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the Complete Review
the complete review - sociology

Not All Dead White Men

Donna Zuckerberg

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To purchase Not All Dead White Men

Title: Not All Dead White Men
Author: Donna Zuckerberg
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2018
Length: 194 pages
Availability: Not All Dead White Men - US
Not All Dead White Men - UK
Not All Dead White Men - Canada
  • Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age

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Our Assessment:

B : somewhat limited, but useful for its insights into a particular community

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 3/11/2018 Natalie Haynes
Times Higher Ed. . 15/11/2018 Rachel O’Neill
TLS . 25/1/2019 Peggy Xu

  From the Reviews:
  • "Her goal is to raise the question of whether classicists should be worried about these men and their sudden fondness for Ovid. It’s hard to know who else her book is aimed at: by her own admission, she has described only selected lowlights of misogyny in the ancient world, and it reads a great deal like a PhD thesis, filleted of its most academic elements for broader appeal. But Zuckerberg is right. Ignoring these people is no longer the answer." - Natalie Haynes, The Spectator

  • "The resulting analysis usefully elucidates the identitarian strains of Red Pill thinking, with Western Classics valued not so much for their content as for the fact that they are Western and classical. (...) For a non-classicist, one of the most educative aspects of the book is just how deep this well goes, as Zuckerberg faithfully reproduces passages of ancient texts that seem to revel in woman-hating. (...) I often had the impression that Zuckerberg was writing for an audience that already agreed with her. Readers are continually positioned as part of an enlightened collective whose disdain for the manosphere is assumed." - Rachel O’Neill, Times Higher Education

  • "(D)espite the richness and variety of Zuckerberg’s materials, she often falls just short of contextualizing them within debates that are more longstanding and far-reaching than her analyses suggest. (...) Overall, though, the book is an achievement: Zuckerberg’s writing is lucid, and her arguments, which sit at the juncture of classical philology, feminist theory and far-right internet culture, make impressive use of all three bodies of literature (if Red Pill Reddit threads can count as such). Not All Dead White Men is an admirable foray into the difficult and often distressing terrain of far-right politics, and an important contribution to the growing collection of essays, archives and discussions centred on the place of classics in today’s thorny political landscape." - Peggy Xu, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In her Introduction, Donna Zuckerberg explains that Not All Dead White Men:

