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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 7/8/20

Barbarism Begins at Home

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Alexander The Great was the Macedonian King, unrivalled military genius and conqueror of the Ancient World.
Alexander The Great was the Macedonian King, unrivalled military genius and conqueror of the Ancient World.
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Greece invented the concept of barbaros. Imperial Rome inherited it as barbarus.

The original meaning of barbaros is rooted in language: an onomatopoeia meaning "unintelligible speech" as people go "bar bar bar" when they talk.

Homer does not refer to barbaros, but to barbarophonos ("of unintelligible speech"), as in those who don't speak Greek or speak very badly. Comic poet Aristophanes suggested that Gorgias was a barbarian because he spoke a strong Sicilian dialect.

Barbaru meant "foreigner" in Babylonian-Sumerian. Those of us who studied Latin in school remember balbutio ("stammer," "stutter," babble").

So it was speech that defined the barbarian compared to the Greek. Thucydides thought that Homer did not use "barbarians" because in his time Greeks "hadn't yet been divided off so as to have a single common name by way of contrast." The point is clear: the barbarian was defined as in opposition to the Greek.

The Greeks invented the barbarian concept after the Persian invasions by Darius I and Xerxes I in 490 and 480-479 BC. After all they had to clearly separate themselves from the non-Greek. Aeschylus staged The Persians in 472 BC. That was the turning point; after that "barbarian" was everyone who was not Greek -- Persians, Phoenicians, Phrygians, Thracians.

Adding to the schism, all these barbarians were monarchists. Athens, a new democracy, considered that to be the equivalent of slavery. Athens extolled "freedom" -- which ideally developed reason, self-control, courage, generosity. In contrast, barbarians -- and slaves -- were childish, effeminate, irrational, undisciplined, cruel, cowardly, selfish, greedy, luxurious, pusillanimous.

From all of the above two conclusions are inevitable.

  1. Barbarism and slavery was a natural match.
  2. Greeks thought it was morally uplifting to help friends and repel enemies, and in the latter case Greeks had to enslave them. So Greeks should by definition rule barbarians.

History has shown that this worldview not only migrated to Rome but afterwards, via Christianity post-Constantine, to the "superior" West, and finally to the West's supposed "end of history": imperial America.

Rome, as usual, was pragmatic: "barbarian" was adapted to qualify anything and anyone that was not Roman. How not to relish the historical irony: for the Greeks, the Romans were also -- technically -- barbarians.

Rome focused more on behavior than race. If you were truly civilized, you would not be mired in the "savagery" of Nature or found dwelling in the outskirts of the world (like Vandals, Visigoths, etc..) You would live right in the center of the matrix.

So everyone who lived outside of Rome's power -- and crucially, who resisted Rome's power -- was a barbarian. A collection of traits would establish the difference: race, tribe, language, culture, religion, law, psychology, moral values, clothing, skin color, patterns of behavior.

People who lived in Barbaria could not possibly become civilized.

Starting from the 16th century, that was the whole logic behind the European expansion and/or rape of the Americas, Africa and Asia, the core of the mission civilisatrice carried as a white man's burden.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)
 

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