The time has come, I think, to ‘reclaim’ the term “Barbarian”.
Now, in some circles this has already happened – it is utterly uncontroversial, because there is the implicit recognition that what “Barbarian” refers to , is one’s own ancestors … the negative, fearful connotations thereof, being those affixed by the other people who had something to fear from them.
But elsewhere, the appellation still bears a significant barb to it. Instead of responding with the Chad ‘Yes’, the instinct of those called out in such a manner is to angrily protest that no, no they (we) are not the ‘barbarians’ – but rather, the more properly civilized people.
In truth, there does not have to be a distinction. ‘Barbarian’, in one sense, simply conveys that the target for the term is from a different culture – and more specifically, a different language, a different way of doing things [hence its main derivation – from the ‘Bah-Bah’ sounds of indistinct speech to refined ears of the more southerly cultures of the ‘civilized’ Mediterranean’]. With the accompanying associations that the figure in question is a brute, savage, almost feral perhaps.
It is erroneously presumed that this also axiomatically means “stupid” – an arrogant imputation which has generally worked out very very poorly for the ‘civilized’ would-be world-conquering empire builders making the claim. Think of Darius’ Scythian campaign, or why the Romans pointedly stopped attempting to invade and occupy Germania.
Yet looming at the fringes of the ‘civilized’ psyche in many parts has also been a fundamentally congruent awareness that this is false – and that those ‘Barbarians’ are in possession of a wisdom, an insight which has been worn away or otherwise rendered less accessible amidst more self-congratulatorily ‘sophisticated’ (which, after all, contains the word ‘sophist’) climes.
Hence we find the Athenians speaking in glowing tones of the Scythian Anarchises – a man who was honoured as one of the great philosophers and wits of his time not simply ‘despite’ but actively because of his Barbarian origins and resultant clarity of perspective amidst (or even against) ‘civilized’ man.
We also find the customary due respect being accorded to the Shaivite Sadhus of the Mountains in Hindu culture – and the somewhat fearful yet also reverent reception of the Vratya among the Vedic people in an earlier age. In both cases, this is a reflection of the attitudes prevalent towards the Patron Deity of these groups. The terrifying figure of most fearsome and formidable wisdom Who is also, despite being ‘on the periphery’ and up in the mountains – actually also at the heart of everything, the ultimate ‘center’ of the cosmos.
Implicit in the way that ‘Barbarian’ is made use of as a slur by many, is the assertion that to be ‘Barbarian’ means you can be disregarded – that your views, your values, your heritage can be safely ignored. And that with ‘civilization’, these shall become steadily eroded to the point that they no longer even really exist, let alone actually matter.
As I have said, this is a singularly a-historical view. And not least because often, when a civilization is decrepit and decaying – it is the ‘Barbarians’ at the gates who provide it with its fresh vibrancy and life.
Or, as we see with the Scythian preservation of Andronovo religious elements (a coterminity with Vedic religion, as it happens), as expressed also in the ‘Turanian’ war effort against the Zoroastrian heresy some three thousand years ago – the ‘Barbarian’ can represent the bulwark, the preservation of what is ancient, honourable, and true against the degradation of those who have deliberately gone off the path, lost their way.
The observation which sparked all of this, was the occurrence a few days ago of anti-Brahmin sorts in India attacking Brahmins rhetorically as being Steppe ‘Barbarians’. And certainly, it is true that a significant component of many Brahmins’ genetic heritage and all of Hinduism’s cultural ancestry is to be found from that Urheimat-via-Central-Asian source.
Yet even though it is indisputably meant as an insult when these sorts of anti-Brahmin, anti-Hindu agitators deploy the term … just as we saw via the ‘Gothicismus’ movement in Sweden two to four hundred years ago , I believe that the most appropriate response to such claims is veer-y much the aforementioned Chad YES.
Because if we look at the more usual stereotypical associations of the ‘Barbarian’ label .. what is the insult here. “Your ancestors were STRONG; Your ancestors were HONOURABLE; Your ancestors were TERRIFYING;” – what is so ‘insulting’ about that?
“Your ancestors had CUSTOMS WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND” – is the crux of it, and it is doubly relevant because the sorts of people who are attacking ‘Barbarians’ without acknowledging the true status and contribution of ‘Barbarians’ to their own civilizations and ancestry .. clearly don’t. Alleged Hindus attacking Brahmins even more so !
To be ‘Barbarian’, I feel, is to be part of the Axe Which Reshapes (Their) Reality.
It should be a point of pride, as well as a spear(tongue). Especially when it is acknowledged – as any who has seen Scythian goldwork can most assuredly attest – that quite away from not being ‘stupid’, many of those so-called ‘Barbarian’ peoples are capable of heights of technical and cultural sophistication that would startle and amaze the subsistence ‘civilization-dweller’ in their ill-health and cramped living conditions of ‘sophisticated’ squalor.
And, in any case, as Robert E. Howard once pithily observed:
“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”
And, for good measure from the same author:
“The more I see of what you call civilization, the more highly I think of what you call savagery!”