Marcus Aurelius, INTELLECTUAL FASCIST: Why Rome Fell (Part VIII)

Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (“Marcus Aurelius”) is generally revered both as emperor and philosopher. Both attitudes are grievously erroneous, and have a bearing to what very serious people have considered, ever since, as the highest wisdom to be embraced when trying to lead civilization, or the individual lives which sustain it. I will presently roll out some (new) reasons why the Marcus Aurelius’ cult is so wrong.

What endangered the Roman State? The question has been considered since the Third Century’s turmoil, the time of the “Barrack Emperors”, which started with the elimination of young emperor Alexander Severus, for buying the Germans, instead of crushing them.

In 360 CE emperor Julian explained why Christianism was bringing Romanitas down. Christians worshipped a secondary and “evil God” (and that the Serpent, bringing knowledge, was “good”!). Julian removed Christianism’s extravagant privileges (such as the right to execute heretics). However, Julian ruled only three years as Augustus (after 5 years as “Caesar”, subordinate emperor). Immediately thereafter, the Christians came back with great vengeance, burning libraries to the ground.

Inventor Of Intellectual Fascism Catches Flies With Philosophical Honey

Inventor Of Intellectual Fascism Catches Flies With Philosophical Honey

The thesis that Christianism nearly destroyed civilization is obviously true, and was supported in detail by Gibbon in the Decline and Fall of Rome (eighteenth century). However, it’s not the whole story. In truth, it’s plutocracy which brought Rome down, through a succession of ever more dreadful instruments to insure its reign. Christianism was only plutocracy’s latest weapon of civilizational destruction. Political and intellectual fascisms had arrived centuries earlier, rabid theocracy was only a twist therefrom.

Marcus Aurelius, emperor from 161 to 180 was the last of theFive Good Emperors” (his abominable son succeeded Marcus at the grand old age of nineteen). Marcus is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers. Generally revered, he will be condemned here as a stealthy, sneaky, subterraneous yet explicit proponent of INTELLECTUAL FASCISM. Marcus’ elevation of Intellectual Fascism to a virtue explains a lot of things, from the “Fall of Rome” to the present sorry state of world governance.

I agree that this is shocking, and all the little ones will run for cover, squealing: Marcus Aurelius has a saintly, superficially justified reputation (and that, per se, is revealing: Marcus is a bit to philosophy what Einstein is to physics: a naked emperor whom the commons imagine fully dressed; critters prefer to have 140 characters anchored by a few celebrities they adore, like simple baboons adore the alpha females and males).

Even more shocking, Stoicism is supposed to be the behavior one adopts when a victim of fascism. Thus Stoicism is a behavior one would not expect from a proponent of fascism…. Until one realizes that, precisely, stoicism is, par excellence, the behavior in the masses which makes fascism possible. So Marcus fed what made him possible.

So let me severely criticize, as deserved, the following passage of Marcus Aurelius kindly provided by Massimo Pigliucci:

There are four principal aberrations of the superior faculty against which you should be constantly on your guard, and when you have detected them, you should wipe them out and say on each occasion thus: this thought is not necessary; this tends to destroy social union; this which you are going to say comes not from the real thoughts — for you should consider it among the most absurd of things for a man not to speak from his real thoughts. But the fourth is when you shall reproach yourself for anything, for this is an evidence of the diviner part within you being overpowered and yielding to the less honorable and to the perishable part, the body, and to its gross pleasures. (Meditations XI.19)”

[I don’t understand Marcus’ last sentence, he seems to take himself for god, but that’s besides the points I will make, so I will ignore this obscure sentence. I will address the two “principal aberrations” accented above. They define what wrecked the Roman State, what will wreck any state, and any civilization: intellectual fascism in its purest form for the first one, and even explicit political fascismo for the second.]

This thought is not necessary.” Says Marcus Aurelius. The emperor calls the apparition of ‘unnecessary thought’ one of the “four principal aberrations”. Sorry, Your Highness. When is a thought not necessary? When it’s not necessary to Your Excellency? And if a thought is necessary, what is it necessary for? Necessary to worship you and your kind, such as your five year old son, Commodus, whom you made a Caesar then, such a genius he was? No Roman emperor had been that grotesque, prior to you. Is that a non-necessary thought?

Is a thought then necessary when it embraces the desire of been guided by only a few thoughts reigning over the entire mind, just as Marcus Aurelius reigned over all men? In other words, is a thought necessary, and only then, when it embraces intellectual fascism? Or is that the big “stoic” philosopher thinks like the general of an army (something he was)..

