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Doing Justice to the Classics

[Archived] “Great Men Undone by Weakness”

From the Director:
This article, originally published in 2018, has been replaced by an updated version, because the text below relied on and promoted anti-Black scholarship on Cleopatra and accepted white supremacist concepts of race. This was pointed out by Professor Shelley Haley (Hamilton College) in lecture at Durham University. I have preserved the original here as an illustration of how essential a critical understanding of the history and theory of race is to the practice of anti-racist scholarship.
– Curtis Dozier, Director of Pharos

Original Article:

Michael Sebastian is a misogyinst blogger whose site, Honor and Daring, features articles such as “How to turn your wife from a feminist into a traditional woman.” He has also contributed articles to the misogynist site Return of Kings, such as “Why are so many women sluts?” in which he complains about contraception and Hollywood’s “Pro-Slut Agenda.” Another of his pieces on this site, “Powerful men who were undone by weakness”, presents “the lives of great, or nearly great, men who failed so that we can avoid making the same mistakes.” His examples include the ancient Roman statesmen Cicero and Mark Antony, for whom “failure” turns out to mean sharing power with a woman. It reads like little more than a clichéd interpretation of history until it turns to white supremacy and neo-Fascism.

Sebastian’s treatment of Mark Antony displays his hateful politics most clearly. Mark Antony was one of Julius Caesar‘s most trusted generals in his campaigns in Gaul and his representative in Rome in the lead-up to Caesar’s civil war with Pompey. After Caesar’s assassination Antony and Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son (and the future emperor Augustus), came into conflict over control of the Roman world. Antony consolidated his power in the east by entering into a love affair with the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, who was also probably keen to preserve her kingdom in politically tumultuous times. In their eventual civil war with Octavian, Antony and Cleopatra were defeated at the Battle of Actium and committed suicide rather than be captured.

Sebastian joins the long misogynist tradition of labeling women dangerous seductresses who corrupt masculine virtue

Sebastian’s explanation for Antony’s “failure” is that he “let the woman he loved dominate him completely even to the point where he did stupid things that destroyed both of them.” In saying this Sebastian joins the long misogynist tradition of labeling women dangerous seductresses who corrupt masculine virtue. Indeed, there is a long tradition of vilifying Cleopatra in precisely this way, as Stacy Schiff’s biography of Cleopatra makes clear. He may be the first, however, to translate this interpretation of Cleopatra into the terminology of the “Red Pill” movement by saying that Antony “committed suicide in true omega fashion.” Misogynists strive to be “Alpha” men, not “Betas;” the former dominate women, the latter are enslaved to them, and “Omega” (the last letter of the Greek alphabet) designates what these men consider the worst enslavement one can suffer. They present “alphas,” “betas,” and “omegas” as a “natural,” evolutionarily-determined hierarchy. Never mind that human society doesn’t actually look all that much like the animal hierarchies these men base their philosophy on, or that for all its pseudo-scientific trappings the idea had never really been applied to human behavior until the misogynists got their hands on it.

In his treatment of Cleopatra Sebastian plays up the misogynist stereotypes of the “sinister seductress,” referring to her “charms” and praising her political ruthlessness. But contributors to Return of Kings often mix misogyny with white nationalism — the anti-Semitism of the site’s founder has become increasingly evident — and Sebastian is no exception. His white supremacist leanings emerge from an examination of one other remark he makes about Cleopatra.

Midway through his post Sebastian includes a photograph of the Greek actress Ada Livitsanou with the caption “Cleopatra wasn’t an Egyptian. She was a Greek, like this girl.” The claim about Cleopatra is basically true, although according to one expert “the best evidence is that she was three-quarters Macedonian Greek and one-quarter Egyptian.” But whatever her background, the remark may initially seem out of place in an article that otherwise attributes no significance to race or nationality. Its relevance is that more is at stake for Sebastian than a simple correction of persistent and unhistorical claims that Cleopatra was black, a favorite hobby horse of hate groups. The choice of the blonde-haired and green eyed Livitsanou, an actress who has never played Cleopatra and whose best known role as a man who is transformed into a woman makes her an odd choice for a transphobic site, gestures toward white supremacist claims of racial continuity between ancient blonde-haired “Nordic” invaders and modern Europeans. These groups want to be able to say the ancient Greeks were “white” in order to argue for the superiority of white people over others, when in fact this supposed continuity is fabricated, and in any case the very category of “race” as these groups understand it is inapplicable to the ancient world.

If this seems like reading too much into what might just be a picture of an attractive actress on a site that practically requires its articles to feature such images, Sebastian’s white nationalism is plainly evident elsewhere. One of his articles on his own webpage that he lists as most popular asks “Why are Jews so successful?” in obvious reference to anti-Semitic stereotypes, and his piece for Return of Kings asking “Why are so many women sluts?” endorses the anti-Semitic claim from a review of a book by white supremacist Kevin MacDonald that TV shows like the “Mary Tyler Moore Show…were nothing more than Jewish tools (for the most part) to undermine the innocence of American WASP culture.”

Sebastian’s complacency about totalitarian rule sounds disturbingly like the views articulated by neo-Fascists that Pharos has documented

The other two “great men” in the article are Cicero and the 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. There isn’t anything overtly hateful in Sebastian’s analysis of Romney’s “weakness” in his televised debates with Barak Obama. He just wishes Romney had won in 2012. But there is a darker side to his analysis of Cicero, who, he says, amid “chaos within the Republic… was like the ‘true conservatives’ of today who stubbornly hold erroneous ideas that undermine there [sic] own opportunity to assume power” and who “didn’t know when to quit.” Sebastian is referring to Cicero’s repeated political attacks on (that Omega) Antony in his Philippics, which did in fact lead to Antony having Cicero killed. Sebastian apparently believes that if Cicero had been stronger, he would have recognized that “the only hope for an effective government to restore order was a dictatorship,” that if he had been a true alpha Cicero would have known that “there is a time and a place for criticism and there is a time for keeping one’s mouth shut” and would not have opposed Antony’s (or Octavian’s) efforts to replace republican government with monarchy. This complacency about totalitarian rule sounds disturbingly like the views articulated by neo-fascists who regard the autocratic rule of Octavian as desirable. One site that Pharos has documented, for example, argues that “Democracy has failed in this once great nation, now the time for a new Caesar to revive the American spirit has dawned.”

It’s moments like this that make clear the true aims of the misogynists on sites like Return of Kings. They say they’re just trying to pick up women, but what they really want is to erase the progressive, democratic values that threaten their hateful and regressive vision of how the world should be.

Even though Return of Kings has stopped publishing new content because their advertising revenue has dropped so much, we have linked above to archived versions of their articles to avoid generating traffic for them. The original article may be viewed here.

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