Barbarism describes a society either before the rise of civilization or after civilization has collapsed. Mass illiteracy, abandonment of important complex social institutions, and normless violence signal the onset of barbarism. Causes may include ecological change that undermines the economic surplus necessary to sustain a civilization, social change that weakens the legitimacy of the state, or repeated invasion.
For much of human history, civilization meant city building and urban life. Barbarism thus meant its opposiite. Barbarians were those who could not build or sustain cities. The development of comunications and transportation technologies and the growth of economic surpluses due to industrialism have meant that the advantages of urban life are potentially available to entire populations, regardless of their residence.
- Western Roman Empire succumbed to barbarism after the 5th century AD after it was weakened from wiithin by Christianity and social inequality, and from without by barbarian Germanic migrations.
- Classical Mayan city-states were abandoned because their populations exceeded the ecological carrying capacity of their hinterlands.
- On November 22, 2002 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised that no mercy would be shown: "Anyone who harms Israel, a little or a lot, will have his hand chopped off...I have ordered the security establishment to take all steps to harm those who try to harm us, their accomplices and their handlers."