“Where civilization entailed the corruption of barbarian virtues and the creation of dependent people, I decided, I was opposed to civilization.” ~ J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
In Coetzee’s novel, the barbarians are the good guys and the men of the Empire, who presume that they are civilized, are the bad guys. The Empire’s propaganda says that the barbarians are planning to invade. The people living in the Empire’s frontier are full of fear as they await the barbarian invasion, but the barbarians have no will to invade. They never arrive. It is the Empire’s soldiers who frequently invade the barbarian lands.
The Empire is cunning, ruthless, and violent because it wants to impose its way of life on everyone. It is doomed because it is convinced that it will never die. It creates history while conspiring against history, because it sees itself as the end of history. The moral of the novel is that the Empire is the great corruptor. It teaches falsehoods and unteaches barbarian virtues. The Empire must be opposed.
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