The Intersection Between Civilization and Barbarism

Last week, I was in Santiago, Chile, delivering eight lectures at the Universidad de los Andes on “The Moral Foundations of a Free Society.” I was speaking to a group of 50 students, most of whom were from Latin American countries from Mexico to Patagonia.

Observant Americans know that Chile has been hit in recent months with violent street protests and demonstrations that have led to serious loss of life (28 people), physical injury (2,500 people, including 2,000 police officers), and high levels of property destruction and looting ($2 billion in losses and damages). At one point, the government declared a temporary state of emergency and briefly put the military in control.

As a result of these coordinated protests, 300,000 Chileans (primarily low-skilled workers) are now unemployed. As usual, these kinds of protests that are said to be in the name of the poor almost always hurt the poor exclusively.

At the end of my week, I got into an Uber and headed for the airport. My driver, for reasons I don’t understand, did not take the fastest and safest route.

Instead, he decided to drive through the heart of the city and through the area known to host the most violent street protests. Traffic was backed up and moving at a snail’s pace. I was growing increasingly concerned that I would be late for my flight. Off in the distance, we could see smoke billowing up in the sky. We both assumed it was some kind of fire.

After about 45 minutes and only having moved a couple of miles, we got closer to a major intersection, where a bottleneck had formed. Off in the distance, I could see little plumes of smoke, people standing on cars waving their arms, and I could hear loud “pops.” As we inched closer to the intersection it became obvious that some kind of serious disturbance was taking place, but we had a truck in front of us, so we couldn’t really see what was happening.

And then we finally got within about 25 yards of the intersection and realized that we were driving into a violent street protest and had nowhere to go but forward into the breach.

As we approached the intersection, it was clear that we were now at Ground Zero of a violent anarcho-Communist street riot with no way to escape. (Their ideology was clear from their placards and the graffiti in the immediate area.) My driver was visibly and audibly worried.

At the intersection, about 20 masked and armed vandals had put spiked chains and barbed wire down on the road, thereby preventing cars from either moving forward through the intersection or turning left.

Five masked thugs wielding bats and large rocks then surrounded our car and started pounding and rocking it. They also had big red fire extinguishers that they were spraying cars with and threatening to throw through car windows. They screamed at us in a way reminiscent of a scene from the film “The Killing Fields” as the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. The driver pleaded with them to let us through, which only made them angrier.

Even though these thugs were wearing bandanas over their faces, you could clearly see their eyes—and the eyes are the entry point to the soul.

At the crucial moment, as they were banging the car and car windows, one of them pressed his face up on my passenger side window. His face was no more than a few inches from mine. In that single moment, I saw the deranged eyes of a rabid jackal setting on its prey. I have never in my life seen this kind of ideological non compos mentis. It was sheer savagery.

The rioters forced us to turn down a small side street, which was unnerving given that we didn’t know where it would take us or to whom. As we turned onto the side street about 15 police in full riot gear with tear gas rifles made a charge. The vandals then responded by hurling large rocks. Panicked civilians were running in every direction. It was total chaos. This was a full-on riot and my driver and I were in the absolute middle of it.

My greatest concern was that the anarcho-communist thugs would see that I was wearing a U.S. Army t-shirt (in honor of one of my sons), which almost certainly would have meant, at the very least, a good beating.

I can tell you that what I saw at that moment was terrorism. In the car directly beside us, there was a young family with small children. The parents were absolutely terrified and trying to show the vandals that they had small children in the vehicle. The terrorists had zero concern.

We eventually got through and I got to the airport with no time to spare. My driver was very shaken by the whole thing, and I was relieved to get on a plane back to the United States.

For just a few minutes and in the light of day, I was in the heart of darkness. Civilization is a fragile thing. It must be nurtured and protected. The forces of savagery are closer than you think.

About C. Bradley Thompson

C. Bradley Thompson is a professor of political science at Clemson University and the executive director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. He received his Ph.D. at Brown University, and he has also been a visiting scholar at Princeton and Harvard universities and at the University of London.

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