Wisdom on Wednesdays—A place for the barbarian

The very poorest thing made directly by human persons is infinitely superior to the very best thing made by a machine.  If we do not comprehend and approve that instantaneously and with our whole heart, we are barbarians.  That does not mean that there is not a place, and a very proper place, for the machine-made thing, any more than it means that there is no place for the barbarian.”  —from the essay “Room (with Bath) at the Inn” (October 5, 1941)


Hut built by Carl Schmitt on his property in Silvermine where he stayed during the summers before his marriage; pastel on paper, c. 1918.

3 thoughts on “Wisdom on Wednesdays—A place for the barbarian

  1. Here’s what I wrote at the CSF Facebook page as a follow-up to some comments there on this post (in three parts):

    Carl Schmitt wrote a lot about the “barbarian.” In one place he contrasted the “barbarian” and the Catholic:
    “Barbarian: One who lives in time without the complication of eternity. Hence, one opposed to metaphysic.
    Catholic: One who lives both in eternity and time with emphasis upon eternity. Hence, [he is] not opposed to barbarism, but [is] complementary to it. The Catholic seeks to absorb, rather than [to] exterminate barbarism.”
    Notice that the Catholic does _not_ “live in eternity” as you might have expected him to say. He is not the direct opposite of the barbarian and is not out to exterminate barbarism (still less the barbarian), but seeks to “absorb” it.

  2. Schmitt also distinguished the barbarian from the pagan – the latter “the physical man” the former “the practical man.” A key difference here is that, whereas the pagan seeks permanence, albeit in physical things, the barbarian has no real conception of this. “A Barbarian is one who does not want eternal life. Moreover he does not even feel instinctively the desire of the pure pagan for permanence in the realm of matter. In short he ignores Being, or at best desires only existence to the exclusion of essence and Substance. That is, he desires only physical existence. He is not a human being.”

  3. The pagan looks to mythology (art), the barbarian to science (expediency, wealth), for ultimate truth. He saw Communists as the ultimate barbarians of his day. Still, as is typical of Schmitt’s thinking, he does not categorically reject the insights of the barbarian. The key was to recognize the order or “hierarchy” of the different types.
    “To the Catholic, objective reality resides in Absolute Goodness.
    “To the Communist (barbarian), objective reality resides in Absolute Expediency.
    “To the pagan, objective reality resides in Absolute Beauty.
    “Only when a hierarchy of values can be established among these three realms can man be whole and integrated.”

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