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Image Credit: above: Ancient Greece and American Conservatism: Classical Influence on the Modern Right, a 2018 book by John Bloxham
Society & Culture

Historical Revisionism on the Right

Nietzsche writes in the concluding section of Twilight of the Idols, “One does not learn from the Greeks—their way is too alien, and also too fluid, to have an imperative effect, a ‘classical’ effect.” The divide between Greek antiquity and modernity to which Nietzsche alludes has certainly not discouraged many attempts to bridge this gap.

The English classicist John Bloxham, in his book, Ancient Greece and American Conservatism: Classical Influence on the Modern Right (2018), demonstrates how many luminaries of the post-World War II conservative tradition interpreted the Hellenes, especially Plato and Aristotle, as kindred spirits in a common cause against the enemies of civilization. Bloxham extensively shows how major figures on the intellectual right during the Cold War era and beyond projected their own political biases onto various classical texts.

Bloxham’s study is particularly helpful in illuminating how the American right turned away from the traditionally conservative focus on historical truth. As Paul Gottfried demonstrated in The Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right (1986), major voices on the right rejected “historicism” on the grounds that it led to moral relativism. In brief, this understanding of historicism equated it with a denial of moral absolutes, because historicists allegedly confine each moral...

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