Institute for Advanced Studies in
Social and Management Sciences
Discourse Politics Identiy
Working Paper Series
Working Paper No. 1
Civilisation and Barbarism
Dept. of European Studies
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Civilisation and Barbarism
Civilisation and barbarism belong together. If you point out others as barbarians you indirectly grant yourself a civilised role. The two concepts are normally used to draw up fundamental differences. Together they make up a powerful weapon in any differential semantics. Barbarians are not good. You cannot make friends with barbarians. On the contrary, they have a prominent role in any collection of enemy images. Barbarism is used as a synonym for the worst parts of human history. History is rich with barbarians. Many have been nominated. Who becomes a barbarian, and who turns out civilised, depends, however, to a large degree, on speaker position. Rarely would anyone voluntarily take on the designation barbarian. You are always the barbarian of someone.
In this paper, I will begin be outlining a history of the two intertwined concepts, in order to point out the sedimentation of some basic meanings. I shall claim – without
much evidence – that different layers of meaning were added to the two concepts during their use in history. Next, I intend to show how civilisation and barbarism are used as political battle concepts in contemporary discussion on friends and enemies in the Western world. It is my assumption that the two concepts – in their different wordings - play a
dominant role in the handling of friends and enemies. I am particularly interested in the way the American president George Bush, on a conceptual level, has dealt with enemies after 9/11. But I will also demonstrate how civilisation and barbarism is at play in the more friendly reflections on neighbours undertaken within the European Union. Although an effort is made to turn neighbours and strangers into friends within official EU rhetoric, differences of all kinds keep cropping up. Some of them are viewed in terms of civilisation.
The concept of barbarism
If we limit ourselves to consider the concepts of barbarism and civilisation, in a purely etymological perspective, barbarism comes first. Barbarism is derived from the Greek word barbaros (βάρβαρος) which connects the meaning of strangeness with incomprehensible speech. Barbaros is presumably an onomatopoeia which mimes incomprehensible sounds (Jones 1971). In the Iliad, the adjective bararaphōnos is introduced to designate a group of
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human beings that “speaks strangely” (Hall 1989: 9, see also Lund 2005: 9). In the Greek
thspeaking world of the 5 century BC the noun barabaroi became a standard term for
strangers. In his Histories, Herodotus consequently designate strange peoples as
barbarians. There is no doubt that Herodotus used the word as a general term for cultural differences. Is it debatable, however, whether it also carried negative connotations (Malitz 2002; Lund 2005). Most scholars seem to agree that the long lasting conflict between the Persians and the Greeks in the 5t century BC contributed to giving barbarism a more pejorative meaning for the Greeks. In the eyes of the Greeks, the Persians came to embody the negative barbarbarian whose behaviour contrasted sharply with Greek life. Aeschylus‟ famous tragedy, The Persians from 472 BC gave a systematic elaboration of
these contrasts (Hall 1989).Aeschylus condensed all differences between Greeks and Persians into a basic opposition between democracy and tyranny. The term barbarian furthermore served the political purpose of mobilising a Panhellenic identity in the struggle against the Persians (Lund 2005). In the view, Edith Hall, the Persian wars played a prominent role in turning the barbarian into the absolute enemy: “the „barbarian‟ in the most complete sense, the despotic adversary of free Hellenes everywhere, had well and truly been invented” (Hall 1989: 59). From then on, the barbarian was not only a stranger.
He was a dangerous enemy whose behaviour was inferior to Greek life. This double meaning of cultural inferiority and danger was to become the basic meaning of barbarism.
The indication of the barbarian‟s cultural inferiority does not necessarily build
on ethnographic observations. Important is only the marking of a dividing line between the superior position of one‟s own life and thus the inferior position of those living on the other side. For this reason, it is problematic to locate the concept of the barbarian within a cultural discourse which focuses on the conceptualisation of different ways of lives. The barbarian is first of all used to create a superior position for your own culture. He gives value to your own culture, so to speak, because he does not possess any value himself. As I shall argue in a moment, evaluation of one‟s own way of living is essential to a discourse of civilisation. If the barbarian first and foremost embodies the opposition to all civilised life, any culture has been written off. Barbaric life is typically described as a negation of civilised life. The barbarian lives irrationally, brutish and without any rules. He is viewed as less than human and reduced to a life at the limits of society (Pagden 1982: 16). Barbarians are those wild men, sylvestres homines, of the European middle ages who
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lived outside the gates of organised life. From this position outside they threaten to penetrate into civilisation and destroy it. The barbarians is thus a metaphor for the ultimate enemy against whom only the most radical steps can be taken.
