A Neoplatonist Pagan in 4th Century Rome (or: Neo-Marxism as the New Christianity)


No wild beasts are so dangerous to men as Christians are to one another. —Julian the Apostate, last Pagan Emperor of Rome

I had imagined that the prelates of the Galilæans were under greater obligations to me than to my predecessor. For in his reign many of them were banished, persecuted, and imprisoned, and many of the so-called heretics were executed...all of this has been reversed in my reign; the banished are allowed to return, and confiscated goods have been returned to the owners. But such is their folly and madness that, just because they can no longer be despots,...or carry out their designs first against their brethren, and then against us, the worshippers of the gods, they are inflamed with fury and stop at nothing in their unprincipled attempts to alarm and enrage the people. —Julian again


     I have been writing on this here blog long enough that I am beginning to repeat myself, or maybe am just continuing to repeat myself. It’s no longer just repeated statements on some theme, which is a good idea anyway, but repetition of actual explanations of specific cases. This is all fine, I suppose, because probably nobody but me remembers what I wrote last year or two years ago anyhow, and so nobody, probably, will think, “Hey, he wrote about this two years ago.” I am occasionally convenienced by the imperfect memory of others by being able to tell them the same joke I’ve already told them, and they still think it’s funny and laugh like it’s the first time they ever heard it. Also, it is good to repeat myself, by way of emphasis, as I found as a Dharma teacher giving public talks several years ago: the important stuff, plus maybe, as in this case, the arguably interesting stuff, should be discussed repeatedly—preferably, but not necessarily, from different angles, and in different words. At best a person may remember just a few statements from a talk or an essay anyway, or so I have read. (That may be the only statement from the article that I remember.)

     So I have written about the reincarnation of Roman civilization as America, or maybe as modern western society conditioned by American economic, technological, and military imperialism in general, already; though I can’t remember writing an entire post on the issue at hand. It’s one of my favorite themes actually, and one of my favorite cases of history appearing to repeat itself.

     In some ways we still seem to be in the late Republic phase, as we still have elected consuls and tribunes and some semblance of a Constitution, instead of autocratic and sociopathic Augusti (regardless of indoctrinated leftists’ hysterical accusations against Donald Trump); yet in other respects, because such analogies always break down, we’re already in the late Empire—say, the fourth century, when the people had lost their primitive vitality, the government had become so bloated, invasive, and self-serving that it was demoralizing and weakening the populace, the mass settlement of barbarians on Roman soil was further weakening the social integrity of the society, and furthermore the nation’s citizens were converting en masse to a hysterical and intolerant eastern ideology.

     The similarities are remarkable, so maybe I should elaborate a little more. Both nations, Rome and the USA, began as tough, patriotic pioneer societies, with citizens who valued their freedom and the glory of their people enough that they were quite willing to fight and die for them. As a result of their toughness, tenacity, and willingness to fight the two nations became superpowers—though they were still looked down upon by the more ancient and supposedly more civilized people to the east (Greeks to the Romans, Europeans to the Americans), who considered the powerful, energetic, and idealistic barbarians of the west as crude, uncouth, and incapable of writing anything worth reading, and also considered them/us to have conquered the known civilized world through sheer luck, or else as some punishment or perverse practical joke of the gods.

     But then both great superpowers grew rich from their power, and then pampered and spoiled, then lazy and soft, and finally so weak and timid that they were unwilling or unable to fight even to protect their rights, their homes, and their families. Also, as a result of their previous expansionism and the lure of prosperity and order to foreigners, both civilizations became increasingly multicultural, thereby breaking down the old unifying traditions that kept the people feeling as though they were one People. This gradual decay was accompanied by the increased power of the State at the expense of individual rights and freedoms, which resulted in a society so demoralized that love of country, and willingness to fight and die for it, further degenerated (in the late Roman Empire young people even began dressing like Huns as a kind of postclassical fashion statement, growing their hair long and dressing it with ribbons as the barbarians did). Meanwhile in the Empire, the multiculturalism inevitably became out of control as Britannia was settled by Germanic “Saxons,” Gaul was invaded and settled by Franks and others, with the Goths “settling peacefully” and then running amuck pretty much everywhere. Modern equivalents to these latter phenomena are pretty easy to find, west and east of the Atlantic Ocean.

