Stoic Philosophy masking Hate

Stoicschool.org is the website of an organization that promotes itself as “a civil society of people from all walks of life who share important values about the earth, social justice, and making a real difference in the world through people and science.” These values, they say, are derived from their adherence to ancient Stoic philosophy and the application of it in the modern world. It’s an appealing message, and one that may appear to put ancient Greco-Roman philosophy to good use, until you look a little deeper into the site and find that this lofty and progressive vision is meant to disguise and give intellectual credibility to a hateful and regressive message that has nothing to do with Stoicism.

Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BCE and developed over many centuries by the freed-slave Epictetus, the statesman and philosopher Seneca, and the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, among many others. At its core, Stoicism focuses on self-control and overcoming negative emotions. In recent years the Modern Stoicism movement has brought an updated version of these ancient teachings to a broad audience.

Lurking behind Stoicschool.org’s deployment of technical Stoic terminology like apatheia, logos, and epignosis, images of classicizing statuary and architecture, and a comparison of ancient and modern notations for the final, formal, material, and efficient causes for God, one finds a relentless drumbeat of every imaginable form of hate, all in apparent ignorance or willful avoidance of ancient Stoicism’s core belief in the equality of all human beings.

  • A complaint about “censorship” by “the powers that be” of white supremacist sites like The Daily Stormer, Stormfront.org (which Pharos has documented several times), and David Duke’s website. The post invites readers to “listen to [these sites’] ideas for a considerable time” and to use that as the basis for “making a rational decision” about whether to agree with them.
  • An article claiming that “Modern Western feminism is a calculated effort to destroy Western civilization” (a claim familiar from other hate sites Pharos has documented).
  • A racist and nationalist article entitled “Coexistence failures for 250 years” claiming that “The United States has documented almost 250 years of bending over backwards to make other races happy.” It argues that “the West” should recognize that it is locked in “a racist culture war” with “ungrateful” “Indian Tribes,” “African Americans,” and “Arab Muslims” who “hate Western races or values or culture” and “must be sent back to their countries of origin that they seem to love so much.” “Listen to rap music and black lives matter protesters,” it warns, “and you will understand that they are fighting a racist culture war against the West.” This piece ends with a quotation from the film Gladiator: “people should know when they’re conquered.”
  • A comparison of the rallies of “community organizers” (which is a veiled reference to those who advocate racial, economic, and other forms of equality) to children “disobey[ing their] parents and play[ing] in the street” because “they have trained themselves to not count their blessings.” They are, according to the site, “biting the hand that feeds [them]…even dogs are not so stupid.”
  • A related post on the “ingratitude” of those activists suggests that they should follow the example of Epictetus, who “was a slave and never complained about it and found happiness.” Such trivialization of the brutal conditions of slavery (whether in antiquity or American history) is rejected across the political spectrum but nevertheless continues to be articulated.
  • A xenophobic and racist series on the United States’ founding documents that describes as “enlightenment fallacies” the Declaration of Independence’s claim that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are “unalienable rights” for all human beings. The site argues that “the Constitution is for European people who did the hard work of settling America, not for foreigners or immigrants no matter how wretched they are or how much merit they seem to have” and that “We the people…” at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence should be understood to mean “Dear former Europeans.” The “American Dream,” the article claims, “never has had anything to do with becoming the world’s emergency room for every refugee that finds himself in an abusive relationship with his government.”
  • A misogynist and transphobic discussion of gender identity that indulges in gross caricatures of the goals of the feminist movement: “Perhaps the biggest difference in the nature of Western women and men is that Western women want to be more like men.” The site claims that feminism is the belief that women and men are the same, which they snidely “refute” with evidence like “Statistically, females carry 100% of human babies” or “For some reason, double-blinded studies of many nations indicate that nearly 100% of Tampons are bought for women.” They contemptuously misrepresent the movement, which claims not that men and women are the same, but that everyone (whether they identify as male, female, non-binary, non-conforming) deserves the same opportunities, resources, and rewards for achievement.
  • The front page of the site displays an Islamophobic quote from the “Scholarch” of the organization: “One culture sees women and thinks of FGM [female genital mutilation] and burkas. They are eager to fight to acquire many wives. The West sees women and thinks of a beautiful flower that should be glorified.” This claim paints all Muslims as patriarchal, a similar rhetorical move to those who paint all Muslims as terrorists, which is also a view articulated on Stoicschool.org: “Since 1986, Muslims who imitate Muhammad’s life have been celebrating serial killers who use vehicles and knives.” The description of women as “beautiful flower[s] that should be glorified” is itself misogynist, an example of “benevolent sexism” that represents women as weak creatures needing protection in order to authorize giving men power over them.
  • A celebration of the rise of xenophobic and nationalist parties in Europe as “the resurgence of Western civilization.” The article praises white nationalists like Marine Le Pen of France and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, with a quote from American politician Steve King (known for promoting the perspectives of neo-Nazis on social media) saying that “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

