The Barbarians Are Coming


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There is a pervasive metaphor circulating in our time concerning the problematic future of the West in what Samuel Huntington called “the clash of civilizations” between a distracted and indifferent Occident and a resurgent Islam. It operates as a historical analogy that appears to have lodged in Western consciousness, namely, the fate of Imperial Rome, which succumbed to the twin forces of economic collapse from within and barbarian invasions from without.

The correlation was introduced most powerfully into Western historical discourse by Oswald Spengler who, in The Decline of the West, published in the wake of the First World War, developed the notion of historical “contemporaneity.” According to Spengler, this needs to be understood as a function of “corresponding phases” and “chronological parallels” between civilizations, so that, in the evolution of historical periods, the Pyramids would be “contemporary” with the Gothic cathedrals. In this sense we would be “contemporary” with late fourth century-early fifth century Rome. As Spengler put it, we are a civilization “los[ing] its desire to be, and, as in Imperial Rome, wish[ing] itself out of the overlong daylight and back into the darkness…”

Of course, such apocalyptic predictions have been made many times before, perhaps most famously by Horace in Epode 16 where he notes that Rome is about to do what its enemies never could, namely, destroy itself: “Let us be on our way, all citizens,/or those above the dull-witted herd: defeatists and weaklings/can rest indolently on their unlucky beds.” But Horace was quilling his premonitory lines many centuries before the slowly-gestating cataclysm came to pass and seemed to be indulging a standard poetic trope of the end of days. After Spengler, given two world wars, a host of comparatively lesser conflicts (though with enormous casualties) and the events of our own bloody century, it is clear that we are no longer dealing with a poetic fancy or an orthodox meme of historical speculation.

Pope Benedict XVI’s critical essay, “If Europe Hates Itself,” written in his former incarnation as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and mourning the apparent disintegration of Europe, brings Spengler’s thesis into the present moment. The Pope soberly declares that “Europe appears to be on the way out. There is a strange lack of desire for a future.” He is alluding primarily to the demographic fact that Europe has ceased to reproduce itself and is crawling toward self-extinction. The original locus of the democratic West has grown moribund, which would also explain its inability to recognize that it is under sustained attack by a triumphalist Islam or to mobilize its legal and political resources to resist the assault upon its physical and cultural integrity. “We are forced,” Benedict continues, “to make comparisons with the Roman Empire at the time of its decline: it still worked as a great historical framework, but in practice it was already living off those who would dissolve it, since it had no more vital energy.”

Edward Gibbon, we recall, attributed the fall of Rome to both “the triumph of barbarism” and the devitalizing effect of Christianity. Yet it was the militant expression of Christian civilization that later prevented the premature end of the still nascent West. Failing the victory at the Battle of Tours in 732, “Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran,” Gibbon wrote, belatedly giving Western Christendom its due, “would now be taught in the schools of Oxford” and the revelation of Mohammed would have been carried “to…the highlands of Scotland.” It was a very close call.

Today we are facing a similar menace even if the morphology of the conflict has changed. Sporadic outbursts of terrorism allied with the furtive and consistent infiltration of the cultural groundwork—including Oxford and Scotland—are  gradually tilting the balance in favor of the Muslim advance into the Western heartland. At the same time Western resilience has atrophied and seems unable to produce a modern counterpart of Charles Martel—Charles the Hammer—determined to meet the enemy on its own bellicose terms. “It is unfortunate that in these dark days,” writes Robert Spencer, “we don’t seem to have any leaders who will stand up for freedom of expression.” In fact, we don’t seem to have any leaders who are prepared to stand up in any meaningful way whatsoever for the nations they were elected to serve and protect. “Every reasonable politician,” said Geert Wilders in a speech delivered in Berlin on October 2 of this year, “has a political obligation to preserve [Judeo-Christian and humanist values] against ideologies that threaten them.” It seems, however, that reason is now at a discount and a “reasonable politician” has become, at best, a living oxymoron or, at worst, a dead man talking.

