In a previous essay, I argued that our contemporary culture offers males in search of manhood few viable models.

Fortunately, all is not lost.  But in order to realize his potential as a man in the future, a male must first turn his attention to the past, to an ideal type of Manhood with a pedigree that transcends time and place.

It is history, that of both Western and other peoples, that presents males today with the ideal of the Warrior.

Tellingly, there is something on the order of a cross-cultural, trans-historical consensus on the nature of the Warrior.  The minds of men separated by centuries and geography, inhabiting different universes, are as one when it comes to the subject of the characteristics that distinguish the Warrior from all others.

Crucially, physical prowess, though necessary, is far from sufficient to make one a Warrior.  The Warrior must also possess intellectual excellence.

Thus, the term “Warrior-Scholar” is meaningless because it is redundant: It has always been understood that a Warrior, by definition, must be educated.

Thucydides, in his History of the Peloponnesian War, made the point:

“The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”

To be clear, a “scholar,” within this context, is not necessarily someone who teaches at a university or publishes in academic journals.  These activities we associate with scholarliness, it is true.  But the scholarliness of the Warrior, it has traditionally been understood, finds expression in his intellectual virtues, those of his mental habits that have been sewn through both his physical training as well as his education into the various arts.

It’s critical to realize, though, that the Warrior insists upon the cultivation of his mind, not for the sake of some abstract ideal of learning for its own sake; the Warrior does not recognize any distinction between theory and practice, mind and body.  Quite the contrary: There are two, ultimately inseparable, reasons for why it has always been held that a Warrior without erudition is like a library without books, or a square without four sides:

Firstly, Warriors around the globe knew long before the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt would argue for this thesis in the 20th century that between thinking and morality there is an indissoluble connection.

Arendt and her family fled from their native Germany after Hitler and his Nazis had risen to power.  After the war, Arendt attended the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust.  What she claimed to have observed is that Eichmann, who justified his conduct on the grounds that he was simply “following orders,” wasn’t at all the monster that she expected to see.  Rather, he exhibited what Arendt memorably described as “a curious, but quite authentic, inability to think.”

The inability to think, it is clear from Arendt’s work, isn’t necessarily a literal inability. And it certainly isn’t peculiar to Eichmann and Nazis.  It is actually the unwillingness to think critically to which she alluded, the unwillingness to think beyond the bumper-sticker slogans—the stock phrases, clichés, and conventionalities—of the times.

Eichmann’s inability or unwillingness to think resulted in his committing evil at the behest of a superior in the chain of command.  The inability or unwillingness to think on the part of a democrat (small “d,” notice), amounting as it does to an eagerness to be a herd animal, a mental conformist, or a sheep, can result in his committing evil as he goes along to get along with the mob.

Right action depends upon clear thinking, an educated mind forms a virtuous character—this the Warrior has always known well.  The Vikings had a saying that succinctly encapsulates this insight:

“Even in the sheath the sword must be sharp—so too must the mind and the spirit be within the body.”

As Arendt noted, no less a figure than Socrates himself not only discerned, but aspired to embody in his person, the connection between thinking and morality.  This is significant, for while it is easy to forget, the fact is that Socrates was a warrior.

The same man who famously stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living” was not only a decorated war hero, but a celebrated one.  During the Peloponnesian War (which raged for about 27 years), Socrates, who may have been as old as 48 years of age by this time, served gallantly.  Multiple battles served as occasions for him to showcase his martial prowess.

Yet for Socrates, who insisted that it is always better to suffer wrongdoing than to commit it, the exhibition of martial prowess in the service of a just cause, like the just cause (of his beloved Athens) that he was convinced he advanced, is the function of moral excellence.

The idea that war is somehow outside the boundaries of morality—an idea that is far too prevalent nowadays—is one that neither Socrates nor any other warrior could fathom.

Secondly, the Warrior values the development of his mind as much as his body because of his particular vision of the person as a unity of body and mind.

In other words, the Warrior sees the human being as a spiritual unity.

All that this last point means is that the Warrior ethos resolutely excludes that view of the human being entailed by contemporary Western atheism.  It is radically incompatible, in other words, with what’s known as materialism, the metaphysical doctrine which asserts that there is no spirit, soul, or mind, that all things are simply matter in motion. The Warrior ethos is incompatible with materialism not just because the Warrior denies its truth—we are, after all, more than worm food—but as well because materialism all too readily gives rise to hedonism and egoism, the doctrines, respectively, that pleasure and the self are the greatest of all goods.

The Warrior, in glaring contrast, is committed to a life of self-transcendence. He recognizes a spiritual order that has purchased a claim upon him.  For the Warrior who is Jewish, Christian, or Islamic, it is, ultimately, for the sake of God that he enthusiastically sheds blood, both that of the enemy and, if need be, that of his own.

Yet one who lacks a belief in God, or Heaven, does not necessarily lack a belief in a transcendent spiritual realm (although I would argue, and have argued, that the logic of the concept of the spiritual points inexorably to God).  The Warrior who defends his people, his tribe, his nation, and who does so as much for the sake of his ancestors as for that of his contemporaries, reveals his spiritual orientation.  So too do the Warriors who discern in the cosmos the expression of Logos (Reason), or who affirm the Tao (the Way), reveal theirs.

In the next installment of this series, we will look at specific virtues prized by the Warrior irrespectively of when and where he has existed.

 

 

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