There are two things that the Barbaric Heart, for all its brutal blond beauty, doesn’t get.
First, it doesn’t look at itself. It is frustrated by questions like “What makes life worth living?” Or it assumes that the answer is obvious: “Winning! Of course.” It doesn’t even wonder what its relation to other barbarians might be. It doesn’t know about solidarity beyond a blind submission to the tribe (the ancient form of that perverse form of loyalty we call patriotism). But it has very little understanding of why self-interest should be sacrificed to a universal good, whatever that is.
Second, the Barbaric Heart doesn’t understand, except at the very last moment of anguished recognition, how suicidal its activities are. Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is full of descriptions of the awful moment of animal awareness when the barbarian realizes that he has gone, once again, too far and brought about his own destruction. For example, after the disastrous battle of Hadrianople in 378 AD at which two thirds of the Emperor Valens’s Roman army was wiped out in its own moment of barbaric folly, the Gothic armies were, as usual, unrestrained, abandoned to passions, and generally given over to what Gibbon called “blind and irregular fury.” Their “mischievous disposition” consumed with “improvident rage” the crops and the possessions of the local inhabitants. Eventually, an army of the Goths was surprised by the remaining Romans while “immersed in wine and sleep,” and there followed in turn a “cruel slaughter of the astonished Goths.” Thus, the anguish of the Barbaric Heart.
Is it too much to say that, a little more than a millennium and a half later, you could see the same surprise and anguish on the faces of the managers of international investment securities as the housing bubble burst and lenders, insurers, bond markets, and hedge funds all came close to evaporating as billions upon billions of dollars disappeared virtually overnight? All around them are the homeowners in foreclosure, just like the peasant villagers in 378 looking at the smoking ruins of their little homes.
The Barbaric Heart is a pure emptiness, an emptiness that doesn’t know itself as empty. It is an emptiness that has turned upon itself. It is a mouth that chews. It is a permanent state of war against all others but also, most profoundly, against itself. One part violence, one part plunder, and eventual anguish and regret.