back to

e-flux conversations

Rescuing Cynic Philosophy from Right-Wing Trolls


In Logic magazine, John Durham Peters reflects on how the Cynic philosophical tradition has been appropriated and distorted by right-wing trolls. Peters describes the Cynic tradition as one of speaking truth to power, and he places not only Diogenes the Cynic, but also Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. in this lineage. Today, however, alt-right internet trolls have twisted this tradition into one that goads and mocks the weak to serve the powerful. Here’s an excerpt:

Though in ordinary speech “cynicism” has come to mean disillusionment with lofty ideals, the original Cynical tradition was anything but nihilistic. In his lectures on the ancient Greek notion of parrhesia—free or fearless speech—at Berkeley in 1983, Michel Foucault treated Diogenes as a source of the critical tradition of speaking truth to power. By putting himself at risk of wrath and injury, Diogenes exposed the abusiveness and insincerity of the rulers. Socrates tried to get people to see that they were ignorant of their own ignorance, but Diogenes went for the jugular: pride. The Socratic dialogue showed people they were dumb; the Cynical dialogue showed them they were blind …

Cynicism, the unique property of the outsider, turns rank once it enters the gates of power. Instead of stunning power into self-reflection, today’s cynicism shields power. Instead of the truth-seeking stuntsmanship of the self-risking Cynic, we have the collapse of the Cynical tradition into paralysis on the one hand and sovereign self-satisfaction on the other. I’d love to see Diogenes take on Trump and show him who’s boss. He’d find a way.

Image via Logic.