Individualism and the Protection of Innocents

Not long ago, I discovered that an article of mine caught the attention of David Brooks, the New York Times’ token Republican and a partisan hack who, given his tireless cheerleading for the GOP under George W. Bush and their decades-long, utterly avoidable, and ultimately failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not all that long ago would have been anathema to the “anti-war” leftist Democrats at the Times.

Brooks, recall, expended years mobilizing his resources in time, energy, and influence advocating on behalf of dispatching others to sacrifice life and limb—their own lives and limbs, yes, but as well the lives and limbs of those whom the Brooks of the world inexhaustibly insisted posed the gravest of existential threats to humanity—to intrude upon the space of bad people who, living, as they do, thousands of miles away, neither he nor any other American need ever have encountered otherwise. 

He got his wish and, as a consequence, thousands of American service personnel were injured, maimed, and killed. As many as one million, and undoubtedly more, Iraqis and Afghans had their lives extinguished. Hundreds of thousands of children were orphaned. Ancient religious communities were decimated. 

Yet Brooks—this Brooks—evidently has a problem when an American man, yours truly, with not a fraction of the influence that Brooks himself wielded in the service of sending American soldiers to intrude upon the homes of bad people in distant lands in order to slaughter and be slaughtered, openly advocates on behalf of American citizens training so as to protect themselves against, not bad people residing in distant lands, but bad people who intrude upon their homes.

So be it. Brooks is what he is. In the last analysis, he is irrelevant—at least to this writer. Still, it is worth bringing him up for two reasons.

First, he enthusiastically endorses the offensive violence of state agents while expressing shock over calls for citizens to assume responsibility for their own protection and that of other innocents within their orbit. This puts the lie to the GOP’s insistence that it is the party of the individual: Unless and until Republicans defend—vigorously, tirelessly, through word and deed—the right and obligation of citizens to protect themselves and their “little platoons” against threats, they, no less than their counterparts in our other national party, are anti-individualists. 

Second, lest any of my own readers—and make no mistakes about it, it is my own readers alone about whose judgment I give a damn—confuse Brooks’ flagrant misrepresentation for the real thing, let me restate, categorically, that, contra Brooks, my call for training in self-protection is resolutely not political. That this piece of mine was placed in a publication that tends to be sympathetic to the politics and presidency of Donald Trump (“Trumpian,” as Brooks refers to it), should not be used, as Brooks used it, as a pretext for pretending that its message was limited to Trump-supporters, Republicans, or any particular demographic at all. 

Neither the call for training in self-protection nor my claims regarding the profoundly neglected role that fear plays in underwriting much of our collective political life are partisan in nature. No, the essay that Brooks not-so-adeptly wove into his anti-Trump narrative was at once sub-political and post-political.

This is to say that it was trans-political. 

Antifa and Black Lives Matter rioters were used as illustrations, and only illustrations, of non-state actors who have posed and continue to pose physical threats to innocents. Of course, mine was hardly a call for decent citizens to train to protect themselves against only the members of these groups. Only the willfully obtuse or the liars among the pundit class could draw such an absurd conclusion. Dangerous predators have always been among us, and most criminal attacks haven’t a thing to do with political animosities between the perpetrator and the victim. 

As one who practices what he preaches by training in a combat system of which I am becoming an instructor, a system devoid of political and every other conceivable type of litmus test other than one based upon the character of the prospective student, it should come as no surprise that those to whom the message of my essay is intended to speak are neither Democrats nor Republicans, Trump-supporters nor Trump-haters, conservatives nor liberals, rightists nor leftists. 

Rather, it was meant for all remotely decent human beings who just want to live and let live, decent people who don’t prey upon others and don’t want others preying upon them or theirs.

Period.

Yet it was trans-political in another significant sense. Unlike the work of the overwhelming majority of contemporary political commentators, particularly those styled “conservative,” my essay was free of all fear-porn: No shrieks and cries about apocalyptic scenarios that political partisans of one stripe or another promised to visit upon the planet, no expressions of helplessness concerning the fate that ideological enemies had in store for the rest of us.

No hysteria. 

It identified the problem: mismanaged fear that makes decent people susceptible to human predators.

And then, in glaring contrast to your typical piece of political commentary, particularly conservative commentary, it proposed a solution that average folks can adopt today, a solution that doesn’t require them to turn to government actors for salvation but which can and will begin to empower them immediately: Train in self-protection.

It is also true that the primary kind of training referred to in that article is psychological in character. The psychological training, actually, began in that article as I attempted to impart an attitude, a mindset. The decent are encouraged not only to monitor, but to assume control over their self-talk, that inner monologue that runs incessantly between the two ears of every human being. They are encouraged to affirm their self-worth by feeding their minds words, words conjuring images and feelings that will dispose them against ever being anyone’s victim. 

The decent must transform their psyches and focus their wills if they are to become the dangerous folks that they need to become to neutralize the indecent and dangerous. Jordan Peterson put it well during his exchange with Navy SEAL Jocko Willink when he remarked that “a good man must be a dangerous man.” As brilliant an insight as this undoubtedly is, Peterson was merely elaborating a bit upon Burke’s pearl of wisdom from over two centuries earlier: “All that is necessary in order for evil to triumph,” the Irish-Anglo statesman said, “is for good men to do nothing.”

Indeed.

Good men will never be any match for evil men if they aren’t dangerous, “the stuff of nightmares—but the nightmares of bad and dangerous people,” as Brooks correctly quoted me.

These two groups of people, however—the good and dangerous and the bad and dangerous—are not “Trumpians” and anti-Trumpians, respectively, as Brooks spun it. As I’ve insisted, the decent and the indecent, like the subjects of fear, violence, and self-protection, transcend politics and, for that matter, every other human distinction that has been enlisted in the service of politics.

Of course, self-talk, visualization, and passion, while necessary, are not sufficient to maximize one’s odds of competently protecting innocents against the predations of the villainous. Physical training is imperative as well.

The decent should lift weights, certainly, but, even more critically, train in a genuine martial art (for those interested, see here and here). “Martial,” recall, means “of or pertaining to war.” The martial arts, historically, were the warrior arts. True martial arts are not contest- or sport-oriented. They are designed to enable students, in as reasonably short a period of time as possible, to achieve a level of skill that will permit them to incapacitate, with ruthless efficiency, those who pose imminent physical threats to them, their loved ones, or other innocents in their presence.

But more on all of this in the future.

About Jack Kerwick

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. His work has appeared in both scholarly journals and popular publications, and he recently authored, The American Offensive: Dispatches from the Front. Kerwick has been teaching philosophy for nearly 17 years at a variety of institutions, from Baylor to Temple, Penn State University, the College of New Jersey and elsewhere. His next book, Misguided Guardians: The Conservative Case Against Neoconservatism is pending publication. He is currently an instructor of philosophy at Rowan College at Burlington County.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

Support Free & Independent Journalism Your support helps protect our independence so that American Greatness can keep delivering top-quality, independent journalism that's free to everyone. Every contribution, however big or small, helps secure our future. If you can, please consider a recurring monthly donation.

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.