I have lately been immersing myself into sixth century Byzantine history, and I am currently reading The Secret History With Related Texts, by Prokopios (usually rendered in English as "Procopius") translated by a brilliant classics professor at The Ohio State University named Anthony Kaldellis. Pretty far afield from reading Robert Anton Wilson, or so I thought.
But it turns out that Prokopios had a tolerant attitude toward religion, and belief in general, that is strikingly modern, and also reminiscent of RAW.
You'll no doubt remember the famous quote from RAW encapsulating his philosophical attitude: "My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone, but agnosticism about everything."
This quotation is related not just to Wilson's personal philosophy, but to his libertarianism. If you can't be sure of being right about anything, you can hardly be justified in coercing everyone else to behave, or believe, as you would like them to do.
Now, compare that RAW quote with a passage from Prokopios' The Wars of Justinian that is translated by Kaldellis:
I think it is insanely stupid to investigate the nature of God and ask what sort it is. For I do not believe that human beings have a sufficiently exact understanding of merely human things, far less of anything that bears on the nature of God. Therefore, I will keep a safe silence about these things, with the sole intention of not allowing honored teachings to be disbelieved. For I would say nothing else about God than that he is entirely good and holds everything within his power. But let each say about these things whatever he thinks he knows, where he is a priest or a layman. (5.3.5-9).
Allowing everyone to express his own opinion is a pretty bold statement in favor of freedom of thought. I also like the statement about how it is impossible to understand "merely human things." This is an even more remarkable quote if you know enough Byzantine history to grasp the context. Prokopios' Wars was published during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, who envisioned the empire as a kind of totalitarian theocracy. He enthusiastically persecuted pagans, Neoplatonist philosophers, heretics, homosexuals and anyone else who failed to meet his definition of a model citizen of the Roman Empire. It was also Justinian who shut down the school of philosophers in Athens that had existed for centuries.
My description of Prokopios as a "Sixth Century libertarian" in the headline of this post probably seems like a stretch, but Kaldellis, contrasting the political views of Prokopios and Justinian, remarks in the preface of the book, "We have here an archetypical conflict between a classical conservative-liberal on the one hand and a revolutionary ideologue on the other." (For those unfamiliar with libertarian terminology, a "classical liberal" is a kind of moderate, limited government libertarian. The folks at the Cato Institute essentially are classical liberals.)
I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of Robert Shea's historical novel All Things Are Lights, essential a kind of thematic prequel to ILLUMINATUS! The hero of the novel, Roland, is dragooned into King Louis' crusade against the Moslems in Egypt, although he secretly believes that all religions have about the same amount of truth and falsehood. This seemed like an anachronistically modern attitude when I read the book last year, but now I am not so sure.
Whether you buy my opinion that Prokopios was a kind of early libertarian, or at least an early civil libertarian, he was undoubtedly one of the first revisionist historians. His Wars of Justinian stuck mostly to the official line on Justinian's wars against the Persians, the Vandals and the Goths, but his Secret History (which could not be openly circulated when Prokopios was alive) offered a scathing, alternative view of Justinian and his tyranny.