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Doing Justice to the Classics

Bait and Switch: Plato’s Republic and Hitler’s Mein Kampf

During the U.S. Senate hearings concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court amid accusations of sexual assault, the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer published numerous articles (and distributed flyers) claiming that “a group of subversive Jews…utilized the most disgusting tactics imaginable to prevent Kavanaugh from filling the position.” In one of these, the editor of the site Andrew Anglin cited Plato’s Republic as proof that “using a coalition of the media and the opposition to destroy the character of an individual are nothing new.” After a lengthy quotation, Anglin ended his article by revealing that the quote was not, in fact, from Plato but from Hitler’s memoir/manifesto Mein Kampf.

The passage that Anglin attributed to Plato included, for example, the following:  “We must study this vile Jewish technique of emptying garbage pails full of the vilest slanders and defamations from hundreds and hundreds of sources at once, suddenly and as if by magic, on the clean garments of honorable men, if we are fully to appreciate the entire menace represented by these scoundrels of the press.”

Why do sites like The Daily Stormer use references to antiquity? Because they believe readers will respect anything written by an ancient author.

Pharos has already documented The Daily Stormer and other sites making up ancient quotes to legitimize hateful politics. But Anglin surely knows that one does not need to invent passages to find ancient authors like Plato advocating politics congenial to neo-Nazis, including totalitarian government and eugenics. And he certainly knows that it’s easy for anyone to figure out that Hitler, not Plato, wrote these words. He’s not trying to trick us. Rather, this article is about why sites like The Daily Stormer use references to antiquity: because they believe readers will respect anything written by an ancient author. In keeping with Anglin’s belief that “the unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not,” his bait and switch of Plato’s Republic for Mein Kampf is both a self-aware parody of this rhetorical move and a serious argument, namely, that more people would accept the arguments of Hitler’s memoir if they weren’t prejudiced against it in advance and instead thought of Hitler the way they think of famous historical figures from ancient Greece, as the founder of once advocated.

We can point out lies and distortions on these sites all day long, but what’s really fundamental to these sites’ use of antiquity is the expectation that their readers will uncritically respect everything ancient. And for a discipline whose very name insists on the special value of the civilizations we study, that’s a much harder problem to tackle.

To avoid generating traffic for The Daily Stormer we’ve linked above to archived versions of their articles. The original article attributing a passage from Mein Kampf to the Republic is here.

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