Whereas the barbarian of the Greeks refers to those inferior strangers and enemies outside your own civilised world, the Roman barbarus, according to Y.A.Dauge becomes the symbol of everything threatening: “in it [the concept of the barbarian] is condensed and revealed all dimensions of evil” (Dauge 1981: 406; my translation). In the
Roman world, the barbarian can operate as an anonymous force, barbaria (barbarism),
that constantly threatens to emerge within civilised life. Barbarism can for instance be viewed as the brutish behaviour of individuals within one‟s own community. In his study of Roman “barbarology” – that is, the meaning and the use of the concept within the Roman world - Dauge demonstrates how barbarism is connected to a whole catalogue of negative terms such as irrationality, impotence, violence, ferocity, brutality, martial temper,
1discord and vanity (Dauge 1981: 424-440).
The meaning of barbarism is basically determined by its opposite, the civilised life. Barbarism is always presented as a negation of well-known and accepted values. The term is central to that rhetoric of negativity which is so dominant in many descriptions of strangers (Ifversen 2003). Barbarism is a typical “asymmetrical counter concept” as
defined by the German historian Reinhart Koselleck. Asymmetrical counter concepts belong to “a universalistic rhetoric” where particular pairs of concepts are intended to cover
the whole of humanity (Koselleck 1989: 218). They are used when one group makes claim to universality by excluding others. The position of the excluded is expressed in terms of inferiority, which thus also marks an asymmetrical relation between the two concepts in a pair. According to Koselleck the concept of barbarian developed as an asymmetrical counterconcept to the Hellene. Hellenic identity is therefore not to be viewed as an ethnic identity among others, but as a claim to universality. Together the pair of the barbarian and the Hellene designates humanity and its limits. But they are not operating on equal terms. The barbarian is always less than the Hellene and thus placed in an asymmetrical
1 The most important Latin terms that according to Dauge constitutes the semantic field within which barbarism is given meaning are feritas, ferocia, belli furor, discordia and uanitas. 2 In his study of asymmetrical counterconcepts, Koselleck is outlining the history of three pairs of concepts, Hellene and barbarian, Christian and pagan, Human and inhuman/superhuman/subhuman Koselleck 1989).
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In his historical analysis of the pair, barbarian and Hellene, Koselleck demonstrates how the barbarian at first is used in a spatial delimitation to conceptualise an inner, Hellenic space, for soon to be broadened to include an indication of temporal difference (Koselleck 1989: 220-223). Koselleck refers to Thucydides who compares contemporary barbarians with the Hellenes of the past: “And there are many other points
in which a likeness might be shown between the life of the Hellenic world of old and the
3barbarian of to-day”. This temporal delimitation was further developed by the Romans who inserted the barbarians at the lower stages of history (Dauge 1981: 486-494). By adding a temporal dimension to the barbarian, the range of meaning covered by the concept was expanded. Barbarians were thus not only strangers and enemies, but also primitives living in another time.
The universal rhetoric in which barbarian signifies the inferior and negative part, was transmitted from the Greek world to the Roman and Christian world. For the Romans, The barbarian was contrasted with the universal values as they were epitomized in the concept of humanitas romana (Dauge 1981: 537-544). Within the Christian world the
4barbarian fused with the pagan (paganus) (Pagden 1982: 20; Jones 1971: 387), who
signified all peoples outside the Christian community of faithful, congregatio fidelum. In the
late middle ages the role of the arch-barbarian was taken over by the Muslims, and especially „the eternal Turk‟ who was to become a long-lasting enemy image of the
European powers in their struggle with the Ottoman empire (Yapp 1992). The Ottoman empire was the most important of those “barbaric nations” that the Christians fought (Jones 1971: 393). With the barbarians located in particular nations the concept experienced a further “territorialisation” during the middle ages (Koselleck 1989: 239). This did involve any recognition of these “nations” as being of the same kind as the European “nations”. The asymmetrical relation between barbarians and Christians were kept intact
5by presenting Islam as a distortion of the true Christian faith (Said 1995: 59-61).
