[SC] Historical Simulationism and its Incoherence

In February 2019 I announced that I would offer free Latin translations to micronationalists who wanted them. That offer still stands, as does the reason why I gave it in the first place: a lot of micronational Latin is bad and incoherent, and micronations should not settle for second rate. Rather, some knowledge is needed to use history and language appropriately, in an unironic way, and this knowledge is available to anyone and everyone. Micronationalists should learn to use it to their advantage.

Over my years as a micronationalist, I have met the occasional consul or summi imperator, a title that I have never known from Roman history—and I am a PhD candidate who studies Roman history. The person was trying to say the “greatest emperor” but instead it comes across as “the costliest emperor.” (Why genitive? Genitive of value?) I suppose fake medals, like the person’s Prussian Pour le Mérite, are expensive.

I have met Latin sentences where every noun and adjective is in the nominative—even when using transitive verbs and with SVO syntax(!). Some, too, where cases are used in nonstandard ways. Perhaps the authors are using later ecclesiastical Latin, where cases are wonky, but I somewhat doubt an armchair Latinist can get that nuance. I can’t, not without a grammar or a textbook, and I have passed qualifying exams in Latin—where I had to read random Latin texts without a dictionary.

Others just don’t quite get the right message across:
In finibus nostris non opus est, nam a larva.
“In our borders there is no need, because away from the ghost.”
The “translation” makes clear that they wanted to write “in our country there is no need for a mask,” referring to the novel coronavirus pandemic. They should have used either persona (which refers to the kind of mask worn in drama) or masca (from which English and many other languages get the word “mask,” but this refers to witchcraft). A larva, instead, refers to a malevolent ghost and, while larva can figuratively refer to a “mask,” there is only one example of this: Horace’s Satires 1.5, line 64.

This is a problem larger than language alone, and larger than a single micronation. Frequent inspiration is taken from Ancient Rome and its republican or imperial history, but of course no historical time period or place is left untouched: the same is true for me and Sandus as, I would say, it is for any micronation. Micronationalists draw upon what they know, and we certainly can find inspiration from a variety of sources that we come across.

I certainly have.

But inspiration is one thing, simulation another. We put on airs when we use Latin or refer to Roman history in a non-realist way. When micronations make lofty appeals that they will restore the Roman Empire through translatio imperii (as if it were a reified, linear thing) or that each citizen must do their duty—to “preserve” or “defend” Roman culture, micronationalists see a tree instead of the forest. They assume that they are the faithful inheritors of Roman history and culture when, really, they are like many other people: interpreting and reinterpreting Roman history based on their present circumstances and situation. The same is true of any other form of political, historical, or cultural simulation—but so far this fact seems to escape the notice of those who profess that their micronation will have an inquisition to murder LGBTQ+ people and to forcibly convert infidels.

One micronationalist, in particular, was a high-ranking official in a micronation that professed oprichnina and its own sort of medieval inquisition, yet in another micronation that same person was leading efforts to have Judaism declared the official state religion.

In striving to obtain a historical spirit or fancy for their micronation, simulationists lose sight of their historical and logical incoherence, and they lose sight of the the real world as it is today. The incoherence is obvious to those who see the forest: early modern inquisitions, at the height of the Reformation and Catholic Revival, targeted Jews and other such “heresies,” which probably would have included those micronationalists too. Something to be (rightfully) avoided today and generally thought to be odious.

In making these fanciful micronations, too, simulationists forget or make apologies for the legacy of these antiquated concepts. Here is another example. The Fatherland Party of Austenasia was recently elected on a platform to restore and to defend Roman culture in Austenasia, a tradition PM Dionisiy thinks is under attack or waning. His solution? To strip away the institution of a prime minister and, instead, to vest the prime minister’s powers in two eponymous consuls that Austenasia has had for years. Yet is Austenasia’s prime minister not part of its heritage and tradition, too?

Photo de Deniz Tezcan-Smahin.
The Fatherland Party’s propaganda poster calls upon Austenasians to vote for the referendum to replace the office of prime minister with two consuls.

This restitutor rei publicae forgets, however, that Augustus’s restitution was in name only. The first Roman princeps bore several reforms—the so-called “first” and “second” settlements in 28 and 23 BCE that gave Octavian various then-made-up extraconstitutional powers: imperium maius(!) without elected office, the power and sacrosanctity of a tribune without that office, and a neat abstract name like “augustus.” (Ring a bell?) As a result of these reforms, the emperor could wield supreme power without need for elected offices or positions.

What Rome, then, is being imagined? A Rome that never existed where the republic with its consuls was restored in good faith, like is imagined in the gory yet comedic (to historians) film Gladiator? Or the real Roman tradition, where the Roman constitution descended successively into greater and yet greater tyranny? The history of the Principate and the Dominate, id est the “Roman tradition” from which Austenasia has long taken its inspiration, is incoherent and incompatible with the “Roman tradition” of consuls with real consular power.

What is next? Will Consul Dionisiy really tolerate a colleague? Will Imperator Caesar Jonathan Augustus prefer to be greeted as dominus et deus, “slave master and god”? Will he start persecuting those who refuse to give sacrifices for his well-being? (Oh wait!) Will he start promising the people panem et circenses from his terraced house? Primus adibo et sportula mihi dabitur, “I’ll be the first to go and get my bread dole,” but like in Juvenal the offering will likely be too sparse. Why bother? That Roman tradition, the very one the Austenasian government now wants you to believe they will restore, is the very one Juvenal, an actual Roman, said had become a Graeca urbs—a “Greekified city.”

And he didn’t mean it in a nice way.

No, I imagine that the charade will continue to be played, but to those aware and who know their history it will be clear what this reform portends: autocracy, uncertainty, and even more reason for non-micronationalists to take us seriously.

Identity Evropa posters found at Dinkytown coffee shop ...
Identity Evropa is one of many neo-Nazi organisations that seeks to “protect” Classicism in the guise of American white supremacy.

But the kind of argument Dionisiy and others make implicitly, and even explicitly with their rhetoric, is worse. Instead of seeing Austenasia as unique with its very own tradition inspired by Roman history, Dionisiy and the Austenasian government ask us to end “political barbarism” and to defend their actual tradition that is (according to them) Roman. To “defend our <Austenasian> Roman heritage” is the same propaganda and rhetoric that American neo-Nazis have used to ask white Euro-Americans to “protect” their heritage and to “serve” their <white> people.

Am I saying that the Fatherland Party is a group of white supremacists? Not quite, but I am noting that the arguments used by the Austenasian government and American neo-Nazis are similar in capitalising on Greek and Roman classicism to pursue <ethno>nationalist ends. A greater historical literacy would perhaps have encouraged Dionisiy and his government in Austenasia to see this connection to contemporary politics, to reflect on the humorous Juvenalian irony at play here, and to consider other forms of rhetoric for what could be an exciting and interesting political reform. Classicism, race, and racism are after all a big topic in the contemporary field of Classical Studies today.

So, res publica restituetur? Will the republic be restored? We shall have to wait and see.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article identified the Austenasian prime minister by his public macronational name. Out of respect we have edited the article to reflect his name in Austenasia.