What’s On My Mind: The Barbarian Principle

By Theodore Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
September 30, 2014




In his magnificent book, “The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History”, Howard Bloom tells us about the Barbarian Principle in one of the chapters. In short, it warns those sitting at the top of the pecking about the danger of complacency. We are told that a position at the top of the pecking order is not permanent. Those sitting at the top should be wary of those at the bottom; those at the bottom are usually eyeing the top spot, usually with the ambition to occupy same when the opportunity is ripe.

Here is a marvelous quotation from the book: “Dominant beasts remain vigilant. But a strange thing happens at the pecking order’s apogee. The dominant super-organism sometimes goes to sleep. It falls complacently into a fatal trap, assuming that its high position is God-given, that its fortunate lot in life will last forever; that its lofty status is carved in stone. It forgets that any pecking order is a temporary thing and no longer remembers just how miserable life can be at the bottom. The results are often an unpleasant surprise.”

Did you know that Rome was torn apart by people referred to as barbarians? They were considered contemptible creatures by well-cultured citizens. Let’s lift another quotation from the book: “The barbarians didn’t shave. They wore dirty clothes. They were almost always drunk. Their living standard was one stop above that of a mule. Their technology was laughable. They usually couldn’t read and write and they certainly had no culture. What could these smelly primitives do? They could fight.”

At one point in history, Egypt was noted as a superpower. It towered over its neighbors and enjoyed a great deal of opulence and prestige. But there was a group of people called the Hyksos and when the right time came for them to launch an attack against the mighty Egyptians, they succeeded with ease. The author describes them this way: “They were cultural nobodies, contemptible yahoos. Their life-style was fourth-rate. Aside from their lack of couth, they had three distinguishing characteristics --- they were excellent horsemen, the reveled in violence, and they had a knack for inventing military hardware.”

What had led to the defeat of the Egyptians could be summed up in one word: OVERCONFIDENCE. They overlooked the seemingly unsophisticated barbarians. They barbarians beat them and took their lunch.

Then there were the Babylonians. They had run over all the entities in their way in establishing themselves as the superpower of the day; their only concerns were the other major powers in their sphere; the Assyrians and the Medes. The Babylonian territory was said to stretch for a thousand miles from the Persian Gulf to the shores of the Mediterranean.  The Babylonian military machine was a wonder to behold.

While the Babylonians sat at the zenith of power and prestige, while they worried about other major powers, up crept some hitherto- nobodies --- insignificant creatures they were and they were called the Persians. Our author once again puts it this way: “The Persians were unlettered and uncouth. But they loved a good fight. It wasn’t long before the hitherto- unknown mob overwhelmed the Assyrians and the Medes, Babylon’s two rival superpowers. Then the Persians turned on the isolated Babylonians and won.”

But the story continues in a fascinating way: “Like the Babylonians before them, the Persians were blind to the barbarians and expected trouble only from nations celebrated for military might. They forgot that the real danger often comes from a people everyone has totally dismissed. So the great Persian leader, Darius, didn’t bother with the scarcely civilized yokels who squabbled interminably on a bunch of islands and rocky coasts to the west and who called themselves the Greeks.”
The Greeks, the Athenians to be more exact, had their eyes on the top rung of the pecking order. They wanted to ascend and sit at the top of it --- just like others before them had done. They got their chance. They provoked a fight with the Persians. Again, our author’s words:

“But the barbarians the Persians considered beneath contempt won the war. In the years before the first the first major Persian-Greek war, when he was informed that the burning of Sardis had been pulled off by a landing party of Athenians, the exasperated Persian emperor Darius had been forced to ask, “Who are the Athenians? Now, presumably, he knew.”

One hundred and fifty years later, a Greek whom even his fellow Greeks called a barbarian would conquer the entire Persian Empire. His name was Alexander the Great. Yes, Alexander the Great had been considered a barbarian by the Greek upper-class. One has to wonder about all these barbarians.

