Analysis of Max Ernst’s “Barbarians” – from 1937 to 2012

Romney’s Bain is a part of the same system as Jamie Dimon’s JPMorgan Chase, Jon Corzine’s MF Global and Lloyd Blankfein’s Goldman Sachs – a system that has turned much of the economy into a betting parlor that nearly imploded in 2008, destroying millions of job and devastating household incomes. The winners of this system are top Wall Street executives and traders, private equity managers and hedge-fund moguls, and the losers are most of the rest of us… Bain (with its “bad bets”) is just a microcosm of a self-perpetuating, labyrinthine tax system geared to rewarding the wealthiest with the privilege of betting their fortunes on money they’ve neither earned nor done anything to deserve, with little or no personal risk. Reich calls it “casino capitalism”… Romney made his profits placing big bets with other people’s money. If the bets go well, the players make out like bandits. If they go badly, the burden lands on average worker and taxpayers.
Dartagnan: Robert Reich, Daily Kos

During democratic times in US both major political parties represented the American democracy in its two aspects: progressive and conservative, speedier humanistic development and a slower one. This situation has drastically changed during the last twelve years. Republican Party today represents the interests of the wealthy elite pursuing its own financial interests and putting aside the rest of us. The Democratic Party even after the military failures and financial collapse happened under Badministration (Bush administration), got only a minimal majority in Congress and Senate (not enough to reverse the neo-conservative anti-democratic agenda) and soon lost majority at the House of Representatives in November of 2010 that created an opening for an unprecedented onslaught on democratic achievements. How could this anti-democratic turn come about? – Democratic voters “disappointed “, that Obama couldn’t create a miracle of a massive re-democratization, decided “to give him a lesson”: they always underestimated the power of the rightwing politicians and financial schemers. The result is that instead of a lesson to Obama, the democratic voters gave a lesson to themselves – two years of Republican majority in House of Representatives and their systematic filibustering in the Senate created a political climate fertile for reversal of American democratic tradition. Pauperization of Middle Class and further pauperization of the poor by pernicious unemployment, destruction (through underfunding and privatization) of education, and expansion of military-industrial complex to the size of whole world (through global wars and international arms sales), create catastrophic consequences not only for American life but for the whole planet.


Max Ernst, “Barbarians”, 1937

And now we see that neocons are moving towards the White House with a boastful confidence and militant determination of cannibalistic barbarians. The barbarian couple we see in Ernst’s painting personifies motivations of the most culturally illiterate politicians and their supporters in American history. Among these people are many poor, many with religious sensibility dissolved in dogma, superstitions and prejudices, many are rich, and many from the Middle class (who are in a panic of further pauperization). Many of them feel that they cannot afford democracy anymore. They are too scared of uncertainty. They are ready to appropriate what belong to others – their hard earned wages and benefits, their jobs and their pension funds, exactly like their role models – the financial elite. They are identifying with 1% like a fly could dream of becoming an eagle, a worm – a cobra, or a leaf – a giant tree.

Ernst’s painting is about the transformation of democracy into barbarism. Take a look at the woman-bird’s gesture with her mighty right hand as if she keeps the dome of the sky on her palm – barbarians always believe that they are Atlantis keeping the heaven from collapsing, and that without them the universe would shatter, that Gods desperately need their help. The man-octopus as if is warming up before starting his military advance on the human land – to conquer our lives, our cultural traditions, our ways of life, everything we produce, love and may invent. They as an exemplary family of the neo-conservative future are covered by a protective shell of high-tech impenetrable super-military armor (a kind of over-enhanced military gear).

Who are these ogres? – They are practitioners of “austerity measures” and “shock therapies” for the populations. They are already a reality – these tea-publican governors and congresswomen on the Federal and State levels. Barbarians are tough, strong and omnipresent. Now imagine their children – they are very close to how the prophetic mystical intuition of Max Ernst represented them here as a jumping creature on the male-monster’s left arm. It is a hybrid between a bird and an octopus – between an over-world and underground.

Barbarians, according to Ernst, are a combination of under-life and super-life. What they don’t have, don’t know and hate in advance is middle-life on the earth, humanity in its humility, its relativity and nobility. They are children of Hell and Paradise; a monstrous blend of the two. They are simultaneously, super- and under-human – but not human. Their rage and ruthlessness are from Hell, while their wealth and ambition from the heaven. The male cannibal’s task is to destroy the middle-ground of human life – human condition as such; and the female cannibal will bring Paradise to Earth through creating apocalyptic hell. And then the male ogre will guard this hellish paradise from the remnants of the human race. The arrival of the barbarians to human world is already changing the humans – making them (because of their fear and fascination with the might of the barbarians) idolatrous under the barbarians’ legs.

These mutated humans are represented by Ernst under the giant legs of male barbarian who transforms human world (now barbarians’ playground) into something like freshly burned scrap metal. They somehow survived the barbarians’ global hooliganism, on the crumbs from their new masters’ meals, as we, ordinary Americans live today on what is left from barbarians’ greed, hate and righteousness – on drops of petroleum from their military conquests, on pennies from their trillions, on poisons in our air and water, on the entertaining images from their delirious dreams.

These tiny creatures are occupied with playing with pieces of burned world, like we today play with miserable technical toys left from mighty military high-tech creativity of destruction. These delicate pink Lilliputians (the dirty orange covering the male-barbarian has descend on the humans as spotty pink) – are the international cast of philistines who try to survive even amidst apocalyptic conditions of the world. They are dancing around the scrap left of the world after the barbarians’ belligerent ecstasy. They are dancing and, probably singing like our ancestors did around the fire, around the corpses and cut limbs of the enemies, a good weather and a Golden Calf. Physical life and superstitious cults supporting it are so rooted in the very soil of earth that it will continue even after human life will be destroyed and scattered by the winds.

*This essay is a continuation of writing on Max Ernst’s “Barbarian series”:

Max Ernst – “The Horde” (1927): “Right Wing Politicians’ and Talk Show Hosts’ Murderous Talk”, posted by Sept. 15, 2009,

Max Ernst – “The Angel of the Hearth and Home” (1937): “Defending Americans against the Terrorists as Ernst’s Angel of the Hearth could do”, posted on June 03, 2010,

Max Ernst – “Barbarians Leaving Forest” (1937): “The Barbarians of Neo-con Extremism Go to Take a Hold of US Congress and Senate on November 2, 2010”, posted by Oct. 29, 2010,

Max Ernst – “Who Made History” (1937) – “Lenin is 21st century American Neo-conservatives’ Political Strategist”, posted by Jan. 03, 2011