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  • Coupal

    There is one major difference between the demise of Rome from the onslaught of the barbarians in that eventually these very same barbarians became Christians thereby developing a Judeo-Christian society. This will not happen to the Muslims. Islam is a political ideology under the guise of a religion. That is what makes it so insidious and so dangerous. We are headed for a new Dark Age from which it will be all but impossible to extract ourselves unless we elect leaders with some moral backbone.

    • tanstaafl

      Your observation that Islam is a political ideology with the trappings of religion is spot on. Why we treat Islam in the west as a religion is beyond me.

      • intrcptr

        Islam is still a pre-Enlightenment thought realm. Just like the Romans religion IS politics.
        If anything it is merely a curious flaw in Enlightenment thought, rejecting the idea that the two could plausibly entwined. Jefferson's dictum only works when not confronted with such ancient thinking.

  • badaboo

    WHAT !? I've heard nothing from Palin , that I haven't heard from the rest , with very few exception . She parrots euphemisms that every one wants to hear , but as far as recognizing and facing the new enemy ….well someone would need to grab her by the shoulders and point her in the right direction .
    If you're looking for a modern day " Hammer " in the political arena , only ONE name comes to mind – N.Y.Congressman PETE KING .

    • Triple_AAA

      Back in August, Peter King said this “I support mosques, obviously,” . “I visited many mosques before Sept. 11, and I was one of the first to defend the Muslim community after Sept. 11.”

      He's more of a toothpick than a hammer !

  • http://apollospaeks.townhall.com ApolloSpeaks

    When did the advance of totalitarian Islam into Europe's heartland begin?

    Click my name and read my piece "A Mosque in Munich: The Rise of the Moslem Brotherhood in Europe." It's an eyeopener.

    • tanstaafl

      Nice article and, of course, another book I should read.

  • Mike

    John Bolton. He seems the best right now.

  • Wesley69

    A very interesting comparison except where Rome's decline took place, our own will occur in less time due to the rapid changes of society and technology. Should the barbarians (Iran) develop nuclear weapons, how long will it be before one finds its way into Paris, London or Atlanta? Sure, the US would retaliate, but the leaders of Iran are religious fanatics who desire to go out in a blaze of glory. Then again, if that happens, WWIII would most probably begin and the result would be world-wide destruction.

    • mac

      Will we retaliate? Besides the fact that most of our politicians are week-kneed, self-absorbent, out for them selves … well .. politicians, there may be no way of knowing where the nuke came from! The nuke, material and/or technology will be proliferated to others. This will be just the excuse the politician will need to NOT ACT.

  • Wesley69

    Rome suffered from a moral decay within – bread & circuses – loss of civic pride – political corruption, constant civil wars, when the conquests stopped, the spoils of war – gold and slaves stopped, an imbalance of trade with the East , plagues, currency inflation, higher taxes with declining services. In 378, the dam broken and the barbarians invaded. By 476, Rome was no more.

    If you compare the West ( US & Europe) with Rome, it is astounding to see so many parallels. We have our bread and circuses, our political battles, trade imbalances, higher taxes and mass migrations into Europe and the US. As the Romans grew soft, so have we as we seek the luxuries that the 21st century has to offer. Labor that we use to do, is now done by workers from outside our borders. Naturally, this labor force wants to stay. But as Pope Benedict correctly recognized, the West’s declining birthrate will lead to extinction. However, the immigrants (Mexican or Muslim) will, in time, become the majority. At that point Western civilization will be a thing of the past.

    • ajnn

      loss of civic pride and economic uncertainty were, in my opinion, the most destructive elements of later Roman society.

      I feel that the 'fall of rome' can be dated top the introduction of 'lombard law' into northern italy.

      This signalled that the barbarians no longer wanted too be 'romans'.e was no longer any pride in roman citizenship. that being so, the idea of rome was dead and the body followed.