Another of the Marcus’ “four principal aberrations” is lying… or more exactly “you should consider it among the most absurd of things for a man not to speak from his real thoughts”. In other words, the idea of “bad faith”. To trash and condemn Bad Faith is good. Many philosophers have done it, all the way up to Sartre. But then notice that Marcus Aurelius puts ‘unnecessary thoughts’ in the same category as “Bad Faith”.

Marcus also frowns on as a ‘principal aberration’: Any “thought [which] destroys social union”. Thus “social union” is part of the leading intellectual principles which should rule on the realm of ideas, just as Marcus Aurelius rules on men.

Now, any mental progress will disrupt brains, thus the “social union”. A society which knows “social union” and no revolution is condemned to stagnate mentality until the situation becomes uncontrollable. And this is exactly what happened to Rome the day Marcus died and his teenage son succeeded to him. A spectacular fall, driven by his son Commodus’ fateful decisions, in a matter of days, from which the Roman State never recovered.

Marcus Aurelius had decided that embracing intellectual fascism was the highest behavior, and imposed for more than two decades on 25% of humanity. I would suggest removing that element, that drive to mental shrinkage, from modern stoicism.

Those who know the history of the period with enough detail will not be surprised by my scathing critique. Instead they will realize that this was the missing piece to the logic of the disaster which befell civilization.

Indeed, immediately after Marcus Aurelius’ death Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus (“Commodus”), at the grand old age of 19, inverted all his father’s decisions (after saying he won’t).

Where did Commodus’ madness come from? Commodus, had been named “Caesar” at age 5… by his father, the great stoic parrot. How wise is that? It would feed megalomania, and indeed, Commodus was much more megalomaniac than the present leader of North Korea.

Commodus was accused of being a megalomaniac, in his lifetime. Commodus renamed Rome Colonia Commodiana, the “Colony of Commodus”. He renamed the months of the year after titles held in his honour, namely, Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, Exsuperatorius, Amazonius, Invictus, Felix, and Pius. Commodus renamed the Roman Senate the Commodian Fortunate Senate, and the Roman people were given the name Commodianus.

Cassius Dio, a senator and historian who lived during the reign of both Commodus and his father wrote that, with the accession of Commodus, “our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust, as affairs did for the Romans of that day.” Soon, it would descend even lower, in part because Marcus’ poisonous ideas would be revered so much.

It is probable that Marcus Aurelius was assassinated by his 19 year old son (officially Marcus died suddenly of the “plague”; but sophisticated poisons were well known, and had been used before in imperial affairs: Tiberius, the second Roman emperor, did not realize, for more than 15 years, that his two own adult sons, both of the most famous generals, had been poisoned to death by Rome’s prefect Sejanus: that was revealed after Sejanus tried a coup, and his accomplices talked). Commodus would kill his own sister shortly after his accession (she had opposed him).

In a way, Marcus’ assassination was well deserved. His superficially noble, but deeply despicable stoicism, and his brazen advocacy of political and intellectual fascism enabled Roman plutocracy to own the entire empire as if it were its own colony.

Whereas imperator Trajan had brought up taxes on the wealthiest to make education free for poor children, Marcus Aurelius went the other way: he did not have enough money to pay the army, when savage German tribes were trying to cut the empire, civilization, in two.

Some may sneer that I am condemning Marcus Aurelius for an unfortunate passage or two. Not so. Marcus’ entire work, both in philosophy, and as imperator, is an extension of his fundamental view that thinking should be restricted to what was useful. As if one could know in advance what thinking will be useful for. In his context, to boot, what Marcus meant by “useful” was what was useful to him, the one who proffered the thought.

Thought reduced to what was useful to just One, the One? How much more stupid and immoral can one be?

Nowadays, we face the fast rise of colossal inequalities which foster impoverishment, be it material, intellectual, or even cognitive. We have to realize that some of the apparently wisest, most respected and ancient philosophy is fully compatible with, and an engine of, this lamentable development.

Philosophy, poorly done, is the ultimate propaganda for the demise of the many by the self-chosen few.

Patrice Ayme’


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30 Responses to “Marcus Aurelius, INTELLECTUAL FASCIST: Why Rome Fell (Part VIII)”

  1. indravaruna Says:

    Roman Empire fell because they didn’t killed all Jews and stomped on their influence (usury, judaizing religion, white slavery,..)

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Well, not my theory. The Jews actually tried to kill Jesus. As Julian explained (see link in the essay) the Christians (whom he called “Galileans”) deviated importantly from the Jews. Septimus Severus was a Libyan. The emperors around 300 CE tended to be from Illyricum. Theodosius was a Spaniard, and so on.

