Surmounting the Culture and Politics of Fear

While the Kyle Rittenhouse case occasioned the latest opportunity for the carnival barkers of the American political shit show to engage in their usual theatrics, for those of us in the world of the martial arts, i.e. those of us who train ourselves and others to become adept in the use of violence for self-defense, this case assumed special significance.

Though his intentions were undoubtedly noble and his heart good, young Kyle should’ve avoided this hotspot, for it most certainly was not the “protest” that the propagandists in Big Media and the collaborating prosecutor described. It was chaos, part of the collapse of civilization that was visited upon hundreds of cities throughout the summer of 2020 and that was encouraged by the same politicians, scribblers, and sock puppets who are now expressing shock and outrage that this young man was acquitted of extinguishing the lives of convicted criminals who had tried to kill him.

Here is the core of the issue, as I see it.

A person has both the right and the duty to incapacitate, by whatever means necessary, anyone and everyone who poses imminent, unprovoked physical danger to him or herself.


In other words, unless and until it is for the purpose of protecting oneself and/or other innocents from imminent bodily harm, no one is ever justified in lifting a hand against another.

If a person does not want to be critically injured, maimed, or killed, then he ought to keep his hands to himself. Ditto for a mob of assailants.

Keep. Your. Hands. To. Yourself.

This is Civilization 101. The difference between those who observe this most fundamental principle and those who do not is the difference between the civilized and the savage, human beings and homo sapiens, and, dare I say, between men and mere males.  

The right and the duty of the decent to unleash (potentially) homicidal violence against predators is intrinsic to civilization. The latter, in other words, is predicated upon the former. “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph,” according to the wise old saying, “is for good men to do nothing.”

The Second Amendment, while certainly securing American citizens’ right to bear firearms, is not, ultimately, about guns. It embodies a more basic and general principle. This is the principle that all human beings, Americans or not, are entitled to defend their lives against those who would assault them.

The fact that the founders specifically highlighted every citizen’s right to own guns, and enshrined as a Constitutional mandate the right to self-defense, reveals another critical insight that those in polite society, including, scandalously, far too many martial artists, steadfastly avoid:

The right to self-defense is the right to kill in defense of one’s own.

Make no mistake about it, the purpose of a gun is to kill. Any and every other modern weapon with which a citizen could arm him or herself, though potentially lethal, has other uses. The essence of a gun, however, is to kill. This doesn’t mean that a person who is shot necessarily will die  (in fact, over 90 percent of those who are shot by handguns survive). But the gun is nothing if not a killing contraption.

American conservatives do an awful lot of talking about “fighting” and “winning” the “war” against the “existential” threat posed to America and Western civilization by the Left. For all of this talk, however, there is little walk. This isn’t to say that GOP politicians and/or Big Conservative media personalities should issue a call for their constituents to take to the streets and wage literal warfare against those whom they routinely label “Marxists,” “communists,” “fascists,” “racists,” “totalitarians,” and “anti-Americans.” But since the Left does not hesitate to engage in violence, or promote violence, against those whom it demonizes as insufficiently “progressive” or “woke,” would it be asking too much for any of these right-leaning influencers to, just once, invite decent citizens—not ideologues or political partisans, but just decent human beings—to train in self-defense? I’m not suggesting they all join a militia or the military, but they should train for the sake of protecting themselves, their families, and their communities, not just from ideological fanatics, but from any and all criminals.  

The Warrior-Scholar

Thucydides, among our first historians and the author of The History of the Peloponnesian War—a war in which he himself participated as a general—is credited with having said, “A society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”

This noble Greek lived almost five centuries before Christ. Well over two millennia later, in Japan, the legendary samurai warrior, Miyamoto Musashi, affirmed essentially the same point: “It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways.”

That men separated as widely in space and time as Thucydides and Musashi embraced the same warrior-scholar ideal powerfully illustrates its trans-temporal, trans-cultural appeal. What such men—and there have been countless more—have known is that mental fortitude and physical fortitude are mutually reinforcing. Human flourishing is best facilitated by rigorous cultivation of the excellences of the intellect and those of the body.  

This is why, I submit, it is imperative that all who want to further the cause of civilization become familiar not only with its intellectual traditions, but with a martial art, a real martial art. In addition to learning the arts of culture, citizens should study the arts, or at least an art, of war.  

“Martial” means “of, or pertaining to, war.” These arts are meant to maximize practitioners’ odds of prevailing over an aggressor or aggressors who threaten to take their lives.

War is life or death. So too is a violent confrontation between a defender and an assailant. Thus, an act of aggression is an act of war.

Training in a warrior art instills in the student the confidence that arises from knowing that one has both the skill and the will to crush those who would prey upon the innocent. This mastery in the use of violence makes one that much more careful to avoid potentially violent situations, for the practitioner of a warrior art is acutely aware of the lengths to which he is willing and able to go for the purpose of neutralizing anyone who is stupid enough to jeopardize him and his own.

This knowledge of violence, of its ugliness, its destructiveness, that accumulates during one’s education in a warrior art comes courtesy, in no small part, of a training modality that should subject the bodies of students to some measure of trauma. The violence that unfolds is controlled, of course. It will not injure—even if it will, it must, inflict pain. It must be sufficient to elicit fear, for it is fear that must be surmounted, and nothing quite says fear like having someone, hit you, and not just hit you with power, but hit you in a way that convinces you very quickly that he has every intention of removing you from the planet. You inevitably respond, and will be taught by your instructor to respond, differently than you would respond to just being hit.  

You will respond like a person whose life depends upon it.

Just as the military designs training drills meant to simulate, as closely as possible, the conditions of real life combat, so too does the training modality of a warrior art simulate, as closely as possible, the real-life conditions of potentially mortal conflict. This means no sparring, and certainly no conventional sparring during which participants wear hand, head, and foot gear. A civilian will not be walking around wearing protective gear, and the sort of violence for which he or she prepares, and the only sort for which it is morally defensible to employ ruthless violence in response, is violence perpetrated by predators—not shit-talkers with whom one can “square off” over, say, a parking space, or because one feels “disrespected.”  

There’s a cerebral dimension to this kind of training, this training in a warrior art.

An art of war is, in the last analysis, an art of peace.

The bottom line is that there is no better way than training in a warrior art (especially for a contemporary intellectual, whether of the academic or “public” varieties), to overcome the delusions, flights of fancy, and outright lies that pass for political discourse in 2021 America, and embrace the nit and grit of the real world.

Training in a martial art, an art of war, desensitizes students to the irrational fear stoked by the lies and fictions that infest American politics. It empowers them to explode the pretensions and prejudices of the majority and “the experts”—however popular and comforting these fantasies may be and despite the ridicule and alienation that may redound to those who have the courage to expose them.

A resurrection of the warrior-scholar ideal can translate into revolutionary changes for our politics and our culture.   

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

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