     Strong men making good times, good times making weak men, and weak men making bad times are a perennial theme in human history, in the rise and fall of great civilizations; but significantly, and very importantly methinks, both late Rome and the postmodern west were massively destabilized by hysterical and increasingly intolerant “progressive” movements: early Christianity in Rome, and Marxism (or more generally, socialism) in the modern west.

     Both “progressive” movements in question, Christianity and Marxism, are incidentally schismatic sects of Judaism, or at least ideological offshoots from it, and both had Jewish founders—although that may be neither here nor there. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that they share what Evola called “semitic” tendencies towards egalitarianism, classlessness, and feminism. But even so, both of these movements have been key factors in the decline and fall of western civilization, one in late ancient times, and one now.

     A characteristic trait of both movements helping to undermine their respective societies is hysterical intolerance. In the late Empire, as now, the new movement was outspoken in its intolerant contempt of the traditionalists, with the traditionalists themselves meeting that intolerance with varying degrees of smoldering indignation. Instead of being called fascists, racists, misogynists, and so on and so forth, the ancient pagans were called wicked idolaters and demon worshippers who were universally damned to eternal hellfire.

     Early Christianity could plausibly be called a suicide cult, certainly an apocalyptic one, with its followers cheering on and praying for the fall of traditional Roman civilization, going with the idea that what would follow would necessarily be better (that is, the eradication of evil and the New Jerusalem). Ironically, the conservative traditionalists in America, analogous to the Pagans of late Classical times, are the remaining followers of the earlier progressive movement, now hated by followers of the new cult of Social Justice neo-Marxism, largely because they want their own ideology to take its place as the only allowable value system.

     Before going any farther with this little tirade I will give the devil his due, so to speak, by admitting that early Christianity really did enjoy a sort of moral high ground over the polytheism that preceded it. The god cults (and Emperor cult) of Imperial Rome were largely (but not entirely) a matter of mere superstition and superficial worldly rites intended to maintain the Pax Deorum, or Peace with the Gods. The average ancient pagan did not include much morality or renunciation or self-restraint into his religion, unlike the Nazarenes.

     So morally and spiritually, early Christianity (and even much later Christianity) had some superiority over this-worldly polytheism, but also is far superior morally to the spiritually bankrupt hedonism and gutlessness of postmodern intersectionality and Social Justice. But regardless of any relative superiorities, the negative traits of early Christianity were nevertheless very real; and the aforementioned intolerant hysteria eventually, inevitably resulted in the violent persecution of all non-Christians throughout Europe, and the forced extinction of all indigenous European religious systems, which I consider to be a real tragedy for western civilization. If Christianity, a West Asian Semitic import to Europe, had become just one of many faiths, then that is one thing; but becoming an enforced ideological monopoly throughout our civilization was arguably a catastrophe from a cultural perspective, regardless of all the inspired works of genius that have derived from Christianity—music, art, architecture, philosophy, etc.

     The earlier of the two “progressive” movements, the Roman incarnation, became fashionable to the mainstream by the time Constantine I adopted it as the new Roman state religion. This was followed immediately be the desecration and destruction of countless temples, shrines, and images, along with other acts of raging hysteria, including the occasional ideologically motivated murder. (The philosopher and mathematician Hypatia of Alexandria was a case in point: as a result of the virulent denunciations of a Christian bishop named Cyril, one day in 415 CE she was pulled from her carriage by a howling mob of Christians, stripped naked, and essentially tortured to death by having her flesh cut from her bones, in broad daylight. Bribes paid to the officials of Alexandria, plus presumably more crude forms of political pressure, ensured that nobody important enough to be remembered by history was punished for this murder. The case of Hypatia was a primitive early version of the much later theme of “punch a Nazi,” though in her case it was “punch a heathen devil worshipper.”) The situation in the late Empire might have been even worse for the pagans if the Christians hadn’t expended so much of their hatred and hostility towards each other—then, as now, radical progressives eat each other if someone is perceived as deviating one iota from the straight and narrow path of authoritative orthodoxy.

