The barbarians are at the gates, and Donna Zuckerberg, a classicist of some note, I guess, sallies forth to meet them. The barbarians are, of course, the alt-right. Steve Sailer and EvolutionistX have already made reply to Zuckerberg’s learned diatribe, but she enumerates some suggestions for her colleagues that merit consideration.
Strangely, though Zuckerberg entitles her piece “How to Be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor” and tops it off with a famous statue of Augustus equipped with a Hitler mustache—great way to signal your love of the Classics, madam—she doesn’t discuss how ancient wisdom can inform the practice of scholarship under unfavorable political conditions. Indeed, works from Antiquity are replete with men of virtue facing the wrath of the powerful for telling them things they do not wish to hear. Instead, Zuckerberg complains of the opposite: too many, or rather, the wrong sort of people want to apprehend the wisdom of the ancients. Of course, Zuckerberg doesn’t teach virtue, so her avoidance of the topic is understandable.
Zuckerberg’s first proposal has me a bit perplexed: she appears to be advising her colleagues to push their students toward white supremacy. “When you hear someone,” she says, “say that they are interested in Classics because of ‘the Greek miracle’ or because Classics is ‘the foundation of Western civilization and culture’ … point out that such ideas are a slippery slope to white supremacy.” She’s assuming that an invocation of white supremacy will instantly convince the hearer of the falseness of their views, just like calling them racist invariably does.
As for her second suggestions—steering clear of “elite white men” in scholarship—virtually no one outside the groves of academia cares what newfangled theories the Zuckerberg and her ilk spew forth, and they’re not going to care any more when she doubles down on her approach. Adrian Goldsworthy is infinitely more influential than Zuckerberg, and to all appearances, he will remain so indefinitely.
If she wants to avoid “elite white men” when it comes to teaching, however, good luck to her trying to instruct students in Latin or Greek. Virtually everything we have in these languages comes from the pens of “elite white men.” There are some fragments of Sappho, but not enough for a whole semester. Hesiod might not count as “elite,” so perhaps he could be included, as well. That way students can learn about how women are the source of all men’s suffering.
In her third and fourth suggestions and even her sixth, Zuckerberg urges her fellow classicists to eschew the alt-right entirely, to “resist that pressure” to share with them Plutarch or Livy or Homer, and to document how these lying Cretans dared to request their expertise.
If Zuckerberg et al. don’t want to help the alt-right explore and understand the great world of antiquity, that is perfectly fine. We can do it ourselves.
Shockingly, Zuckerberg is unaware of the history of her own discipline, as she announces in her fifth suggestion, “Classics has a long history of regressive politics.” Mommsen, Grote, even Machiavelli all used their knowledge of Classics to inform their liberal politics, liberal at least in their own times. And how could one forget the Founding Fathers or the French Revolutionaries? There has been some sinister movement in the interim, however, so what was once positively revolutionary has since become viciously reactionary.
Zuckerberg’s seventh suggestion is to “engage with the Classical reception that these men produce.” We at Social Matter heartily endorse this suggestion. We’ve published many articles dealing with ancient history, though this is a magazine, rather than a scholarly journal, so quality may not be quite up to the vaunted Zuckerberg’s exacting standards, we suspect she’ll be unpleasantly surprised.
As an aside, Zuckerberg takes a swipe at Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist people might have actually heard of for his groundbreaking work on Greek warfare in the 1990s. His The Western Way of War is still considered the modern classic in the field. Zuckerberg decries his book Who Killed Homer?, which argues that classicists like Zuckerberg are killing their own field with their race/class/gender obsessions, and remarks “most classists have little time for VDH these days”. This would be news to Donald Kagan and Gregory Viggiano, editors of Men of Bronze, a summary of the current state of the study of hoplite warfare in Archaic and Classical Greece, who include an essay by Hanson and praise his scholarship. It is also notable that she picks on Hanson rather than Kagan, who has expressed similar opinions about the purpose of classical education, most likely because Kagan is a genuine colossus in the field of ancient history.
Zuckerberg’s eighth and final suggestion is downright petty. She proposes cataloging the errors and missteps of alt-rightists about Classics. While most alt-rightists are merely educated laymen, not dedicated scholars, they nonetheless stand head and shoulders above the average person in terms of erudition. The majority of what Zuckerberg and her compatriots compile will be memes, hoaxes, and un-PC quotations from Plato and Xenophon. By heaping scorn upon people interested in Classics, she will only be driving more people away … and into our waiting arms.
Li Su, prime minster for the First Emperor of China, ordered all books aside from agricultural, medical, and divination manuals destroyed. Had Zuckerberg her way, the ancient wisdom of Athens and Rome would likewise be consigned to the flames. Though she would most assuredly deny such an allegation, her own words reveal her intentions: she would have the Classics studied only by those committed to razing the edifice of Western civilization and salting its fields, so that no other poisoned fruit can arise therefrom.
Though I’ve sometimes been harsh to the movie 300, it contains one of the greatest shivs in history: when Leonidas speaks to the treacherous Ephialtes, he says, “May you live forever.” Donna Zuckerberg does not merit Ephialtes’ curse; a thousand years hence, her bones will be dust and her name and deeds unremembered. But if we have our way, the name of Ephialtes will always be upon men’s lips, and the spirit of Leonidas in their hearts.