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Related: aggression - iconoclasm - macho, or alpha male - primitive - philistine - stupidity - wild

Contrast: civilization - intellectual

"Barbarian" is a pejorative term for an uncivilized, uncultured person, either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos perceived as having an inferior level of civilization, or in an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, insensitive person whose behaviour is unacceptable in the purportedly civilized society of the speaker. While the latter sense is always pejorative, the former one has not invariably been so, as described below. [1]

The modern sympathetic admiration for such fantasy barbarians as Conan the Barbarian is a direct descendant of the Enlightenment idealization of the "noble savage". The German Romantics recharacterized the barbarian stereotype. Now it was the civilized Roman or that modern Romanized Gaul, the Frenchman who was effeminate and soft, and the stout-hearted German barbarian exemplified 'manly' virtue. The reforming of Arminius as "Hermann" the noble barbarian countering evil Rome provided a prototype from the 16th century onwards. [1]

Vandalism is the conspicuous defacement or destruction of a structure, a symbol or anything else that goes against the will of the owner/governing body. Historically, it has been justified by painter Gustave Courbet as destruction of monuments symbolizing "war and conquest". Therefore, it can be done as an expression of contempt, creativity, or both. Vandalism only makes sense in a culture that recognizes history and archaeology. Like other similar terms (Barbarian/barbary, and Philistine), the term Vandal was originally an ethnic slur referring to the Vandals, who under Geiseric sacked Rome in 455. The Vandals, like the Philistines, no longer exist as an identifiable ethnic group. [1]

The Intellectual as Barbarian

The assault on civilization did not begin with the terrorist attacks of September 11. As Objectivists know, such an assault has been under way for a long time. Indeed, in Western history, one could go back 250 years, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, published in 1750. Father Copleston's monumental History of Philosophy describes the Discourse as "an attack on civilization," and it is. But it is also more than that. By 1750, Western civilization (as distinct from Classical civilization) had been surging ahead for a thousand years. Rousseau's Discourse, which offers a brief for barbarian tribes and their primitivism, marked the first time that the avant-garde of the West turned against that which they themselves recognized to be their civilization's highest accomplishments. Since 1750, and the advent of the post-Enlightenment culture, such attacks have become increasingly common.

Here is one. A contemporary foot-soldier in the assault on civilization—drawing on Rousseau's primitivism—said the following about September 11. (The quotation is taken from The New Republic's "Idiocy Watch," a section where the editors print particularly stupid remarks about the terrorist attacks and the war.)

The WTC was not just an architectural monstrosity, but also terrible for people who didn't work there, for it said to all those people: 'If you can't work up here, boy, you're out of it.' That's why I'm sure that if those towers had been destroyed without loss of life, a lot of people would have cheered. Everything wrong with America led to the point where the country built that tower of Babel, which consequently had to be destroyed. [The speaker continued:] And then came the next shock. We had to realize that the people that did this were brilliant. It showed that the ego we could hold up until September 10 was inadequate. [And then there was this:] Americans can't admit that you need courage to do such a thing. For that might be misunderstood. The key thing is that we in America are convinced that it was blind, mad fanatics who didn't know what they were doing. But what if those perpetrators were right and we were not? (The New Republic, November 26, 2001)

Notice three elements in this screed: (1) A view of the bourgeois world as an oppressive power structure: "If you can't work up here, boy, you're out of it." (2) A deduction from that assumption that "a lot of people" wished to see the architectural symbol of the oppressive bourgeois world destroyed. (3) A special emphasis on the superiority of the destroyers as persons who exhibited the traditionally manly virtue of courage.

Who was the author of this outrageous statement? A man who has, for the last fifty years, been considered one of America's leading novelists and commentators, Norman Mailer. Indeed, in recognition of Mailer's high cultural standing, TNR ran a "Special Norman Mailer Edition" of its "Idiocy Watch" to document and analyze the remarks above.

Of course, if Mailer's ramblings regarding September 11 demonstrated only that some previously sensible author had "lost it" in old age, they would hardly matter. But they do matter, because his remarks are consistent with the philosophy that has won Mailer accolades from America's intelligentsia for the last half century. --http://www.objectivistcenter.org/text/rdonway_intellectual-barbarian.asp [May 2005]

see also: WTC

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