|BARBARISM, CULTURE, EMPIRE, UNION|
BOSTON MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
THE word “barbarism” voices the contempt of the Greeks for the peoples of other speech about them. Barbarian (βάρβαρος) is one of the words called onomatopoetic, whose sense is in its sound. It sounds like mere mouthing, and “bellower” or “inarticulate speaker” is its original sense. A barbarian meant to the Greeks one denied the main channel of human sympathy—the gift of comprehensible utterance. His language is pure babble. The word traces the undeveloped manners, customs, polity, trade, craftsmanship, art, science, religion, of rude communities back to mutual misunderstanding among their members. They are barbarians because unable to take each other’s point of view. A custom is barbarous when it can not be followed without offending the sensibilities of others. A punishment is barbarous when its anguish to the victim would stay the executioner’s hand were he really alive to it. Mr. Chesterton has just told us that the barbarian is he who “lacks that little mirror in the mind in which we see the mind of the other man”; or, to vary the phrase, “in which we see what the other man has a mind to.”
The opposite of barbarism we call culture. Culture is the reflection within my mind of what my neighbor has a mind to. We owe the word to the Latins, who applied their term for “care” or “tillage” to that mellowed condition of the mental soil in which we come to feel things as other men have felt them. The culture of an individual is the whole body of the ideals he has absorbed from others. The culture of a nation, race or period is the sum and substance of the ideals transmitted from one individual to another until they have become the common property of all within its limits. It is in this collective sense that we speak of Swedish culture, Latin culture, the culture of the Renaissance. Civilization implies culture. The multiplication of common observances, common achievements, is impossible without mutual understanding, without tastes and aspirations shared. A civilization is a precipitate of all the ideals current among its citizens.
High civilization tends to confirm what it leaves of man’s native barbarism. The argument “Our ways are good; therefore no other ways are worth notice” is a non-sequitur dear to the human mind. The legendary order of Caliph Omar for the destruction of the Alexandrian Library bespoke culture and barbarism at once: “If these books con-