The Barbarian hopes—and that is the very mark of him—that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilization has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort, but he will not be at the pains to replace such goods, nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being.
Belloc’s words set me to thinking. Is America well on its way to becoming a nation dominated by barbarians? Are we now a vulgar people, coarse, uncultured, and unfettered from the past?
During my musings I recollected the epitaph on architect Christopher Wren’s crypt inside London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral: “Si monumentum requiris circumspice.” If you would see his monument, look around you.
If you would see barbarians, I thought, look around you. And so I did.
Rather than list the evidence of barbarism I detected on the streets and in the shops of the town where I live, and on the websites I visit daily, I leave it to the reader to look around your own community and decide whether our country is growing more barbaric when compared to the culture of the past. If you decide that such is indeed the case, here are six simple suggestions that may help reverse, or at least stem, that incoming tide.
Spiff up your public image. We’re the first society in history where, in matters of fashion, anything goes. Consequently, everything went. If you want to impact the culture, leave the jammies, T-shirts, and jeans at home. Save the gym wear for the fitness center. Instead, run a brush through your hair and dress as if your appearance mattered. If nothing else, you’ll feel better about yourself. “There is no power without clothes,” wrote Mark Twain. “Clothes and title are the most potent thing, the most formidable influence, in the earth.”
Cut the obscenities. Stop throwing f-bombs. Knock off the casual cursing. Quit playing jacked-up rap while driving with your car windows open. “If thought corrupts language,” George Orwell famously wrote, “language can also corrupt thought.” Crude oil must be refined to be of value and use. The same is true of language.
Brush up your manners. These days, even practicing the basics of etiquette will make you look like Cary Grant or Emily Post. Use “please” and “thank you.” Hold the door open for that elderly lady behind you. Write thank-you notes. Try to pace yourself while eating rather than plowing through a meal like a machine. “Manners maketh man,” runs the old adage. Manners also preserve civilizations.
Respect your neighbors as yourself. If you can’t love them, at least respect them. Until they prove otherwise, the people you meet throughout the day deserve the same regard you desire for yourself. “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” Dr. Seuss famously wrote. This show of respect extends to any politicians, telemarketers, and journalists you may encounter.
Study the past. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s impossible to understand or defend something when you know little about it. “This instinct as to the enduring value of the past is, one might say, the very basis of civilization,” wrote John Jay Chapman in Memories and Milestones. From history we can draw the knowledge and inspiration to face the trials of the present.
Be courageous in defending the truth. Truth and courage may sometimes seem in short supply in 21st century America, but the COVID pandemic, the battles over what our schools should teach, and resistance against the deep state have produced a battalion of mostly unsung heroes, men and women who resisted mockery and threats to stand fast for their beliefs. To preserve a civilization always requires courage. “If the battle for civilization comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians,” Thomas Sowell noted, “the barbarians are going to win.” Be polite, be respectful when possible, but don’t be a wimp.
With the exception of the last two points, these tactics for the preservation of civilization may seem trivial. If we review Belloc’s brief analysis of barbarism, however, we find that fashion, etiquette, respect, and morals are “what civilization has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort.” Learning about the past and defending its truths give us “a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being.”
A garden untended grows only weeds. A civilization neglected will do the same.
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