The Alt-Right and Byzantium

If you spend enough time digging through the Alt-Right world (which I’m describing as the right-wing but non-conservative space in politics), and make your way through the rough exterior, you will find many interesting idiosyncrasies. One of them is a number of people, myself included, fascinated with the Byzantine Empire.

For those unfamiliar, the Byzantine Empire is the name historians gave to the Roman state based in the eastern Mediterranean following the ascent of Odoacer over what remained of the Western Roman Empire. The common story is the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD when Odoacer assumed power in Italy. However, the Emperors in the east reigned until 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans.

The history of the Byzantines hit a number of issues that are held closely by the Alt-Right. First of all, the fall of the Roman Empire is an area of historical significance that draws anyone who seeks to understand patterns of massive political change and upheaval of civilizations. The Byzantines are naturally a part of that story. They continued on from their weakened position for almost a millennium, accounting for about half of the days between the Rome’s foundation by Romulus and the fall of Constantinople. Understanding this civilization is one source from which the Alt-Right seeks knowledge about what might happen to our own Western Civilization and what it might take to preserve it.

One thing that is very important to the Alt-Right is tradition. The Byzantines were a civilization that maintained ancient traditions in a world that changed drastically around them. Their work, both culturally and militarily, has ensured that the great love of the Alt-Right, Western Civilization, survived long enough to thrive. The good done for the world by the Byzantines does not go unrecognized by those who have learned the story.

If any experience defines young people who have joined the Alt-Right, it is the notion of: “The Red Pill”. At some point, we all came to realize that some piece of the dominant cultural narrative is an inaccurate portrayal of the world, paralleling the experience of the protagonist in The Matrix. This is the intellectual equivalent of crossing the Rubicon, to use a relevant metaphor. Once one lie is unmasked, the entire tapestry of the cultural narrative is under suspicion. Part of the journey we find ourselves on is learning about the parts of history which go untaught.

The story of Byzantium is a story that will go untold to anyone who doesn’t actively seek it. It is the greatest civilization that is not mentioned in school. Learning the history of Byzantium means learning about a subject which is entirely absent from common historical narratives, which generally skip the years between 476 and 1066.

The great untold conflict that goes with the Byzantine Empire is its epic struggle against Islam. To the Alt-Right, it doesn’t seem at all surprising that the public is entirely ignorant of this particular titanic conflict as it flies in the face of the dominant cultural narrative about Islam.

Starting with the invasion of Syria and Palestine in 634, the Byzantine Empire would be at war with a parade of Arab and Turkish empires for most of the next 800 years. The Byzantines served as a bulwark against Muslim expansion into Europe via the Balkans. The Alt-Right, recognizing the incompatibility of Islam and Western Civilization, put the Byzantines in a special place for their role in protecting Christendom.

On the other side of the religious divide of that conflict was Orthodox Christianity. With some exceptions, the Alt-Right recognizes the inseparability of Christianity from Western Civilization. The Orthodox Church is a critical part of Christendom.

In addition, most on the Alt-Right view what the Catholic Church has become post-Vatican II, and most Protestant movements as being incapable of confronting the civilization-scale challenges that face what was once called Christendom. Practicing Orthodoxy is one way to connect to an ancient church full of tradition, while rejecting the innovations of the Catholic Church and the increasing irrelevance of mainline Protestantism.

This leads to a connection to the nation which served to protect and maintain Orthodoxy after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Russia. Russia’s claim as the third Rome and their centuries of looking out for Middle Eastern Christians has not gone unnoticed. With the rise of Putin in Russia, the Russians are the most explicitly pro-Christian nation in the world, and the Alt-Right’s interests in promoting Christianity align with those same impulses in Russia. Even without explicit support of Russia, the Alt-Right has no interest in being antagonistic towards them when the Christian world faces so many other enemies.

Viewed as a whole, the connection between the Alt-Right and Byzantium illustrates many of the things which makes the world’s nascent right-wing movements so interesting. It also serves to highlight the issues we care about the most and helps to explain a new, but increasingly important, viewpoint in politics.

