The word “barbarian” derives from the Greek “barbaros,” which originally meant someone who did not speak Greek, i.e., an outsider, and since then its derivations through Latin and French have come to take on the connotation of an outsider who is uncultured, indeed uncivilized. The modern concept of “civilization” in turn has its roots in the Roman “civitas,” the body of citizens united under the common law that bound them together, giving them responsibilities on the one hand and rights of citizenship on the other.
An accepted and shared law that lays out responsibilities and rights for citizens is not only the definition of civilization but also a practical requirement for any civilized culture to endure. But… in this sense culture and civilization are not synonymous. One can have a civilization of many cultures, or a single culture that is in no way a civilization.
The rise of the “modern barbarian” is the result, paradoxically, of technological advances and the massive human population growth that technology has engendered. Higher technology levels and greater population density combine so that every human being has the potential to create greater harm to every other human being, often in ways not considered by or known to the individual. In order to prevent or at least minimize this harm, civilizations pass laws, such as emissions standards on cars, where certain businesses can be located, how individuals and businesses must handle waste so that it doesn’t poison their neighbors or neighborhoods, safety standards for products, traffic laws… The list is long, but the laws have generally proved necessary because there are always individuals who believe it is “their right” to do what is not prohibited.
Then there are the “modern barbarians,” who reject any law or regulation that impedes their “right” to do what they think best, regardless of the impact on others. Some of these barbarians are individuals, and some are businesses and corporations, but whatever the type of barbarian, they all ignore the laws, or twist them – or flout them – so that they can continue practices that harm others in order to make money, gain power… if not both.
Maybe we should consider a different way of dealing with the severe lawbreakers, who break the compact, and “modern barbarians,” who break, bend, or ignore it. Since they don’t want to abide by the laws, perhaps we should remove all protections and privileges of civilization from them. You don’t want to follow the laws, then the laws won’t protect you… and no one will be prosecuted for shooting you, or dumping trash on your property. You won’t have to pay taxes, but you won’t get any benefits, no medical care unless you can pay cash for it, and you can’t drive on any road or highway because you aren’t paying for its construction and upkeep… and so on.
Such an approach would never fly… but it is a useful thought experiment. Not that any of the modern barbarians would understand. Nor would most liberals be anything but horrified, I suspect, at even the thought.