We received this message earlier on Twitter:
“Best to avoid political tweets. At least half your audience doesn’t share this PC dogma, remember.”
How dare you? Brushing aside the epistemological question of how one reader could speak for half of the audience, it is necessarily true that large portions of any audience will disagree with something which is presented to it. Is it our responsibility simply to provide a comforting echo to each reader’s full collection of thoughts, opinions, and feelings? Impossible. Almost all of the internet is resolutely indifferent to Classics, yet we do not on that account feel compelled to shut down the operation for fear of boring people with ancient quotations. I could easily start a heated debate and earn the disapproval of more than half of the audience with the claim that I think the Odyssey superior to the Iliad, yet I would not on that account be afraid to say so. In such matters, one may resort to the old principle de gustibus non disputandum, but politics affects our lives in far more tangible ways than aesthetic preferences. It would be base cowardice to refrain from even commenting upon injustice, and I would sooner lose all of our audience than appear to condone reactionary barbarism.
“Political correctness” is a vacuous and insipid term, but it is a potent ideological weapon, used in an attempt to denigrate any potentially civilizing viewpoints. Not infrequently, expressions of support for human rights, cosmopolitanism, and cultural sensitivity are dismissed as politically correct. Yet, it also seems that the time for this phrase has long since past; it is not clear that any form of sensitivity is politically correct in a time when Trumpian disregard for civilization itself has managed not only to clutch all of the levers of political power in this country, but also to obtrude itself upon our consciousness so forcibly that we now run the risk of normalizing puerile hatred and pettiness as accepted modes of civic discourse.
The main purpose of this site is not political, but there is no denying that Classics has become one of many battlefields in a heated and horrifying ideological war. I would not flatter myself into thinking that it is central to the political debate, but when I see that a field of study which I care about is being weaponized against the civic values which I believe in, I will not silently refrain from comment in a vain hope to retain an audience. Just as many cities in antiquity claimed Homer as their own, so too many cultures, and even many ideologies, claim the study of ancient Greece and Rome as a part of their personal heritage. I will not pretend to be surprised that unregenerate reactionaries find something to admire in the Classics, which, for all of their civilization, are yet saturated with barbarism throughout. But one could easily impose any political ideology from far left to far right onto the template which the ancient world provides. The power of selective citation is that it can be used to lend a grave authority to any viewpoint. Yet, as I have written before, the ancient world should be an object for study, not revivification. I have spent more than a decade of my modern life thinking about antiquity, but I’ll be damned if I have ever felt a desire to experience it first hand and “live with the Romans.” We must learn from history, but only the most vile reactionary would take pleasure in a recrudescence of the “ancient ways”, and modeling one’s behavior on some dimly-understood precedent from thousands of years ago is craven in the extreme.
In the opening of his Politics, Aristotle claims that “all people do everything which they do for the sake of what they think is good.” (τοῦ γὰρ εἶναι δοκοῦντος ἀγαθοῦ χάριν πάντα πράττουσι πάντες.) This site does not exist for the purpose of promoting good or social justice, but it should be understood that we believe in universal human rights, free expression, and multiculturalism. (Anyone who studies Classics is necessarily committed to this last, in that they find themselves at the intersection of a bare minimum of three distinct cultures.) We will not refrain from commenting on politics at the behest of one or even thousands of idle charges of “political correctness,” which will be received with all the lip-curling exertion of a contemptuous sneer.