8 thoughts on “The Alt-Right and Byzantium”

  1. Fantastic article. I’ve always found it regrettable the extent to which Orthodox Christian Europe was never fully accepted as “European” by the West. It seems that things are changing however, which is positive.

    I’ve always found it regrettable the extent to which Orthodox Christian Europe was never fully accepted as “European” by the West. It seems that things are changing however, which is positive.

  2. How odd that you denigrate Protestantism given that Both the United States and Great Britain were/are preeminent Protestant nations of considerable military prowess as was Germany. Perhaps you should put post-reformation Protestantism in the same boat as post-Vatican II: a fallen and decrepit version of the original. You also need to recognize that the United States and Great Britain have been hallowed out by the intentional workings of a hostile (((tribe))).

  3. I would say that my interest in Byzantine history, by way of Norwich’s ‘A Short History of Byzantium,’ led to my embracing Orthodoxy and, some time later, Neo-Reaction. I got my MA writing about Constantine and Eusebius. If you haven’t already read it, I recommend Edward Luttwak’s ‘The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.’ It’s a very interesting revisionist take on Byzantine military and foreign policy from a non-specialist.

  4. As a Catholic I have been pondering this for some time. While there are some Catholics in it, there are also some virulent anti-Catholics within it, which is quite obvious and easy to spot once you know it; just for example while Francis does have a habit of overstating and having a tin ear, it is also remarkable how when you see him quoted in the RightWing press they consistently get him wrong by decontextualizing, and so does the LeftWing press. This doesn’t make him infallible or above criticism for his opinions or behaviors–he’s not–but it’s worth noting when you hear ranting about Papa Francisco, it’s often wise to wait a few days and then go check the Vatican web site or one of the many good and some VERY good sites where you can find the full context of his remarks, which usually wind up NOT sounding much like what he actually said even though those exact words did come out. (The practice is known in internet circles as “quote mining.”)

    I would also note by the way that with all the sneering at Vatican II as “liberal” if you look carefully what seems to have mostly happened with Vatican II was a big disruption, with “SJW” style entryists rushing into the Church to try to reform it. Everybody agrees it was like they took something calling for critical re-examination and ran it in for a touchdown for their own agendas. If you look carefully there has been a strong reassertion of orthodoxy on most points from the Vatican quite a few times now and within the clergy and laity it’s sunk in pretty good. The silly women priests debate is increasingly irrelevant to almost everybody, just for example, as even most women don’t like it and we see what happened to the liberal Protestants who did it.

    The truth is Vatican II is what allows me to think and speak ecumenically to Eastern Orthodox without fear of need of friction or need to convert you or fight with you over historical grievances or any of that. Indeed, as a Catholic I am a HUGE fan of Orthodox sources like Ancient Faith ministries and have been for 10+ years. Had things gone just a little different I would have gone to Constantinople instead of Rome. Father Hopko was especially brilliant.

    The real issue is that some of the AltRight are friendly with Arab Nationalist and Russian Nationalist sources, who are anti-Catholic for a lot of their own agendas. Also, while “race realism” isn’t necessarily (NECESSARILY) antithetical to orthodox thinking, race hate is antithetical to us. This is quite inconvenient to some on the AltRight, and is probably why Catholics shouldn’t get too comfortable there, as well as Eastern Orthodox. The PanOrthodox Synod was, many believe strongly, sabotaged not because of Kiril so much as Putin’s desire, as Putin appears to be trying to somewhat nationalize the Moscow Patriarchate (probably not formally but informally) and sees a European Pope as a threat. White nationalists, as we know, also had trouble with and had to kill many Catholics during the World War II era, like my own confirmation saint, St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe (and I should say many staunch Lutherans were also murdered for their faith then).

    “AltRight” people would probably find it more helpful to try to talk to Catholics from a rational perspective, because not everything they want to do is necessarily antithetical to Catholicism. But first you have to understand the Catholic position. I wonder how many of them really want to try?

    I note again I am not hostile. I indeed follow many of their figures, and appreciate very much a lot of what they say. I do not hate them, they should not be hated. I have concerns, and disagreements in some places.

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