623. Peace (XIII)
About five years ago, I noted that the ideas put forward by the MGTOW movement resembled the satires composed by the Roman poet Juvenal in about 100 AD. After all, he did say: “There is hardly a case in which the dispute was not caused by a woman.” Juvenal was known for his sharp observations about decadent Rome; indeed, he coined the term “bread and circuses”—and this is the world we in the decadent West live in today, a world of extraordinary spectacles and McDonald’s slop to mollify the plebs crowded into our decayed urban centres. In Rome, this was a time when an empress used to lie naked upon a stage, sprinkle grains upon her body, and invite geese to peck the morsels off her skin—the performance gives new meaning to “goosebumps”, being a mixture of bestiality and sadism and exhibitionism (we could livestream it on YouTube).
Juvenal would recognise our world at once: it was a world where impudent ex-slaves ran around, incompetent yet celebrated; it was a world where the women were whorish and venal; and it was a world where immigrants flooded into Rome and diluted the native stock. It was a world where greed, cupidity, and venality ruled. Juvenal did no more than document it accurately; and he was called “bitter” and “reactionary” even as people laughed at the denied truth—Juvenal was an anon troll.
Juvenal still fools people today. You have seen news reports on online privacy where a sententious and earnest intellectual says, “The government has appointed a committee to oversee online privacy, but as always the question is…Who watches the watchmen?”. Très portentous, darling. The reason this is funny is that it is a quote from Juvenal, still in use centuries later. However, Juvenal’s quote refers to a jealous husband who fears his wife will cheat on him—so he has her guarded night and day by strong men. Juvenal then asks, “Who will watch the watchmen?”. The wretched whore will undoubtedly seduce them—Juvenal knows women, you see. So every time some intellectual quotes Juvenal with regard to our “sacred right to privacy” he in fact refers to a joke about a gangbanged Roman tart.
I maintain most people who use this quote do not know its origins; they use it in this smug and superior way as if it is a totally pure and noble sentiment about our liberties. They do not know what they say because they are themselves decadents of the type Juvenal mocks. They learn to repeat these phrases because they sound good and noble (the most pretentious put the quote in Latin as an epigraph to head a chapter). Yet they are parrots, bird-brains; they just chatter out what sounds good without a clue as to its context. These people are our midwit intellectuals—exemplified by Alan Moore, whose entire comic book sensation Watchmen is spun from Juvenal’s phrase.
In his extensive scholarly work on the Enlightenment, Peter Gay spoke about how the philosophes admired Juvenal. Now Gay is ghey, being a progressive; so even he—1,900 years after Juvenal—has to quibble that as a scholar he finds Juvenal “unbelievable”: a bitter reactionary who longs for a mythical time when Romans were self-reliant farmers, not debauched bastardised urbanites dominated by whorish women and foreigners. Gay writes that way because the left-right divide is in part a perennial contest between decadence and virtue—with both recognisable in vastly different societies. America today is Juvenal’s Rome; the satiric poems apply just as well.
Even in the 1970s, Gay knew this was so—hence he had to dismiss Juvenal, though he makes no argument. Indeed, when Gay writes that the impudent ex-slaves made excellent imperial administrators and that newly dominant Roman matrons made a valuable contribution to the cultural scene (geese), he really refers to the civil rights movement and feminism in 1970s America—he uses history to justify, but we should trust poets, not scholars, to tell us the truth.