Our era is closely connected with the ‘digital revolution’ that has irreversibly extended humanity’s capacity for progress. This is especially clear when one compares the digital revolution with innovations across the entirety of human history.
Meanwhile, the topic of ‘barbarism’ remains on political agenda; this is a phenomenon antithetical to civilisational achievements. Barbarism is mentioned when discussing extremely aggressive inter-ethnic clashes and inter-religious conflicts and is used conceptually to signify destruction of historical and cultural monuments. Barbarism is also discussed in reference to something else: as a by-product of a contemporary civilisation that oversimplifies culture, the dissemination of ideas about the world, and the realities of humanity, and does so at the level of collective consciousness.
The topic of barbarism is important for contemporary scientific agendas. Sociologists, psychologists, and ethnologists study issues relating to barbarism and try to find an explanation for its social roots, in order to better understand the nature of ethnic and religious conflicts, and the psychology behind terrorism.
In this essay, we will approach barbarism from an academic point of view, as a complicated socio-cultural and political phenomenon, which has appeared across historical eras, regions, and civilisations in different ways. We examine two concepts of barbarism: the first, horizontal barbarism, which is closer to traditional interpretations of barbarism. The second is ‘vertical barbarism’ (Rathenau in Ortega y Gasset, 1929), which entails making social realities rougher, simpler, and more primitive.
Whereas the first notion is related to direct clashes between different ethnic groups, religions, and civilisations, the second concept refers to complicated social processes, primarily involving powerful vertical mobility, with increasing opportunities for different groups of people to gain access to the advanced achievements of human civilisation.
The contemporary era is unique: despite the massive technological progress associated with globalisation, which many argue is supposed lead to the unification and standardisation of social reality, discrepancies between social and economic patterns of life remain, and different civilisations and political regimes interact with one another in complicated ways.
In our research, we do not consider barbarism some sort of evil personified by ‘bad guys’, a notion that contradicts and hinders the ongoing progress of human civilisation. Such an approach might result in the illusion that barbarism can be easily eliminated. Adhering to such a fallacy must be avoided so that accurately informed decisions can be made. For the authors, barbarism, whether it is ‘horizontal’ or ‘vertical’, is a phenomenon inseparable from human civilisation’s development, and in most cases, is neither reactionary nor a ‘force of reaction’.
The progress of human civilisation, while reducing the likelihood of barbarism, creates certain conditions for its sudden appearance in unexpected and illogical circumstances. That is why the main goal of this essay is to understand the processes that lead to barbarism, and how barbarism can be weakened. We see the fight for the diminished influence of barbarism, and its consequent marginalisation, as a complicated process, based on a deep understanding of the mechanisms of barbarism’s evolution.
Thus, we employ a historical approach that makes it possible to better understand the reasons for the increase in barbarous activity and helps reveal the characteristics of its evolution. The essay begins with a theoretical analysis of the phenomenon of socio-cultural and political barbarism. Then we analyse this with reference to specific historical periods, countries, and regions.
‘Horizontal barbarism’: the most ancient phenomenon in the history of humanity
In the modern lexicon, the term barbarism stands for the purposeful destruction of civilisation or culture. What can be classified as horizontal barbarism has been recognised since antiquity, when less developed nomadic tribes launched destructive attacks and destroyed the first organised ‘states’ and civilisations.
Later, in the medieval period, horizontal barbarism expanded as a historical phenomenon. It represented not only as the destruction of more developed populations by those that were less developed, but also the reverse. For example, Spanish conquistadors, who personified the more technically developed European civilisations, destroyed the empires of the Aztecs and Incas, along with the indigenous populations’ unique cultures.
During the era of colonialism in the nineteenth century, European empires caused serious losses for many cultures in Asia and Africa. And in the twentieth century, Nazi Germany, a country with one of the highest levels of technological development, cruelly destroyed the cultural achievements of the European countries it invaded. The phenomenon of horizontal barbarism is typically a product of conflict between countries or civilisations with different stages of development. However, gaps in levels of development have not always been present.
For example, European colonialists in the nineteenth century were several steps ahead of the countries in Asia and Africa that they conquered, in terms of technological development. But there was no such gap between Nazi Germany and the European states it invaded. In any case, these conflicts are of the same nature: invaders trying to subdue territory they do not own, and taking control of its resources. To achieve this goal, they destroy the local culture as they deprive the local people of their intellectual and moral sources of resistance.
In this text we use an academic approach to analyse the term ‘barbarism’, in order to get rid of its ideological content, to consider it as one of the objectively inevitable tendencies of development, and to maintain, as advocated by Edward Said, a “distinction between pure and political knowledge” (Said, 1978, p. 9).
Our reflections are not based on a critique of barbarism. Instead, we discuss its role and its evolution at different stages of history. We pay special attention to this phenomenon in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Additionally, the characteristics of an individual’s barbarism, within the context of his historical era, can appear moral from certain viewpoints. His behaviour can be considered quite ethical, or it can correspond to the social norms of his environment, society and even the entire civilisation. In this respect, even a barbarous, wild nomad is a ‘good person’ when following the norms of his historical era, e.g., a Spanish conquistador, or even a cannibal. However, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the picture looks more complicated and ambiguous.
For example, a barbarian today seems to be easily distinguishable when held against the behavioural norms and values of contemporary society. Moreover, barbaric behaviour is condemned from the viewpoint of those who dictate what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’. However, the technological progress and continuous development of human civilisation will not bring an end to barbarism. Rather, progress and development are accompanied by the modified reproduction of barbarism at every new stage.
The emergence of vertical barbarism and its nature
The appearance of this new kind of barbarism dates back to the first decades of the twentieth century. That was the time when one of the greatest social and cultural shifts in the history of humanity took place. All societies that had existed before, including their political systems, economies, and culture, were used to meet the interests of the ruling minorities. In the first third of the twentieth century large populations from non-elite circles became politically active, thanks to the widespread right of universal suffrage. Previously, such political involvement was only seen during revolutions, civilian riots, and civil and religious wars.
These emerging groups also become the major consumers of material benefits, as the economy changed to satisfy mass demand. Similar changes can be seen in the culture of this period as well. The phenomenon of a ‘mass culture’ appeared: a large segment of the population broke through class barriers to become political, social, economic, and cultural actors with direct influence on the development of human civilisation. Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1929) defined this breakthrough as ‘The Revolt of the Masses’.
German politician, industrialist, entrepreneur, and financial expert Walther Rathenau used the term “vertical invasion of barbarians” (vertical barbarism), which has a symbolic meaning. In his opinion, ‘new barbarians’ were invading civilisations that had become industrialised by that time (Rathenau in Ortega y Gasset, 1929). But in this case, the invasion was carried out not from the outside, but from within the developed society.
What was the reason for the political and social thinkers of the time to characterise the rise of the masses as vertical barbarism? Well, thanks to ‘liberal democracy’, ‘experimental science’, and ‘industry’, which had created a new ‘space’ for human existence, a person from the masses was able to emerge from the social depths and stand in the foreground of public and political life. Ortega y Gasset defines a ‘man from the masses’ as the type who “believes that only he exists, and he gets the habit not to take into consideration anybody else’s thoughts, and most importantly – he doesn’t think that somebody else can be better than him”; i.e., he wants to gain all the material benefits of civilisation right here right now (Ortega y Gasset, 1929, p. 57).
But at the same time, a ‘true barbarian’ does not accept civilisation’s fundamentals; he is hostile towards its representatives, who embody its values and cultural codes. He denies the foundation of civilisation based on the experience referred to as “the restraint of power, reducing its role to ultima ratio” (Ortega y Gasset, 1929, p. 72). For a ‘man from the masses’ the most important thing is the desire to impose his will on everyone. This individual is self-sufficient; he is completely confident and therefore ready to justify any of his actions and deeds. Also, to some extent, in terms of philosophy and psychology, this ‘man from the masses’ can be compared to a terrorist who thinks he bears responsibility only to God and to himself.
Here Ortega y Gasset has a clear understanding of the nature of vertical barbarism. It has two dimensions. The first one is of a socio-cultural nature, falling within the gap between rapid technological progress and the much slower changes in human nature and society. In other words, vertical barbarism is based on the break between the advancement of human civilisation in its entirety, and the specific characteristics of given cultures.
The problem is, ‘civilisation’, as created by humans, is of an artificial nature and that is why it requires constant support and modification (Ortega y Gasset, 1929, p. 83-84).
‘Culture’, according to the definition of Russian social scientist Sergei Alexeyev, is “the objective expression and accumulator of human creativity, material and spiritual wealth, and social values which are accumulated by the society” (Alexeyev, 2000, pp. 19-20). In other words, culture is a kind of accumulator that combines the spiritual heritage and values that different civilisations produce.
Historically, the culture of the masses is resistant to what is complex and artificial. For example, we can remember the persecution against avant-garde artists in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1960s, which was excused by authorities because the art was not understood by the population at large.
The gap between civilisation and culture became even more significant following the formation of ‘consumer society’ that took place in the second third of the twentieth century in most developed countries. The digital revolution at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century significantly extended possibilities for consumers.
A society in which millions of people are focused mainly on consumption and entertainment, combined with increasingly complicated technology, an array of items for consumption, and a diversity of methods of consumption, begins to lose its ability for self-reflection, compassion, sacrifice, risk, and noble actions. In other words, it loses the qualities which, in the course of developments over thousands of years, helped humanity separate itself from the realm of nature and create civilisations. In this respect, vertical barbarism is of a mass, and even global, nature.
The second dimension of vertical barbarism is political. The large-scale historical transition in which mass society emerged became possible during the period of mature industrial capitalism. The model of capitalism that existed in the first third of the twentieth century, and which was created by the bourgeoisie for the bourgeoisie (Hobsbawm, 1999, p. 12), could no longer satisfy the growing needs of the mass population. This model appeared to exclude most people and did not take into consideration their interests. In developed countries, political systems were based on the principles of separation of power, and political and economic freedom.
Therefore, in many countries, the transition from capitalism for the minority to capitalism for the masses was accompanied by a denial of a model based on principles of competition and coexistence in politics. The masses wanted the entirety of the power, which would provide ‘fair’ distribution of public benefits, without waiting for or paying attention to laws or complex legislative procedures.
The first experience of ‘the rebels’
During the Fordist period when the prevailing form of economic activity was related to mass production, alternative social projects began to gain popularity. The projects were based on the idea of a ‘factory-state’, which, thanks to centralised control, was allegedly capable of distributing material and cultural benefits to society fairly. It was primarily the Social Democratic and Socialist parties who promoted these projects. And not without reason.
The demand for such ‘state’ projects had grown during the world economic crisis of 1929-1939. Social initiatives were able to strengthen the presence of the masses in politics, economics, and culture, providing new ‘social elevators’. The state and its representatives were growing fast and they appealed to the masses for support, including enabling an increasing number of citizens from under-privileged groups to take part.
In this respect, it is appropriate to mention Ortega y Gasset’s idea that the main political threat of “global leadership of the masses” is “a completely state-oriented life, enlargement of power, the state’s suppression of any kind of social independence”. This threat is a result of the attitude that “if the country experiences some sort of hardships, conflicts, issues, a man from the masses will try to do his best for the authorities to interfere with the problem and take responsibility, for the authorities to apply their reliable and limitless means”. On the other hand, a man from the masses wants “without any efforts, without any doubts, without fight and risk, just pushing a button, to launch the miraculous device [the state]”, right here and right now, to get all the material benefits of civilisation (Ortega y Gasset, 1929, pp. 112-113).