      My theory is that the plutocratic phenomenon killed the empire. Hitler also railed against plutocracy, but then only attacked Jewish plutocrats, also he collaborated with others… and even Jewish plutocrats as long as they were American (example: the Warburgs). There are actually cases when Hitler, in Italy, had to be polite with plutocrats he despised, and then he complained bitterly to generals he had to spend the entire evening with them. Hitler was very confused.

      Ultimately, Hitler was just instrumentalized by those he railed most against.

      Anyway happy to see today the present German Chancellor and the Israeli Premier, are best friends, all smiles and jokes, and Netanyahu had his German audience enraptured by his discourse on the grave state of the world. I wish all (long dead) Nazis could see that. If Hitler could see that, he may well have declared that he was all wrong about Israelis…

  2. ianmillerblog Says:

    As I understand it, the Romans as a whole had the thought that something had to be useful to be worth thinking about. It led to their engineering triumphs, but it had its downside. As for Aurelius, I saw somewhere the theory that he was assassinated in Croatia when he was moving a legion to some trouble spot, and he died from a glades, some soldiers not approving of what he was doing, or having some other unclear objective. Not that I am trying to reinstate Commodus – if he didn’t do it, he had enough evil from a number of other situations.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Wrote a long answer, lost it. OK, a few points: Aurelius death is well known: plague or poison. Death bed scenes, etc.
      Commodus was a killer. First he grabbed power by stealth. He was co-emperor, but declared to do all what his father’s advisers wanted. Then he did a 180 degree, after a revolted general was put to death.
      I have a quote from Cassius Dio I forgot to put, about Commodus.
      Roman thinking became equal to Greek thinking by the end of the Republic (Cicero, Lucretius). Cicero was a much greater philosopher than Aurelius…

      • ianmillerblog Says:

        Agreed that Lucretius was a genuinely great thinker. Cicero might have been had he not got bogged down with power. And I most certainly have no good things to say about Commodus.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Cicero was very busy. He had some sparks of genius I came across. His rapprochement with Caesar at the end was pregnant with hope. Fate, and rabid plutocrats, decided otherwise.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Commodus quickly assassinated the sister who had been married to Marcus’ co-emperor. He slept with the others. He was incautious at the end his mistress at the time saw a list of people to get killed, and she was on top. She poisoned him. He vomited a lot. A nobleman known for his strength who was a wrestler was sent to finish him off by strangulation. That was 13 years, and many assassinations later

  3. Gmax Says:

    You respect nothing for respect’s sake do you, Ms Patrice? Mind you, I agree with you. But now after antagonizing Christians and Muslims, bankers, and economists, peaceniks and plutocrats and politicians and the great priests of PC, and Americans, Europeans, British, Putinists, the NY Times, the Guardian, you work hard to antagonize stoics…

    Are you aware of the Stoic group on facebook? It has like 12,000 members, send them that post!

    Is Marcus Aurelius the first intellectual fascist you know off?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Marcus Aurelius is the first person I know of who put in writing the intellectual fascist doctrine, namely that it is “an aberration” to have a “useless” thought.

  4. Dustin King Says:

    Dustin King
    I think one thing the OP misses is that Marcus’s meditations were written as his own private journal. While trying to censor others’ thoughts would be reprehensible, there’s nothing wrong with trying to make your own thoughts and words more productive. According to Irvine, he regularly asked the Senate for permission to do things that, legally, were totally within his own power as Emperor. He let people insult him, when it would be in his power to put them to death. Are these the actions of a fascist?

    Was he really one of the “good emperors”, though? I don’t know enough about Roman history to know this for sure, but at least he failed to stop Rome’s decline, and to raise his child to be a good emperor after him. As the holder of the throne of a military dictatorship, it could be that his laissez-faire attitude towards his subjects was what weakened the Empire. Be a dictator or be a democrat, but if you won’t be a democrat, don’t be a wishy-washy dictator.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Patrice Ayme Marcus Aurelius let the plutocrats run the show, emperors before him had not done that since Domitian. And Marcus Aurelius was actually WORSE than Domitian. (Domitian has a very bad reputation, thanks to Roman historians living around 100 CE. Marcus Aurelius deserves way worse!)

      Marcus Aurelius made his son Caesar at 5 years of age. The journal of an emperor was bound not to stay private. The fact that he viewed as “non-useful thoughts” the primary “mental aberration” defines him as the first intellectual fascist. Putting people to death arbitrarily was in the power of extremely bad emperors. Putting to death seemingly arbitrarily could done legally only inside the army. Cassius Dio, a contemporary Roman historian, was very clear. So the repute of Marcus Aurelius’ philosophy is fully undeserved. There was something rotten inside, a cancer of the soul, and it needs to be explored, precisely because it fooled so many, it’s a mistake we are still doing.

