Barbarism versus civilisation: Hobsbawm, Herodotus, and… Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal-Eating
Promotional poster for NBC’s Hannibal. Photo by Robert Trachtenberg.

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.

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