Brutal, uncivilized, alien, inhuman, violent, uneducated – all are the characteristics generally attributed to the barbarian. The ancient Greeks called the world beyond their own culture barbaric. Jesus was a barbarian to the Romans and indeed to the first Christians. Martin Luther proclaimed himself a barbarian, a gesture updated by Adolf Hitler, pleased to be considered "the new barbarian". Today, football hooligans, punks, and skinheads tend to get, and welcome, the "barbarian" tag.
What merit, what fascination attaches itself to the term "barbarian" that it is shared by founders of religions, warlords, dictators, great artists, visionaries and revolutionaries? With his typical sensitivity for hidden motives and traditions in cultural history, literary theorist and critic Manfred Schneider has uncovered a fascinating phenomenon. Down the centuries, barbarians have been regarded as potential destroyers of existing culture and political order but also greeted, even yearned for, as purveyors of hopes and visions, as scourges, innovators and shapers of the future, come to bring new life to decadent and morally bankrupt societies.
Manfred Schneider has analysed barbaric characteristics in Western civilization and, in a most arresting way, reveals the barbarian as the prototype of the human condition. The barbarian has accompanied us from archaic times, he is always at the crossroads of innovation and destruction, between ferocity and sense of purpose. Schneider shows what an important role the idea of the barbarian plays in all of us: as the longed-for hero of the new, the seductive subverter, or the great liberator from imaginary oppression.