     I could possibly take this analogy of the two “progressive” movements a step further by mentioning the idea that primitive Christianity didn’t really take over western society (though it was occasionally a major pain in the ass for Classical pagans); but rather it was later iterations of it, suitably adjusted for the Greco-Roman secular mind, which eventually gained predominance sufficiently that the pagans in turn were persecuted, as were the “heretical” Christian sects like the Arians (who claimed that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t God). The Athanasian Christians of the Nicene Creed eventually came out on top in the west, not because they were more sensible but because they were less so, relying more on fanaticism and violence to promulgate their views than most other sects. In fact the Christians wound up persecuting each other far more than the pagans ever did to them.

     Similarly in the postmodern west, it hasn’t been “primitive” Marxism, Marxism 1.0, which has posed the greatest threat of undermining western liberal culture from the inside, but rather later iterations of it, under the guise of the euphemism Social Justice, or intersectional feminism, or identity politics, or whatever. A few adjustments were made, aside from camouflaging the ideology with new and euphemistic names, to make it more easily acceptable to western normies, especially female ones and “marginalized” groups, which were the same groups, essentially, which were the first to accept Christianity almost two thousand years earlier. One such change was replacing the archenemy of the capitalist bourgeoisie with straight white men in general. And like the mutually intolerant Christian sects, the new left also frequently turns against the less orthodox and conformist members of its own: Third wave feminists have begun going for each other’s throats, for example, the TERFs (“trans exclusionary radical feminists) who hate biological men and the more PC feminists who accept the femininity of shemales as genuine, or black and brown feminists who have turned against the white ones as being too “privileged.” Nonwhite leftists in general may be seen using the white ones as whipping boys and shame-obsessed lackeys.

     I would have been heartbroken, or at least outraged and supremely disgusted, as a patriotic Roman pagan living in the time of Constantine, or his sons, or Valens and the Goth invasions, watching hysterical Christians praying for the downfall of Rome and cheering on the chaos, with them viewing practically anything as better than Rome and everything it had represented. The fifth century of course would have been even more heartbreaking. Many people feel similarly today as the globalist left sneer with vitriolic hatred at America and the Enlightenment values of the founding fathers—men, despite their human flaws and 18th century cultural conditioning, who were MUCH more wise and worthy of respect than a member of a hysterical leftist Twitter mob or a communist sympathizer commenting in the New York Times or on CNN.

     The Emperor Julian was the pagans’ great hope, yet he died after less than three years as Augustus. He proved to be the last pagan Emperor of Rome. I feel like a devout pagan in the late fourth century, with some of my friends having converted to the new cult of Christianity and seeing me as a damned soul, and anyone who agrees with me as a damned soul. I sincerely hope that our Julian (presumably Mr. Trump) is more successful than the first one. He should definitely avoid invading Iran.



Julian "the Apostate"

Comments

  1. Someone once said that history does not really repeat itself but it does rhyme. It's 1600 years later so if we are indeed at such a cusp as illustrated in this article it will play out differently, but what those differences will be who knows. China and Islam were not players back then. Maybe the danger they present will smarten us up in time so we can turn things around. But the weapons are so much scarier now. I am perhaps being over-sensitive but I am feeling an increasing sense of dread about what might be coming. I'm 62 and have been around for a while ; I remember the 60's, and this seems different now. The protesters back then seemed much more light-hearted, like they were having fun. The new woke crowd seems nasty and grim and much more fanatical. I hope we can repel them before they do too much damage. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about these present protests is the almost total kow-towing of the business world to these fanatics. I am truly shocked by the lack of moral leadership on display now. One ray of light is the recent decision of the CEO of Red Bull to fire all his SJW executives for pushing this crap. I never really liked Red Bull but I shall be buying it now as long as the company holds the line, even if I end up giving the stuff away. They must be rewarded for their courage. Maybe this is the way the new culture war will be fought, with dueling CEO's duking it out in the marketplace. Better than bombs and bullets that's for sure. Anyway, I always appreciate your perspective on things and look forward to future articles.

