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Doing Justice to the Classics

Ancient and Modern Pandemics said to “Cull the Herd”

Identity Dixie has been called America’s “preeminent neo-Confederate hate organization.” In addition to their podcast The Rebel Yell, which Pharos has documented for its host’s use of the Classical pseudonym “Musonius Rufus” and which was originally distributed on the same platform as the neo-Nazi podcast The Daily Shoah, the site promotes the work of like-minded racists, misognyists, and xenophobes on its “Dissident Right Radio” page. One such show, the Z Blog Power Hour, has joined other hate groups and conspiracy theorists in commenting on the coronavirus pandemic, calling the measures taken to limit the virus’ spread “The Great Madness” and downplaying the threat it poses. This widespread minimization of the pandemic takes many forms. On Identity Dixie and the Z Blog Power Hour it means comparing COVID-19 to plagues from Greco-Roman antiquity.

“This pandemic is never going to be on the list of great plagues,” writes the host of the Z Blog Power Hour in the episode’s show notes, arguing that this perverse distinction should only be given to epidemics that “people remember for generations.” The host writes that he finds it “interesting” that pandemics “often leave their mark in how they shape human events.” His examples are drawn from Greco-Roman antiquity: “How different would our world be if Athens never suffered a plague and went on to defeat the Peloponnesian League? How about if Justinian was able to reconstitute the Roman Empire,” referring to the 6th century campaign to reunite the Eastern and Western Roman Empires that failed due to plague. He also discusses the Antonine Plague in his show but not in his show notes. “It is impossible to know,” writes “Z Man,” “but most likely we are what we are because of these plagues.”

Great Plagues...cull the herd in ways that are felt for many generations

It’s hard to see any historical value in such a comparison, which attempts to use a plague from 1,500 years ago that recurred over a period of more than two hundred years to reveal something about a pandemic still only a few months old. It looks like a simple, if tasteless, “it could be worse” argument like those being made in much more mainstream venues, although even that claim rings a little hollow now that more people have died from coronavirus than likely died in the Athenian plague he cites.

But “Z Man” isn’t a historian trying too hard to find a way to make his area of specialization relevant to current events. He’s part of a white nationalist movement marked by insistence on the superiority of European white people and nostalgia for the slave economy of the American south. He’s written that “only in a society run by white men, can there be anything resembling civil order” and said that he has “a great deal of sympathy for black people” because he is “well aware of the biological reality that underlies the plight of blacks in America.” So when he praises ancient plagues because they “not only alter the timeline, but they cull the herd in ways that are felt for many generations” it’s not just a hot take from someone who has (so far) only been inconvenienced by the social distancing required to slow the spread of the disease. It’s an expression of an entire worldview, one that reaffirms the racist narrative about the nature of the virus by calling it the “Chines flu” [sic] but then goes even further in suggesting that those who die deserve to die because they are weaker and less valuable than those who live.

The “Z Blog Power Hour’s” Logo is a Classicizing Painting: “Alaric in Athens” (1894); Alaric’s seige of Rome in 408 was aided by plague

In fact, anyone can become infected, and anyone can die; it is in the allocation of medical resources and care that discrimination takes place. “Z Man’s” worldview won’t let him see this, however, because he sees non-white people as biologically inferior to white people.  like other white supremacists, he has written articles claiming that if black people are arrested for violent crimes at higher rates than other kinds of people its because they are genetically prone to violence, not becausse our racist criminal “justice” system is designed to produce that result. So as the Coronavirus begins to kill poorer, predominantly black and Latinx people at rates far exceeding their proportion of the population, white supremacists will try to make the same kind of argument, even though it’s wealthy, predominantly white, people who are doing the most to spread the disease.

So why the turn to antiquity? As readers of Pharos will know, white supremacists tend to idealize the Classical past as a high point of white, European civilization.  So it is puzzling to find “Z Man” celebrating plagues that reveal the fragility of that civilization, although in the case of the Athenian plague he likely approve of the way it hastened the defeat of (nominally) democratic Athens by the supposedly racially pure Spartans, whose “natural hierarchy” he describes in another article. Awareness of that fragility, of course, can feed the apocalyptic visions of decline that many white supremacists also entertain, but “Z Man’s” post complacently downplays the risk that COVID-19 poses. Sometimes historical references are only there to make the commentator seem like he knows what he’s talking about.

Let’s hope that “Z Man” is right that with hindsight COVID-19 will not compare to the Plague of Justinian. But if it doesn’t, it won’t be a ratification of a white supremacist view of history. It will be because everyone decided to change their own behaviors to help protect other people, no matter who they are.

To avoid generating traffic for Identity Dixie or “Z Man’s” own site we have linked above to archived versions of their posts.

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