Let’s move forward into time. In 1870, when the French “rated by every arm-chair general as the mightiest military force on the Continent’ locked horns with an upstart power, the French lost. According to the story, “Its army was chopped up like ground round. Its glorious capital, Paris, faced the humiliation of a foreign army marching down its streets. The upstart nation that had brought France to its knees was Germany.

England was once the most dominating country in the world, but after two world wars, and after the smoke cleared, two countries described as “backward nations of Johnny-come-latelies” ended up at the top of the pecking order. The two countries were the United States and Russia --- two countries whose inhabitants had usually been regarded as “just one small step above the primitive.”

Howard Bloom ends his seminal narrative with a crucial lesson: “Never forget the pecking order’s surprises. Today’s superpower is tomorrow’s conquered state. Yesterday’s overlooked mob is often the ruler of tomorrow. Never underestimate the Third World. Never be complacent about barbarians.

So there is the story about nations --- how nations climb to the apex of the pecking order at the expense of weaker and more disorganized nations, only to lose their coveted positions through complacency and carelessness. It has happened so many times in history, the trend cannot be denied. But does this phenomenon have any significance within societies? Can one group of people climb at the top of a national pecking order and remain there until brought down by a lesser regarded group through complacency? The answer is an obvious yes.

Let’s take the case of Liberia. For close to a century and a half, one small elite group dominated the halls of power and government, at the expense of the vast majority, the so-called country people. In 1980, complacent at the top and not even paying attention to the indigenous masses (let’s liken them to the barbarians of old), the so-called cultured and civilized elite was overwhelmed by the barbarians. They came crushing down to the ground after their fragile house had crumbled under its own weight.

Unfortunately, not all stories have happy endings. The barbarians of Liberia were never a homogenous group, rather a splinter of groups with one thing uniting them in commonality: Misery. The Bassa, Krahn, Gio, Grebo, Kru, Kpelle, Lorma and all the other tribes forming the Liberian national landscape did not have anything in common except their common oppression by the ruling elite; they were united in misery. Subconsciously, they perceived themselves as being the ‘other’ in their own country, but they made no conscious efforts to form workable coalitions or political alliances. When the time came and they planned and executed a coup d’état, they came to the realization that they had no clearly defined goals; they had not defined the ‘other’. They fell in disarray and splintered even further and worked against themselves.

Now seemingly, that ruling elite that was overthrown is on the verge of a big comeback. All indications are that the present administration is trying to restore the ‘old glory’ and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is leading that not-so-quiet revolution of the elite. Under her administration, she has strengthened the old guard. She has built coalitions with the splintered barbarians and the barbarians are now even more disunited as they were in 1980 when their so-called revolution took shape.
So what’s the lesson here? History has shown that barbarians can unite against the elite and fight them successfully and topple them from their position of comfort. In the case of Liberia, it was a false alarm; there was no revolution. Until the barbarians can unite, they stand no chance against the sophisticated elite. The elite is carefully planning and plotting to maintain the status quo while the barbarians remain complacent.

There is still time to change the situation in Liberia for the better of the majority. But nothing can be taken for granted. It becomes the responsibility of an oppressed people to throw off the yokes and unshackle themselves. Until Liberians unite against the old order, we are doomed to be oppressed. Only this time the worst is about to happen: We will be willing subjects to the oppression because we refuse to answer the call to freedom. Barbarians of Liberia, are we willing to unite? It’s either unite now or live in perpetual subjugation.

Author’s note: The term ‘barbarian’, as applied in the case of Liberia is used in a glorified way. Perhaps it is fair to say it is used in a metaphorical or even a sarcastic sense. Throughout Liberia’s history, the indigenous people of Liberia have been referred to as “country” people. Country, as used in this sense is a derogatory term meaning uncivilized, uncultured, uncouth…  Additionally, the ‘country’ people have been referred to as pagans and heathens. So is it a stretch to sarcastically embrace the word barbarian? I don’t think so.

Author: Theodore Hodge can be reached at imthodge@gmail.com


Dr. J. W
Theo, I feel compelled to put truth where it belongs. I also wanted to bring some common sense to your propaganda machine against an elected government and it people. Your continuous act of rampant disrespect for the highest office in our land give credence to your literary intransigience.