3 Thuchydides. The history of the Peloponnesian Wars, (Translated by R. Crawley.) The first Book. The Internet Classics archive. http://classics.mit.edu/Thucydides/pelopwar.html 4 The term paganus originally referred to primitive life, rusticitas, cp.. James J. O‟Donnell, Paganus.
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/texts/paganus.html 5 I think it is wrong as Jones does to claim that the concept of the barbarian in the middle ages is expanded from a limited religious meaning to a broader cultural one. In my view, the dominant religious meaning is what makes the universal rhetoric – and thus the asymmetrical relation – possible. In the dominant framework, Islam is not perceived as
a culture, not even as another religion, but as a „falsified‟ version of the true faith.
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The concept of civilisation
The concept of the barbarian presupposes a concept of civilised life. Romans and medieval Christians had significant terms for the universal contrast to barbarism, although they did not have a single word for (what we call) civilisation. The Romans inherited the
Greek perception of civilised life as confined to the organised community of the city, polis.
In Latin, political life was related to civitas, that, however, also had a broader sociological
meaning of civilised behaviour, expressed in the words civilitas and civilis (Fisch 1993:
687). Both the political and the broader sociological meaning were maintained in the middle ages, although the latter came to take a more dominant role. Consequently, civilised life was more and more seen in contrast to the natural and brutish life represented
thby the barbarian. In the 16 century civilised life increasingly became related to individual self control operating through a detailed set of behaviourial codes (Elias 1997: 157-166). The word civilisation appeared in French in 1756 (Ifversen 2000). This particular form of substantivization – with endings on –ion - which started appearing around this time in the
French language – signified a processus. Civilisation was the process through which individual and societies became civilised. In the Enlightenment, this idea of a processus was related to a universal view of history moving through stages. The introduction of the word thus marked a shift from a more spatialised perception to a new form of temporalisation, which placed the barbarians on a stage in history long surpassed by the civilised societies. Among the many efforts to locate civilised life within a universal history we find Adam Ferguson‟s Civil Society from 1767. On one hand, Ferguson‟s concept of
civil society confirmed the link between a political and a well-ordered life. On the other hand, it outlined a universal historical movement that placed civil societies ahead of “barbarian” and “savage” societies on a historical line of evolution. Consequently, the
barbarian was the primitive to be found as well in the European past as in the present
6colonies. Humanity is a key concept in placing civilisation at the positive end of a universalistic rhetoric. Humanity is both the object and the subject of civilisation. Humanity is acting to drive history towards its end, a human society. Apart from being a battle
thconcept in the struggle against church and estates in the 18 century humanity finds its
place in a universalistic rhetoric the counterconcept of which is the less civilised and consequently less human. The less civilised and the less human are expressed within two
6th The comparison of contemporary primitives with peoples of the past was widespread already in the 17 century, cp.
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different semantic fields (Ifversen 2000). In one field, the less civilised is the uneducated. In the other, he is the primitive stranger. The two fields are related to two larger discursive frameworks, one of which we could call an educational discourse (Bildung in German).
The educational discourse draws upon a whole catalogue of concepts related to individual behaviour and manners. The other discourse, which I will call ethnographical, concerns the
thdescription and handling of strange peoples (Ifversen 2004). During the 18 century
education was increasingly connected with the development of societies (marking a broadening of the concept from the more individualistic meaning of earlier times), which made it possible to talk about the educated or ?polished‟ society. At the same time, it is
possible to observe an increasing „alienation‟ of the uneducated in one‟s own society that are viewed as “dangerous classes “ (Chevalier 2002). The local uneducated thus comes to resemble the savages of the colonised world through a mixing of the two discourses.