The growing position of state-oriented projects in the political sphere, aimed at centralising control, was accompanied by a renunciation of traditional liberal democracy, with the partition of power seen as an ineffective model, unable to reconcile and balance conflicting class interests. But even when liberal democracy was not discredited (the US for example), the role of the state in economics and social life grew significantly, causing antagonism from supporters of classical liberalism.
In European capitalist countries, where the economic crisis of the 1920s and 1930s was particularly serious, state-oriented models were in demand, as democratic traditions were weak and democratic institutions were inefficient in many countries. And in those countries ‘the revolt of the masses’ led to the rise of the Nazis and other fascist and autocratic regimes (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia). Obviously, the popular opposition to the traditional European liberalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which right-wing autocratic and totalitarian regimes used in their political platforms, contributed to the fact that fascism became an ideology of the masses.
During the global economic crisis of 1929-1939, when it was clear that traditional liberal democracies were not capable of securing basic social rights for common citizens, a very important element of political behaviour amongst the revolting masses appeared. When the man from the masses felt that the state had ‘abandoned’ him, his behaviour towards the authorities became purely destructive; to respond to his ‘abandonment’ he reacted with destructive social energy, as an offended and angry teenager would do.
The masses intruded into political space and like ‘barbarians’, without thinking of the consequences, broke political rules, trying to “assert and impose themselves – their views, desires, obsessions, tastes and anything else” (Ortega y Gasset, 1929, p.61). As a rule, such a ‘vertical intrusion of barbarians’ into politics takes place under the nationalist-populist banner. It can have significant influence on methods of political control, and can even cause qualitative changes in the ruling political regime, resulting in regret for many that had facilitated this type of development.
Soviet Communism became another alternative to ineffective liberal-democratic capitalism at the beginning of twentieth century. Amid the crisis-based development of human civilisation after World War One, and the realisation of the drawbacks of democratic institutions and their mechanisms of distribution, the communist model, which was strictly state-oriented, seemed to be a more effective tool for establishing a fair social order for the growing masses.
The communist project gained popularity in different countries. However, before World War Two it was established only in the Soviet Union. At the mature stage of its development, known as ‘Stalinism’, the project provided millions of workers and peasants a way up the social ladder. But for the sake of social wellbeing the masses had to sacrifice elementary rights and freedoms, and form a collective base to support the communist regime.
The masses felt that Stalinism, with its super-centralisation and total control over society, created a system that ensured a fair distribution of resources. Stalinism altered the position of ‘the man from the masses’ in that it opposed cultural innovations; had a selective and pragmatic attitude towards cultural heritage as a tool for certain political tasks; entailed a critical rejection of personal freedom, human rights, and individualism; and rejected many of human history’s ethical norms.
In fact, Stalinism was not just focused on the man from the masses. It created a certain kind of man, deemed “a simple Soviet person … coded in songs” (Levada & Notkina, 1989, p. 11-24). In this political enclave, the phenomenon of a ‘revolt of the masses’ was revealed much later, in the form of “the revolt of the Soviet masses” (Nisnevich, 2012) only after the collapse of the communist regime and the demise of the USSR in 1991.
At the same time, all totalitarian regimes during this period preached and enacted state-oriented doctrines. They used any means necessary to implement these doctrines in order to strengthen and fortify the national state. Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, had a brief definition for it: “Everything is inside the state, nothing outside the state. Nobody against the state”. (“Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato”) (Mussolini, 1925).
As a result, ideological tasks and political practices led to a situation where millions of human lives were sacrificed for the sake of totalitarian ideologies, and World War Two was unleashed.
Thus, the first half of the twentieth century revealed an important social feature related to ‘the revolt of the masses’. This can help us better understand the reasons for the emergence of the new ‘wave of barbarism’ that is currently taking place. It appears at a transitional period, as a response, and as an attempt, to find an alternative to the profound systemic crisis of the capitalist model.
The man from the masses, who appeared because of this failing system, had become an important social and political actor by the beginning of the twentieth century. He felt that the benefits of civilisation had evaded him. As a result, he ‘revolted’, resulting in incalculable losses for humanity.
The problem of the majority and the responsible minority: a reference to ‘the revolt of the masses’
Still, the implementation of state-oriented and totalitarian models of governance, as a result of successful mass revolts, did not produce a political dominance of the majority. Very soon, in countries with totalitarian and state-oriented regimes, the new minorities – the political elite – monopolised power yet again. The state-oriented political systems were uncontrolled by the masses, although the elite spoke on their behalf.
Thus, the man from the masses took an active part in the formation of the new ruling minority, its cultural trajectory and its cultural stereotypes, but did not attain political power. At the same time, the man from the masses gained certain improvements in his social conditions (in the case of the Soviet Union, changes for the better became recognisable only in the 1950s). And the man’s cultural needs, including his everyday necessities, were treated as needs at the national level.
In this case the words of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader (1958-1964), are symbolic. During the 1963 plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union he stated, “American farmer Garst, who I met recently, said: ‘When I came to the Soviet Union and walked along Moscow streets for the first time, my suit was better than that of other people. And now, while I was walking around your city I saw that my suit is probably the worst suit among the suits your people were wearing’” (Khrushchev, 1963).
In many countries, changes in elite circles as a result of ‘the revolt of the masses’ and the formation of the new ruling minority revealed one more important issue related to the notion of responsibility. The entirety history of humanity up until the present day has demonstrated that only responsible minorities are capable of persistently sustaining civilisation.
These are not elites in the sense that they have controlled society and/or owned property. Rather, these are elite circles in the way that Aristotle meant them: the bearers of ethics and cultural values, spiritual traditions, and ‘virtue and fairness’. These are the elites who have understood their responsibility before their compatriots and future generations, regarding the destiny of their civilisation.
But the new ruling minority who came to power during the first third of the twentieth century as a result of the ‘revolt of the masses’, in fact came from these masses themselves, so they could not and did not want to be responsible for the future of their societies. In most cases they brought the states they led to political and economic catastrophes and were not able to secure the succession of power.
When the ruling minorities of states in the Soviet system – who were at the top of the communist establishment – managed to keep power, they easily turned it into a tool for enriching themselves and promoting their personal and group interests.
The reason why these ruling minorities were not able to act with responsibility is probably because they were not the bearers of the culture. Moreover, their rise happened mostly in the name of breaking ties with culture that humanity had developed over time.
The first half of the twentieth century showed that in the state-oriented systems the goal of creating a new ‘responsible minority’ failed, and the attempts to create a kind of ‘responsible majority’ failed as well. The events of this era demonstrated the failure of Soviet leadership to turn the man from the masses into a particular, ‘perfect’ man who would act based on ethical principles; i.e., to turn the men of the masses into a kind of ‘responsible majority’.
The communist system appeared to be but striving for a utopia, as it overestimated the potential for the improvement of human nature. It focused on ideal, socially responsible, and creative people who, according to the initial ideas of the communist architects, should have thought primarily about the common good. But the task of creating the new person of the communist future, and of doing so in a short period of time, remained unrealised.
Eventually, individualism, the desire for uncontrollable consumption, a focus on personal prosperity, and a lack of internal motivation for productive work and social responsibility made it impossible to implement the communist project.
Creation of the consumer society: are the ‘rebels’ satisfied?
After the end of World War Two European states began to experience the emerging first wave of the ‘vertical barbarian invasion’. It affected the political realm, because even a man from the masses, who had faced the atrocities of war, understood that, particularly with reference to his personal interests, post-war recovery made certain ‘selected minorities’ necessary as bearers of culture. They were the ones who would be capable of resolving this task effectively and quickly.
At the same time, politicians became more considerate towards the masses in order not to cause a new ‘barbarian invasion’. The concept of the welfare state began to prevail. Raising the level of material wellbeing, improving efficiency in matters of social interests, and the protection of the social rights of citizens created favourable conditions for relative social and political stabilisation. The social activity of ‘the man from the masses’ shifted from the field of politics to the meeting of his daily needs, as well as material consumption.
The formation of a ‘consumer society’ (Baudrillard, 1970) emerged, where the man from the masses turned from being a subject actively engaged in politics, to a more passive object, a consumer of material benefits with a hedonistic worldview and morality.
Consumer society contrasted significantly with the right-wing autocratic and totalitarian regimes in Europe and Latin America, and with the countries where the Soviet model prevailed. All shared common features that they had obtained from the man from the masses, and which they used politically: a desire to keep the population in a state of constant mobilisation, aggressiveness, and intolerance, as opposed to promoting coexistence with other ideas and cultures.
In the period following the end of the World War Two it became clear that state-oriented regimes, in the places they were preserved, were losing the competition with liberal-democratic capitalism with respect to one key issue: the satisfaction of the material and social needs of the masses. By the end of the 1970s, the last-remaining state-oriented regimes in the West had been abolished.
The goals of ‘the revolt of the masses’ were thus achieved during the second half of the twentieth century when democracies emerged in developed industrial countries, developing into the form they retain today, and when consumer society was established. Obtaining material wellbeing for a greater portion of the population, social and legal guarantees for citizens, and an effective system to represent social interests, offered greater security in terms of public and political stability.
The other side of consumer society was related to escape: self-isolation to avoid real problems, and a resort to the information space created by television (Baudrillard, 1970). It seemed the man from the masses could relax in such conditions, as he had no reason for displeasure with the existing social order. The new reality appeared to gradually overcome his ‘personal barbarism’.
It seemed that he stopped being a barbarian; he turned into a kind-hearted, non-aggressive, tolerant, and satisfied citizen. Moreover, following the development of the mass tourism industry, when ‘reality shows’ appeared on TV and became extremely popular, and when – as a result of the digital revolution in the late 1990s – an abundance of ‘gadgets’ had been created, consumer society was elevated to a higher stage of development, becoming a ‘society of entertainment’.
Within consumer society, real problems are replaced by their media surrogates and symbolic resemblance. Scientific knowledge is not in demand. It is looked over in favour of the light and popular interpretations of mass media networks and even loses out to utter charlatanism. In other words, the conflict between civilisation and culture does not disappear. It appears in a new form.
‘The third wave’: new opportunities for development and the new threats of vertical barbarism
The evolution of human civilisation during the second half of the twentieth century, along with the qualitative leap in modes of consumption, was connected to other areas of development as well. The post-industrial civilisational transition that began in the second half of the twentieth century was a significant driver for the expansion of a ‘space of activity for humanity’. During the transition, the formation of a completely new technological foundation for human activity began.
American author and businessman Alvin Toffler (2004, p. 26) called this phenomenon ‘the third wave’. He understood it as the beginning of a new civilisation whereby technology, information, society, and power experience revolutionary changes.
The formation of a new technological sphere based on the synthetic development of post-industrial society’s technologies, along with the use of biotechnologies (e.g., gene technologies), is also based on the revolution in the field of information communication technologies (ICT).
