Classical Antiquity and the fear of “White Extinction”

As has been widely reported, the alleged shooter in the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand subscribed to a racist conspiracy theory that national and world governments are trying to eliminate white people by encouraging immigration of non-white people, intermarriage between white people and non-white people, abortion, and, in the more paranoid versions of the theory, violence against white people. This theory fuels racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia and can inspire violence like that seen in Christchurch: the shooter killed fifty Muslim worshippers and injured fifty more. He titled his manifesto “The Great Replacement” after a version of this theory articulated in France; in the U.S. this theory has often been known as “white genocide” or “white extinction.” The Christchurch shooting brought this theory widespread attention but it has a long history among hate groups and, more recently, in more mainstream circles. And as with other hateful ideologies, Greco-Roman antiquity is frequently invoked in support of it, by giving legitimacy to the idea that white people are somehow endangered.

Xenophobic quote from Pat Buchanan alongside CNN video about declining birth-rates in Europe on www.great-replacement.com

A well documented example of Greco-Roman antiquity being used to stoke fears of “white extinction” came when the white supremacist group Identity Evropa began hanging posters on college campuses with images of classical sculpture and slogans such as “protect your heritage” and “our future belongs to us.” But they are just one of many examples.

An example is the site pictured in the screenshot above, www.great-replacement.com. This site describes itself as “documenting the replacement and dispossession of European races” and complains that “of all the different races of people on this planet, only the European races are facing the possibility of extinction in a relatively near future.” It begins with a series of quotes intended to show that important people have argued that this supposed danger should be taken seriously, and the first quote it offers is from a speech that the ancient historian Cassius Dio says the Roman emperor Augustus delivered in 9 CE. This is the year that the Roman senate, which at this point primarily enacted the wishes of the emperor, passed of a law that strengthened an earlier set of laws Augustus had enacted encouraging marriage and punishing celibacy and adultery. In the speech quoted on the site Augustus argues that if Roman men do not marry and produce children the state will fail, foreigners will take over, and the “original stock” of Rome will “perish”:

How otherwise shall families continue? How can the commonwealth be preserved if we neither marry nor produce children? Surely you are not expecting some to spring up from the earth to succeed to your goods and to public affairs, as myths describe. It is neither pleasing to Heaven nor creditable that our race should cease and the name of Romans meet extinguishment in us, and the city be given up to foreigners, Greek or even barbarians. We liberate slaves chiefly for the purpose of making out of them as many citizens as possible; we give our allies a share in the government that our numbers may increase: yet you, Romans of the original stock, including Quintii, Valerii, Iulli, are eager that your families and names at once shall perish with you (Dio 56.7.4–7).

This quote from Augustus is followed by a quotation from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1917 essay “Dawn and Sunrise of History” concerning ancient history. Roosevelt argues that once the “fiber of each civilized race” had been “weakened,” the “curse of every ancient civilization” was to be “trodden under foot by some ruder people.” Like Augustus, Roosevelt is a figure whose reputation often conceals troubling aspects of his career; the authors of this site, however, invoke them only as “great men” whose authority can give legitimacy to the site’s racist fears.

From generally respected figures, however, the site quickly turns to fear-mongering propagated by figures who are prominent only within the world of racist politics, with a quote from “Wilmot Robertson,” the pseudonymous author of the white supremacist books The Dispossessed Majority and The Ethnostate and the publisher of the racist journal Instauration, and another from the racist politician Pat Buchanan, whose work has popularized the conspiracy theory of white genocide. The former’s quote calls Bangladesh “a miasma of poverty and ignorance” and the latter worries that Germany will become “a cemetery for the Germanic peoples, whose origins date back to before the birth of Christ,” a quote selected by the site’s authors as a nod toward Nazi ideologies that claimed a special purity and longevity for the Germanic people. Pharos has also documented an article by Buchanan for the racist and xenophobic site VDare.com that uses the fall of the Roman Empire as a model for the existential threat that immigration supposedly poses to the United States: “The ethnic, linguistic and cultural reconquest of the American Southwest by Mexico is well advanced,” he writes.

It is only by controlling the sexuality of women that the men who worry about the decline of the "white race" can maintain the social order they want

This is not a case of the authors of great-replacement.com taking Augustus’ (reported) speech out of context or distorting the emperor’s meaning. There are plenty of other quotes they might have chosen, for example when Augustus accuses unmarried men of “committing murder” against their descendants:

You are committing murder in not begetting in the first place those who ought to be your descendants, you are committing sacrilege in putting an end to the names and honors of your ancestors…you are betraying your country by rendering her barren and childless; nay more, you are laying her even with the dust by making her destitute of future inhabitants (Dio 56.5.1–3).

They could also have quoted what Augustus imagines Romulus, the mythological founder of Rome, would feel if he learned that Roman men preferred to remain unmarried when Romulus’ generation of Romans had to “settle” for foreign women:

How wrathful would the Romans who were [Romulus’] followers be, if they could realize that after they themselves had even seized foreign girls [in the “Rape of the Sabines“], you are not satisfied even with those of your own race, and after they had got children even by enemy wives, you will not beget them even of women who are citizens!” (Dio 56.5.4–5)

However, Augustus’ speech also reveals the true political motivations behind the white nationalist fear of diversity. Augustus openly states that one of the “advantages that accrue[s]…to the state” when Romans marry and have children is the continuation of the political supremacy they enjoy: “how excellent and how necessary [procreation] is…if you are to rule others and all the world is to obey you” (Dio 56.3.7). And Augustus also makes clear the misogyny that goes hand in hand with the fear of white extinction:

“Is there anything better,” he asks, “than a wife who is chaste, domestic, a good house-keeper, a rearer of children; one to gladden you in health, to tend to you in sickness; to be your partner in good fortune, to console you in misfortune; to restrain the mad passion of youth and to temper the unseasonable harshness of old age?” (Dio 56.3.3)

It is only by controlling the sexuality of women, and by limiting their opportunities outside of motherhood, that the men who worry about the decline of the “white race” can maintain the social order they want. In fact greater gender equality is correlated with higher birth rates, at least in Europe.