In your last two pieces, you spoke of a taxi driver who spoke of the sufferings that the Liberian people are enduring. you also mentioned a pseudo friend who advised you to returned and seek gravy in the present administration. In this piece you are calling names (barbarians)and redefining words that existed before the Creator thought of you.

what I've not heard you say about this government is what you have not say. Your ability to sit in your retirement home and bicker and baffle Ellen's Executive powers and inner-workings. You also complained when she wrote the US government for help.

I do not have the strength to sit here and lecture you as "the okra is passed", but I want to advise you to follow you heart oops your friend's heart and go find yourself a job. I understand that you are not medically incline, but you can write a help seeking Ebola commentary and leave the Devil you know alone as the angel you are seeking is not coming to help you as it is busy helping Liberia.

" A topic to the writer is all that is needed" You are welcome..... Anytime...

Dr. J. W at 10:11PM, 2014/09/28.
Harry Conway
My question is who in their sound mind will want to rebuild something that did not stand the test of time? In other words, doing things the same way and getting the same result.

So, Liberia's problem is not about Barbarians and Elites, but the practice of a failed system. And that is why, to use the words of the Author, the "Barbarians" failed because, they did not only repeat the wrongs of the Old Order, but did worst. Hence, it does not matter who sits at the top of the "pecking Order of Power" for as long as you repeat the wrongs that brought down the Order before you, the result will be the same.

In a nutshell, it does not matter who sits at the top. What matters is not repeating the mistakes of the past.
Harry Conway at 08:52AM, 2014/09/29.
Ziggy Morgan

The "doctor" with only initials as a name... you seem to be hiding something. But one thing is clear, you are a fan of Mr. Hodge's writings. You may not agree with him, but you seem unable to ignore him. You hang on to every word he writes and then you come up with irresponsible responses that show your ignorance, your lack of comprehension.

For example, Mr. Hodge did not claim to have spoken with a cab-driver who discussed the Liberian people. Read the article again; this time very slowly so you can comprehend the story.

Secondly, Mr. Hodge quoted extensively from a book he read. He gave the title of the book and the author's name. He did not use the term "barbarians" to disparage Liberians. Again you need to read with comprehension. Read more slowly and perhaps read it again and again before you comment.

Thirdly, did someone tell you that just because a government was elected by the people, others do not have the right to criticize that government? Are we not in a democracy where 'Freedom of Speech' is a basic tenet? Come on now, critiquing the government is not a crime. Give the man a break for expressing his opinions. He is expressing his opinions and he is brave enough to put his name forth. You are criticizing him anonymously hiding behind your title and initials.

My advice to you: Come up with an article expressing your own views. And use your name. Don't be such a coward by attacking someone you don't even know. The man is doing what he feels is right. Take the challenge and respond accordingly instead of attacking him by throwing insults at him.

Mr. Hodge has a huge fan base. You can read the positive responses here. But I suspect you are a fan too. You just have a strange way of showing it. Thank you.
Ziggy Morgan at 09:34AM, 2014/09/29.
Ziggy Morgan

Well Mr. Conway, the story is indeed about barbarians and elites. The story is not simply about Liberia, the phenomenon goes way back into history... from the ancient Egyptians to the Babylonians, to the Greeks and Persians, and the French, Germans and English... there is a thread.

Don't just read the comparison about Liberia and give a knee-jerk reaction. The story is indeed about the pecking order phenomenon, as is clearly stated.

The barbarians are coming! We can't avoid it. Watch out for them!
Ziggy Morgan at 09:52AM, 2014/09/29.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Mr.J.W., you are wrong.Mr. Theodoe Hodge is right! Only the naive, the gullible, the ignorant, or their counterparts - cronies, cowards, and sycophants, "LEAVE THE DEVIL ALONE". And it is this warped thinking by people like you, that has brought about this fiery epidemic.