is about how men of the Red Pill use the literature and history of ancient Greece and Rome to promote patriarchal and white supremacist ideology. My goal is to lay bare the mechanics for this appropriation: to show how classical antiquity informs the Red Pill worldview and how these men weaponize Greece and Rome in service their agenda.
       ('Red Pill' -- the name taken from the film The Matrix --: "encapsulates the idea that society is unfair to men -- heterosexual white men in particular -- and is designed to favor women", she explains.)
       After an introductory chapter on the 'Red Pill'-phenomenon and some of its actors and strains, the book devotes chapters to Stoicism; "the community of pickup artists who claim the Roman poet Ovid as the first person to write a seduction manual"; and finally: "their aspirational sexual politics" (with a focus on their fixation on false rape accusations). Zuckerberg's focus is largely on the gender politics, rather than the racial ones, and it is a bit disappointing she was not able to discuss the disturbing white supremacist aspects more fully, especially since, while similar patriarchal attitudes have (unfortunately) long bubbled prominently in American public discourse and politics, white supremacism has moved from somewhat localized and fringe very much back into the mainstream since the 2016 US presidential election.
       With ancient Greece and Rome considered the cradles of culture and civilization, and the first political systems beyond simple strong-man rule, it's understandable that groups seek to find validation for their ideas here. The first and still highly regarded (Western) philosophers, the first great works of (Western) literature, the very foundations of our civilization -- since their work has lasted, withstanding the tests of time, it suggests an enduring quality, and a continuing relevance in our times. Of course, given the fill of classical material that survives, there's a lot to pick and choose from, and the 'Red Pill'-folk cherry-pick with the best of them. And, as Zuckerberg repeatedly points out, they're both (often misleadingly) selective in what they use to support their claims as well as simply misguided or wrong in their interpretations. But then, as she also notes:
Their interpretations of the Classics should be approached not as readings of the ancient world, but rather as aspirational representations of the world they wish we inhabited.
       So, for example, as she points out, Stoicism would seem to support some 'Red Pill' notions, but is at odds with others; only a selective reading and recasting makes it something the community can use. Of course, that's only part of the issue: even where classical material supports this particular ideology, context -- especially of the change in (various aspects of) society -- surely should be taken into account. As Zuckerberg points out, Ovid's Ars Amatoria and, for example, many of its 'methods of seduction', are written from and for completely different conditions and only superficially translate to modern circumstances (even beyond the question of Ovid's own purpose in his writing -- literary texts, after all, which, much like de Sade's writings, are not meant to be how-to manuals but rather make rather different points).
       While the reliance on the Classics is disturbing -- and, in its misrepresentation, annoying --, what's really troubling about the 'Red Pill'-community is the beliefs they hold, particularly about the role (and place) of women. Some of these beliefs are, of course, actually in force in much of the world: the idea of (male, obviously) guardianship for women, who should not be able to make major decisions (including who to marry) by themselves -- still the Saudi practice, for example -- or spousal rape not being treated as a crime; Zuckerberg doesn't go into this much, but does note that there are elements calling for a kind of 'White Sharia' among the 'Alt-Right'.
       Regarding the rights and position of women, the very different cultures and societies from two thousand years ago offer more for the 'Red Pill'-folk to go on: the rights of women tended to be very circumscribed -- and, as Zuckerberg notes: "it seems undeniable that rape culture thrived in both ancient Greece and Rome". She helpfully discusses rape and its definitions, contemporary and classical, in some detail, pointing out the difficulties in establishing a clear definition -- which itself is used by the 'Red Pill'-folk to rail against what they term false rape accusations -- as well as in what kind of 'wrong' the act is seen as (in classical times: not necessarily one of personal violation, but, for example, one against, essentially, property (diminishing the value of the woman)). As Zuckerberg notes, neither the Greeks nor the Romans even had a word that is the equivalent of the modern term 'rape' (as also: "Raptus, the word from which we get our word for rape, literally means theft").
       Not All Dead White Men is a good introduction to these unfortunately-not-just-fringe modern beliefs and the communities espousing them and how they function (as well as a great deal of their dysfunction -- the whole (too little covered here) white supremacy angle complicating matters even more). Zuckerberg presents their odd (and deeply misogynistic) ideas -- "Men, on average, make better decisions than women" is among the soften core beliefs she quotes (extrapolated then into hair-raising conclusions ...) -- and gives a good sampler of the community's beliefs and arguments (if perhaps relying too much on a small selection of specific actors in the scene). And with these extremes, Not All Dead White Men makes a good case for what is wrong with them; it's quite shocking that the case for women's rights (in the broadest sense of the term) still needs to be laid out so basically in contemporary times.
       Oddly, where the book does fall short at times is in the connection to the Classics. If the comparison to Ovid -- his various works, and the societal contexts, then and now -- is thorough and perceptive, Zuckerberg stretches things a bit in the chapter that also deals with false rape accusations, relying strongly, appropriately enough, on Hippolytus and Phaedra -- only to admit:
Even though the myth of Hippolytus seems to conform perfectly to Red Pill narratives, searches of his name in the most popular Red Pill websites and subreddits return few results. This lack of interest is especially surprising considering that two of the Red Pill's favorite classical writers created literary versions of the myth: Seneca, the Stoic philosopher who unsuccessfully advised the emperor Nero on how to control his emotions, and Ovid
       She still finds it: "worth reading the ancient myth in the context of Red Pill ideology", and does so usefully -- but it does rather get away from the idea of how this community (actually) relies of the Classics .....
       If the connection between classical thought and writing and the beliefs of the 'Red Pill' community could be much more thoroughly explored, Not All Dead White Men is still a handy quick introduction to the beliefs of this (regrettably influential) community and how they justify many of these, including in relying on the Classics.
       Not least, the book serves also as a reminder (or wake-up call) that:
Classical scholars must accept that, in the twenty-first century, some of the most controversial and consequential discussions about the legacy of ancient Greece and Rome are happening not in the conventional realms of literature, theatre, and scholarship, but on the internet.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 December 2019

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Not All Dead White Men: Reviews: Donna Zuckerberg: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American classicist Donna Zuckerberg was born in 1987.

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© 2019-2022 the complete review

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