One of Identity Evropa’s posters featuring Classical Sculpture and playing to fears of white extinction

Great-replacement.com is far from the only hate site Pharos has seen that invokes antiquity in connection with fears of “white genocide.” The following is a selection of references to the extinction of the “white race” that we have documented.

  • Jared Taylor is the author of If We Do Nothing: Essays from 25 Years of White Advocacy, a book whose title is clearly intended to provoke existential fears in readers. His site, American Renaissance, published an article arguing that “today’s northern Europeans have set out to imitate the ways in which the Greeks and Romans destroyed themselves,” referring to its claim that the “Dorian race” that “remained purest in [classical] Sparta” declined because Greeks “slaughtered each other in terrible fratricidal wars.”
  • William L. Pierce, the architect of modern American white supremacy, went even further in a series of articles Pharos documented on the website of the white supremacist group National Vanguard. He argues that in classical Athens “intermarriage” led to “racial, moral, and cultural decline,” while Sparta “never succumbed to racemixing but they did succumb to their own lifestyle,” by which he means the “despicable vice” of “homosexuality.” This discussion was part of a 26-part series on “The History of the White Race” that ends with the prediction that “much will inevitably be lost during the next few decades. The population balance everywhere will shift even more rapidly toward the non-Whites, the mongrels, and the unfit. The world will become a poorer, uglier, noisier, more crowded, and dirtier place. Superstition, degeneracy, and corruption will be pervasive, even among those Whites of sound racial stock, and much of the best stock will disappear forever through racial mixing.”
  • An article on AltRight.com arguing that white Europeans should be considered superior to “the darker races” because “men of white descent” are the only ones who value the “Socratic idea of truth” concludes that “if the Whites are erased from this world, the will to truth … which is our pride and our birthright, our might and our glory, will perish with [them].”
  • The misogynist who styles himself “Maximus” after Russell Crowe’s character from the 2000 film Gladiator writes “Dear White Western Female: Get Pregnant or Go Extinct.”
  • An article on the website of the white supremacist and holocaust denier Augustus Sol Invictus exhorts readers to think of themselves as the Homeric Odysseus, lost in the hostile world of modern decadence with only their wits to save them. Odysseus, for this author, embodies the “folk soul” of “the continent that birthed what is now the most hated and hunted race on the planet,” meaning white Europeans.
  • The host of a podcast distributed on Identity Dixie, a site for “Southerners…who dare to resist their own genocide,” uses the pseudonym Musonius Rufus, the ancient Roman stoic philosopher.
  • The author of a racist “top 75” list of “the greatest philosophers” that includes fifteen Greco-Roman names rejects the diversification of the philosophical canon as “suppress[ing] the highest achievements in [sic] the planet” and blames efforts to diversify the field of philosophy for “philosophy departments across the West…turning into tiny inconsequential places.” He sees this as a kind of academic white genocide: “The last remaining White male philosophy professors are being substituted by half baked ‘global thinkers’ from diverse cultures.”
  • A misogynist site republished a reddit thread arguing that feminism caused the fall of the Roman Empire. It does not explicitly stoke fears of white extinction but it does claim that lower marriage and fertility rates led to political decline in ancient Rome, which it blames on “no fault divorce,” “men refus[ing] to marry,” “Roman women show[ing] little interest in raising their own children and frequently us[ing] nannies,” “widespread…prostitution and homosexuality,” and the growth of “wealth and power of women.”
  • The transcript of a speech on “White Extinction” by Greg Johnson, the publisher of the white supremacist site Counter-Currents.org, begins, without explanation, with an image of an ancient Greek marble relief of a young girl holding doves.

One of the stated goals of great-replacement.com is to “spread awareness of this term ‘The Great Replacement'” which, the site argues, “should replace the previous term that was used to describe the same population replacement phenomenon as #WhiteGenocide.” This kind of rebranding effort sounds similar to white supremacy’s replacement of Nazi symbols such as the swastika with different symbols that they believe will be less alienating to contemporary audiencesPharos has documented one instance of this in neo-Nazis rebranding the Hitler salute the “Roman” salute.

The New Zealand shooter’s focus on birthrates in his manifesto and adherence to the the conspiracy theory that governments seek the extinction of white people has been cited as “the latest evidence of a web of supremacist extremism,” that rather than see the shooter as an individual actor “such attacks are better understood as springing from a global network of white supremacy cells that communicate in much the same way as other global terrorist networks.” One way this network spreads is through social media and websites like the ones Pharos documents. Only a fraction of these make reference to Greco-Roman antiquity but it is nevertheless imperative that those who care about the Classical past recognize that that past, and the prestige it confers upon these ideas, is part of the way this supremacist network spreads its ideas.

All of the hate sites mentioned above are linked either to archived versions of their posts or to Pharos’ coverage of them.

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