These articles make few references to any recognizable tenets of Stoicism beyond vague invocations of “virtue,” “gratitude,” and “temperance,” and authors’ pseudonyms taken from ancient Stoic philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Cicero (this last of questionable allegiance to Stoicism).  Nevertheless the site’s contributors represent themselves not just as modern adopters of Stoicism but as the direct and specially authorized intellectual descendants of the ancient Stoics. “We are,” the site claims, “the oldest continuous institution in history” and possess “a continuous record of our activities from our founding until today.” The site traces its lineage through a series of “Scholarchs” who “receive the office directly from the previous Scholoarch [sic] in a formal ceremony.” The first several of these leaders, according to Stoicschool.org’s “history” page, are those who are known to have been associated with Zeno’s school in Athens: Zeno himself, Cleanthes, Chrysippus, and so on. The administrator of Stoicschool.org is, presumably, the 124th “Scholarch” listed in the history as being appointed in 2003, but no name is given. In fact, none of the names of Scholarchs are given in the site’s history after Sextus of Chaerona [sic; the place Sextus was from is spelled Chaeronea] supposedly took the office in 154 CE.

Defending Western Civilization" is code that white supremacists use to disguise their hateful agenda

In general the site’s grasp of ancient history seems shaky: it claims “the Stoic School knows these ancient ways because we witnessed the birth of Western civilization, and we have been its mentor, tutor, and champion ever since,” but makes no reference to anything before the time of Zeno (~300 BCE), which means that they do not consider Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (to speak only of philosophers) to have been part of “Western Civilization.” Some of the names chosen by contributors also fit uneasily with the history of Stoicism. The Islamaphobe goes by the name “Cato the Elder,” but it was Cato the Younger who was known as a Stoic, not his great grandfather (the author apparently prefers to be able to end his posts with imitations of Cato the Elder’s “Carthage must be destroyed,” e.g. “Sharia must be destroyed,” rather than to be historically accurate).

According to Stoicschool.org the Statue of Liberty is "a monument to an early attempt to destroy Western values"

It comes as no surprise if Stoicschool.org seems to promote a distorted version of the history of “Western Civilization”, because “defending Western Civilization” is code that white supremacists use to disguise their hateful agenda (it doesn’t always have to signal this, but attempting to use it in apolitical ways — say, to promote the study of Classical antiquityruns the risk of legitimizing the hate groups’ claims). Besides declaring itself the “mentor, tutor, champion” and “chaperone” of “Western Civilization,” Stoicschool.org describes contacting the site as “the first step in making civilization and yourself stronger.” Their “Project Genesis” (to which they invite readers to contribute financially) will include “a museum in honor of Western Civilization.” Throughout the site various threats to “Western Civilization” are identified, including “Cultural Marxism,” academic philosophers, “critical thinking,” mainstream political parties, and, even the poem welcoming immigrants to the United States that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty (according to Stoicschool.org “a monument to an early attempt to destroy Western values”).

The sinister dimensions of such promotion of “Western Civilization” are evident in various places on the site. When they write that “Western Civilization is the best way of life…and is…the only way for people of all races to live in peace on earth” it should not be understood as an inclusive message: elsewhere “Diversity” is listed as one of “six tactics” that “Eastern cultures” are using in a “conscious strategy to destroy Western Civilization.” Rather the site employs the language of purity in a gesture to white supremacy (“pure Western civilization is a blessing to all people who deal with it whether they are part of the West or not”) and declares its imperialist, even potentially genocidal, intent to “preserve the best and replace the rest regarding the West.”

Stoicschool.org is not the only place online that ancient Stoic ideas are being appropriated in support of various forms of hate, it’s just the site that makes the current alignment between the philosophy and contemporary hate groups most obvious. Pharos will be documenting and responding to more of these sites in the future.

Oh, did we mention that an article on the site calls Roy Moore, who has been accused by nine women of sexual misconduct with girls as young as 14,  “a person of integrity who sticks to his values even when it might hurt his fortune or his sacred reputation”?

To avoid giving Stoicschool.org traffic we have linked to an archived images of the site. A link to the site itself can be found here.

Follow

Follow this blog

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Email address