The key result of the ICT revolution is the qualitative change in the information sphere, its decentralisation, and its transformation of social interaction via network infrastructure. The ICT sphere complements “the social sphere with a completely new level of communication” (Toffler, 2004, pp. 266-288), and becomes ‘the nervous system’ of society, where every person is given new technological opportunities but made to function as a ‘neuron’ that generates and transfers the information and communication impulses necessary for the sphere’s functioning.
The nature of both the individual and the network of the post-industrial social sphere is determined by the fact that everyone who adopts new technologies becomes more autonomous. The individual even becomes an independent element in the system of social communications, a separate independent source, a consumer and distributor of information and knowledge. At the same time, if one participates at a level of culture that includes legal, political, and civic responsibility, one becomes a ‘basic cell’ of the non-mass ‘society of knowledge’ which is going to replace the mass consumer society. According to Toffler (2004, p. 365), “as a rule, values change slower than social reality. Our ethics of tolerance towards diversity is still not well developed – this is both needed and developed by the society of knowledge”.
Nevertheless, the study Millenials at work: Reshape the workplace, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (2011), showed that young employees from the age of 20-32 years old (who were born in the 1980s, through the beginning of the 1990s) are more interested in professional development and personal freedom, although of course they do not reject material benefits and money. Other recent research also demonstrates that many representatives of younger generations in developed countries have a different understanding of ‘success’. For them, success is not about their own house and a car, which have always been the symbols of material success. Instead, an interesting job, a flexible working schedule, or possibilities to travel become new values.
In fact, ‘the third wave’ represents a social and technological revolution that is shaping the origins of a new civilisation; not only does it encompass unusual prospects for solutions to humanity’s global problems, but it also creates new challenges and threats. It predetermines the necessity for qualitative changes in politics, the transformation of state institutions and public authority, and the common shift towards social diversity.
“It [the third wave] challenges old power relations, privileges, and prerogatives of the outdated elites of the present-day society and creates an environment where the main fight will take place for the power of tomorrow” (Toffler, 2004, p.33).
It was as if at the beginning of the twentieth century, democracy and technology as a combination of experimental science and industry created a new social space for the existence of the human being. At the end of the century, an intensive expansion of this space took place. And it happened not only by means of dissemination, the advancement of democracy, and the revolutionary leap of post-industrial technologies. It also happened thanks to one more phenomenon.
This is the phenomenon of ‘globalisation’. Initially this concept seemed neutral in character, as it represented processes related to the global consequences of the technological revolution. In 2000, Charles Doran, an American foreign relations expert, defined globalisation as the “interaction of information technology and the world economy. This process can be characterized in terms of intensity, depth, volume and cost of international operations in information, financial, commercial, trade and administrative spheres on a global scale. Rapid increase of the scope of operations in the last decade of the twentieth century comprises the features of globalization process that can be measured easier” (Doran in Brzeziński, 2006, p. 184).
According to Zbigniew Brzeziński, globalisation initially “reflected the new reality of growing global correlation developed basically thanks to new communication technologies when national borders, though they remained to be borderlines, stopped being real obstacles for free trade and capital movement” (Brzeziński, 2004, p. 186).
However, due to expansion of the modern polyarchal democratic arena, the notion of ‘globalisation’ began to reveal the “process of extension, deepening and speeding of world collaboration that covered all aspects of contemporary social life – from cultural to criminal, from financial to spiritual”. And today “the concept of globalization firstly and primarily stands for the situation when social, political and economic activity overcomes borders so that events, decisions and actions that take place in one region of the world can be significant for individuals and communities in remote places of the globe” (Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, Perraton, 1999, p. 3, 19).
One of the most crucial consequences of this aspect of globalisation has been the fact that the nation-state, where the man from the masses felt very comfortable and where his needs were satisfied, began to lose its significance as a basic element of world order.
At the same time, according to Samuel Huntington, the transformation of nation-states under pressure from above is defined by the fact that “to a greater extent the state authorities lost the power to control cash-flow coming into and out of the country”. Nation-states face a lot of difficulties when controlling the flow of ideas, technologies, goods and people. In other words, state borders have become very transparent. All these changes caused a situation whereby many people have seen a gradual fading of the strong state – ‘the billiard ball’; the acknowledged norm since the Treaty of Westphalia signed in 1648 – and the appearance of the complicated, diverse and multi-level international order that reflects the medieval era (Huntington, 2005, p. 37).
However, the period of civilisational transition related to globalisation creates not only new opportunities for the development and formation of ‘third wave’ society, but also new threats that provoke another uprising of vertical barbarism. The first threat was when the era of globalisation divided the world into those who managed to become part of the new order, with its de facto lack of borders between countries, and those who were left within traditional economies and pre-existing social fields.
According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, “life today is developed around the global and the local, where a local freedom of movement is a sign of better social status, uprising and career; and lack of movement has a nasty smell of failure, failed life, and abandonment. The notions of ‘the global’ and ‘the local’ are becoming more oppositional…” (Bauman, 2004, p. 170).
And the dividing line between ‘the successful’ and ‘the losers’ is not only between countries, but within them, within social and professional groups, territory-based groups, and ethnic communities.
This fundamental contradiction of globalisation, at least of its current model, is causing a new wave of vertical barbarism. The social groups and individuals who feel abandoned end up demanding a place for themselves.
The masses had become used to the affordable benefits of contemporary civilisation, so they saw the consequences of globalisation as a return to the times when they were at the bottom of the social ladder. Even those who might be considered successful are wary of rapid changes and are therefore getting involved in this new wave of barbarism, in part through enthusiastic recollections of the past.
In contrast to the opening decades of the twentieth century, when different public forces within the political arena suggested many models for the future, today there is an obvious lack of fresh political ideas. This is evidenced by the way think tanks work today. They focus on ‘reactive’ momentary analyses of current events, and as a rule they seldom offer original and complete concepts for the development of society. Therefore, the revolt of the masses crystallises around figures, ideas, and groups of a conservative nature who hark back to a ‘golden age’ of the past.
Once again, the man from the masses is challenging the values and goals of contemporary civilisation.
These circumstances led to the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections of 2016, Brexit in the United Kingdom, and the uprising of right-wing populism in continental Europe. But such phenomena are not limited to the West – we have seen a significant rise in religious fundamentalism, primarily Islamist, but also fundamentalist Buddhism in Myanmar, and a widespread politics of anti-globalism.
Another reason for the rise of the new vertical barbarism is the crisis of the contemporary model of social-liberal capitalism. This began in the 1980s during the transition from the welfare state model in Europe, and has recently been seen on a global scale. “In a state like this, top priorities are related to state control in resolving public problems, and state service delivery. This leads to growing expenses for the state and a growing government machine. As a result, the state becomes more and more costly, cumbersome, and ineffective all at the same time” (Nisnevich, 2012, p. 161).
Almost all economically developed countries began to reject the welfare state concept. And Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the US began to introduce more radical, ‘cutting-edge’ reforms for state management as part of the concept of New Public Management (Manning & Parison, 2003).
The UK, when the conservative government came to power in 1979 with Margaret Thatcher in charge, and the US, when conservative Republican Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981, led this process. Anglo-Saxon countries thus saw a significant reduction in the socio-economic state paternalism that had been so comforting and desirable for the man from the masses.
Even developed societies were not capable of guaranteeing a stable future for the man from the masses (Ilchenko & Маrtyanov, 2015, pp. 61-63). Social gaps between the rich and the rest of the population expanded; the middle class reduced in size despite government efforts to the contrary, and it also became more difficult for entrepreneurs to secure sustainable employment. Democratic institutions were emasculated: despite their functionality, political power was being taken by corporate elites (Crouch, 2010, pp. 60-66).
The man from the masses in consumer society has been losing things that he believed were essential elements of his way of life. His access to the benefits of civilisation has been getting smaller and he has begun to experience an inferiority complex. And thus he ‘revolts’ again, demanding to regain everything he has lost and looking to right-wing and left-wing populists that promise to satisfy his demands.
All of this is happening alongside a denial of the modern era, its values and achievements. Just as during the first third of the twentieth century, this is being accompanied by growing intolerance and appeals for direct action.
Only a few decades ago, it seemed the consensus achieved in developed countries after World War Two between the elites and the masses had become unchangeable and stable. It was based on the formation of consumer society, with its technical and technological foundations defined by Fordist capitalism, which had made it possible to combine the interests of classes that had used to be in conflict (Galbraith, 1984, pp. 335, 351).
Furthermore, there were no doubts about the sustainability of communist regimes, where protest-type sentiments were suppressed and in extreme situations, such as in the GDR, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, military force was applied. The unchangeable nature of the system was based on the power of the Soviet Union. It was hard to imagine that the system could collapse.
The established social models, along with the balance of world forces (bipolarity), seemed to be eternal. And despite certain internal and external political contradictions, it seemed sustainable, optimal, and the only way possible. Besides, the existing order, including the stability of internal socio-political processes, was directly or indirectly supported by nuclear weapons.
Nobody was able to suspect that scientific achievements might become factors for such fundamental social and political changes, or even civilisational changes.
An increase in migration has caused a growing feeling of discomfort for the man from the masses, due to an invasion of ‘otherness’ into his way of life. On the one hand, the conditions for increased mobility were created thanks to improved transport technologies that can ensure the movement of people, raw materials, energy, and other resources to anywhere on earth. These conditions were also created by liberalisation in states with highly developed migration policies.
‘Border liberalisation’ emerges from a new demographic situation, because, according to Zbigniew Brzeziński, “immigration is a necessity for prosperous countries with ageing populations, and emigration can serve as a valve to regulate growing demographic pressure in the poorer and densely populated countries of the ‘third world’” (Brzeziński, 2006). As a result, the possibility of dividing the world into a north, where older women will dominate in politics, and a south, where young angry men will rule, does not look like a strange idea (Fukuyama, 2004, p. 95).
Following increases in migration, expanding diasporas in successful states have appeared, which have been ‘constructed’ by ethnic and religious groups. This does not at all represent a peaceful and calm process. It is related to the appearance of new conflict areas within long-established societies. One way or another, these areas are associated with a completely new revolt of the masses and a wave of vertical barbarism.
Transformations in the social sphere determined by the post-industrial civilisational transition have caused the present feelings of abandonment and social discomfort that the man from the masses experiences. People of this kind, primarily from elderly groups, have begun to lose out in social competition to representatives of ‘selected minorities’ fixated on personal success and freedom.
A new invasion of ‘vertical barbarians’ in politics
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the driver for the revolt of the masses, including the ‘vertical invasion of barbarians’, was based on the expansion of ‘the space for human existence’.
In contrast, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the reason for the political activation of ‘the man from the masses’, which can also be treated as a new wave of ‘vertical invasion’, seems quite different. Amid the rapid expansion of space for human existence and the qualitative changes in the social sphere’s structure, as it becomes ‘networked’, he (the man from the masses) feels discomfort, irritation, and fear in the face of his new life conditions.
We can compare this to previous signs of vertical barbarism. During the first third of the twentieth century there were new, unexpected opportunities that were taken for granted. Today, there is a ‘disease’ related to the excessive number of opportunities, fear of new things, fear of being ‘set aside’, all of which are followed by growing intolerance.
