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Doing Justice to the Classics

Banner image: Western Voices World News' commentary on NYC's guidance -- something Aristotle never said

Fake Aristotle Quote Opposing Human Rights for Immigrants

A xenophobic news aggregator called Western Voices World News reposted an article from the New York Post concerning New York City’s strongest-in-the-nation Human Rights Law. In September 2019 the city explicitly affirmed that the law protects New Yorkers from being harassed because of their accent, for speaking a language other than English, or from being called an “illegal alien” out of hate. Western Voices World News provided only two bits of commentary on the report: the xenophobic heading “Trusting your government and getting conquered by aliens are now one and the same” and a meme showing a bust of Aristotle with a quotation “Tolerance and Apathy are the last virtues of a dying society.” Pharos has documented and responded to hate groups using things Aristotle actually wrote in support of hatred, but Sententiae Antiquae and The Athenian Inspector have both shown that this quote appears nowhere in Aristotle’s work: racists, xenophobes, and nationalists just attach Aristotle’s name to it in order to give intellectual credibility to their hateful politics.

Western Voices World News’ commentary on NYC’s guidance — something Aristotle never said

Western World Voices News is the same site with headlines such as “Anti-white and anti-American bigots are so enchanted with immigration and diversity that they want more of it, even if the cost is more crime” and “Will the new Afro-Chicano Spanish-Speaking majority give our beautiful white children and grandchildren the same legal protections, racial preferences, and subsidies that Hispanics and African-Americans receive today? You know the answer. We’ve been warned about this for decades.” It’s the same site that attacked a U.S. senator for proposing a bill that would end limits on employment-based green cards with an article that linked to, a site Pharos has documented for using Roman history to promote a racist conspiracy theory.

The classicizing logo from a previous version of the site

Clearly this site doesn’t aspire to the same kind of pseudo-academic tone as the racists that Pharos often documents using references to Greco-Roman antiquity to show their intellectual clout. But even here we find ancient history being used in this way. They republished a tweet from Canadian white nationalist Stefan Molyneux, who has more than 400,000 followers, saying that “if diversity is such a strength, you would imagine that at least one ancient culture would have used it to conquer the world.” They predicted that “unless something drastic is done [about immigration in Sweden] we may one day hear about the fall of Sweden the same way we learned about the fall of the Roman Empire,” thus repeating the claim popular on xenophobic sites that immigration led to Rome’s collapse. They used to have a logo incorporating Thomas Cole’s idealized image of Greco-Roman architecture, declaring their site to be “A Service of European Americans United.” It’s a logo reminiscent of the neo-Nazi web forum Stormfront’s logo showing the Parthenon with the slogan “Every Month is White History Month.”

The Aristotle meme comes from a now-deplatformed Facebook page called “Smash Cultural Marxism – The Originals,” with “Cultural Marxism” referring to one of racists’ favorite labels for academic work that promotes diversity and inclusion, and “The Originals” signalling that this page likely provided a treasure trove/cesspool of appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity being used in support of hate. That site wasn’t likely the first to attribute this quote to Aristotle, and it certainly wasn’t the last: Aristotle’s quote lives on, a false but potent symbol of hate groups’ ongoing attraction to the ancient past and the authority they believe it confers on them.

To avoid generating traffic for Western Voices World News we have linked above to an archived version of its story. The original can be found here. Since Pharos published this piece WVWN has changed their site design. Their new site begins with a quote that they attribute to Cicero: “Liberty is the freedom of doing.” This is doubly misleading: the full quote that is attributed to Cicero is “Liberty is the freedom of doing what is permitted by law,” a much more narrow maxim. It appears in many dictionaries of Latin quotations as Libertas est potestas faciendi id quod iure liceat as a quote from Cicero. But that Latin phrase appears in none of Cicero’s works, nor in any Latin work that is included in a major database of Latin texts spanning several millennia.

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