For many, the onset of Autumn signifies the start of the new academic year. For some, including myself, it rather means the beginning of the Sisyphossian labour called ‘university applications’. As I have to write a fresh research proposal in the coming weeks, I would like to dedicate this blog post to putting some thoughts on paper about the kind of research I can see myself doing in the coming years, in a relatively ‘safe’ and informal environment – as a kind of exercise in self-help. What kind of issues trigger my interest most within the intellectual space comprising Classics, Political Thought, and the Humanities more broadly? Is there a pattern discernable within the topics I have already worked on in the past? Is it possible, in the course of this blog post, to come to a rough sketch of my research proposal?
If there is one topic that has never ceased to captivate the (largely Western) political imagination, it is the civilisation-barbarism complex. Any superficial knowledge of the course of human history must include also knowledge of considerable cruelty, ignorance and hatred. For some scholars, the study of history provides plenty of reason to plunge into great pessimism about the future of civilisation, and about its ability to withstand the barbarians – who are always imagined ad portas; already ‘at the gates’ of human compassion, insight, and love. For the great English historian Eric Hobsbawm, for example, civilisation had receded to make way to the tide of barbarism since at least the start of the First World War.