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  2. Julian AgathodharmaJuly 25, 2020 at 9:52 AM

    This is great. You keep writing essays about one of my most favorite historical figures, Julian the Supremely Based. Some interesting things I'd like to add about the decaying Greco-Roman polytheism of the Roman imperial era:

    You are certainly right that the popular, ritualistic form of the religion had essentially become dry and lifeless by that period; for the average commoner it was little more than a collection of seasonal holidays and festivals people were expected to attend for the purpose of showing their patriotism. And long before the imperial period happened, the politicians were very often the temple priests, especially among the Greeks, as the high priest of a city state often happened to be the chief magistrate (we see the same thing happening in pre-diaspora Judaism). Here we see a a blurring of the old classes and a merging of the priests with the warrior-aristocrats, which we could say is degradation of the primordial Indo-European religion of yore; we do know this class system was preserved much better in the Indo-Aryan branch of the IE family. Hell, even the Romans did a better job than the Greeks, in that they preserved some semblance of a priestly class via the Flamens and Augurs, even though these people usually came from the landowning aristocrat families.

    The Greeks however compensated through this through the creation of mystery cults/religions, which provided an outlet for those of a naturally mystical and philosophical disposition. And this is ultimately what led to the introduction of Eastern cults into the Hellenic world. The Greeks and Romans were very open-minded and syncretistic when it came to religion and different spiritual practices and philosophical approaches, so as long as the cult in question didn't butt into politics and potentially undermine the ruling order. Anyway by the first century CE, the Greco-Roman culture was in its decline phase (Oswald Spengler IMO does a beautiful job analyzing this), and the new youthful, vigorous culture was the rising Middle Eastern culture to the East, which would have a profound influence on many of the "new cults" that would become popular and widespread throughout the empire over the next several centuries. Of course, the constellation of Early Christian Churches would be a part of this moment, along with the rather martial Mithraic religion (think religious Knightly orders), the cults of Isis and Serapis, and of course Judaism which had spread throughout the empire as the world's first 'portable religion'. The Greco-Egyptian syncretisms would come to redefine the Greek religion as well, as we can see that the Neoplatonic writings and the Corpus Hermeticum are rather oriental in spirit, despite being written in the style of Hellenism.

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  3. Julian AgathodharmaJuly 25, 2020 at 9:52 AM

    [Cont..] So by the time of Constantine, we had a series of Middle Eastern religions, some better clad in Greek garb than others, vying for supremacy over the Mediterranean soul, and feasting on that rotting carcass which was the old polytheism. The Neoplatonism of Julian's time would have been completely alien mode of thought to a Greek of 1000 years prior. And as you mentioned in your essay, it was the most dumbed down, vulgar, intolerant, and samsaric of these new cults ended up being the one that Constantine picked as the winner. The cults of a similar underlying spirit that were a lot more honest, esoteric, and realistic about man's spiritual condition were deemed to be too unfit for popular consumption, and thus deemed "heresies."

    The ending section of the 1st Book of the Hermetica (composed around the 2nd-3rd centuries CE) is very telling: 80. What is God? The immutable or unalterable Good.

    81. What is man? An unchangeable evil.

    82. If you perfectly remember these Heads, you cannot forget those things which in more words I have largely expounded to you; for these are the contents or Abridgment of them.

    83. Avoid all conversation with the multitude or common people; for I would not have you be subjected to Envy, much less to be ridiculous in the eyes of the many.

    84. For the like always takes to itself that which is like, but the unlike never agrees with the unlike. Such discourses as these have very few Auditors, and perhaps it may be that very few will have, but they have something peculiar unto themselves.

    85. They do rather sharpen and stimulate evil men to their maliciousness; therefore, it behooves [disciples] to avoid the multitude, and take heed of them as not understanding the virtue and power of the things that are said.

    86. What do you mean by this, O Father? 87. This O Son: the whole nature and Composition of those living things called Men, is very prone to Maliciousness, and is very familiar, and as it were nourished with it, and therefore is delighted with it; now this wight, if it shall come to learn or know that the world was once made, and all things are done according to Providence or Necessity, Destiny or Fate, bearing rule over all, will he not be much worse than himself, despising the whole, because it was made? And if he may lay the cause of Evil upon Fate or Destiny, he will never abstain from any evil work. 88. And thus we must look warily toward such kind of people, that being in ignorance they may be less evil for fear of that which is hidden and kept secret.

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