Greco-Roman Antiquity in Camus’ “Great Replacement”

No fewer than three recent mass shooters have said they found inspiration in the French intellectual Renaud Camus’ theory of “the Great Replacement,” a xenophobic and racist claim that “European” or “white” culture is being “replaced” through immigration. Camus outlined this theory in a 2011 book entitled Le Grand Remplacement that he later rewrote and translated into English as You Will Not Replace Us! (2018), a title clearly intended to echo the chant of the white supremacists at the 2017 Charlottesville rallyPharos has reported on how this theory appears, often in connection with references to Greco-Roman antiquity, on various hate sites, and ancient historian Sarah Bond has traced the history of this theory, uncovering a long tradition of such thinking well before Camus published his work. But Greco-Roman antiquity is not just a touchstone for those who subscribe to Camus’ theory: his treatise itself takes its starting point from a reading of an ancient Greek philosophical text and is peppered throughout with references to antiquity in support of his claims.

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Revilo Oliver: The White Supremacist Within

Since 2017, Pharos has documented many examples of hate groups appropriating ancient Greece and Rome in support of their politics. Our articles may give the impression that it is only outsiders to the discipline of Classics who enlist that history in support of hate. But today we turn to a Classics professor who actively promoted anti-Semitism and became an influential figure to an entire generation of white supremacists in the United States: Revilo Oliver, who spent thirty years as a professor of Classics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and who, besides lending his prestige as a professor of Classics to white nationalist causes, often invoked Classical antiquity to legitimize his views. Oliver died in 1994 but remains a respected figure in anti-Semitic circles and a warning against assuming that white supremacy is only to be found “outside” of the professional field of Classics.
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A New Roman Empire for White People

Richard Spencer is one of the most prominent white supremacists in the United States, whose various media platforms have published numerous articles that invoke Greco-Roman antiquity in support of racism and anti-Semitism. But Spencer himself has also made ancient Rome a model for his hateful vision: in a speech at the 2013 American Renaissance conference (a group that Pharos has also documented) Spencer described his dream of a “White Ethno-State on the North American continent” that would be, in his words, “a reconstitution of the Roman Empire.”

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Roman Persecution of Christians used to legitimize Homophobic Victim Mentality

The Alliance Defending Freedom is an American non-profit organization that, under the guise of promoting and protecting “religious freedom“, opposes gender equality, promotes homophobia and transphobia, and works to restrict or reduce the civil and legal rights of gay people. The SPLC has categorized them as a hate group for “supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad;” “defend[ing] state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad;” “link[ing] homosexuality to pedophilia and claim[ing] that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society.” ADF is one of the most influential Christian advocacy groups in the United States: it has been invited to events sponsored by President Trump’s white househas allies at all levels of government, and has won numerous cases in the United States Supreme Court. These cases include a ruling that allowed a Colorado cake-maker to discriminate against gay people and another that allowed corporations to refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraception. In these fights ADF presents itself as a bulwark against an oppressive and immoral government and culture, and one of the ways it does this is through comparisons between 21st century Christians in America and early Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.

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Islamophobic Site Finds Evidence of a “New Dark Ages” in the Fall of Rome

Gates of Vienna is a xenophobic and Islamophobic website that has been in existence since 2004. The anti-racist group Hope Note Hate calls it “one of the most influential counter-jihad sites in the world” and lists its founder, Edward S. May, as one of the “top 16 players on the international Islamophobia scene.” Most of the material on the site is devoted to demonstrating that immigration from Muslim countries poses an existential threat to “Christian Europe.” Among the many articles on this topic is a three-part series entitled “How Long Until the Dark Ages Return?” arguing that the arrival of refugees from Muslim-majority countries has brought Europe to “the brink of [a] New Dark Ages” that will be marked by the “total chaos and absolute anarchy” that “ruled” in Europe following the collapse of Roman state power. The example of Rome is held up as a warning to Europe, since “It’s interesting to see how that came to be the last time.”

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Militia Group Warns of the Roman “Path to Ruin”

In May 2019, Pennsylvania state representative Stephanie Borowicz drew criticism for posing for a photograph with a member of the militia group “American Guard” at a rally. Such reports of elected officials having ties to white supremacy or granting influence to members of hate groups seem to be increasingly common. When the report of Rep. Borowicz’s selfie came across our desk Pharos looked into American Guard and found not only hateful politics, but references to classical antiquity as well.

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Political party using antiquity to “Make Spain Great Again”

VOX is an anti-immigrant, Islamaphobic, homophobic, and misogynist political party in Spain that in 2019 won enough votes to elect twenty-four legislators to Spain’s Congress of Deputies. In a body of 350 seats this is not enough to enact a legislative agenda but they now have a voice and legitimacy that they had previously lacked. Like many far-right parties VOX’s rhetoric depends on a nostalgia for a supposedly more peaceful, more prosperous (and actually less equitable) past. Although VOX finds its inspiration primarily in Spain’s more recent, fascist, past, it also invokes the Greco-Roman world to legitimize its politics.

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Cato the Elder Endorsing Misogyny in Online Forums

Cato the Elder was a Roman senator who is usually remembered as the preeminent advocate for traditional values in ancient Rome. He is best known for ending many of his speeches in the senate by saying “Furthermore, Carthage must be destroyed,” even if he had been speaking on a different topic, as a way of pressing for further military action against Carthage following that city’s defeat in the Second Punic War. Several other sayings attributed to Cato have survived, two of which are favorites in online misogynist communities such as those that Donna Zuckerberg has described in her book Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age. One quoted in Plutarch’s Life of Cato criticizes Romans for their supposed subservience to women: “All mankind rules its women, and we rule all mankind, but our women rule us.” In another, quoted from Livy’s history of Rome, Cato calls woman “a violent and uncontrolled animal.”

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Classical Shirts Mask Hate with Humor

“Culture Wars” is a store on the custom apparel website TeePublic.com that advertises itself as “designs in support of European culture and civilization.” Like another online apparel store that Pharos has documented, “Culture Wars” offers many shirts with classical images and themes that promote both coded and explicit racism, homophobia, and misogyny. But whereas the previously documented site promoted a violent and hyper-masculine vision of the classical past, “Culture Wars” takes the approach of attempting to mask much of its hatred with humor.

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Nixon Claims Homosexuality Destroyed Greece, Rome … and America?

Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States (1969 – 74), is primarily remembered for the Watergate scandal. During the congressional investigation that led to Nixon’s resignation, more than 3,000 hours of recorded conversations between Nixon and his advisors came to light. Within the small percentage of these recordings that have been studied, the President invokes Greco-Roman antiquity twice in support of the homophobic claim that “homosexuality destroyed” both Greece and Rome. What may seem at first a laughably ignorant view of ancient history looks different when one realizes that these tapes show one of the most powerful men of his time echoing the views of white supremacists.

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