We should note that even in sustainable democratic systems, political forces and structures have not paid enough attention to the qualitative changes in the ‘space for human existence’. They have not taken steps to adapt mechanisms of power to new social conditions. As a result, the man from the masses has the strong sense of being unfairly abandoned, forgotten by the authorities and by the state.
This man revolted against the previous system of political power in typical manner; that of an offended teenager. In order to protect his ‘mass-oriented identity’ and closed-minded self-containment – resisting the formation of the post-industrial civilisation that has destroyed his ‘natural habitat’ – he has again appealed to nationalist populism, which, as noted before, is a typical doctrine for the man from the masses.
The fact that the revolt of the man from the masses at the beginning of the twenty-first century represents a new form of a ‘vertical invasion’, supported by nationalist populism, can be seen in a statement from Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italian populist movement Movimento 5 Stelle (the Five Star Movement). In response to Donald Trump’s election as president of the US, Grillo remarked, “It is the people who take risks, stubborn people, barbarians will make the world move forward. We are barbarians” (Grillo in Barber, 2016). It was provocative, but honest.
In countries with problems related to socio-economic development, left-wing populism has appeared at the political forefront. A ‘vertical invasion’ into politics in such countries was headed by left-wing nationalist-populists with varying success.
For example, we can think of radical regimes of the so-called ‘left-wing turn’ in Latin America. They include the Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro that has been in place since 1998; the regime of Evo Morales in Bolivia since 2005; the regime of Rafael Correa in Ecuador; and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua since 2006 (Bukova, 2011). These regimes are based on ruling parties with different left-wing ideologies that proclaim the creation of a national socialist state of some sort (Nisnevich & Ryabov, 2016, pp.162-181).
ΣΥΡΙΖΑ (Syriza), the radical left-wing coalition created in Greece in 2004, is an example of the success of left-wing nationalist-populists in Europe. After winning the parliamentary elections of January 2015, Syriza formed a government with Alexis Tsipras in charge. We can also recall the Podemos Party (‘We can!’) established in Spain in 2014. After the parliamentary elections in December 2015 and June 2016, Podemos remains the third largest party in the Lower Chamber of General Cortes of Spain in terms of seats in the Congress of Deputies.
If we take Alexis Tsipras as an example, we can see a unique feature of nationalist-populists who act within sustainable political systems: as soon as they obtain the power, they quickly forget their pre-election promises and fit perfectly into the existing system. In other words, they quickly distance themselves from vertical barbarism.
In states with high levels of socio-economic development, a ‘vertical invasion’ into politics is headed by right-wing nationalist-populists, such as Norbert Hofer in Austria; Nigel Farage in the UK; Geert Wilders in the Netherlands; Marine Le Pen in France; and Donald Trump in the US; among others.
Right-wing nationalist populism is dominating, and even in charge of, the new wave of ‘vertical invasion’ that has appeared at the beginning of the twenty-first century in many democratic countries in Europe and in the US. This is because signs of this kind of nationalism, like the desire to “redistribute public benefits in favour of ‘one’s own’ people and to establish the ethnocracy of ‘one’s own’ nation” (Yatsenko, 1999, p. 253), are to a certain extent correlated with one of the most characteristic features of the ‘man from the masses’ – his aggressive xenophobia.
Right-wing nationalist-populist parties were present in Europe long before the last totalitarian dictatorships were abolished in Portugal in 1974 and in Spain in 1975. For example, in 1955 the Austrian Freedom Party was established; in 1964 the National Democratic Party was created in Germany; the British National Front was founded in 1967; and the National Front in France was established in 1972. Additionally, the Ku-Klux-Klan was reborn in the US for a third time in the middle of the1970s (Sokolov, 2016).
However, until recently right-wing nationalist parties and organisations did not have any significant role in European state politics. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, electoral support for right-wing nationalists and nationalist-populist parties and politicians in Europe was gradually growing. But more recently they have seen a rapid upsurge of support.
We have clearly seen this process during the presidential elections in France, with support for candidates from the National Front. For example, in the first round of the 1995 elections, Jean-Marie Le Pen won 15 percent of the vote; in 2002 it was16.86 percent in the first round and 17.79 percent in the second round; in 2007, he did not make it to the second round but won10.44 percent in the first round. His daughter, Marie Le Pen won 17.9 percent in the 2012 first round and took third place overall; and in 2017, she achieved 21.3 percent in taking second place in the first round, winning 33.94 percent in the second round although she lost the elections.
Similar trends have been seen in the Austrian Freedom Party’s participation in parliamentary elections after their internal split. In 2002, they won 10.01 percent of the vote; in 2006, 11.04 percent; in 2008,17.54 percent, and in 2013 they had reached 21.4 percent.
The rapid rise of the new ‘vertical invasion’ into politics can be seen in the significant growth of electoral support for right-wing nationalist-populists. This is evidenced by data across Europe (Adler, 2016). The fact that the man from the masses is drawn to contemporary right-wing nationalist-populists is based on the following factors:
- Open – or at least poorly hidden – xenophobia towards migrants, including those from Eastern Europe;
- A negative attitude towards European inter-state integration, the extreme of which sees a desire to leave the European Union; and,
- The primacy of the nation-state and national interests, not only over and against globalisation, but also in relation to processes of ‘glocalisation’ (Zubarevich, 2006).
The first two statements indicate who and what the man from the masses identifies as the reason for such problems, and point to an ‘external enemy’. It is good that so far, they have not defined an ‘internal enemy’, although President Donald Trump has already deemed the liberal press ‘enemies’. This suggests a simple, traditionally conservative (very important for the man from the masses) solution to multiple problems.
The recent growth of electoral support for right-wing nationalist-populists has been caused by the following factors: Firstly, due to the world financial and economic crisis in 2008-2009, and its second wave in 2011-2012 – after numerous crises, the man from the masses experienced a declining level of material comforts.
Secondly, a rapid growth in migration resulted in the 2015 migration crisis in the EU (BBC Russian Service, 2016). The growth of the number of migrants heading to countries with high levels of socio-economic development was primarily based on the fact that since 2011, there had been a ‘disclosure’ of violent autocratic regimes in Islamic countries in the Middle East and North Africa – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. However, the new wave of ‘vertical invasion’ into politics with nationalist-populists in charge, has led to only two really significant political results so far.
The opportunity to identify trends in the political and anthropological profile of Brexit supporters has been provided by a series of data sets and studies: Sociological data from the referendum day; and the results of a study conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which was based on data from the British Election Study (BES) and included exit poll data.
In most areas those who predominantly voted for Brexit were white British men over 45 years of age, and particularly those over 65, with a high school education at most, living in depressing neighbourhoods where poor education, low income, a lack of professional qualifications, and few opportunities for personal and professional development characterise the local population, and where a post-industrial and competitive economy has not been developed. Brexit supporters are mostly unskilled workers with a family income of less than £20,000 per year. Many of them are unemployed or work part-time. They are not happy with their level of state support.
Brexit supporters are struggling to adapt to the post-industrial economy and to globalisation. These people hold conservative political views. They are generally opposed to gender equality; liberal sexual and gender preferences; immigration; and globalisation. They support tough court verdicts and even support the death penalty.
The political and anthropological profile of people who voted in favour of Brexit correlates with the definition of the ‘man from the masses’.
The second significant result of the new wave of a ‘vertical invasion’ into politics was the election of Donald Trump on 8 November 2016. Exit poll data from CNN revealed the political and anthropological profile of people who voted for Donald Trump (“Election results: Exit polls”, 2016). Significant support came from white men over 45 years-old without higher education, ‘family men’ living in a rural area or the suburbs, with an average income of $50,000 to $200,000 per year. (The 10 percent of voters with an income over $200,000 per year were almost equally divided between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.)
This typical Trump voter is characterised by conservative ideology; he attends an evangelical church more than once a month; he believes that the main threats to the US are related to immigration and terrorism, that immigrants who work in the country illegally should be banished, and that the international trade system deprives American citizens of work opportunities. This type of man is also angry and dissatisfied with the work of the federal government as he believes that the national economy is in poor condition and the country is moving in the wrong direction.
The profile of the people who voted for Trump is very similar to the people who voted for the UK’s exit from the EU; it also reflects the profile of the ‘man from the masses’.
In the countries of continental Europe, the new wave of a ‘vertical invasion’ into the political sphere, headed by nationalist-populists, has not yet brought any significant political results. The successes of the Fidesz coalition and the Christian Democratic People’s party headed by Viktor Orbán during the 2010 parliamentary elections in Hungary, are the only exceptions. Viktor Orbán has largely espoused anti-liberal and nationalist-populist views.
During the 2016 presidential elections in Austria, the leader of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, Norbert Hofer, lost in the second round, gaining 46.4 percent compared to Alexander Van der Bellen, former leader of the Green Party, who won 53.6 percent. This was despite Hofer winning 36.4 percent in the first round, where he led Van der Bellen, on 20.4 percent (“Austria far-right candidate Norbert Hofer defeated in presidential poll”, 2016).
Austria serves as a kind of barometer for European political processes. In 2000, journalist P. Schwarz wrote, “In Austria, just like in a mirror, the European governments see their future” (Schwarz as quoted in Adler, 2016).
A situation similar to the 2016 Austrian presidential elections occurred in France in April-May 2017. The leader of the ultra-right nationalist-populist National Front, Marine Le Pen, received 21.3 percent in the first round of the elections on 23 April 2017. Coming in second behind centrist Emmanuel Macron (24.01 percent), Le Pen moved on to the next round. But in the second vote on 7 May 2017, Le Pen was soundly beaten, receiving 33.94 percent as against Macron’s 66.06 percent.
In this case we should mention the following: data from a survey conducted by Ipsos and Sopra Steria (2017) just before the second round of the French presidential election reveals trends in the political and anthropological profile of people who voted in favour of Marine Le Pen.
In most cases the typical Le Pen supporter is a man between 25 and 50 years-old with a high school education at most, living in a rural area, often working manually, employed in the public sector or owning a small business, or unemployed; he who holds right-wing or ultra-right views, has an average annual income below 24,000 EUR, and struggles with his family budget.
Once again, the profile of those who voted for Marine Le Pen is comparable to those who voted for Brexit, and for Donald Trump. It also reflects the image of the man from the masses.
During the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands on 15 March 2017, the ultra-right Liberty Party took second place, while first place went to the ultra-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The Liberty Party was not invited to form part of the new coalition government, because prior to the elections all of the leading parties declared that they would not cooperate with ultra-right nationalist-populists (Agapova, 2017).
A similar situation occurred during the parliamentary elections in Germany in September 2017: in spite of a significant share of the popular vote, the ultra-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) party has not been invited into coalition with other parties. The signs were seen in the 14 May 2017 parliamentary elections of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most densely populated area of Germany. They were considered the ‘dress rehearsal’ for the federal elections and were a significant pointer to what was to come.
The right-wing nationalist-populist Alternative for Germany received 7.4 percent of votes and is now represented in the North Rhine-Westphalian local parliament for the first time. The AFD was ahead of the Alliance 90/Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), which received 6.4 percent, and the Left party (Die Linke) who won 4.9 percent. In general, traditional German parties are successful in North Rhine-Westphalia. First place was taken by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) with 33 percent, second place was taken by their main competitor, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) with 31.2 percent, while the third place went to the Free Democratic Party with 12.6 percent. Of course, the AFD did not participate in the formation of the local government.
