Racists Use This Fake Quote From Aristotle

“Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society”

The character of this quotation is alien to Aristotle and ancient Greek ideas including using “tolerance” in this way and “dying society” (see the quora discussion). I poked around a bit through Aristotle, changing some of the ideas (an ancient Greek might think of “sick” or “corrupt” society”) but there is nothing close to this.

While searching, I found the variation “Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society” attributed to Dr. James Kennedy (an Evangelical preacher) and then Hutton Gibson (father of Mel Gibson and Holocaust Denier). Some of the mis-translations and fake translations can be found in quote books from the 19th century. This one does not appear in any books older than a decade or so and mostly in self-published racist texts whose titles and authors I will not print.

One need only a little familiarity with the discourse of modern politics to hear echoes of right-wing alarmism here. As a Reddit commenter notes, this one seems used to target multiculturalism and support a supremacist world view. Don’t google this to see how people use it, because it will be upsetting. A reddit user did point to the Loeb translation of Politics:

“Also difference of race is a cause of faction, until harmony of spirit is reached; for just as any chance multitude of people does not form a state, so a state is not formed in any chance period of time. ” (Politics Book 5 section 1303a)

Aristotle, Politics 1303a27-30

“Not being of the same tribe is a cause of strife until they “breathe in sync” [breathe together? Sumpneusê], for just as a state does not develop from an accidental mob, so too it does not come together at an accidental time.”

στασιωτικὸν δὲ καὶ τὸ μὴ ὁμόφυλον, ἕως ἂν συμπνεύσῃ· ὥσπερ γὰρ οὐδ᾿ ἐκ τοῦ τυχόντος πλήθους πόλις γίγνεται, οὕτως οὐδ᾿ ἐν τῷ τυχόντι χρόνῳ. διὸ ὅσοι ἤδη συνοίκους ἐδέξαντο ἢ ἐποίκους οἱ πλεῖστοι ἐστασίασαν

It is easy to take this passage as supporting a racist point of view; I think that it probably is kind of racist, but it connects more with the Greek political idea of homophrosune or homonoia, that a unifying feature of a multiple people must be shared beliefs or aims. Also, rather than focusing on the first clause (the same tribe thing) note the trouble focus on “accident”: states cannot just happen. They need planning, work and a reason to be.

(Also, homonoia is not unproblematic, but at least it leaves open the idea that people who look different can join together in common cause. Maybe that is a pretty low bar, but it is as far from the texts using this fake quote as Olympos is from Tartaros.)

But, don’t fear, I am not going to defend Aristotle here. He can be plenty hateful. The point is, he did not say this stupid thing. And, further, there’s plenty of material he actually did say which is reprehensible. So, why be so lazy and recycle some nonsense from an American preacher?

LSJ Supneu

 

14 responses

  1. Pingback: Meme Police: A Collection of things Aristotle Did Not Say « SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

  2. Reblogged this on cassidyslangscam and commented:
    Last year, I spent a lot of time writing in support of Liam Hogan, a historian who has opposed the fake Irish Slavery meme. Here’s an example of another piece of fakery used by the right-wing to justify their intolerant, half-baked nonsense.

  3. I am glad you discussed the misuse and creation of fake text in modern discourse. I never saw such things when I was still in school and still teaching but hate groups proclaiming times to antiquity are popping up on campus according to news reports I see, local, state, and national. Part of me wishes I was still teaching so I could address it. Part of me thinks I might lose my cool in class if I had to do so.

  4. No matter whether or not it can be interpreted as supremacist, it doesn’t matter! Our society in 21st century America, does not have to be governed like Ancient Greece! That’s what the supremacists get wrong: they try to twist history to suite their agenda, and believe the fallacy if the ancients did something, it means we must too! That said, even if Aristotle has views we disapprove of, that does not diminish his legacy in history! Why should we expect Aristotle to have contemporary attitudes? Isn’t that just another form of cultural supremacy? To impose our worldview and measure every ancient culture up to that standard? “Tolerance” in the SJW sense did not exist! nor the modern concept of racial divides! People have always been tribal, and prejudicial towards outsiders. This is not unique to any human culture! Sorry that Aristotle may not be as “woke” to your liking….

    • I did not say Aristotle should be dismissed. He can hold.views that are reprehensible to me and still be worthy of study. The terms ‘woke’ and ‘sjw’ are used as empty rhetorical cudgels. If you are not better than that, you should be.

      • What do you mean? The term “woke” is from the liberal side… Your article came off as being sympathetic to that side. And you’re right about Aristotle. What bugs me is when people say that the ancient world matters in how we ought to conduct our own society, like the supremacists. Aristotle’s views on foreigners does not matter to US foreign policy for instance. 5th century BC Greece is not 21st century America…. The supremacists trying to “appropriate” a quote from him is inconsequential and irrelevant to actually making our own country’s policies…. They make themselves look like fools to do so. My issue with some of what you said in the article, was this tone of holding Aristotle up to a modern standard from our culture, and judging him as if he were one of our own.

      • “Woke” is a lame term. Aristotle’s writings are demonstrably racist and sexist. Appropriation is a proble .because it skews the past and keeps people from seeing it.clearly. it also gives racists purchase on weak minds because of the authority of antiquity. Showing how Aristotle differs from and anticipates modern beliefs is critically and culturally useful.

        Showing how his views on women have supported misogyny and oppression is important because it demonstrates how antiquity.can be used for ill and good.
        Also. I am far enough to the left.that I find the term liberal useless.

      • ” authority of antiquity”
        That’s my exact point…. That’s a fallacy and flawed logic for those who use that. ancient societies are not our own, therefore should not be used as sole guide to govern ours! Aristotle may be racist and sexist by our contemporary standards, but not by his own within his own cultural matrix! Why do we get to set the bar for everyone else throughout human history for the “right” way to think? Also, please be careful in that there was not the same concept of race in antiquity as in contemporary history.

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