. In fact like many Quillette liberals, Kierstead is ready to surrender out of the gate to identitarian talking points about being “welcoming” and the Original Sin of “implicit racial bias.”

    In the 20th century we saw the flaccid response of social democrat liberals to authoritarian Marxism. Only a handful of libertarian liberals actually recognized the threat of authoritarian Marxism and condemned it in proportionate terms, as compared with conservative thinkers.

  28. The problem begins here:

    White Supremacy is the belief that “the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.”

    No one who is labelled a “white supremacist” actually says or believes anything like that. If you look at anyone identified as a “white supremacist” by the SPLC, they are generally “white nationalists”, e.g. believe that whites should live in homogeneously white societies, and they generally believe in genetic differences between subgroups of humans, but since East Asians are generally smarter and have lower criminality, most of them would be East Asian supremacists.

    So we have a definition that doesn’t describe anyone today, maybe described some ex-colonials in the early 20th Century, but that is being applied to a different set of people. The point is that even if the Classics are free of “white supremacy”, so are most of the people currently labeled “white supremacists”.

    The problem is not “white supremacy”, the problem is “white identity”, that is, “white people” having some sense of collective identity as “white people”.

    But actually, it is more subtle–its not “white people” having a collective identity, but rather, having a positive collective identity as “white people”. Even worse, people taking pride in their identity as “white people”.

    From the standpoint of the Left, it is no also longer permissible to be “white” and not identify as “white”–that is racist (you are in denial or “colorblind racist”). Rather, “whites” must identify as “whites”, but associate “whiteness” only with negative traits, and be filled with self-loathing and self-hatred. [Which might explain the demographics of certain suicide statistics with the APA has recently opined upon.] Thus, college campuses now offer mandatory Maoist struggle sessions on “whiteness”.

    In other words, the white man should aspire to follow in the footsteps of someone like Otto Weininger, who as a homosexual Jew, wrote a book about how awful Jews and homosexuals were, and then killed himself. If you are not willing to declare yourself a subhuman on the basis of your racial background, and grovel and seek forgiveness for your collective guilt as a member of the despised race, then you are, in today’s terminology, a “white supremacist”. It may seem like a weird place to end up, but that’s racial politics for you.

    Since the Classics are the foundation of Western Civilization, which is an advanced civilization historically built by and for white people, and the Classics contain some of the most brilliant European minds in all of human history, they will always serve as a basis for a positive collective identity for white people–and so they must be destroyed, along with “whiteness” and “Western Civilization”. And we may have found the right levelers to do it.

    [This is not to say racial pride and racial chauvinism are not “problematic” as the progressives say, but the idea that that these characteristics are only “problematic” for people of a certain race is entirely silly as any Tutsi can tell you.]

      • You can see how this political agenda is incompatible with intellectual integrity and honesty in the humanities. If your pet project is to collectively demonize an entire civilization and history of a large-scale set of human societies, (for the ideological purpose of demoralizing people of Han nationality) then you have to lie most of the time. Looking at Chinese civilization, you can find plenty of things to criticize, but to demonize the Chinese, you would have to lie, hide and bury so much brilliant art, poetry, letters, history, culture.

      • TarsTarkas says

        Aryans surrendering to Aryans? How could Darius, Xerxes, Bessus, etc. be considered more woke than Leonidas? After all the Achaemanids created the first major empire, oppressing all sorts of POCs such as the Babylonians, Arabs, etc. etc.

        • True, but if Persia had grabbed Greece, we wouldn’t have the Greek Classics in the same form, and Western Civilization would never have happened in the same way, and we probably would still have a social system based on slavery and feudalism with illiterate masses starving in squalor with no indoor plumbing, but we wouldn’t have the menace of smirking Catholic high school boys and microaggressions.

  29. Kos kos says

    Universities have become cesspools for the radical left and there is only one solution: defund them! Cut their funding and let them sort out their priorities. The public should be informed that their taxes are funding radical leftists. This ideology becomes dominant once students who finish their degrees go into public services and implement what their idiotic professors have taught them. Whoever does not understand the seriousness of this issue is not wise enough.

  30. Jin Molnar says

    @ Fickle Pickle:
    Thank you for the parts of your comments that refer to the dynamics of Karma, which I have studied / pondered since I stayed in Thailand for a spell in the early aughts. I was deeply affected by my experiences. No I don’t think transmigration of souls (my phrase) is provable by science yet. Nor would its’ impossibility be provable, either. Science has not located the mind / soul / heart / self in any case. That aside.

    “In this now Quantum Age of what possible relevance to modern human beings are the rantings of Martin Luther or John Calvin?”

    The WRITINGS of nearly any pre-20th century author of any acclaim, status or note – any author one is likely come across, in effect – are of utter relevance to any and everyone capable of reading them because they will inform, bolster, enlighten, and build confidence in the content of OUR OWN HUMAN NATURES. Which Human Nature, I should add, probably does change over time, but changes at such a slow rate that it is most practical and efficacious to assume that it does not, in fact change.

  31. D.B. Cooper says

    Mr. Kierstead

    Normally, I wouldn’t bother leaving a post at the 11-hour, but I’ve decided to make an exception for your denouement for three reasons – don’t feel special, I rarely have anything insightful or of great importance to say. First, you give every impression of a decent person, and so I figured providing some modicum of feedback was the least I could do. Second, unlike many contributors at Quillette, you’ve actually taken the time to respond to your readers; which I greatly appreciate. And third, to your credit, while I don’t know your politics (as it should be) and while you seem to be a rational actor – and therefore, a serious scholar – I do believe you have ceded unnecessary ground during your multifaceted defense of Western civilization in general, and the classics in particular. Although I made mention of this – somewhat facetiously – in one of your earlier installments, I do think it warrants further consideration given the intellectual zeitgeist – within the academy and without – delineating much of our contemporary dispensation, e.g., Zuckerberg, Graeber, & Appiah et al.

