Madame Bovary? Try Doña Bárbara

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, some thoughts on the struggle between civilization and barbarism.


Our thoughts and prayers are with the French people. Still, not to be self-centered or anything, but we Venezuelans feel we have something to say regarding the struggle between civilization and barbarism. In fact, our magnum opus, our best-known, most widely-read novel … is precisely about the topic.

Years ago, Rómulo Gallegos wrote Doña Bárbara about the struggle of one man, Santos Luzardo, trying to be civilized in a barbaric world.

In one particular passage, Santos tries to impose “civilized” ways of herding cattle on peasants long accustomed to doing things rough, the llanero way. Santos soon realizes his is a lost cause, succumbing to the ancient, barbaric rituals that were the norm of the land.

“Santos shared the danger of these attacks with his men, and his intense emotion made him once more forgetful of his projects. The Plain was good thus, rude and wild. It was barbarism, but since the life of one man was not sufficient to put an end to it, why should he waste his in struggling against the past? After all, he said to himself, barbarism has its enchantment, is something beautiful and worth the trouble of living, in its fullness and intolerance of all imitation.”

The book is not particularly optimistic about civilization’s chances against barbarism, but to each his own. May our Paris readers stay safe and, above all, hopeful … no matter what Gallegos says.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.


  1. Vive la France! It’ll take more than that to ruin joi de vivre, though sadly this particular Santos Luzardo has some fascistic tendencies that are very sensitive to religious fanatic level barbarisms. Let’s hope, both for France’s and our sake, that barbarism is not enough to breed new Hitlers and Peres Jimenezes.

    Maybe Gallegos was right, and our task, more than looking away in disgust towards a totalizing state, is to find what is worthy in barbarism. After all, we all have terrorists in our genealogical histories, and we somehow found our way to Doña Barbara level literature and, not to put the two in the same sentence with a straight face, the cultural sublimity of Paris.

    I think I speak for all of us that our hearts go out to the victims of these attacks. But also to the perpetrators, who have not been able to understand the value of the west, and to their families and countrymen, who will have to face the reprisals.

  2. Civilization’s chances against barbarism are lessened each and every time people choose to remain silent against the truly unlawful imprisonment of one Leopoldo Lopez, be they other South American politicians or members of the world community in positions of power. Look down, shuffle feet. Barbarism is further enhanced when people simply accept other politicians standing next to, and thus giving credence to, truly evil human beings such as Fidel Castro or his brother. Forgive me God, but even the Pope. How many people did they kill in their cause? Terrible deaths. Unseen through the world’s camera’s. Compare that to what happened last night in Paris. 128 deaths? Castro? Never mind, political power is thus seen as legitimate, no matter how it was achieved. Civilization losing to barbarism.

  3. In 2001, I was working as Project Manager on a project outside the U.S. The day after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, I received message of condolences and support from every single foreign subcontractor and supplier we were working with at the time. They all said essentially the same thing, “We are with you.” Those messages meant a lot to me and my team.

    This morning, I have been sending the following message to all of the French people I know:

    I am deeply saddened and outraged by the attacks on Paris yesterday. I want you and all the French people to know that I will support WHATEVER actions France decides are needed to defend itself and to bring justice to the perpetrators (both direct and intellectual) of these heinous acts. You are not alone. Today, I am French.

    Liberté, égalité, fraternité

    • Well, I am French too, after 14 years in Colegio Francia learning French before English at 4 years old, and then living every decade with French Friends, French jobs, french girlfriends..
      But in Europe they still have not fully identified their enemy. One of the first, most important things if you read “The Art of War”. Even Obama can’t bring himself to say Islam Blows. Until then, until stupid religions push dumb believers to kill, massacres even worse than this one will continue.

  4. This just in from a friend:

    I am in Paris but OK. I wanted to stay in an area out of the tourist zone but it put me smack in the middle of a terrorist zone. I can see the Bataclan Theater across the street within a 30 second walk. I had a little trouble navigating the streets this morning due to heavy police presence, but I fortunately had my passport on me and they let me continue. I just went for another walk around the neighborhood and people are starting to come out and even the cafes have some small crowds. Everyone on the street seems to have stunned look…understandably so. Feeling such sadness and anger for the people of France.


    A sad day for humanity. And if you haven’t read Gallegos (Canaima is also excellent), do so.

    Que lastima.


  5. When I was a very young boy I remember reading about the Texas University Clock Tower Massacre (1966?) Every one was shocked at how an isolated individual could murder dozens of people without any apparent cause , then we had the Oklahoma Bomb massacre where a white supremacist killed dozens of people in the name of an otherwise disreputable cause, then we had the Columbine School Massacre and since them a host of other massacres of innocent people in developed countries ( including very civilized Norway) for motives that range from the idiotic to the frivolous to the outright insane.

    Now we have a group of specially spectacular and cruel massacres of innocent people by a new breed of islamic fanatics , people who find glamorous justification for their sorry unsattisfied lives by adopting a highly teatrical and lethal mode of terrorism to express the sectarian purity of their hatreds .!!

