H. Beam Piper on neo-barbarism excerpted from his novel SPACE VIKING (Copyright 1963, by Ace Books, Inc.)
“Yes, for one thing, we don’t have the Neobarbarians,” somebody said. “And if they ever came out here, we’d blow them to Em-See-Square in nothing flat. Might be a good thing if they did, too; it would stop us squabbling among ourselves.”
Harkaman looked at him in surprise. “Just who do think the Neobarbarians are, anyhow?” he asked. “Some race of invading nomads, Atilla’s Huns in spaceships?”
“Well, isn’t that who they are?’ Gorram asked.
“Nifflheim, no! There aren’t a dozen and a half planets in the Old federation that still have hyperdrive, and they’re all civilized. ... These are homemade barbarians. Workers and peasants who revolted to seize and divide the wealth and then found they’d smashed the means of production and killed of the all the technical brains. Survivors on planets hit during the Interstellar Wars, from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Centuries, who lost the machinery of civilization. Followers of political leader on local-dictatorship planets. Companies of mercenaries thrown out of employment and living by pillage. Religious fanatics following self-anointed prophets.”
“You’ve seen decivilized planets. How does it happen?”
“I know how it’s happened on a good many: War. Destruction of cities and industries. Survivors among ruins, too busy keeping their own bodies alive to try to keep civilization alive. Then they lose all knowledge of how to be civilized.”
“That’s catastrophic decivilization. There is also decivilization by erosion, and while it’s going on, nobody notices it. Everybody is proud of their civilization, their wealth and culture. But trade is falling off; fewer ships come in each year. So there is boastful talk about planetary self-sufficiency; who needs off-planet trade anyhow? Everybody seems to have money, but the government is always broke. Deficit spending–and always more vital social services for which the government has to spend money. The most vital one, of course, is buying votes to keep the government in power. And it gets harder for the government to get anything done.
“The soldiers are sloppier at drill, and their uniforms and weapons aren’t taken care of. The non-coms are insolent. And more and more parts of the city are dangerous at night, and then even in daytime. And it’s been years since a new building went up, and the old ones aren’t being repaired anymore.”
“Our grandchildren, if any will probably be raiding Murduk.”
“You think it’ll be like that?”
“Don’t you? You were there you saw what was happening. The barbarians are rising; they have a leader, and they’re uniting. Every society rests on a barbarian base. The people who don’t understand civilization, and wouldn’t like it if they did. The hitchikers. The people who create nothing, and who don’t appreciate what others have created for them, and who think civilization is something that just exists and that all they need to do is enjoy what they understand of it–luxuries, a high living standard, and easy work for high pay. Responsibilities? Phooey! What do they have a government for?
“And now, the hitchhikers think they know more about the car than the people who designed it, so they’re going to grab the controls. Zaspar Makann says they can, and he’s the Leader.” He poured a drink from a decanter that had been looted on Pushan; there was a planet where a republic had been overthrown in favor of a dictatorship four centuries ago, and the planetary dictatorship had fissioned into a dozen regional dictatorships, and now they were down to the peasant-village and handicraft-industry level. “I don’t understand it, though. I was reading about Hitler on the way home. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zaspar Makann had been reading about Hitler, too. He’s using all Hitler’s tricks. But Hitler come to power in a country which had been impoverished by a military defeat. Marduk hasn’t fought a war in almost two generations, and that one was a farce.”
“It wasn’t the war that put Hitler into power. It was the fact that the ruling class of his nation, the people who kept things running, were discredited. The masses, the homemade barbarians, didn’t have anybody to take their responsibilities for them. What they have on Marduk is a ruling class that has been discrediting itself. A ruling class that’s ashamed of its privileges and shirks its duties. A ruling class that has begun to believe that the masses are just as good as they are, which they manifestly are not. And a ruling class that won’t use force to maintain its position. And they have a democracy, and they are letting the enemies of democracy shelter themselves behind democratic safeguards.”