Friday, November 30, 2007

"barbarians at the gates"

While we are talking about movies, "Barbarians at the Gates"is a movie from Quebec that I will enroll in the Whig canon; the title is particularly evocative these days. (The "barbarians" in this case are Americans.) The barbarian oligarchs and television evangelists who seized control of the Republican Party and, briefly, all three branches of the federal government, have an uncomfortable similarity to the Saudi and Wahabbi families in the Arabian peninsula (see the fine book by John R. Bradley, available at who are systematically dismantling the ancient and largely peaceful civilizations that have fallen under their rule. Just now we are watching the relentless polarization of the Middle East by allied gangs of barbarians, ours among them. A "peace" process that excludes rival gangs of Iranian tyrants and their allies in Gaza and Lebanon, and is evidently aimed at destroying them, is likely to lead to further destruction of ancient civilizations on the battleground, as rival mobs engage. Poor old Henry James condemned the barbarian of his day, the emperor of Germany, who plunged Europe into war and treated whole nations as mere means to an end. But James was optimistic, and in the long run - although it has been a very long run indeed - I think he was right to be hopeful. Civilization is sturdy.

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