The poor results of the new wave of ‘vertical invasion’ in continental Europe when compared with its successes in the United Kingdom and the United States may be explained by the following considerations.
In the twentieth century, the states of continental Europe suffered from fascism, national-socialism, Franquismo, and other forms of ultra-right nationalism and nationalist populism.
As a result, these societies developed a resistance towards this phenomenon. Therefore, the new right-wing nationalist-populist epidemic at the beginning of twentieth century has not caused any serious consequences for the political health of these countries, although a kind of ‘inflammatory process’ has taken place.
Anglo-Saxon states did not experience a severe right-wing, nationalist-populist disease of this kind in the twentieth century. Therefore, these societies had developed no protective mechanisms to resist this phenomenon. That is why the new right-wing, nationalist-populist epidemic that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century in these states caused serious political outcomes.
However, the democratic political systems in Anglo-Saxon countries are, in a sense, self-regulating, so we may expect that the political results caused by the new wave of ‘vertical invasion’ into politics will not be able to significantly influence current political regimes.
We can expect that the right-wing nationalist-populists that shaped events in the UK and took power in the US will eventually either integrate into existing democratic political systems or will be ousted one way or another.
The problem of ‘the responsible minority’ in the contemporary context
Recently a popular idea in the developed world has been that, in contrast to autocratic and totalitarian regimes, democratic systems today can ensure the reliable institutional foundations for formation of a ‘responsible minority’.
However, the broad expansion of market democracy at the beginning of the twentieth century, which has influenced almost all spheres of society, has weakened the influence of such minorities. They became subject to the shifting moods and demands of the majority, which although it had been involved in creating material and cultural values, has not been responsible for their preservation.
The goal of the majority being able to take part in this process – a goal that has existed throughout almost the entire history of human civilisation – was primarily based on the need to satisfy basic needs: food, clothes, and a place to live. It was only in the twentieth century, thanks to the progress brought on by technology and democracy, that the majority gained access to the achievements of human civilisation. As a result, the majority, at least in developed societies, were able to satisfy their basic needs, and afterwards they were able to focus on a form of consumption that often became uncontrollable.
But it would be a mistake to think that because of the ‘revolt of the masses’ and the qualitative improvement of democracy, the majority in developed democratic countries have obtained the characteristics of a ‘responsible majority’. Although its influence is growing, it is only able to weaken and limit the power of ‘responsible minorities’.
By nature, the majority simply cannot drive civilisation’s development. José Ortega y Gasset said that the masses are not capable of governing themselves or society as a whole (Ortega y Gasset, 2003). The masses always take a dependent position in the social hierarchy.
Up until the first third of the twentieth century, this dependency was based on coercive power imposed by the wealthy. The physical survival of the masses depended on the means that high society allocated to them. However, a revolt of the masses does not eliminate the dependence of the majority. Only their structural elements differ: brute force and hunger are replaced by opportunities to consume new goods and services; media and advertising tools replace the tools of enforcement.
This misunderstanding of the true role and needs of the majority throughout world history is the reason for errors in Karl Marx’s work, and one of the key reasons for the failure of the communist experiment in the twentieth century. Marx believed that as long as a person could get rid of the need to be involved in material production, he would have more free time for creative activity. Therefore, more free time would lead to a maximum release of creative energy from humanity.
This ideology had a significant influence on the social sciences during the second half of the twentieth century, leading to the recent prediction of the upcoming triumph of post-material values. But the ‘digital revolution’ of the end of the twentieth century/beginning of the twenty-first century does not support such conclusions. Along with the growing possibility of a non-mass ‘society of knowledge’, other processes have also taken place.
More and more people around the world have become dependent on the growing diversity of items for consumption. At the same time, they do not express any interest in creative activity. It is likely that upcoming energy and biological revolutions will intensify this trend.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the weakening role of ‘responsible minorities’, their growing dependence on the majority – particularly in terms of their consumer needs – is also becoming a serious challenge for the development of human civilisation and an obstacle to overcoming the crisis of modernity. The problem is not that a majority is gaining power and using the advances of civilisation to satisfy its needs. The problem is a minority who, amid unlimited democratisation and marketisation, is losing its ability to implement long-term development strategies. Rather, its responsibility for the future is replaced by reactionary and selfish interests. This brings back the idea that at present, a profound, farsighted analysis is not in demand; it has been replaced by populist, made-to-order material, which eventually becomes completely ideologically driven.
Post-Soviet vertical barbarism
The rapid transition from socialism back to capitalism that had already started during the Soviet era, and which finished with the formation of the independent post-Soviet states, led to a new uprising of vertical barbarism across the former USSR. It emerged through increasingly frequent episodes of violence that swamped post-Soviet countries, particularly in the 1990s, and was marked by mass defiance of moral norms and a simultaneously barbaric and pragmatic attitude towards material and spiritual life.
For many witnesses to this process, who directly or indirectly experienced the influence of communist ideology, this was a total surprise. In the USSR, it was believed that during the Soviet period ‘a new person’ had been created at the mass level; a person who followed the ideals of social justice, honest labour, and the common good. And although very few people still believed this during the late Soviet period, many thought that material benefits were not as important in the lives of Soviet people, in contrast to people from developed capitalist countries.
Many believed that in daily life, Soviet people were open, unselfish, and ready to help. In other words, there was a stereotype in the public mind-set of a Soviet person, who in moving away from material dependence, had become much closer to the ideal humanistic representation of a creative individual than anybody else on the planet.
However, by the beginning of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika, the situation looked completely different. During the previous three decades, under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev and then Leonid Brezhnev, the fundamentals of consumer society were established. As a result, the model behaviour of the man from the masses was gradually redirected and focused on achieving material wellbeing. But this process was unique in the USSR because it was developed in the semi-legal sphere.
Official ideology declared the goal of creating a ‘new person’, one who works for the sake of creative self-fulfilment and for the sake of the common good. Market relations were not allowed and were only developed by way of a black market, along with its inhumane ‘rules’.
Most importantly, the Soviet state-controlled economy was just not capable of satisfying the growing material needs of the population. The increasing deficit in satisfactory volumes of goods and services was a curse for the socialist economy. Therefore, when Perestroika was introduced, most Soviet people took its goal of democratisation and the creation of a market economy to be simply a way to rapidly increase their wellbeing. In other words, thanks to the new policy, they wanted to eliminate the gap between their perceived consumer needs and the reality of their poor material conditions.
The information ‘exposure’ of Soviet society – whereby Soviet citizens received access to information about life in the developed countries of the West – caused the development of this kind of behaviour. Few people considered Gorbachev’s reforms an opportunity to transform the Soviet Union into a society based on other values: freedom, responsibility, human rights, and respect for individual identity.
The anti-communist revolution that took place in 1991, and which resulted in the swift collapse of the Soviet Union is often called the ‘revolution of consumers’. It was the consumer-based majority that had significant impact on the progression of events in the newly independent states and became the driving force of the new wave of vertical barbarism.
A wider portion of the population, especially in states where privatisation was imposed, tried to attain the quality of life they saw in the developed countries of the West and do so as soon as possible. Initially, they really believed that this was possible within a short period of time. Their way of thinking excluded the idea that in order to reach such high consumer standards one would have to work hard for decades. There was also little recognition that this hard work should be based on completely different legal and economic principles, and on a different public psychology to that present in Soviet socialism.
But in order to understand the ‘revolt of the masses’ that occurred just before the end of the Soviet period, it was not only the man from the masses as the ‘unhappy consumer’ that was a factor.
The Soviet individual had certain ontological features that shaped his behaviour in public and political life in the post-Soviet states. The common feature of the Soviet individual was the idea of ‘the simple man’. The simplicity of the Soviet individual, first of all, meant that he was oriented towards the masses, which meant he belonged to the masses and not to the selected minority, according to Jose Ortega y Gasset (2003). It meant being just like everybody else, to live life according to a principle of ‘commonality’, being happy with one’s lack of distinction, and resisting everything ‘elite’.
Collectivisation in the Soviet Union, 1935. (Credit: Municipal archives of Trondheim/Flickr)
A simple Soviet individual who lived according to the principle of ‘commonality’ did not accept anything of the elite that looked remotely like individualism, because for him, ‘individualism’ was reviled. (Ortega y Gasset, 2003).
The ideological cliché of a Soviet person as a simple person represents expected opposition to realities different to one’s own. This opposition, just like Ortega y Gasset’s man from the masses, is aggressive and intolerant towards difference, but in this case, it is revealed in tougher forms. For the Soviet individual, the world was very simple and clear; it was divided into ‘we’ and ‘they’.
This sustained attitude towards everything different and strange represented a basis for xenophobia and hostility towards anyone different (Ortega y Gasset, 2003).
Other ontological features of the Soviet individual, which distinguished him from Jose Ortega y Gasset’s ‘man from the masses’ (2003) and defined his social logic as a logic of adaptability, are slyness and ambiguity. Or ‘double thinking’, as George Orwell defined it: “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled each other out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it…” (Orwell, 1949, p. 32).
The Soviet individual used the enduring system of double standards that had been formed for his survival and personal safety under the communist regime. This double thinking often amounted to individuals demonstrating the obligatory ‘equality in poverty’ on one hand, and on the other, the desire to personally obtain as many material benefits and privileges as possible. This desire was particularly strong during the period of ‘developed socialism’, and being a ‘man from the masses’, this individual wanted to get everything at once, without any effort, only at the state’s expense.
At the same time, another fundamental feature of the Soviet individual was revealed: his ‘state-paternalistic orientation’. The state was seen as the source of all benefits. The main duty of the authorities was to take care of and secure the daily life of the people. The paternalistic state orientation of the Soviet individual is a result of the specific paternalism of the Soviet party-state system.
This system was built according to the principle of “a stationary bandit”, according to Mancur Olson (1999). It distributed material benefits among the Soviet masses in the form of a minimum wage and social welfare benefits, which were declared ‘free’, although in fact they were paid for by the people. At the same time, another system was created for the mass of the ruling establishment, the superior social class that had been created in the USSR. This was a system of specific material and social benefits and privileges. Thanks to this system, the role of the ‘middle class’ in the USSR was played by the mass ‘mid-level political class’.
Soviet paternalism resulted in the Soviet individual’s ‘infantilism’. But this was not the infantilism of ‘a spoilt child’ as it was with the man from the masses. It was the infantilism of a teenager with low self-esteem, suppressed by the cruel behaviour of his parents. On the one hand, such a teenager considers everything he has to be a result of his parents’ kindness. On the other hand, he lies in order to avoid punishment, which he expects to receive with or without reason.
Consequently, at the moment when post-Soviet states were created, people of the ‘Soviet individual’ type, typified by a state-paternalistic orientation, prevailed in all social and professional groups.
This type corresponds considerably to the man from the masses. He has the following features: a lack of individuality; a desire to not be distinct and to be ‘just like everybody else’; and a tendency to exhibit aggressive intolerance towards anybody who stands out and differs, including both minorities and ‘individuals’. His personal development was stagnant; he possessed a sense of passive self-containment combined with superior feelings and the desire to impose his primitive ideas and wishes on everybody; he was indifferent to the basics of contemporary civilisation; and he had an uncontrollable desire for material benefits, which he demanded ‘right here, right now’ from the miraculous state machine.