    Before I get too much further, as a matter of professional integrity, I think it best that I at least make clear what, precisely, my level of expertise is as it pertains to my academic scholarship of Western civ. and/or the classics: I have none. Now, that I have your confidence, let us proceed.

    To give you an idea of where my concerns lie, consider the following example.

    To sum up, there’s no reason to believe that classics as a field has had any particular tendency towards white supremacism either in the present or in the past. If that’s comforting, it should also free us to deal more effectively with two problems that are currently facing our field.

    Now, I should say, that you do an excellent job of exposing the intellectually servile positions of Zuckerberg (and like) as preposterous, inherently illegitimate, and insulting to the intellect. Frankly, I would go so far as to say, Zuckerberg et al. have arrogated a position which doesn’t necessarily rise even to the dignity of error. But your shrewd treatment of the more pernicious forms of idiocy that flourish within the academic community is not what concerns me. What concerns me is that you seem willing – at every iteration, it must be said – to treat as definitive the ideological cris de coeur of your contemporaries as a legitimate academic imperative; despite ostensibly knowing that the rigorous separation of ‘facts and values’, and Leftist academics cannot exist in the same truth function without the shattering of epistemology.

    What’s more, it would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that within each installment, you’ve deemed it necessary – for reasons that are not at all clear – to take this jaunt through the absurd by engaging their anecdote masquerading as data. The most obvious question is why?

    After reading the entirety of your series, it seems more than clear you understand that such academics – Leftist – have generally conceded to the moral goodness of their own righteous indignation; and therefore, appear incapable of reconciling their vision of political and social equality with any implication that falls short of specifying the mechanisms the produce the derivation of historical inequalities. Furthermore, from what I’ve read it looks as though their claims always presumes what they need to demonstrate (circular), and what they want to demonstrate, or inculcate rather, is the interminable culpability of Western civ., full stop.

    And, yet, knowing that these academics are, in some cases, subverting your very own enterprise (Zuckerberg) you still decide to engage with their ideas as if disseminating misinformation that is sophomoric drivel at best and grievously indecent at worse (blanket charges of interminable racism & sexism) are ideas worth debating. Obviously, they’re not. So, why legitimize them? Why give them air? As I’ve said, you strike me as the consummate evidential apologist, and in my humble opinion, no thinker of the first rank would sink below the shame of considering these claims (specifically, Zuckerberg’s) as valid. And if they were to respond, I hope they would respond with the level of contempt it deserves.

    I’m beating this horse, because I earnestly believe it is incumbent on well intentioned (read truth seekers) academics to excise themselves, and to the extent they can, academia from the type of necrotic discourse exemplified by these charlatans. In each case, it was almost certainly pointless to argue the point, since what is at stake for them is not the acquisition of truth, but an article of faith. In their eyes, there is no legitimate reason for these differences in outcomes nor can there be, someone (Western civ.) must have caused or be causing this inequality to manifest. Put simply, there’s no sense of academic integrity they’re not willing to molest. Treating their claims as a legitimate is a futile exercise.

    Good luck and God speed.

    • X. Citoyen says

      I do have that classics background that DB will one day seek because virtue is incomplete without it, and I agree with him. You should treat this nonsense the way you’d treat a “right-wing lunatic,” with the hard edge.

  32. Sobre says

    Two quotes;
    “We are (Western culture) Greeks: our laws, our literature, our arts . . .”

    “The name Greek denotes a way of thinking, not common blood.”

  33. Pierre Jolibert says

    thank you for your fourth article.
    If I may, I would add in a most simple way I hope, that there could be another set of ideas that could perhaps convince people who sincerely suspect a natural link beween studies in classics and racist opinions.
    Reading classics as a mere amateur, I often remarked here and there that ancient people seemed to be used to divide mankind, the mankind they imagined closed in the grounds they knew, in two parts : themselves and other ones, easily called barbarians or any other term, first in a rather neutral way. They could exclude foreign things in harsh terms or call to look to wide horizons, as Socrates answering his disciples before he dies that they had to look for anyone on the earth among barbarians as among Greeks, but there are no signs of other distinctions. (And it looks like the same in ancient China.)
    The thought of a division in scientific terms, among them the so-called white race or any other race to which belongs the scientist, with many variations, is first typically western, in spite of apparently similar terms in muslim writings, but only recent. It coincides with western expansion all worlds-around and shows a special work to intellectually fit to that expansion.
    In the same time that we read the way classics would speak about human differences, we precisely understand the gap between modern West and those classics, even on other topics, and how close on the contrary are the contemporary ancient civilizations between them on that ground, including people of the Bible and all the former ones that have an existence in the memory of Greeks or Hebrews.
    To come back to your previous articles, I would conclude that the notion of civilization is precisely precious in so far as it leads to keep in mind this kind of differences. And words used for telling difference could be the only touchstone of establishing different civilizations, in order to organise different departments of studies, different groups of books in libraries, etc. (And in my so shaped mind, the saddest thing in claims as the ones emitted by movements who try to counterbalance a supposed white classics-studying supremacy by the ref/verence to a kind of Black Athena, is that people who belong to that seem to really believe that something like one black race does exist. So narrowly western are they, indeed…)
    Thanking you again for the lively and acute interest of the reasoning you lead, Sir, I beg you to excuse my awkward English.

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