Grassroots Commentary

The Martial Paradox

John Ray · Feb. 13, 2013

The martial paradox is well-known and generally accepted among conservatives but is ridiculed by Leftists. Why?

I think it helps if we consider its origins. I am not historian enough to give a comprehensive history of it but I can offer a few brief notes.

The paradox is familiar as “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance” or: “si vis pacem para bellum” – from Vegetius, a Roman military writer in his Epitoma rei militaris. In English: “If you want peace, prepare for war”.

And there is no doubt that it is true. A key period for progress in most spheres during the development of Western Europe was the long peace between 1871 and 1914. And that period was ushered in by a series of military conquests supervised by Otto von Bismarck – which led to the creation of a unified Germany. The fear of the Kaiser’s hordes and Krupp artillery kept everyone else on tiptoe for a long time after that – a long time when nobody was willing to risk war – despite Europe’s long history of wars before that.

But perhaps we see the process most clearly in Japan. The Japanese samurai code (Bushido) was developed during a long series of wrenching civil wars between rival clans. And when one clan finally got the upper hand over all the rest, that code became in effect the official religion.

So what was that code? The most extensive exposition of it appears to be the Hagakure – and you don’t have to read the Hagakure for long to find a scale of values that is very different from a modern Western scale of values. It is a very rambling document but repeatedly you find in it two major themes: Indifference to death in battle or otherwise and loyalty to the master. It glorifies conflict and a militarized society, in short.

Yet men who followed that code – the men of the Tokugawa Shogunate – created and sustained the longest period of peace that any nation has ever known: A period generally reckoned to stretch from 1600 until 1868. So while Europe was tearing itself apart, fanatical militarists gave Japan unrivaled peace.

But the values found in the Hagakure are not so alien to those who know our own more remote history. Ancient Germanic values were never spelled out the way they are in the Hagakure but they seem to have been not a lot different from that which we read in the Hagakure. One can refer to Caesar, Tacitus and others for an account of those values but we do not really need to go much further than that great classic of old Anglo-Saxon literature: “Beowulf”. The comparison is not precise but in Beowulf too the focus was on the glory of battle and conquest – and also incidentally the centrality of kings (though in the Anglo-Saxon case the king seems mainly to have been a “giver of rings” – i.e. someone who awarded honors. That’s still true in Britain today.)

So from the Romans to the old Anglo-Saxons, to the Tokugawas to Bismarck, the martial paradox has prevailed. Which, I take it, is why Leftists reject it. Rejecting anything established is a knee-jerk reaction for them. They are always sure that they can soar above established wisdom. That they cannot the many “unintended consequences” of their policies make clear. And with Obamacare heading down the pike we will soon be seeing lots of that.