Neither in politics nor in administration or governance is an angel sought. What is sought is a moral and competent leader. Period! Ellen has proven to be neither moral nor competent! And you know it!

If this devil (Ellen) was dumped at the end of her first term and not campaigned for by people like you, Tipoteh, etc. etc., the nation would not be faced with such imminent extinction!

Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 02:08PM, 2014/09/29.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
“Never forget the pecking order’s surprises. Today’s superpower is tomorrow’s conquered state. Yesterday’s overlooked mob is often the ruler of tomorrow. Never underestimate the Third World. Never be complacent about barbarians."

OH! How true the statement or quotation above!

THE KRAHNS prior to 1980 were known throughout Liberia or especially among the Congaus as "the last tribe". In 1980 and beyond, THE KRAHNS became the rulers, WHILE the super power Congau became the "conquered" ethnic group!

The Congaus generally seem to be in such "conquered" ethnic group category to this day to the extent that Charles Brumskine had to claim being a son of the Dei tribe, and Winston Tubman claimed to be a Greboe during the last election!
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 03:43PM, 2014/09/29.
Teah Jardia
Take it or leave it, Ellen Johnson-sirleaf is the cancer in the body politics of Liberia and her days are number. I am not fond of Mr. Theodore Hodge but he has the right to speak his mind about the political inconsistency and bad governance of Liberia. Ellen remains a threat to our democracy and it is a matter of must that she leaves or force out of office...it is imperative to save the country from the wreckage of irreparable damage before 2017. Whether or not we agree with the "complacent" proposition, there's reason in the analogy that we Liberians are passive people or else Ellen wouldn't have become president given her grisly past. Along with Taylor, they destroyed our country and killed women and children. This woman has been the epicenter of every unscrupulous activities not to mentioned her incendiary comments during the war that killed so many of our people. Clearly, we can't rebuild by engaging in the politics of revenge and exhibit an attitude of acquiescence toward the plight of the country as has been the case in this rogue regime. Ellen is a TRC convicts and she belong in jail with Taylor. Put simply, The country will never be in peace unless we put in prison criminal like Ellen Johnson-sirleaf and her coterie of friends who are bent on robbing the country cold. Charles Taylor alone didn't take war to Liberia to be in prison for 50 years whereas Ellen masquerades as president with out leadership foresight. Again, I am not fond of Mr. Hodge but I respect his intellectual powers. What we need is a collective efforts to kick this criminal out of office and save the country for our children's future.
Teah Jardia at 04:48PM, 2014/09/29.
Ted Allison

Ha, ha, ha... Mr. Jardia, you must not really be fond of Mr. Hodge. You said it twice.
Ted Allison at 06:18PM, 2014/09/29.
Ansu Dualu
I hope that DR in your many initials is part of name and not a title. Where do you get off equating criticism to disrespect of the prez? Do you realize this "devil" been left alone too long but it's not leaving us alone? Here's a hint: wanna be left alone, stay in PRIVATE life!!
Ansu Dualu at 07:07PM, 2014/09/29.
Harry Conway
Mr. Ziggy Morgan, if indeed it is anyone who lacks comprehension of the article,then it is you. The theme that runs through that article( be it in present time or in time past or whatever and whoever history you are looking at) is that at every point in time, those at the top of the "pecking order' got complacent, so much so, the least expected within their society toppled them. In another words, those at the top repeated the mistake of those before them( i.e. getting complacent).

So, in Liberia, the system from 1847 has not been working. We have continued to practice the same old system that continues to fail us. So, as long as we practice this failed system, we will get the same old result. Hence, if we even like, we can put Jesus at the top of the system. He will get the same result as those before him.

