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Doing Justice to the Classics

Fall of Rome cited as parallel to contemporary “Barbarism” is a site that describes itself as “the ultimate boy’s club.” Its content is eclectic but includes a xenophobic series on “Civic Nationalism” and an article praising alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos as “a true free speech warrior.” The site has published a series of articles by John C. Wright, whose personal blog includes defenses of racist activist Tommy Robinson and complaints about the “disastrous effect” on society of “strong female characters in fiction.” One article in this series, entitled “Defining Civilization: Women and Children First”, makes a racist, misogynist, and homophobic argument that our world is sliding from “civilized life” into “the chaotic bloodshed, cruelty, and misery of barbarism.” The post cites the decline of the Roman empire as a historical example of a similar collapse to the one it claims is underway in the contemporary world.

This article blames feminism, changes in US military policy regarding gays and women, Hilary Clinton (herself the target elsewhere of violent and classically-informed misogyny), “lying academics,” “crony capitalists,” and the press for “undermin[ing] and undercut[ing] the legitimacy of the idea of civilization.” It details at length the various methods that are supposedly employed by these movements, individuals, and groups against various “supports of civilization:” “priests,” “fighting men,” “family and clan.” It argues that the “corruption” of “the burghers, the townsmen, the bourgeoisie, the merchants, the shopkeeper and tradesman” is “far easier and far quicker” than that of these other groups because “the middle class can be can be taxed out of existence, as they were in ancient Rome, which collapsed the Western Empire in one generation, and kept the Eastern Empire in a state of servitude and poverty for the remainder of its millennium.”

Hate groups often cite the fall of Rome as an explanatory parallel to their self-serving and apocalyptic narratives of cultural decline.

This is a grossly simplistic explanation of the fall of the Roman empire, whose decline has been explained by reference to at least 210 reasons, only one of which is taxation. It also inaccurately portrays the Byzantine Empire as impoverished: its capital Constantinople was an international center of wealth and culture throughout late antiquity and beyond. But hate groups often cite the fall of Rome as an explanatory parallel to their self-serving and apocalyptic narratives of cultural decline. Unlike other articles documented by Pharos that attribute the fall of Rome to feminism or tolerance of homosexuality and inclusive citizenship policies, or that justify nationalism and white supremacy by a comparison to Roman history, this post does not invoke the history of Rome in connection with a particular hateful ideology, but it attempts to give itself intellectual credibility by referencing the classical past.

This attempt to legitimize its narrative of decline by reference to the classical past enlists that past in implicit support of the hateful prejudices that appear throughout the article:

  • As evidence for the supposed decline of our civilization the post cites the popularity of “ugly songs…about bitches and whores and shooting cops,” relying on a racist caricature of African American popular music that suppresses the structural inequality that led to that music’s popularity in the first place.
  • The post claims as further evidence of our decline the “aboli[tion of] marriage among our urban poor” as a result of the “legalization of no-fault divorce,…contraception, and then a free-love sexual free-for-all,” again expressing racist contempt for a phenomenon which is better explained by economic inequality.
  • The post’s homophobic and misogynist agenda is evident in its complaint about the military’s “degenerat[ion]… from its ancient precepts of honor and courage” and its “sensitiv[ity]…to womenfolk and sodomites.”
  • The post makes a racist comparison straight out of the playbook of white supremacists who seek to represent non-white cultures as “primitive” while ignoring colonial powers’ roles in producing inequality when it says we have “place[d] our foot on the long, blood-soaked, sad path toward that aboriginal tribe…whom anthropologists believe once had knowledge of the bone needle, the art of sewing, the napping of flint and the making of spearheads, and lost them all.”
  • The post displays a patriarchal longing (such as Pharos has documented on such sites before) for a time when women “uph[e]ld modesty and chastity” and submitted to a “bargain between fathers and mothers, between male and female” that “in return for the bearing the burden of bearing children, the womanfolk will be protected and cherished.” The misogyny of this position is evident in the post’s claim that in the contemporary world “women can do as they please, and whore around” and “harlots seek to become the chattel of the strongest young lion or the richest sniveling jackal, and the idea of a modest matron raising children becomes as laughable to the corrupt harlot’s mind as an honorable soldier or an honest merchant.”

Pharos’ regular procedure is to link throughout our articles to archived versions of hate sites to avoid generating traffic and advertising revenue for them, but to provide one link to the “live” version of the site for documentary purposes. is no longer online.

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