There is always a city. There is always a civilisation. There is always a barbarian with a pickaxe. Sometimes you are the city, sometimes you are the civilisation, but to become that city, that civilisation, you once took a pickaxe and destroyed what you hated, and what you hated was what you did not understand.
The Barbarian hopes — and that is the 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 pains to replace such goods, nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is ever marvelling that civilization, should have offended him with priests and soldiers.... In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this, that he cannot make: that he can befog and destroy but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilization exactly that has been true.We sit by and watch the barbarian. We tolerate him in the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles.
No enemies had ever taken Ankh-Morpork. Well technically they had, quite often; the city welcomed free-spending barbarian invaders, but somehow the puzzled raiders found, after a few days, that they didn't own their horses any more, and within a couple of months they were just another minority group with its own graffiti and food shops.
Youths of the Pellaians and of the Macedonians and of the Hellenic Amphictiony and of the Lakedaimonians and of the Corinthians… and of all the Hellenic peoples, join your fellow-soldiers and entrust yourselves to me, so that we can move against the barbarians and liberate ourselves from the Persian bondage, for as Greeks we should not be slaves to barbarians.
O [Roman] people be ashamed; be ashamed of your lives. Almost no cities are free of evil dens, are altogether free of impurities, except the cities in which the barbarians have begun to live...Let nobody think otherwise, the vices of our bad lives have alone conquered us...The Goths lie, but are chaste, the Franks lie, but are but are generous, the Saxons are savage in cruelty...but are admirable in chastity...what hope can there be [for the Romans] when the barbarians are more pure [than they]?-Salvian
But maybe they were barbarians. Maybe this is what most barbarians look like. They look like everybody else.
In my own opinion, the average American's cultural shortcomings can be likened to those of the educated barbarians of ancient Rome. These were barbarians who learned to speak--and often to read and write--Latin. They acquired Roman habits of dress and deportment. Many of them handily mastered Roman commercial, engineering and military techniques--but they remained barbarians nonetheless. They failed to develop any understanding, appreciation or love for the art and culture of the great civilization around them.
But that so many scholars are barbarians does not much matter so long as a few of them are ready to help with their specialized knowledge the few independent thinkers, that is to say the poets, who try to to keep civilization alive.
There is always a city. There is always a civilization. There is always a barbarian with a pickaxe. Sometimes you are the city, sometimes you are the civilization, but to become that city, that civilization, you once took a pickaxe and destroyed what you hated, and what you hated is what you did not understand.
By the middle twentieth century, few European nation-states had not at one time or another figured themselves as 'the outpost of Western Christian civilisation': France, imperial Germany, the Habsburg Reich, Poland with its self-image as przedmurze (bastion), even tsarist Russia. Each of these nation-state myths identified barbarism as the condition or ethic of their immediate eastward neighbour: for the French, the Germans were barbarous, for the Germans it was the Slavs, for the Poles the Russians, for the Russians the Mongol and Turkic peoples of Central Asia and eventually the Chinese.