I am sure the Author will agree with me.The sooner we Liberians take a holistic look at the system(where in each and everyone are contributing to sustaining this failed system) and stop singling out individuals for the country's woes/failures, the better chance we stand of charting a new course. Have you ever wonder why despite the changes of Governments we have had we are still "in motion without progress?"
Harry Conway at 07:30AM, 2014/09/30.
Teah Jardia
He is an intellectual and I respect his ability in confronting the issues front and center...the essence of politic is to disagree to agree at the end of the day. We all are working hard to derive solution to our basic socio-policio and economic problems and theodoe hoge is on one of the soldiers on the field of history fighting the culture of injustic and corruption that have engulf our country under the bombastic leadership of madam ellen johnson sirleaf. I will disagree with Mr. HODGE on principle, not on a personal note. Where I may disagree, I will be prepare to also offer an alternative approach to our particular difficulty.
Teah Jardia at 07:49AM, 2014/09/30.
Ziggy Morgan

You are right, Mr. Conway; I'm wrong. Have a nice day, sir. Thank you.
Ziggy Morgan at 02:26PM, 2014/09/30.
Dr. J. W
Mr. Hodge, Dwalu,Zoebohn and Anti-Ellenists, it is pathetic that you have continuously agreed to the utter foolishness that Mr. Hodge has spoken of Ellen and the present government. This response to you all in in response to some of the cowardice attributes laced on my aforementioned response.

What I want you to understand is faith without action is only an action word. Got it. I guess not. The are a lot of things that every government in the word falls short of-corruption, unemployment, racism or nepotism, and whatever. however there have not been issues of ritualistic killings attributed to Ellen personally, issues of random firings, disappearance of government officials and some of you talking"American" politics on here.

Let me make one thing clear or give you something to talk about. There is a virus called Ebola that is ravaging Liberia and part of West Africa that need brains to come out with ways and means to stop it and not fools. Do you think Liberians in Liberia want to listen to politics now? Let me answer for you all.... NO, Liberian need solutions and not patches and diversions.

I have to go get a phone card, call my sister and give her the control number from Western Union. Until then "if you don't have anything to say then shut up" and let sleeping dog lie"
Dr. J. W at 05:28PM, 2014/10/01.
James McGill
If anyone discards Theo’s analogy of the “mob formula in effecting social change”, as being foolish then let us look back at a brief moment in history.

For decades Russia was known as the USSR and nicknamed the “Iron Curtain” because of the draconian rule that its citizens had to live under, with the rise to power of each succeeding despot. Then the decade of the eighties ushered in the former president, Mikhail Gorbachev. Given the slow pace of development in Russia at the time in contrast to the West, he decided to implement genuine social reforms. To achieve this goal he introduced his policies of glasnost, meaning openness, and perestroika, meaning to restructure.

The rest became history as the people had been subdued for so long in every faucet of the Soviet society that they became uncontrollably rebellious. He was overthrown in a vortex of political upheavals. It became an excellent case validation for the theory of “Rising Expectations/relative deprivation” which states that when a group is oppressed for a very long time, it creates a time bomb scenario which will eventually explode at some point in time.

Even though Russia is in a different geopolitical setting, but we have already witnessed violent political transformations similar to those of the Russian people within our own geopolitical context. For example: the overthrow and assassinations of Tolbert and Doe and then the incarceration of Taylor in The Hague.

Nevertheless Liberians are an intelligent people; we know what is right for our country. Our leaders are capable of mustering the courage and fortitude in charting the proper programs and policies in guiding the nation towards noble ends. Deadly cycles of political changes do not have to keep repeating themselves, because in many instances they only serve to enrich other unconscionable groups, and then it sets the stage for perpetual cycles of violence.

The purpose of black boxes on airplanes is to determine the causes of the crashes. The findings then form the basis so as to avoid future incidents. We must take a look at the readings of the “national black boxes” (a failed health care system, a failed educational system, a nation that cannot feed itself, etc). We can do better!
James McGill at 02:22PM, 2015/03/11.
USA is responsible for the dehats of 20 million people in the region as a result of his wars of aggression in 35 years. We are a barbarian people who has a whole ton of blood on ours hands. To me, a head of state, however an evil dictator he was (and Bush IS), should not die a dignified death at the hand of state. And that it WILL happen in USA. Alah aqba!
Samir at 04:18PM, 2015/12/01.
I don't know who you wrote this for but you helped a brother out.
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