  5. Scott Wright Says:

    Scott Wright: Patrice Ayme – I would like to respond in great detail to your post. May I assume that you posted here to generate feedback and potentially – some constructive critique ? – If so – I will follow-up and post in two sections to address your post – paragraph by paragraph. But the feedback will be in outline form – reducing the narrative – to respect my colleagues request for succinct-ness.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I did post to generate constructive criticism. I did struggle with Marcus Aurelius for decades. Initially I was most admiring. Decades later I became suspicious, now I am outraged. Then I was reading Massimo Pigliucci, and his admiration for Marcus, who reminded me of mine when I was young and naive. Then I realized that the problem is much deeper than just Marcus Aurelius. So now, I am world-debating the problem, and your project is most welcome, and I am grateful for it. In advance.

  6. Carl Ploss Says:

    Carl Ploss: “It is probable that Marcus Aurelius was assassinated by his 19 year old son ” (Gladiator is my favorite Russell Crowe.) Any other evidence?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Commodus caged and killed his sister, who had been married to Lucius Verus, adoptive brother of MA, and co-emperor with MA, within 2 years. Then he assassinated right and left. He lied to an amazing extent, taking huge risks, immediately after acquiring power. His politics were the complete opposite of MA, he was also completely opposed in all ways. Except in his ardor to fight physically. Also Commodus did not need to do any of that: he could have let Marcus Aurelius’ numerous, very qualified advisors, run the show. Instead, he worked very hard to fool and foil them.

  7. Scott Wright Says:

    Scott Wright Section 1 …..Response to Patrice Ayme ~ re: paragraph 1 – “hierarchy of some of his values and actions…” – it is not clear what “hierarchy” refers to? Or you referring to the one passage you have selected – or do you refer to his collective Meditations?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The hierarchy of values is revealed by the hierarchy of actions. Marcus’ striking, rogue acts explain his philosophy greatly.
      Marcus Aurelius was most deviant in two ways:
      a) He stopped the cracking-down on plutocracy launched after emperor Domitian. The price was huge: collapse of the educational system, not having enough money for the army, massive inequalities started a chain reaction of evil.
      b) the gravest problem of the imperial system was the problem of succession of the IMPERATOR (initially a pure military title). After the detested Domitian, who had succeeded to his brother Titus (an excellent emperor), son to the excellent Vespasianus, it was decided to name the imperator on the basis of meritocracy. Marcus, instead, named his 5 year old second in command.

  8. David Cirignani Says:

    Daniel Cirignani The Western empire imploded in 476, 296 years after Aurelius’s death in 180. If the U.S. imploded today, I’m reasonably sure we could say all of the founders are off the hook. So too, Aurelius, arguments about plutocracy and fascism (already present in Rome in great measure for centuries by 1 AD), notwithstanding.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The Western empire did not implode in 476 CE. Parrots do not a reality make. Orestes called his young son, Romulus Augustulus emperor in 475 CE, but the rest of the empire did not recognize him. The recognized emperor was Julius Nespos, who stayed in exile in Dalmatia. Power in the West was held since 400 CE by the Franks, who were the OFFICIAL Roman army in Gallia, Germania Inferior and Germania Superior (with Roman imperator powers given to the elected king of the Franks, Childeric, complete with the purple imperial mantle).

      You should read Cassius Dio (historian contemporary to Aurelius and Commodus). Aurelius and the 13 year rule of Commodus left the empire in shambles. Pertinax was called by the Senate to clean the mess, and got assassinated by the Pretorian Guard. The imperator of Illyricum, the Libyan Septimus Severus, swooped down with his legions, and took command. But Severus made no mystery that the plutocratic Senate had then got way to powerful; he warned his full grown sons against it, as he died in Britannia. Immediately thereafter, the “Barrack Emperors” period intervened, and Rome basically collapsed. The Persians made the Roman emperor prisonner, and used him as a stool.

