And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?They were, those people, a kind of solution.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Civilization and Barbarism
By WILLIAM KRISTOL
How many times in the last century have these concluding lines of C. P. Cavafy’s famous 1898 poem, “Waiting for the Barbarians,” been quoted? How many modern intellectuals have pondered the subversive implications of that sophisticated question?
It’s an interesting question. But it turned out to be a hypothetical one. The 20th century didn’t lack for barbarians. Indeed, modern barbarism proved more dangerous than the old-fashioned kind. As Churchill put it in his great House of Commons speech on June 18, 1940, after the fall of France, rallying Britain against the National Socialist tyranny in Germany: “But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”
Of course, Churchill and Britain—joined by the United States and the Soviet Union—prevailed. We averted a new dark age.
But we didn’t enter a new age of enlightenment. The Soviet threat replaced the Nazi one. The barbarism of Mao and Pol Pot matched the worst of what had gone before. And the end of the Cold War didn’t mean an end to the assaults on civilization—foremost among them the attacks of 9/11.
The bombs on Patriots’ Day in Boston brought a fresh reminder, if any were needed, that there are still those who would send us into a new dark age. And the trial of the murderer-abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia reminds us that other barbarous things are being done in our midst. So there are still, in the enlightened and progressive 21st century, barbarians at the gates—and, sadly, within the gates.