- Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age by Donna Zuckerberg
Greco-Roman antiquity has often been used in the service of politics. The classics have furnished us with—amongst other things—markers of elite status, arguments both for and against slavery, excuses for imperialism, and the rhetoric of democracy. In Not All Dead White Men, Zuckerberg offers us a window onto one recent example of this process in action, documenting how the classics is currently being embraced and deployed by a right-wing online group known as the Red Pill community.
The name is a reference to the 1999 movie, The Matrix, in which the hero recognises the truth of his reality only after consuming a red pill. According to today's Red Pill community, the hidden truth in question is that contemporary North America is a gynocracy, its entire social structure organised to systematically disadvantage men. The community largely operates online, using discussion pages and dedicated websites, and comprises a loosely linked set of campaigners, companies, interest groups, and individuals. The group is part of a wider movement which in North America has dubbed itself the "Alt-Right" (or Alternative Right). The movement promotes far and extreme right-wing views, particularly in terms of social issues such as race, religion, sexuality, and gender roles. It has grown to prominence within the last decade, moving gradually towards the political mainstream, and even finding supporters within the current presidential administration. Similar movements in other parts of the world have enjoyed comparable success, with the growth of far-right political parties in Europe and the increasing attraction of "strong-man" political leaders across South America and Asia.
After a brief introduction setting out her aims, in the first chapter of this book Zuckerberg introduces us to the diverse inhabitants of the online "manosphere." From Pick-Up Artists (PUAs) discussing tactics for how to have sex with as many women as possible (either with or without women's consent) to Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) arguing for an exclusively male society, Zuckerberg guides the reader through a digital world swirling with acronyms, pseudonyms, and garbled classical references. It is the latter that most interests Zuckerberg, however, and this first chapter describes how online misogynists have cited the works of ancient writers including Semonides, Xenophon, Aristotle, and Juvenal in support of their views on women. Introductions to the works of these authors are given, as well as a thumbnail sketch of ancient misogyny. Greek and Roman authors, Zuckerberg concludes, offer a rich picking-ground [End Page 487] for those seeking antifeminist ammunition; these quests often intersect with wider claims about the death of western civilisation, anti-white racism, and the evils of immigration.
Chapter 2 focuses on how the Red Pill community have showed particular interest in the Stoic philosophers. It presents a brief history of ancient Stoicism, and later in the chapter considers the potential for feminist readings of Stoic texts before concluding that Stoic thought was characterised by "inherent sexism" (75). Zuckerberg then goes on to document the Red Pill uses of Stoic philosophy. These range from throwaway comments on online discussion threads and quotes in self-help books to full articles of detailed textual commentary. The scale and range of Red Pill engagement with Stoicism is remarkable, and Zuckerberg successfully establishes this over the course of the chapter. Some of the examples cited, however, demonstrate neither direct knowledge of nor deliberate allusion to Stoic philosophy. For example, when discussing the blog Return of the Kings, Zuckerberg points out that the Stoic ideal of self-improvement through education is promoted, while acknowledging that no explicit reference to Stoicism is made on the blog itself (67). This somewhat lessens the force of the argument—the fact that a trained classicist can identify thematic similarities between a modern blog and an ancient text does not necessarily imply the influence of the one on the other. The chapter proceeds to illustrate how Stoicism is used by the far right...