The concept of civilisation plays a key part in the political and ideological formulas orienting the Kulturkampf of the Enlightenment. Together with concepts such as
reason, virtue, progress, laws and not least humanity, civilisation form part of the political
7arsenal that was released with the French revolution of 1789. As a consequence of the
politisation of civilisation and humanity during the French revolution, the asymmetrical counterconcept becomes linked to the image of the counterrevolutionary enemy who intend to destroy society from the inside. Here we rediscover the classical savage and
8dangerous barbarian more inhuman than ever.
The word civilisation condenses the three basic meanings of the concept.
Civilisation is firstly to be understood as a process of evolution that human societies go through. Most often this process is inserted in a universal history consisting of different actors, places and events. In its first dimension, civilisation is thus a concept of time and movement. Secondly, civilisation designates an ideal condition – the ideal society that the
history of mankind has to reach. Civilisation is the aim of the process of education that any society must pursue. The aim of the ideal society can either be dealt with in a utopian way where the difference to the present is uphold, or it can be located in the present for
7 Koselleck shows how the concept of humanity becomes a battle concept within a new political language (Kosellec 1989: 246-248). In Koselleck‟s view, this “politicisation” (politisierung) and “ideologization” (ideologisierbarkeit) of humanity is part a lager conceptual change related to modernity, cp. Koselleck 1972) 8 Carl Schmitt has contended that the universalistic rhetoric of liberalism to which the concept of humanity belongs logically leads to a radicalisation and „barbarisation‟ of the enemy image: “Die Führung des namens “Menschheit”, die Berufung auf die Menschheit (…) alles das könnte (…) nur den schrecklichen Anspruch manifestieren, daß dem Feind
die Qualität des Menschen abgesprochen, daß er hors-la-loi und hors l’humanité erklärt und dadurch der Krieg zur
aüßersten Unmenschlickeit getrieben warden soll” (Schmitt 1987: 55).
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instance by claiming that a particular society has reached modernity. When Ferguson talked about Europe of his days he always added the adjective modern to indicate that ideal society – civil society – could be found on his own continent. Thirdly, civilisation
means action, that is, the action of civilising. To civilise presupposes a subject that has the capacity and the right to act upon others. As we have seen, the subject position can be
9given to an abstract entity such as humanity. But this still leaves open who is to speak in
the name of this entity. The subject role will be filled out by designations of a less universalistic reach such as the state, the nation or Europe
Although also of an abstract nature, these designations point towards a political vocabulary of representation and action. When linked to (symbolic) political actors, civilisation becomes located in particular political spaces. This linking to space indicates a fourth basic meaning, namely the territorialization of civilisation.
th From the beginning of the 19 century, under the influence of the advancing
nationalism, the concept of civilisation becomes increasingly territorialized. The concept thus enters into a semantic field that is being monopolised by the core concept of nationalist ideology which is culture. Before the nationalist era, culture and civilisation had belonged to the same vocabulary. They both gained meaning as being opposed to nature; they were both used within a discourse on education (Fisch 1993). But with the linking of territory (land) and culture through the political concepts of people and state a clear division of labour between a concept of civilisation the primary meaning of which is temporal, and a concept of culture gives a new meaning to places developed.
This spatial challenge to the concept of civilisation was among others taken up by the French historian and politician François Guizot in a famous series of lectures published in 1828 under the title Historie générale de la civilisation en Europe. In these
lectures, Guizot makes an effort to insert a European history into a universal frame marked by the concept of civilisation. Guizot talks of civilisation as “a general destiny of humanity” (Guizot 1997: 16). Temporal movement is the most important dimension of
civilisation: ”The idea of progress, of development, appears to me the fundamental idea contained in the word civilization” (Guizot 1997: 16). But Guizot also talks about a
European civilisation which signifies “ A certain unity pervade[ing] the civilization of the
various European states (Guizot 1997: 10). According to Guizot, civilisation is not only a
9 In Kant‟s history of philosophy the subject position is given the human beings as a “species”, not a collection of human beings. Only “the species” embodies the idea of humanity. (Kant 1993: 52).
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universal history, but also a supranational entity (a culture in the nationalist language) the
10existence of which is to be observed in European history and in the most advanced
European states. The latter are those states which can be given a privileged position in carrying European civilisation.