At the same time, the Soviet individual had the following unique characteristics: an adaptability based on what Orwell (1949) called ‘double thinking’; a primitive outlook based on the military principle of recognition, ‘our people’ versus the ‘stranger’; a support for Soviet-style egalitarianism, seen as ‘equality in poverty’, which caused jealousy towards others; and the behaviour of a teenager with low self-esteem.
The fundamental mistake of reformers in post-Soviet countries was related to a misunderstanding of (or perhaps an unwillingness to understand) the fact that for successful reforms it would be necessary to form a responsible citizen and a rational individual with a market-oriented mind and behaviour.
In Russia and other post-Soviet countries, they ignored the experience of the successful modernisation efforts of the twentieth century in East and Southeast Asia. The experience of these Asian countries shows that for successful reforms it is not enough to have conducted proper economic reforms. A breakthrough can be achieved only alongside a rational conscience, an increased role for education, teaching individuals to be responsible for decisions they make in the market, teaching frugality, and also respect for labour.
Unfortunately, and perhaps most importantly, the illusions about easy access to a high level of wellbeing were supported by new authorities who used a wide range of tactics to enforce these ideas – from political promises by heads of state, to conspicuous commercials aimed at children. In this respect, one can recall the speech of the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, on 28 October 1991 at the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In his speech, Yeltsin spoke about the programme of radical market reforms and promised that after several difficult months, when Russian people would have to ‘tighten their belts’, a time of better wellbeing would come.
To some extent, Yeltsin’s words were reminiscent of the well-known promise of Khrushchev, made in 1961 at the Twenty-Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. His promise became part of the party’s programme.
The official ideology that the party preached was focused on quick success and was based on the personal interests of the ruling elite. In the 1990s, the new post-Soviet elite tried to divide the rich Soviet heritage through the privatisation of capital assets. Laws and complicated legal procedures were unnecessary obstacles.
Along with economic goals, the task was also political: to create a class of large-scale property owners as soon as possible. This new class was supposed to legitimise the new authorities and guarantee the irrevocability of the political changes that had taken place. In order to distract the people from the truly crucial issues of national policy, including the question of distribution of former state-owned property, and to turn the process into purely a ‘matter of the elites’, they had to inspire people with the illusion that it was easy to achieve personal success in a short period of time.
Such a policy created favourable conditions for the new wave of vertical barbarism. First of all, the focus on fast wealth gains made the wider population think that this was the main goal of their own lives; in order to achieve that goal, they would sacrifice morality and, and break laws. Secondly, such a policy encouraged the assertion of a culture of brute force; in people’s minds, this force was the only way to provide success. It is no coincidence that at the beginning of 1990s the ‘professions’ of gangster and racketeer became among the most popular ‘jobs’ in post-Soviet countries.
This resulted in the total criminalisation and barbarisation of daily life in the newly independent states. Typical at this time were murders, robberies, crime wars, alongside a loss of economic and cultural potential. The masses, and also those who formed the new elite class, were released from the tough limitations that Soviet socialism had imposed on them. They subsequently organised the new ‘vertical invasion’ in their own countries. The scale of this invasion depended on the value of the ‘prize’ and how weak the position of the state was. This was clearly the case during the 1990s in countries with significant natural resources coupled with weak statehood (Russia and Ukraine).
Consequently, a question arises: was the rise of vertical barbarism inevitable during the transition from Soviet socialism to capitalism? In our opinion, it would have been possible to avoid this, or at least diminish its scope, if the transition process had been softer, or at least not implemented as a rapid ‘military operation’, with assets forcefully taken away.
Rather, if the transition had been gradual and followed legal procedures, it would have been possible to avoid the emergence of vertical barbarism. Along with the formation of a market psychology in citizens, which understands labour as the main source of wellbeing, certain conditions could be created for a mass of proprietors to appear. It is interesting that in Estonia, a post-Soviet country where the class of proprietors was not created from the top down, as was the case in other newly independent states, they managed to avoid the rise of vertical barbarism.
The stabilisation of the newly independent states was achieved by the end of the first stage of transition towards the market economy and resulted in a decreased level of vertical barbarism, i.e., of the kind related to crime. It seemed that with the formation of new social hierarchies and ‘blocked’ channels for vertical mobility, favourable conditions for vertical barbarism in post-Soviet countries had disappeared. However, it continued to have a strong impact on different spheres of public life. This was connected to the spread of intolerance.
Intolerance persisted due to decisions by autocratic regimes in the majority of post-Soviet states. A new social strata had gained control of power and of the main assets of national economies; they were not interested in continuing democratisation and market reforms. Their motto was ‘winner takes all’. That is why they used totalitarianism as a tool to restrain claims from other social groups, as a prevention to others taking power and participating in the distribution of property.
In countries with systems of totalitarian power, authorities tried to diminish any autonomous social and political activity, as they considered it a potential threat to their dominance. Not all states operated the same way, but intolerance towards everything that was not permitted from the top became an essential feature of public life in newly independent totalitarian states.
Another reason for intolerance was based on the fact that the same Soviet establishment were still present within the new ruling class. Thanks to their origin, location, and roles within the political system, they treated everything that was restricted by the authorities negatively. Amid the new post-Soviet conditions, they began to implement common ideas. However, they managed to achieve results only in countries where a major factor in the political fight – national democratic movements – suffered weakness, and where reconstructed establishment institutions had gained control of property.
As long as the autocratic regimes endured, the excessive force for the regulation of social relations was preserved and represented by the phenomenon of barbarism. But this time the phenomenon took a different form: the dictatorship of organised criminal groups in the 1990s was replaced by an almost uncontrollable use of power applied by different law enforcement institutions.
At the same time, elites could break the law and not be held responsible. They could also use laws selectively to pursue their own interests. This was common when the rights of the population were infringed upon. The transformation of law, from a universal regulator of social relations to a law of the privileged, resulted in the new realities being compared to the feudal system in literature and journalistic material. This was also provoked by the ruling class often demonstrating contempt towards broader groups via public actions that showed they felt they could do anything they wanted.
Under authoritarian conditions, it was not only upper classes that exhibited features of barbarism. The behaviour related to the extreme form of intolerance was seen amongst the masses as well.
The conscience of the majority of people alive in the 1990s, formed during Soviet times, had not changed. In fact, the state’s autocratic features – which were accompanied by the strong feeling that ‘they lied to us’, alongside even more negative attitudes to liberalism, democracy, and the West – had become the primary reason for the collapse of the previous ‘good life’ in the USSR. These ideas were transferred to new generations who had no Soviet experience.
Therefore, when society changed, and it seemed that life was reverting to a familiar past, issues that were hidden deep down in the mass mind-set were reproduced. These issues have been revealed in the public sphere and presented in the form of intolerance towards everything strange and unknown.
In the same context, we can consider the elites’ use of the traditions of Eastern tyrannies. Justification is found via an apparent return to the past, to times of great rulers and dynasties. The most vivid examples include references to Genghis Khan in Uzbekistan and to the Safavid dynasty in Tajikistan. Elites have emphasised that these rulers not only made their countries flourish and nurtured the distinct traits of the people, but also secured domestic stability and resisted hostile external attacks. The violent aspect of these historical eras is justified by the overall environment of violence at the time which, according to certain ideas, was acceptable.
Therefore, the post-Soviet era has experienced a paradoxical double return: simultaneous reference to the Soviet and pre-Soviet historical experiences. The pre-Soviet experience, which had been sacred in a way in the majority of newly independent states, will gradually win in this ‘competition’. As for Russia, the situation is not that clear. In the mass conscience, the Soviet and pre-Soviet experiences overlap, but the nostalgic feelings related to the Soviet era are still understood better than pre-revolutionary mythology.
Horizontal barbarism in the contemporary era
The contemporary era is unique, not only for the rise of vertical barbarism, but also for the revival of a phenomenon that seemed to have been forgotten: horizontal barbarism. This form of barbarism has appeared as a result of mass migration to Europe from Islamic countries in Africa and the Middle East, as migrants begin to practice their traditions, values, and behaviour amongst the European ‘native’ majority.
Building a dialogue of cultures and practising cultural cross-fertilisation is difficult. Instead, there is a threat of a gradual ousting (conquering) of the more developed European cultures of post-industrial society by cultures of pre-industrial societies. The inherent intolerance within these societies is intensifying as a result of the influence of radical Islam.
The prevailing opinion in the literature is that migration flows heading to developed countries are caused by violent wars in Africa and the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and others).
Protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo. January 2011. (Credit: Dan H/Flickr)
In our opinion, this phenomenon has a deeper origin. During the contemporary era, the technological, cultural, and social gap between developed countries and the rest of the world has become so big that many emerging markets in Asia and Africa are turning into a ‘sustainable periphery’ that has no chance of closing the gap with more developed countries. As a result, periphery countries increasingly believe that this gap will last forever. This is the great driver of migration.
At the same time, it seems that the Western world, with its left-wing liberal ideology, and its firm belief in the harmony of cultures, is actually not ready for interaction with the aggressive cultures of migrants who believe the world ‘owes them’ and that contemporary civilisation is simply a source of satisfaction for their material needs. Any criticism towards aggressive migrant behaviour is considered intolerance.
The beginning of horizontal barbarism after the collapse of the bipolar world
Disruption of the Yalta-Potsdam system’s bipolar world order, which was inevitable after the collapse of the USSR, caused a series of inter-ethnic clashes and wars in territories in Africa and the post-communist world (the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union). These clashes were accompanied by the rise of a new wave of horizontal barbarism that was as violent as the clashes of earlier eras in human history, although those conflicts were of a different nature.
The African continent, where nation-states have still not been completely formed, was the arena for tough competition between the ‘super states’ of the US and the USSR for a long time. France, which used to be the largest colonial power in Africa, also had a significant, and often independent, role.
In the 1990s, due to a disastrous lack of resources, Russia had to reduce its presence in Africa and Western states temporarily lost interest in the continent. As a result, Africa was left ‘unsupervised’ and a series of inter-ethnic and inter-tribal clashes, which had faded in previous years and been exchanged for conflicts between Christians and Muslims, eventually developed and became local wars (Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Chad).
All of these conflicts were accompanied by mass murder as a result of inter-tribal hostility, ‘medieval’ cruelties, and destruction of material and cultural values. The inter-tribal conflict in Rwanda (1994) – in which the Tutsi people were nearly exterminated – was the most violent, and the global community treated it as genocide.
The rise of horizontal barbarism in Africa was mostly caused by the generally low level of the continent’s development, and by the influential preservation of cultures in which ‘foreign’ tribes are treated as hostile and to conquer them is considered courageous. In other words, the main reason for horizontal barbarism in Africa was a lack of civility and a low level of education among a significant portion of the continent’s population.
Completely different factors led to horizontal barbarism in the countries of the post-socialist world, which festered through various inter-ethnic and inter-religious clashes. The fact that these intense clashes were caused by the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union implied the destruction of previous identities: the common Yugoslavian and Soviet identities.
This was closely related to an elimination of the ideology of internationalism and common social and economic relations.