    I fear that a new kind of barbarism has risen which exists not outside modern civilization and its values , but at its very bossom , a barbarity that can exist even among people born and brought up in higly civilized countries but who hunger for something cruelly barbaric to bring a sense of bestial magnificence to their stunted emotional lives. The muslim terrorists that carried out the 9/11 massacres included people who had professional degrees and studies in acclaimed Western Universities .

    The struggle between barbarity and civilization depicted in Gallegos novel confronted two kinds of men , each with its own mentality the world ,one backward another progressive and up to date , but what we now see are barbarians who choose to become barbarians having had the opportunity to live according to civilized standards .

    They are in a way modern day kami kazes, not necessarily barbarians in the traditional sense of the word. Gallegos could not have understood this new kind of barbaric terrorism which exits today.!!

    • Why is it so hard to call an apple an apple, a spade a spade, muslim religious murdering bastards what they are? “Barbarism” sounds beautiful, but do you see any “barbarism” compared to this in Mexico or India, why?

    • I fear that a new kind of barbarism has risen…

      WTF?! Read some history: this is centuries old, no, millennia old! wait until you see the Khazouk return…their aim is to terrorise so t won’t be long.

  6. I think what is happening in Paris is quite different from what Gallegos was trying to describe in Venezuela. By the way: I just came from a place in Brussels where several detentions were done today because of the terrorists in Paris.
    Fundamentalists might have some common traits and psychopaths function similarly but definitely the Islamic fundamentalism and what is happening or happened in Venezuela are just way too different.

    For Venezuelans I would suggest rather to read Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s A Happy Boy, which was translated into Spanish as “Un Muchacho de Buen Temple”, learn a bit about Norwegian history and try to think about the differences with Venezuela.

    If I could explain to a Scandinavian a bit of Venezuela, I would make a comparison between the “solution” proposed in these two works that have been so significant for these two oil producing countries.

    Bjørnson didn’t have a rich landowner from the capital go “civilize” the countryside but rather a poor farmer’s boy study hard to become an agricultural specialist in his own place, no hacienda but own hard work.

    • let’s be honest: “what is happening in Paris is quite different from what Gallegos was trying to describe in Venezuela” is an understatement. It is more akin to My Fair Lady (Pygmalion) than what is happened in Paris (or Lebanon, or many other places).

  7. Here I disagree fantastically. Modern times make such a hostile place for otherwise healthy young men who don’t have an identity to defend themselves with, combined with an ease of acquiring high grade weapons, that Islam is as good an excuse as “yo soy lacra.”

  8. You may call it “barbarism” or relate it to Venezuela or Flaubert, but the fact no one likes to accept is the REAL problem: One stupid,murderous religion. A dumb little book by some prophet dude named mohamed who liked to have numerous teen-age wives, while promoting wars and invasions in the name of “allah”.

    Fortunately, we don’t have that problem in Venezuela. One of the few ones we don’t have.

    • Barbarism, to me, includes demonizing an entire religion. “Your religion is barbaric” was the organizing principle of European history for many centuries; it mostly led to civil wars and stagnation. Whatever nonsense may exist in books of faith, the ultimate truth is that faith systems produce both wonderful people and criminals.

      • Well, in my humble agnostic opinion, all religions are rather stupid, if you study any of them close enough. Even Buddhism, my favorite before they messed it up, largely misinterpreted, after the original meditations. But not all stupid religions were created equal by ignorant, avaricious men since the 2nd or 5th centuries..

        Islam is by far the most violent these days, and, clearly, the one creating all the problems, and possibly, according to Pope Pancho, a plausible 3rd world war.

        • When you hate Christianism, you also hate the Western World and all it stands for. You don’t have to believe in Jesus to understand the virtues of the religion that forged the society you live in (I’m assuming you are the typical Venezuelan emigrant living in North America).

  9. The term psychopathy used by Kepler fits the bill , there are civilizations that breed psychopathic cults , (such as Isis is a spawn of Fundamentalist Islam) and there are others capable of producing psychopathic individuals ( The Modern Developed West ) , As civilizations develop they tend to grow less brutal, Pinker has written a book on how Western Civilization has generally become less and less brutal with time (using historical statistics to prove his point) .

    Sometimes we have cililizations break down under the stress of war causing waves of psicopathic behaviour , if we look at the massacres and cruelty ocurring during our war of independence (Boves , La Guerra a Muerte) it all point to a breakdown in the colonial civilization that preceded it .

  10. VICE has a fantastic interview with a Canadian IS member from Calgary. Young guy, smart, who wasn’t given a place. Islam is barbaric (Muhamed was a caudillo cualquiera) and yet forged from one of the finest cultures in history, just like Christianity (though Romans had done away with caudillos long since), so that it becomes a reasonable alternative for such a guy. I insist, we (Europe and New Europe) would prove our superiority by taking this as a chance to figure out how we can make a place for barbaric tendencies. BB is right that the more advanced a society, the less murderous (like our ancestors were murderous in times of Al Andalus), but such peace is easily goaded into genocide level murder.