The universalistic meaning of civilisation is always related to the temporal
thdimension. This primary meaning is maintained in many 19 century philosophical
constructions of the history of mankind (from Hegel and Marx to Auguste Comte and Henry Thomas Buckle) and in the dominant perceptions of European superiority. But the territorialized understanding of civilisation gains ground, not least as a concept for dividing
thworld history into various macro spheres. In the first half of the 20 century we get the
monumental rewriting of World history with the help of the concept civilisation by Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee (Ifversen 2001). Civilisation is turned into a cultural macro-entity that manifests itself in various minor entities through history. The world histories of Toynbee and Spengler represent the robust appearance of the West as one among several civilisations (Ifversen 2005). It is also in this meaning that Samuel Huntington uses the term to make sense of international relations after the cold war (Huntington 1996). The temporal dimension thus becomes embedded in different spaces of civilisation with various names and each with their own history. For Huntington as for his predecessors evolution can only be conceptualised in the plural. In a universe of more civilisations, the others are not barbarians or less civilised, but the other civilisations. And the risk is not barbarism, but
11a clash of civilisations.
[A section on the relation between existential and political enemies left out]
The word civilisation (in the singular) is still used frequently. On the contrary, references to
12barbarians and to barbarism are less frequent. The concept of civilisation (condensed in
the word) still contains the four basic meanings: evolution, ideal, action and space. But the surrounding semantic fields in which the basic meanings manifest themselves have
10 The purpose of Guizot‟s lectures is precisely to write a European history that makes Europe appear as a civilisation
with universal meaning. 11 Although Huntington strongly tries to adopt a relativistic position there is no doubt from his depiction of the non-Western civilisations that a dose of barbarism can be traced. 12 Barbarism shows 417,000 hits in a simple google search (including references to the historical use), whereas civilization gives 7,8 million hits (without including the British-English spelling with an s).
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changed a great deal since the Enlightenment. The evolutionary processus is no longer
supported by a string philosophy ogf history, although Francis Fukuyama‟s doctrine of the
end of History seemed to indicate a certain revival. The lack of a strong philosophy
does not mean that references to evolution have completely disappeared. As far as ideals are concerned, they have been powerfully coloured by the universalistic rhetoric that became codified in international relations through the creation of the UN and the adoption of the universal declaration of human rights in 1948. Democracy and human rights are now core values in any talk of a universal civilisation. The element of action in civilisation is most often expressed in the moral and legal vocabulary of human rights in which the political actor (e.g. a state) is limited by moral and legal rules. When it comes to the incorporation of civilisation into a given space opinions are divided by those who identifies civilisation rather directly with the West, and those who, in the name the global
13community, refuses to locate civilisation in a particular space.
The barbarian is the eternal strange enemy that keeps appearing when new
threats are discerned. The terrorist attack on 11 September 2001 led to increased semantic activity around the designation of enemies. Already in his first reaction, immediately after the attack, president Bush decided to view the misdeed as a terrorist act directed against the freedom of America (Bush 11.9 2001). On one side stood the “the
mass murder[ing]” terrorists and their allies (”those who harbor them”), on the other side America, ”the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity” (ibid.). Bush did not use the terms barbarian and barbarism. He talked about terror, terrorism and terrorists, which in
many ways fulfil the same functions. As is evident already in his first public speech, Bush uses terror as a political concept – not to say a battle concept – to legitimise a political
action against the perpetrators of the attack. The action will be undertaken as a “war
14against terrorism”. That the terrorist can be likened with the barbarian appears from many, many comments after September 11. Here I shall limit myself to those made by president Bush.
13 The British-Indian writer and Nobel prize winner V.S.Naipaul, in a provocative essay from 1990, entitled Our Universal
Civilisation expressed the view universal civilisation had its core in the West. The famous French sociologist Edgar Morin, who in the late 90‟s launched the concept of a global fatherland, represents the other view. 14 Some scholars have put great effort in presenting terror as an analytical term to be used in conceptualising new post cold war threats, among others the Danish political scientist, Birthe Hansen, who wants “an objective definition” (Hansen 2003). I find this a difficult endeavour, since it must be hard to compete with the widespread political and ideological use of terror!
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