  9. Jean Efpraxiadis Says:

    Are you an adept at stoicism?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Jean Efpraxiadis If the question is can I spent a night a mile above a glacier, on a vertical wall, without tent, food, water, or adequate clothing, and shake all night to keep warm enough not to die? And then do that again and again and again, all too many times? Then the answer is yes

  10. Scott Wright Says:

    re: paragraph 2 – here begins the broad brush assumption that Marcus Aurelius is revered “both” as emperor and philosopher. I do not know of any disciples or zealots of Marcus Aurelius, instead there are those who respect his personal notes (we know as Meditations) embedded in a specific historical time period. You find that the “reverence” by others to be erroneous because “very serious people” have not really considered his background –in the way that you have. To which, we then assume all the others have been duped, and you (instead) have the capital “T” truth – and historical facts, especially when filtered through a dubious lens of “intellectual fascism.” re: Paragraph 3: A question is posed – and then a abstracted thesis of Christianity as an insurgency against Rome leading to re: Paragraph 4 – leading to the conclusion that Christianism “nearly destroying civilization.” So we have made the leap (somehow) that Christianism as somewhat (partly) responsible for the Fall of Rome (via Gibbon – who is the one and only source for that thesis) to “all of civilization” being destroyed?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Gibbon is NOT the one and only source for the thesis that Christianism destroyed Rome. The thesis is thoroughly explained at length by emperor Julian by 360 CE (and he acted on it… too philosophically). Saint Augustine spent a huge effort trying to go around that thesis, concluding it did not matter, in his tale of two cities. Moreover, the Franks, who took, and were given command of the north west of the empire by 400 CE-406 CE, and who had helped, a century earlier, Constantine to seize total power, absolutely detested Christianism, and organized major coups and wars against it, until they got real smart, and took over Catholicism (in the late Fifth Century).

  11. Enraged Stoics | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] Stoics, in their admirative folly, tell a lot of (traditional) lies about Marcus Aurelius. That these lies are traditional does not excuse them, or transmogrify them into the truth. Confronted to the details making blatant that those lies, however much repeated on the Internet, are lies, would-be stoics use the traditional methods deriving from what I call “intellectual fascism”. (At least that’s coherent, as Marcus Aurelius described, one could say, invented, and sang the praises of that mental method I call “Intellectual fascism”.) […]

  12. Military Industrial Complex: A Necessary Danger To Civilization | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] by the time of Marcus Aurelius, that wind bag, a certified intellectual fascist with a sugar-coating still mesmerizing the naive, the barbarians caught up with Roman military […]

  13. Is Philosophy Just About Death? Should Religion Be Mostly About Suffering? No! Such Moods Underlay Plutocracy! | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] and the Dominate. They were the worst, because excess select for the excessive (including Marcus Aurelius, the cruel and demented saint of the Stoics, who always sound so reasonable to the […]

  14. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Sent to Massimo Pigliucci after he wrote an essay on Marcus Aurelius, April 2, 2018…]

    Thanks for essay above, Massimo. Good points all. However, a different perspective I have developed shows why Marcus Aurelius made the mistake of making Commodus a Consul, while still a child (and so on, until making Commodus co-emperor at… 16). In other words, Marcus’ error was no error, but system. Marcus Aurelius thought that ‘non-useful’ thoughts should be banned! He wrote that explicitly!

  15. DON’T BLAME ME, I Am Only Human After All?? (Aurelius’ Perversity, Fall of Rome XI) | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] […]

  16. Erik Says:

    You realize meditations was never meant to be read by anyone besides himself, right? Thats why he pontificates like he does, not because hes commanding his subjects to obey, but because hes commanding himself to live by his own standards. This whole article comes off as purposefully contrarian. Like, lets take a guy whos generally accepted as being a good person (with an extremely difficult job) and take every shot we possibly can at him. And what does “intellectual fascism” even mean in this context? He was essentially deified and had all of the power in the entire empire, of course he was a “fascist”.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hello Eric and welcome! Differently from some fascist philosophers on the Internet like MP, I do not practice censorship, and respect my commenters and readers. So, from now on, your comments shall appear immediately and uncensored…
      I know very well that Marcus Aurelius philosophical journal was for himself, to justify him to himself… When I judge Marcus, I don’t focus on the so-called “Meditations” (he didn’t name them, as far as I know), but on his official acts and writings. I quoted to Massimo Pigliucci letters of Aurelius about Christians… Massimo censored my quotes, he wants Marcus Aurelius and Seneca to the Saints of stoicism…
      When one has an unbalanced cult, like a cult of Marcus, it needs to be counterbalanced. Those who admire Marcus, and want to follow his every thought, including the one about no useless thought, they embraced what followed down the abyss, just the same, and more of it: Christianism, then Islam…

      Marcus indeed made the theory of INTELLECTUAL Fascism. He said it himself, man times: no useless thoughts. Modern stoics censor the truth about historical stoicism (Massimo Pigliucci has censored dozens of my comments, including the one at the core of my latest essay, although it addressed a professional philosopher who wrote a post and who addressed me. (I tried to send her the comment directly, but her link was inactive…)

      We are dealing there with people animated by greed for ambition, power, command, a career. I am about wisdom, no more. So the hell with old cults the descendants of which killed hundreds of millions…

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