  11. This is not barbarism vs civilization. This is fucking worse. Is barbarism meets civilization and his ways.

    Just think about the future… 3d printing, nanotech, genetic engeneering, better crypto, smugglers of material to do dirty bombs. And the global mind shared by all ideologys and minions… conspiracies after conspiracies after conspiracies.

    Good nightmares fellas! PD: Excuse my macarronico english.

  12. To understand the phenomenon of Islam you have to understand the the word “Islam” means (literally) “Submission”. Specifically, it means “submission” to the “will of God”. They are actually surrendering their own desires, thoughts and even their self-identity to the “will of God” as interpreted by the Imams. The true followers of Islam actually prostrate themselves (pray) five times per day in a symbolic act of “submission”. If you are thinking “brain washing” you would not be too far from wrong.

    This makes young Muslim men very vulnerable to being manipulated and used. It is also antithetical to modern secular liberal culture.

  13. While it is necessary that the state has sufficient powers to counter threats to the security of the nation, it is also important that the powers granted are confined to real threats. In a state purporting to democratic values, access to the courts is fundamental to the rule of law. National security cannot justify absolutely anything that the government wishes to do to guarantee for its citizenry security. To assure the greatest degree of freedom possible, government powers are limited to the degree necessary to achieve legitimate goals.

    See: The Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

  14. I don’t see an analogy here. Gallegos wrote of genuine barbarism – the violent and uncivil behavior of people in a backwards culture. One might draw a parallel to the problems with refugees and other migrants from places like Somalia.

    But the terrorist threat arises from people who are civilized. The 9-11 terrorists all came from middle and upper class backgrounds in prosperous, urbanized countries. So did the Italian Red Brigades, and nearly all other politically violent groups in the West – for instance Sendero Luminoso (I’m not sure about FARC).

    • Right on Rich. Which does away with the standard view that the way to fix such backward people is to give them education, stuff and sex. These guys saw, imbibed in what the western world had to offer and then violently rejected it on pain of destruction.

  15. I get hung up on the asymmetry of reactions.

    So we get the Danish cartoons, Charlie Hebdo or the burning of a Koran and the Muslim world from Cairo the Lahore erupts in riots. I get it, they don’t understand freedom of expression, they don’t tolerate blasphemy, it ultimately hurts their feelings. OK, fine.

    Last night, yet again, some assholes under the guise of Islam perform barbaric actions to innocent people, hijacking the public image of their beloved religion, and what do you hear form Cairo to Lahore? Dead silence.

    • Or perhaps we are too busy hearing our own voices. There have been condemnations ‘from Cairo to Lahore’ for both the attacks in Paris and the ones in Beirut. Have you also missed the thousands of desperate apologies from innocent Muslims trying to negotiate where their faith stands in light of the act of some wackos?

      Talk about asymmetry of reactions when an event in Paris hurts more than the killed by drones attack, in the Gaza strip by an occupying power, in Syria by a genocidal regime, etc.

      • I just scanned the New York Times. Some nice people feel forgotten after their own attacks in Lebanon, yet I didn’t see any massive action of solidarity in Tahrir Square or Lahore. Had there been one it would have been news worthy.

        But from your second paragraph it seems that you share the common Muslim feeling that “we had it coming”.

        Look, squabbling of who did what first to whom is no way to find peace. But certainly attacking people outside of a war zone is barbaric.

        You will probably brandish back, but what about those drone attacks that kill innocent people. This is a terrible truth of guerrilla wars when fighters hide between the civil population and relish this blood letting as a PR coupe.

  16. A society that produces large numbers of young men, usually between the ages of 18 and 25, who are unproductive and marginalized, and have access to weapons, can wreak terrible violence. I think that is what Venezuela has in common with places like Syria and Iraq.

  17. Canucklehead has hit the nail in the head , with one missing factor , emotionally those young men feel an inner need to show themselves masterful, mighty , strong , ruthless , ferocious , superbly violent and prepotent which leads them to acts of violence against others to show the world how great they are , to feed their wounded egoes , second, accompanying the first drive is one to assumme a sectarian moral or ideological or religious posture which sets them apart as superior and noble, as warriors in a magnificent struggle against the forces of evil which reinforces the gratification to their ego. Forming part of a criminal band serves the first purpose , Adopting a religious or quasireligious fanaticism serves the second , Both desires come together when they join a chavista motorcycle colectivo , or the Isis sect .

    Religious sectarian groups are not the only ones granting them the possibility of adopting an identity that engorges their ego , Highly sectarian and violent political or ideological groups (although formally non religious) can serve the same end. The thing is that both kinds of groups glamorize violence force and cruelty against a demonized enemy as a means of feeding their conceits , Fascism for example be it red or black is a typical belligerent form of fanaticism which attract young frustrated men to become fanatical followers and engage in acts of wantom cruelty and violence and it is not religious in the traditional sense.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here