Wikipedia describes that image as a “Historically inaccurate depiction of ‘Germanic warriors’ as depicted in Philipp Clüver’s Germania Antiqua (1616).” The word “barbarian” comes to us – as so many do – from the ancient Greeks and means, essentially, “they who are not us.” A mechanical culture shares common folkways, mores, and laws, and anyone outside of that culture who doesn’t share those traits is the essence of “them.” As an aside, note that a visitor to another culture may well take part in some of those folkways, and observe some of the mores and laws, but that only makes him a “civilized barbarian.” Unless he truly accepts and internalizes those characteristics he will never be more than a civilized barbarian – and given that many cultures also have a strong family, racial, or ethnic component required for admission, some barbarians may never become truly a part of “civilized society.”
The popular perception of barbarians is that they come from outside somewhere, from some other place, and are generally intent on pillaging and plundering the civilized area they are invading. That is an unfortunate misconception, however. Barbarians are simply those who do not subscribe to the local culture. In a science fiction context H. Beam Piper put it well when one of his characters asked, “What do you think the Neo-Barbs are, some sort of Attila the Hun in spaceships?” and goes on to point out that many barbarians are home-grown.
I’d like to offer, for consideration, that perhaps the US should be spending less time worrying about this:
and a little more time thinking about these:
Unless, of course, those (or others) are your culture, as opposed to the “old fashioned pre-War Between The States” American culture of small government, limited taxes, minimal regulation, and general liberty that prevailed even after the war into the late 19th century. Was that culture perfect? Of course not. Four words – Alien and Sedition Acts – demonstrate an intolerance for liberty that even then was growing, for instance. That said, whatever his other flaws and faults, Alexander Hamlton never had to ask permission of anyone to build a home,. clear his land, start a business, or move around – or in or out of – the country.
Barbarians have always, throughout history, played a part in cultures. Sometimes their presence causes the culture to strengthen, sometimes they are the final push that sends a culture toppling. But barbarians, people who “aren’t us,” are there. The question for any culture is “what will be done with them?”
The Chinese have been past masters of simply absorbing barbarians and assimilating them. England, to great degree, is the result of repeated waves of “not us” washing up on the shores and adopting – or mingling with – the local inhabitants (H. Beam Piper again: “English is the result of Norman men-at-arms making dates with Anglo-Saxon barmaids.”). America in its early years absorbed and, to a degree, assimilated European “barbarians.”
Assimilation is no longer an option in America, though. The “not us” have legal rights to maintain their own status and culture with minimal to nonexistent penalties. Try and imagine Roman decrees being written in both Latin and Visigothic.
Which leaves the second option, unfortunately, and that is an inevitable conflict between the “us” and “not us.” The question then simply remains historically who will prevail, and what the results will look like for the remnants and survivors of that clash.
The part of me that revels in history and sociology can’t wait to see.