The Barbarian as Agent of History

Herder, the German humanist from the end of the 18th century, a representative of Weimar classicism and of the Sturm und Drang movement, man of letters, philosopher of history, defender of popular cultures, advocate of the uniqueness and importance of every civilization. The ways in which one may summarize his legacy extend even further. The present paper will focus on the philosophy of history. We will prove that his writings reveal a complex and solid theory of barbarianism, topical for 21st century Europe. First of all, we aim to clarify the multiple meanings of this concept, identifying both the historical data and the theoretical principles behind it. In this way, the grounds on which Herder executed a radical overthrow of the Enlightenment conception (closest to that held nowadays) upon the barbarian will be revealed. Subsequently should derive the relativity of the “civilization–barbarism” opposition, as well as the anticipation of Hegel’s idea that history necessarily continues through the barbarian. Finally, we aim to provide reasonably founded answers to the questions generated by this thesis: 1. What are the qualities that confer on the barbarian the possibility of creating history? – in other words, what turns him from supporting actor into a collective agent able to change the course of history? 2. Is there a law of history that decides whether some barbarians are doomed to perish, while others build empires?