      The idea of America and the dignity and pride in the United Strates is a precious and irreplaceable resource. Once lost, there is no more United States.

  • Triple_AAA

    Great job Mr. Solway ! this is one of the best articles I've read so on Frontpage. Charles Martel is arguably the greatest hero and savior of Western civilization. I would also mention his grandson Emporer Charlemagne who single handedly defeated the pagans in Europe and established Christianity which has lasted there for well over a thousand years. I would also like to add Pelagius of Asturias to that list, who defeated the Moors at the Battle of Covadonga which marked the beginning of the Reconquista of Spain.

    • roger

      I agree. This is one of the most succinct and concise articles I've come across summing up the existential crisis we are faced with. Truly awesome.

  • Phineas

    "You Fools! You're In Danger! THEY'RE HERE ALREADY!!!! YOU'RE NEXT!!!! YOU'RE NEXT!!!!"

    Kevin McCarthy,Invasion of The Body Snatchers( The original,of course )

    • BS77

      Excellent analogy. Also the Head Mullah can be seen in Orwell's 1984 as BIG BROTHER….WHere the conquered sheeple finally submit and learn to love their enslaver and oppressor.

  • USMCSniper

    We have reached a point after two generations of prgressive education where most of our indoctrinated leadership has adopted of begging the alligator (Islam) to eat us ( make us dhimmis and adapt our western culture to Sharia Law) last.

  • Triple_AAA

    I think we have worse odds than even Rome had back in their day. The Supreme Court will become the biggest obstacle to a democratically led resistance to islam. If we were to ban the burqa or the construction of minarets, even it we had say 90% support, the leftist Supreme Court will always favor the muslims. Today in America we have a tyranny of the courts! We need to rethink the Constitution as it is written, maybe the Supreme Court should not hold as much power as it does over our society. We cannot afford another 10 years to wait before we have a more conservative Court!

  • BS77

    USMC sniper has it right……appeasement, submission, passivity, indecision and inaction over immigration (legal and illegal) is driving our Titanic right into the iceberg.
    ONe of the most peculiar features of leftist-liberalism is the tendency to feel protecting oneself is somehow morally objectionable….protecting one's land, culture, society and traditions are somehow irrational or suspect. This is why Michael Savage declared "Liberalism is a mental disorder" Allowing millions of non assimilating hostile ingrates….legal and illegal to flood into a nation…such as ours, is nothing short of a catastrophe, especially when our population is very high, jobs are scarce, and the resources, water, schools, roads, social services are barely adequate for US citizens.

  • http://senatormark4.org SenatorMark4

    It is so sad to see so many well written comments to a great article which basically recognize that we've given up in the fight against Islamic encroachment. We're lost. We're not being helped by the elites either. It is really simple here I think. Ideological wars are fought on ideology. Select the three parts of the Constitution that you think define freedom and no visas, grants, aid, military assistance can flow to those tyrannies that do not embrace them. My feelling is that the First Amendment and Second Amendment define the essence of freedom and Article 1, section 2 (vote tax man EVERY two years) defines the freedom from worrying about a government gone bad for a couple years and gives us the patience of Americans. Fight FOR freedom. Let the muslims fight against it!

    • ajnn

      "no visas, grants, aid, military assistance can flow to those tyrannies that do not embrace them" – not a bad idea.

  • Wesley69

    While Rome fell in 476, the Eastern half, the Byzantine Empire survived. It, withstood the Muslim advances until 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. Why did the East survive?

    To sum it up: religion, a single language, a long history, good defenses & technology, smart diplomacy, a strong navy, a good balance of trade based on a strong currency, a unique industry. The biggest problems it had were power struggles, crazy or inept rulers, plagues, major military disasters that cost them territory – natural resources, people. How does Europe & the US survive? We have the tools. More than the Byzantines. The question is, do we have the will or do we surrender?

    A further look at Byzantium is on the next post.