Amid the ‘ruins’ of the old era there was only one type identity left: ethnic and/or religious identity. National reconstruction policies based on ethnic and religious identities and promoted by the new elites of emerging states became an effective tool for creating a new image of ‘the enemy’, and used this enemy as a basis for organising a redistribution of resources and territories, taking them away from neighbouring countries. This was also an effective tool for the reconstruction of the nation-state.
Only one socialist entity – Czechoslovakia – managed to avoid violent clashes and experience the peaceful ‘divorce’ of its people. In this case, two factors were important: the general level of civility and the lack of the ‘ethnic territory rights’ (this political principle was present throughout the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, where people would often live close in close proximity those from other ethnic groups). Territories for ethnic Czechs and Slovaks had been established following the medieval era as parts of the Habsburg Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary; as long-established ‘homes’, they were therefore sustainable.
Meanwhile, borders within the former Yugoslavia and the USSR that divided separate national republics and autonomous areas were often defined arbitrarily, according decisions of state leaders. Additionally, mass migration had taken place during the socialist period. And as long as the principle of ‘ethnic territory rights’ was preserved in the collective mind-set, it resulted in growing inter-ethnic tensions. In the post-socialist period, this reality became a powerful driver for new national elites to expand the territories they controlled.
Inter-ethnic and inter-religious clashes, as well as conflicts between different sub-ethnic groups, resulted in mass murders, medieval ‘ethnic cleansing’, the destruction of monuments from other national cultures, and the plundering of material and cultural resources. As a result, the revival of the new national statehood of some post-Soviet countries seemed closely connected with victory in war over their enemies (Armenia, Croatia, Kosovo).
One attempt to create a new ethnic federation in post-Soviet conditions, to reform the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina that had witnessed disruption due to ethnic-religious factors, almost failed. The new establishment was unable to become a fully-functioning state. Its formal legal unity was secured only by an international protectorate provided by the European Union and NATO. There remains a real chance that Bosnia and Herzegovina will face political and legal isolation from the Republic of Serbia.
The various ups and downs of post-Soviet history, seen alongside with the lack of regulation of many inter-ethnic clashes in post-Soviet territories, shows that the possibility of these clashes escalating into greater military hostilities remains. This means that the conditions are present for a relapse of horizontal barbarism in some regions of the post-socialist world.
What is happening in the Islamic world?
It is impossible to study contemporary barbarism without an analysis of what has been going on in the Muslim world at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century. Besides being part of collective consciousness in mass media, the Muslim world is increasingly analysed with reference to extremist and terrorist activity in the name of Islam.
Religiously motivated terrorism is actually the true barbarism. However, we should emphasise that barbarism of this kind has existed in all centuries and in all religions. Islam in this case is no exception.
On the one hand, vertical barbarism in the Muslim world fits within a general and broader global context of ‘barbarisation’. On the other hand, its religious element makes Muslim vertical barbarism worth speaking about as a specific phenomenon. We would like to emphasise once again that the term ‘vertical barbarism’ in this case is not of a pejorative nature. It is just as academic with reference to the Muslim world as to the West.
Vertical barbarism in the Muslim world is shaped by the crisis of society, elite failures to resolve significant state problems, and discontented populations.
In Muslim countries (as elsewhere in so-called ‘third world countries’) in the 1950s-1960s, there was hope that the economic weakness was temporary and that sooner or later these states would be able to overcome domestic issues and move closer to the level of economic and material prosperity seen in developed countries. Initially, they planned to achieve this goal by means of two models of imitation: the first one – using the West’s experience, the second one – using the Soviet experience. A third model appeared as well: a specific, nationally specific path of development. As a result, local socialisms appeared in individual states: for example, Algerian socialism, Egyptian socialism, Ba’athist socialism, and Iranian socialism.
Every version of socialism attempted in the Muslim world was unsuccessful. As a result, tensions within these societies remain. From time to time a coup takes place and new leaders do their best to reconstruct the autocratic system they have overthrown.
These societies are in a constant state of discontent. Income inequality is growing; numerous poverty-stricken groups are running out of patience. What makes things worse is the demonstrable example of standards of living in developed countries, available online or via relatives and acquaintances who live better lives as expatriates.
Middle class attitudes are changing too, being not only disappointed with their own financial situation, but also by their political weakness, a ‘deficiency’ they are trying to overcome without knowing exactly how to do so. On the one hand, the middle classes appreciate Western democracy; on the other hand, they understand that they live in traditional or semi-traditional societies that oppose democratic systems of governance.
In such societies, democracy can only be imitated. Creating a basis for civil society is difficult in this context. It will therefore be impossible to build an effective democratic system along Western lines, an ‘alien democracy’, in the Muslim world, at least in the near future.
In the Western world, the fundamentals of democracy were formed over thousands of years. This represented a civilisational trend that at times intensified, slowed down, or almost disappeared completely but at least remained present to some degree. It had different forms: the democracy of antiquity; proto-democracy; even ‘medieval’ democracy.
This was always something that differentiated the West from the East. Yes, the Muslim world has democratic features: almost all states have significant elements of democracy – parties, legislative assemblies, elections, etc. However, they often play no significant role in political life, particularly at key moments.
Imitative democracy does not solve the problems of the man from the masses, who feels irritated, angry, and like he has been kicked out into the street.
The ‘Muslim street’, be it Arabic, Iranian, Turkish, Pakistani, or any other, remains a key political factor in the most pressing situations.
This discontent is turning to despair and fails to believe that powerful elites are capable of pursuing a political course that considers the interests of the wider population. This makes people seek other ways out of what they see as an eternal dead-end. Many see the Islamic alternative as the way out. For them, an attempt to rely on religious traditions seems the only way to overcome crises and build a promising future. The hope is in something of ‘the miraculous’, as the Islamic alternative originates with the divine.
The belief that the real solution for society is related to religion, to a return to Islam, is gaining in popularity in both public and individual mind-sets. The appeal to Islam, a kind of ‘Islamisation’ (though this word sounds strange when applied for Muslims) becomes a tool, a method of self-fulfilment for society and for the individual. Faith thus obtains the features of a political ideology called Islamism. The goal of Islamism is to implement the Islamic alternative, i.e., to reconstruct the state and society based on Islam.
This represents a revolt by the man from the masses. On one hand, it is destructive. On the other hand, it provokes creative activity.
There is another feature: in the West, ‘people from the masses’ (vertical barbarians) are homogeneous in terms of their financial situation and social status. Their goal is primarily to satisfy their increasing material needs, to maintain a domestic, daily welfare, avoid unemployment, and be safe from crime. In recent years, migration, particularly the migration of Muslims has also fostered discontent. This discontent is largely focused on public authorities. There is a belief that the public figures can be replaced by other, more acceptable actors. The collapse of the system is not the goal, but rather the elimination of its defects and the replacement of one government by another that might better satisfy general material needs.
In the Muslim world, vertical barbarians are not homogeneous. The man from the masses has varying levels of income, education, and social status. He may reside in urban or rural environments, and live within in a traditional or semi-traditional society. Within this society there are various, sometimes polar-opposite, ideas and norms of behaviour. Religiosity and spirituality is present on a wider scale. Actions, including within the political sphere, often have irrational motivations.
collePro-Muslim Brotherhood Rally in Australia. Sydney, August 2013. (Credit: Eye OnRadicals/Flickr)The task of the man from the masses in the Muslim world is not to reform the existing regime and political system. Rather, he wants to get rid of it and build a completely new system. This system, way of life, and structure of society and state represents a complete alternative to everything around him. Besides, in his opinion everything around him is borrowed from foreign cultures and does not comply with the ‘true tradition’ that was created at the time of the Prophet Mohammed, and which has been destroyed over the centuries. It is thus important to return to Islam’s origins, i.e., to restore the fundamentals and to implement the Islamic model. This is what Islamists are fighting for.
Of course, we should not equate Islamism and fundamentalism. Islamism is a political expression of fundamentalist discourse. One can still be a fundamentalist and not be Islamist, i.e., not participate in politics. But it is impossible to be Islamist and not support key fundamentalist concepts. Muslims dislike it when the activity of Islamists is identified as vertical barbarism. But we repeat that there should be nothing offensive here. Incidentally, some politicians also believe the term ‘communism’ is offensive; but it is simple a definition of a historic phenomenon.
Both in the West and in the Muslim world, vertical barbarism initially appeared spontaneously; it originated from the masses. Populist politicians have since tried to manage its development by understanding mass needs.
The Muslim world is distinct in that protests were supported by mosques, religious centres, and eminent religious figures who have formally or informally become leaders of the discontented masses. Those figures did not need to ‘learn populism’. They absorbed it in madrasahs and Islamic institutions, gaining professional experience from work as clerics.
Alongside a politicisation of religion, politics has become more religious via increasing appeals to Islamic values. This has been the case for both opponents and occupants of power.
Religiopolitical organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood have also played a role. The Muslim Brotherhood was established in Egypt in 1929 and has expressed social protest in religious language. In the 1980s the formation of new radical and extremist movements began (from Al-Qaeda to ISIS). Their appearance signifies one consequence of the new wave of vertical barbarism and should be included within the paradigm of Islamism.
The power of Islamism is revealed in the efficiency and appeal of its ideology. Islamists present an idea that the most significant goal is to restructure societies across the world according to Islamic fundamentals, with the eventual creation of an Islamic state. It has been fairly simple to persuade people that this task is not only fair but also realistic.
For example, according to Islamic doctrine the structure of a state is created from above, as the action of Allah. After his hegira (move) in 622 CE from Mecca to Medina, the Prophet Mohammad was the head of the Islamic community and acted as a ‘president’ of the (proto) Muslim state.
In this respect, we should note that there is nothing like an ‘Islamic state’ in the Quran, although in some surahs (‘Imran’s Family’, ‘Women’, and others) and in the Sunnah, there are contemplations regarding the structure of community and the need to abide by the law. The doctrine, and the precise foundations of such a state, or Caliphate, were outworked by theologians and faqihs (Muslim lawyers and jurists) over hundreds of years after the Prophet’s death. There is no unified concept of an Islamic state. Nevertheless, in the minds of many Muslims, there exists an image of an ideal institution that maintains both social justice and benign relations between authorities and society, rulers and common people.
The idea of an Islamic state is reminiscent of the utopias presented in Europe from the seventeenth century until the end of the nineteenth century, which eventually produced the idea of communism. One big difference is that the authors of European utopian ideas were rational thinkers, whereas the source for the Islamic utopia is of a divine nature. This can be seen as both a weakness and a strength of the religious utopia. On one hand, the idea’s perfection seems complete. On the other hand, as long as it is seen as the terrestrial equivalent of Eden, this seems impossible to achieve, as the ‘heavenly ideal’ is ultimately out of reach.
The concept of the Islamic state is an attempted reversion to the community the Prophet Mohammad created in Medina and it is therefore oriented towards the past. Consequently, the question arises as to how to combine the historical and contemporary achievements of humanity, i.e., what elements of non-Muslim cultures are acceptable? This is not a matter of science and technology alone. Primarily, this concerns social, political, and cultural experience.
When and how are Islamists going to achieve this? Some, whom we might call ‘moderate Islamists’, believe timing is less important and that implementation of Islamist ideas can be a long-term initiative. Islamism should therefore be practiced in compliance with existing law, without going to extremes. Others try to speed the process up and use more radical methods, beyond the law. Finally, a third group seeks to an immediate Islamisation of society by any means necessary, including violence and terrorism.
