The fear of the Barbarians


Todorov, Tzvetan. The fear of the Barbarians.

One of the most interesting books to analyse and realize of the political instability of the planet in our times is the essay written by Tzvetan Todorov (Sofía, 1939) The fear of the Barbarians (2008). In this essay, the author develops a stimulating exposition on the two main emotions which move social, political and economic world: fear and resentment. According to the thinker, the countries that form the political map, may be split in two big groups: the ones which feel the fear and the ones which experience the resentment.

Fear, beautifully analysed by Zygmunt Baumann in his essay Liquid Fear, is a passion which limits freedom and truth. The most developed countries in the world feel fear under some different forms: fear of a terrorist attack, fear of the future, fear of a wave of immigrants, fear of an energy change, fear of an ecologic catastrophe, fear of markets instability. The developing countries suffer from resentment against the rich ones, it is some kind of bitterness which has its origin in colonialism, exploitation and slavery. When comparing quality life between both spheres, fear and resentment appear. Fear erects walls, wire fences, police controls and severe immigration policies. Resentment intoxicates the spiritual life of countries and it becomes apparent under different forms: aggressiveness, violence and, in the worst of the cases, the will to kill.

The human being, moved by the elementary and primary drive of fear, is capable of any atrocity, to become a barbarian, to lie and even to segregate another. The human being driven by resentment, becomes used to causing deep suffering and to channel this passion through technologic mechanisms. The civilization requires the mastering of emotions, selfcontrol, justice, and recognition of rights and equal opportunities. In the heart of terrorism beats the resentment against the Western world and its ways of colonialism. In the West there is a trend to identify the stranger with the barbarian, without considering that the barbarian is not determined by the colour of the skin nor the language, but by his incapability to recognise the dignity of those who are not like him.

The construction of the peace is a hard and difficult task. One of the fundamental obstacles against this task, as it is indicated in the Letter of Peace addressed to the UN, is resentment, but, also fear has to be identified as a barrier since the fear generates distrust and suspicion and makes it impossible to recognise another as a brother in the existence, it also denies that existential fraternity which is the most solid and universal foundation of peace.

Todorov essay is a clear contribution to understand the seriousness of these days. It reminds us that a human being may loose the rights given to him by Society if he infringes its rules but he never may loose his inherent dignity. This stimulating text makes us think whether the fear of Barbarians is not a more primitive and atavistic fear: the fear of the dark side of the human being, the fear of the night sphere of his being.

Francesc Torralba. Doctor of Philosophy.
Director of the Peace Institutes of the Universitas Albertiana.

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