  • Wesley69

    The Byzantine Empire was a theocratic state where the Emperor was head of the church. The Catholic Church, then later, the Eastern Orthodox was central to these people, to whom religion was a rallying cry. Greek replaced Latin as the language of the empire. They purged their army of the barbarian elements, so the fox wasn’t guarding the hen house any longer. That had helped destroy Rome by 476. It used diplomacy as a weapon of war, even deflecting invading barbarians toward the Western Empire, or making alliances with an enemy to defeat another more powerful enemy. Barbarians, the Muslims 717-718, that did attack, could not penetrate Constantinople’s impregnable walls, or defeat its navy that used a unique weapon called Greek fire. It reestablished its currency, through trade. After stealing silkworms from China, it created an imperial monopoly for that product The golden solidus became the coin of choice in the East and West. By 565, under the Emperor Justinian I, the Byzantines reconquered Northern Africa, Italy, and part of Spain, which had been part of the old Roman Empire. After the Muslims, in their major conquests on the 600’s, the empire was reduced to modern day Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia and Southern Italy. It fell in 1204 in the 4th Crusade to the West and though it was reconstituted in 1261, it never regained the power it once had. It’s last emperor died defending his city.

  • mac

    Yes. I think so, but not the brains and wisdom. We can do better.

  • http://www.one-tree-hill-full-episodes.com/ wasslinn

    There is one most important divergence among the downfall of Rome from the attack of the barbarians in that sooner or later these very similar barbarians became Christians in this manner mounting a Judeo-Christian civilization.

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  • ObamaYoMoma

    Please! Sarah Palin, like most Republican politicians as well, doesn’t have a clue about Islam. She still thinks Islam is a Religion of Peace™ being hijacked by extremists like most Republicans.

    Moreover, Sarah Palin also claims there must be a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which like Juan McPain she claims isn’t amnesty.

  • http://mypage.direct.ca/l/lbouchar/ SeaMystic

    The undermining of Democratic societies has to deal with the Closet Communist and their treachery. In the Leftist alligance with Islam to break all Democracies you need only look at Iran in the last 30 years. Nearly 130,000 leftists have been executed or imprisoned and tortured by their Islamic captors. You are utterly stupid too to assist in the World Caliphate development, for death will be your reward. Reminds me of Stalin's cooperation with Hitler in the early phase of the second world war, which eventually caused many added millions of casualties for the Russian population.

    THE FLAME OF FREEDOM SPEAKS!

  • 080

    I prefer Pitirim Sorokin's description and empirical presentation of sensate, idealistic, and ideal societies. We are in late sensate and it looks like we are approaching the end of our tether. In the past there was a reaction to societal disintegration. The swing is between ideal and sensate societies. It may be that we are already seeing the swing back from Sorokin's sensate society.

  • Triple_AAA

    I will seriously take him into consideration for the next Republican candidate! What is your take on Newt Gingrich?

    • ObamaYoMoma

      Gingrich’s main problem is he is more of an establishment Republican than a true conservative. Instead of always putting conservatism first, Gingrich often puts the Republican Party first.

      On Islam and the threat to freedom it represents, he is finally beginning to make progress, but at this point he still has a pretty long way to go.

      I’m hoping with the completion of Frank Gaffney’s Team B II report that the understanding of the threat to freedom that Islam represents will finally filter down on the right. http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/p18523.xml

  • http://www.facebook.com/al-kidya Kim Bruce

    Coupal , you are so right.
    And I hate to tell David this but the Barbarians are already inside the gates.
    The've infiltrated our armies, our politics, marvelously deceived our religous leaders, and are tearing our culture apart limb by limb. The last act of victory is the removal of the head of our government, decapitated slowly using a "rusty knife".

  • Katia

    Well, it looks like it's time to go and blow up mosques and chop off the heads of muslims. I don't even feel inclined to give them the opportunity to convert to atheism.