I saw a Pagan call out another Pagan the other day on social media over the latter’s credibility as a “barbarian”, as if the ultimate test of masculinity and resistance to the New World Order is how skilled one is at dressing up in animal skins and role playing as a Fifth Century Visigoth or Ninth Century Norseman. It was a silly attack born out of resentment, but it got me thinking about this idea of modern barbarianism as a response to the decay of the Western World and how I see that through a Christian lens.
First off, allow me to say that as a student of history I am fascinated by the study of so-called barbarians, although the definition of who or what is a barbarian is vague. Etymologically, the word barbarian comes from Ancient Greece and simply refers to someone who doesn’t speak Greek. It’s an onomatopoeic word, deriding the language of outsiders that to the Greeks sounded like “bar-bar-bar”. The word eventually came to represent all those outside the Greco-Roman world, from the highly civilized Persians in the east to the Gallic and Germanic tribes living a more primitive existence in northern Europe.
One of the many reasons the Roman Empire fell was due to pressure from Germanic barbarians, who pushed across the Roman borders as they themselves were being pressed by Hunnic and Slavic tribes invading from the steppes. Rome dealt poorly with this crisis and the Western half of the empire was eventually divided up amongst the tribes of the Goths, Vandals, Franks, Lombards, and Anglo-Saxons, although the Roman East based in Constantinople did survive for another thousand years.
As the United States has often been compared both metaphorically and literally to Rome, I see this idea of romanticising barbarianism in the face of decline rooted in this parallelism. America and the West have been dealing with some of the same issues of moral decadence, poor leadership, loss of tradition, and immigration and the writing on the wall predicts that we will most likely experience the same fate as the Romans. A common reaction to this has been the embrace of a barbarian mindset as both a protest to the Global Empire and as a means of surviving its eventual collapse.
This is not necessarily criticism, as looking toward the past is often a valid and respectable response to what is going on in the present age. This is essentially the definition of reactionary conservatism to which those of us on the right aspire. Our society has become plastic, with our food over processed and our minds programmed by the media in order to cultivate a weak character that will put up little resistance to the tyrants trying to rule our lives. Those wishing to avoid this fate should in fact return to a way of living that is more in touch with our ancestors, our bodies, and the Earth.
Yet we should avoid the imagery of the “noble savage” and the idea that pre-civilized man was a peaceful creature living in harmony with nature, as espoused by Rousseau. It’s historically inaccurate and also serves as the root of the ultra-egalitarian philosophies found in Marxism in which humans lived in communist tribal groups and everyone was equal until civilization came along and created social class structure. True barbarianism is more akin to the state of nature of Hobbes, a violent anarchy in which might makes right and men only band together in search of protection from other men.
Both of these philosophies are wrong in that they fail to see the creation of mankind as the creation of order. Men were not born into chaos and forced to eke out an existence for as long as it took for the spark of civilization to catch fire. Instead, God ordered chaos and created man to keep it in check. Hierarchical order is written into the cosmos and on the hearts of men. We are not solitary creatures by nature, reluctantly coming together to secure our lives and property. We seek camaraderie with friends, union with lovers, and ultimately atonement and theosis with the God who created us.
In our present age, barbarianism is already spoken for, represented by the subversive forces attacking Western Civilization using racial strife, class warfare, and sexual depravity as weapons against the Logos. Unfortunately these groups have not only breached the gates of our once great City on a Hill but have penetrated our institutions and the entire order is now at risk to descend back into chaos.
Perhaps the chaos of a barbarian horde smashing through a bloated and corrupt government leviathan is exactly what is needed at this time. Through this destruction a rebirth can take place and new forms of civilization will ultimately flourish. The Greek historian Polybius named this pattern anacyclosis, in which the three forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, cycle through civilizations, buffered on both sides by their inverted forms of tyranny, oligarchy, and mob rule.
The unfortunate part of anacyclosis is that the down cycles are a messy endeavor. For every Conan slaying evil wizards there is an Attilla burning villages and slaughtering women and children. That is probably not something to get excited about.
The question then becomes how Christians and other groups who value tradition and civilization should see themselves within the context of the inevitable political collapse that is to come. We will be caught between the elite technocratic machine seeking to automate life itself for its own control and profit and the denizens of participants who willingly share in the destruction of our current society in hopes that they will finally be given their share of the prize. There is certainly little hope in achieving a revival of the past using a political apparatus in which those in power count the votes.
Dreher’s “Benedict Option” is certainly on the table, as it too has historical precedent. As the Roman West fell, some Christians fled the cities to remote monasteries to preserve knowledge and escape the political upheaval and violence. There is a bias to this mindset, however, centered around the different outcomes that took place for the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. As the two sides distanced from one another politically, they also began to diverge culturally. The Christian faith itself divided, as the Eastern bishops resisted the dominance of the Pope in Rome. Because of this, history written by the Western scholars often ignored their brothers in the East and few Protestants and Catholics today have any knowledge of the rich heritage of Eastern Orthodoxy.
But a Christian Constantinople did survive another thousand years before it finally fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. It too helped preserve parts of the Western Tradition and served as a bulwark against further invasion into the West. Perhaps our answer lies here, in Byzantium. There is no Constantinople yet, but is there still time to build one?