Revisiting the Warrior-Scholar Ideal
Just the slightest acquaintance with the world’s great wisdom traditions readily reveals that for all of their differences, there is overlap. Their founders and adherents emphatically agree upon some fundamental, interrelated points:
(1)What appears to be real is not really real; and
(2) Enlightenment consists in appreciating (1) so that one can then emancipate oneself from appearances and embrace reality.
This conviction of the generations is expressed today whenever it is said that people are living (or not) within “The Matrix,” i.e. a fake reality of the kind featured in the film of the same name.
The more things change, the more they stay the same: Most people spend their lives mistaking appearances for reality.
Moreover, most people prefer to trade in appearances. Their ignorance, at some level or other, is willful.
The COVID era supplies us with the most glaring and recent illustration of this willful ignorance. Even though we live in an age of information in which it is infinitely easier now than it was just a generation ago to do one’s own research, and even though COVID has been and continues to be used as a pretext for transforming the country in ways that would have been unthinkable just a year ago, the vast majority of people uncritically accept every declaration made by those who Big Media deem “experts.”
From start to finish, from testing to mitigation and the very identification of the virus itself—despite the dubiousness of every aspect of the Official Narrative, the claims of the latter are treated as dogma by at least half of America (and others throughout the world).
Spatial considerations preclude as thorough an analysis of this question as it merits. At a minimum, I think we can safely conclude that what accounts for the eager acquiescence of the masses in this lie is what accounts for their eager acquiescence in every other Big Lie: fear.
The human race’s wisdom traditions, particularly those that come to us from the ancients, seem to have achieved a consensus on another point that was most memorably and explicitly expressed by Socrates. This is the idea that virtue is a unity:
In order to possess one virtue, you must possess the others.
Courage has historically been regarded as a moral virtue. So too has wisdom.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but, as Aristotle reminded us, the wisdom to know what to fear, when to fear it, and how to fear it.
Most people lack courage because they lack the will to critically think for themselves and challenge the dominant narratives of their place and time.
Make no mistakes about it: If the consensus of humanity’s most insightful members indicates to us anything, it is that a courageous person, as opposed to one who is arrogant or rash or reckless, must indeed possess the will (and, of course, the ability) to critically think. In turn, the more courageous a person becomes, the stronger will become his determination to critically think.
Regrettably, most of our contemporaries, and none more so than intellectuals of both the academic and journalistic varieties, act as if they were oblivious to this understanding of our ancestors.
And unlike the present generation, our ancestors never would have dreamt of separating “physical courage” and “moral courage” from one another. They recognized that a courageous person, being a virtuous person, a person of strong character, would manifest that courage in all aspects of his life. At any rate, this was the ideal taken for granted by the pre-modern world.
This ideal found its logical culmination in that of the Warrior-Scholar.
This understanding was articulated clearly and concisely by Thucydides, an Athenian who lived in the fifth century before Christ:
“The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”
It is also worth noting that in addition to being a first-rate scholar—whose classic History of the Peloponnesian War seems, remarkably, to have been written by one who had been trained in “the historical method,” i.e. within the principles and rules of the academic discipline of history that wouldn’t emerge until well over two millennia after he was long gone—Thucydides was also a general who himself fought in this war between Sparta and his native Athens.
About 2,000 years or so later, over in Japan, the legendary Samurai warrior, Miyamoto Musashi, made a similar point:
“It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way.”
Admittedly, there have been and remain plenty of physically tough people who lack analytical prowess and, conversely, intellectually adroit people who lack physical toughness.
Yet the ideal of the Warrior-Scholar is an ideal, a goal that belongs to, as Burke described it, “the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.” As such, it is one that we ignore at our peril, for this brilliant orator and enemy of the radicalism of the French Revolution also reminded the hubristic of every generation that while the “individual is foolish” and the “multitude, for the moment, is foolish” as well, “the species is wise, and when time is given to it, as a species it almost always acts right.”
To be certain, a warrior needn’t be one who has worn a uniform for a government and actually fought in war, on a battlefield. Rather, a warrior is anyone who prepares his body and mind for war with those who would make of themselves the enemy of God and man by physically endangering innocents. As Bradley Steiner memorably remarked decades ago: “Real self-defense is war in microcosm.” (It is also worth noting that Steiner, while a distinguished combat, self-defense instructor and lifelong martial artist who trained under the pioneers of World War II Close Quarter Combatives, was as well a man of erudition whose monthly Sword and Pen newsletter never failed to express the Warrior-Scholar ideal).
The present generation has severed the Warrior from the Scholar. Tragically, this is particularly the case within the contemporary academic establishment and, for that matter, within the martial arts community. However, as a consequence of undermining the union of heart and mind, this divorce has weakened both of them individually.
Thus, we find ourselves in our present situation, one within which the description that Hannah Arendt made of Adolph Eichmann seems to apply to most. Eichmann, Arendt wrote upon having witnessed his trial in Israel, possessed a “curious, but quite authentic, inability to think.” It’s not that this architect of the Holocaust was stupid. Rather, he had an “extraordinary shallowness,” for his thought was confined to the “clichés,” “stock phrases,” and “conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct” of his day.
The solution is staring us in the face. The human-person is a psychosomatic unity. This being so, in order for us to affirm human integrity, we must aim to restore the integration of the body and mind upon which our ancestors insisted—and which we have neglected, when we haven’t outright undermined it.
It is time to resurrect the Warrior-Scholar ideal.
This was previously published at BeliefNet.com.
Jack Kerwick earned his doctorate degree in philosophy from Temple University. His areas of specialization are ethics and political philosophy, with a particular interest in classical conservatism. He has been teaching philosophy for nearly 20 years and his work has appeared in both scholarly journals and popular publications. Jack is the author of four books, including Misguided Guardians: The Conservative Case Against Neoconservatism and the recently published, Higher Miseducation: A Dissident’s Essays on the Assault Against Liberal Learning.