At the same time, extremists seek revenge on targets in both the West and the Muslim world for offenses committed against Islam. In this case Muslims who – as extremists see it – have betrayed Islam, also become victims of extremism. Islamist extremists often apply this judgement indiscriminately. Terrorists kill women, children, and the elderly, simply because these people put up with the rulers whose political actions are incompatible with Islam.
As a result, the world faces a religious and political phenomenon that acts as a parasite on Islamic civilisation. This phenomenon is truly barbaric.
We should admit here that in different eras various religions have used barbaric methods for self-preservation. It is enough to remember conflict between ‘pagans’ and Christians, the Christianisation of American Indians, the Inquisition, the Wahhabist movement in the Arab region, and one could go on. One might say that terror based on religious fundamentals, although absolutely inacceptable for most in the contemporary era, has been less objectionable at earlier moments in human history.
Horizontal barbarism and migration
Vertical barbarism in the Muslim world has caused a form of horizontal barbarism to spread beyond the region. This is connected with the large-scale migration that influences the developed world, Europe in particular, to a greater extent than elsewhere. Migration does have consequences in other regions and countries, but its origins are of a different nature to those affecting the West.
Mass migration to Europe from the Muslim countries of Africa and the Middle East has become a huge political problem. The growing number of Muslims in Europe is impressive: in 1990, they constituted four percent of the entire population in the European Union; in 2010 – six percent; and by 2030 they will make up eight percent. In Germany, there are 4.8 million Muslims (5.8 percent of the population); in France – 4.7 million (7.5 percent); in the United Kingdom – three million (4.8 percent). Due to the rapid increase of migration in 2013-2016, the current figures are likely much bigger by now.
Migrants from Muslim countries ensure the ‘native’ European majority are aware of their traditions, values, and behavioural norms; and sometimes they even impose them. There is rarely any dialogue between cultures. Instead, there is pressure on European post-industrial society’s culture from the culture of less developed societies, and some migrants’ natural intolerance is strengthening due to influence from radical Islam. Several attempts to establish compromises in Germany, France, and Scandinavian countries have turned out to be simply palliative solutions to the issue of integration.
There is also another explanation for the present-day phenomenon of horizontal barbarism in European countries, based on historical parallels with the breakdown of the Western Roman Empire due to attacks from barbarians from the north and the east. This is that civilisations that have achieved high levels of development begin to enjoy certain comforts, then ‘soften’, and can no longer adequately respond to threats. As a result, they are not capable of protecting themselves from the invasion of barbarians.
Analysts Anders Strindberg and Mats Warn wrote the following: “Western efforts and ambitions to subjugate and dominate much of Muslim world, were, in the age of empires and colonies, no mere fantasy, but a clearly discernible fact. Islamic political thinkers at this stage pioneered the idea that Muslims in general suffered from an inferiority complex vis-à-vis Western models of modernity, which weakened [their] ability to withstand the Western onslaught” (Strindberg & Warn, 2011, p. 186).
We can say that one reason for the rise of contemporary barbarism is recollections of European ‘guilt’ from the colonial past, and the inferiority complex of conquered people who still feel offended by Europeans.
Eastern European states have not seen a huge amount of migration from Islamic countries. Migrants have preferred to settle in the wealthier and more comfortable Western part of the continent. One reason is that in general, Eastern European citizens have negative attitudes towards the idea of migration. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, these countries are generally poorer in comparison to Western Europe. ‘Unwelcome guests’ are therefore treated as an additional burden on already tight state budgets. Secondly, the citizens of Eastern Europe, who recall the pressure of totalitarian communist ideology, are afraid of what they see as another totalitarian ideology – radical Islam, which is thought to be popular among migrants.
The problem of Muslim migration is increasingly significant in Russia, although it is not as pressing as in Western Europe. According to data from the Federal Migration Service, in 2015 Russia had 4,341,000 migrants from Central Asia (in 2005 their number was about 1.5 million). Also, the Russian Federation has 1.5-2 million Azerbaijanis. According to different sources, in 2016 the number of Muslim migrants in Russia was between 3 million and 4.5 million. Precise estimates are impossible due to the number of illegal migrants.
In Russia, there are fewer conflicts related to ethno-religious tensions than in Western Europe. In most cases these conflicts take place between Russian citizens: people from the North Caucasus (‘internal migrants’) and local Slavic people. At the same time, migrants from Central Asia, who feel increasingly Muslim, try to preserve their traditions, leading to a growing demand for new mosques. This is problematic when local populations oppose their construction. For example, in Moscow, where the Muslim community comprises 1.5 to 2 million people, there are only six mosques, which is obviously not enough.
However, Muslim migrants in Russia do not generally insist on building new mosques. They tend to fear reactions from other people and from authorities. In Russia, there are only two ‘Tajik mosques’ – in Yakutsk and Vladivostok. They were built thanks to financial support from Tajik diaspora businessmen.
However, there has been an ‘expansion’ of migrants using the mosques of the Russian-Tatar community. This has caused frequent clashes with Tatars unhappy that their mosques are occupied by people from Central Asia and that the imam is often Tajik or Uzbek. Mosques are beginning to look more and more like Central Asian mosques, and Tatars have felt imposed upon by alien ethno-religious cultures.
The problem of horizontal barbarism in the contemporary world has arisen not only due to migration from less developed to more developed countries. The case of Myanmar, the largest state in Southeast Asia (with over 55 million people), is an example in this regard.
Horizontal barbarism appeared here as a response of the local, mostly Buddhist, population to Muslim Rohingya people’s alleged migration to Myanmar from Bangladesh. In this case, both countries are at approximately the same level of development. Myanmar has established tough laws to restrict the rights of Muslim migrants, including a policy of segregation.
An organisation has been established (`The 969 Movement`) to support the idea of a complete ousting of the Rohingya people from Myanmar. Subsequent clashes between local Buddhists and Muslims turned to mass slaughter and eventually over 200,000 Rohingya people were banished from Myanmar. Even the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize winner and head of the National League for Democracy, took power after the parliamentary elections in 2015, did not really improve the situation.
These events were shaped by several historical factors. Throughout the post-1945 independence period, Myanmar has been ‘self-isolated’ from the outer world. Compared with other Southeast Asian countries it did not fall under American or Soviet influence. An atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion towards foreigners was developed within Myanmar. This was deemed necessary to guard against the ‘external enemies’, or ‘imperialists’ allegedly plotting Myanmar’s collapse.
Another factor is that Theravada Buddhist, the most conservative strand of Buddhism, penetrates all spheres of society in Myanmar (Tsekhanova, 2006, pp. 59-61). Myanmar has also experienced cases of intolerance towards people of other confessions.
Finally, Myanmar is unique in that ethnic minorities make up over 30 percent of the population and minorities densely populate border regions. Some minority groups (the Karens, Kachins, and Shans), who have tried to obtain independence, have launched long-term guerrilla wars against the government. In this context, the supposed mass migration of another ethno-religious group into one of the border regions causes serious concerns for Myanmar’s ruling elites.
This combination of factors has provoked the reality of horizontal barbarism in Myanmar. Generally speaking, the political situation remains unstable. Democratic forces are interested in the further development of the country, which is moving towards democratic reforms, have had to make concessions for the military and conservative groups of Buddhist monks. These concessions are also related to the Muslim Rohingya issue, which is why violence against the group is likely to be repeated.
The phenomenon of barbarism has been seen throughout human history, across all civilisations. From a scientific perspective, barbarism cannot be seen as an entirely negative phenomenon or as something overtly offensive. It must be seen in relative terms. The barbarism that we, from an educated and liberal context, see as an inhumane nightmare (cannibalism, slavery, the extermination of entire nations, the destruction of other cultures, and so on) has been relatively normal at different historical moments.
These historical tragedies may be considered a drastic form of communication between civilisations, an ‘anti-dialogue’ of sorts. From this perspective, the popular term ‘clash of civilisations’ doesn’t comprise anything new. What we may also note is that at times of inter-civilisational conflict, `the winners` were not necessarily people with more ‘developed’ culture and knowledge. It was more often a simple case of military power, for example, various nomadic peoples have achieved victories over more developed and settled groups.
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, vertical barbarism has become a significant factor in the development of contemporary societies. This phenomenon was first analysed by Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. Vertical barbarism has been connected to rapidly growing mass access to the benefits of contemporary civilisation. This access has been enhanced due to qualitative progress in terms of democracy, industry, and technology.
Vertical barbarism is based on a mass desire to benefit from civilisational development as much as possible, without incurring personal costs. It has fostered intolerance and reliance on force.
Vertical barbarism has manifested in different ways in different countries and regions. It has had a huge impact on the public and individual lives of hundreds of millions of people. For example, in the second half of the twentieth century, due to the developing consumer society in the West, vertical barbarism seemed to have departed the historical arena, as there were apparently no obstacles to the wider population gaining access to the benefits of contemporary civilisation.
However, events at the end of the century – the beginning of the processes of globalisation, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist system – have facilitated a new emergence of vertical barbarism. Excessive opportunities and fears have led to a new rise in vertical barbarism in developed countries. In contrast, the achievement of new standards in quality of life, coupled with widespread violence, were the most powerful drivers of the spread of vertical barbarism in post-Soviet countries.
In actual fact, human history is connected to vertical barbarism. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, vertical barbarism, in its different forms, has been one of the main trends defining public and private life. This has been the case across all historical civilisations, influencing world politics at all times.
In the Muslim world, vertical barbarism takes a religious guise. Widespread discontent leads people to the Islamic model for a way out. Islamist religiopolitical movements inspire people with the idea of an Islamic alternative. Vertical barbarism is transformed into horizontal barbarism when Muslims migrate and attempt to demonstrate a superiority of values with respect to other civilisations.
There is yet another factor, not formally connected to vertical barbarism. This is the spread of Islam south of the Sahara. In 2017, Muslims made up 16 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa. According to some predictions, by 2060 they will make up 27 percent. This is especially so if we consider that Muslim fertility rates are generally 1.1 percent ahead Christian fertility rates in the region. (Lipka & Hackett, 2017).
It is possible to identify the origins of vertical barbarism. But it is impossible to define its end. It is a process that always involves new layers and groups of society. In different parts of the world many politicians have tried to restrain it. They have achieved a measure of success in Europe, but in the US, the victory of Donald Trump can be seen as a consequence of vertical barbarism.
Similar tendencies are found in Muslim countries, where Islamist politicians retain significant power; they are feature of governance throughout the Muslim world and sometimes have even come to power (although for a short time only), as was the case in Tunisia and in Egypt in the 2010s.
Vertical barbarism is one of the most significant trends in society’s evolution, being manifested in various national and confessional expressions. We can assume that it will evolve and expand, likely obliging social scientists to find less offensive ways of defining it.
Chief Researcher, Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute
Professor, Department of Political Science at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow
Lead Researcher, Primakov Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences
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 The latter of which is the extreme kind of state-oriented policy.
 In 2017 he was replaced by Lenin Moreno, a fellow party member.
 Glocalisation represents a combination of global and local factors in the development of a particular territory.
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