Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #55: The Warrior Ethos with Steven Pressfield

by Brett on December 14, 2013 · 28 comments

in Podcast


In today’s episode I talk to writer Steven Pressfield. Steven has written over a dozen books in both the fiction and non-fiction categories. His novel Gates of Fire, a fictional account of the Battle of Thermopylae, is used by the Marine Corps Basic School and his non-fiction books have become go-to guides for writers, entrepreneurs, and other creative types. Steven and I talk about why war plays a central theme in all his work and how to apply the Warrior Ethos to creative work.

Show highlights:

  • Why Steven writes about war
  • Why Steven loves the Ancient Greeks
  • The difference between braveness and boldness (and the virtues you need to succeed as a creator)
  • What Resistance is and how to overcome it
  • The difference between an amateur and a pro
  • Why the most dangerous time for a warrior or artist is right after victory and success
  • And much more!

Listen to the Podcast!

Find us on Stitcher


{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chasles December 15, 2013 at 3:28 am

Great interview!!!

2 Nate December 15, 2013 at 7:07 am

Steven Pressfield has been my favorite author for many years and this has become my favorite podcast. I only recently took the plunge into blogging and writing and am beginning to understand Resistance.
Thank you Brett for all the hard work! You are a great inspiration to me and many more!

3 Betty December 15, 2013 at 7:22 am

Thanks, Brent for introducing me to SP. This was a fascinating and inspiring podcast. This is the kind of inspiration I got from reading about the Samurai warriors earlier in my life. (I’m curious to find out what SP thinks of them in comparison to the Greeks.)
I know that some of your readers will be offended by his comments about organized religion, but I think the point that SP makes is that if the work is not done (treating your fellow man/woman with loving kindness) then a Higher Power does not matter.
Thanks again, Brent. Keep up the good work.

4 Chris S. Davis December 15, 2013 at 10:53 am

Thanks for asking great questions, Brett. This was a great interview and inspirational to me.

I’ve been struggling through much procrastination, fear and many other forms of resistance.

I look forward to checking out Steven’s books.

5 James Velasquez December 15, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I’m not entirely convinced about the frustration Pressfield presents toward the Western religions. Christianity, for instance, stresses the essential fact of war and struggling that comes with belief; the believer is at war with unbelief. Judaism, depending on the sort, takes the heroism of pagan gods and vests it in the representatives of God. The Old Testament is pretty bloody. It also presents a God that is much less intimate and knowable than that of the Christians–which, one could argue, makes true faith that much more of a struggle.

That being said, the conversation about andreia vs. thrasytes was very interesting. The point about American “boldness” reminded me of Alexis de Tocqueville–his point about American industriousness and audaciousness. We’re always moving, making, striving, doing something. But we tend to respect form and tradition a lot less (thus, jazz music!).

A very well-conducted talk, Mr. McKay!

6 J.D. December 15, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Thank you for the great podcast. I have heard of Pressfield, but never read any of his books. The conversation was insightful and fun to hear. As a writer, musician, and guy who doesn’t love his day job, I live with Resistance, he has his own bedroom and everything. It helps to be reminded that I have to remain brave and bold to go pro.

Great site, I encourage more philosophical discussions. What about Krista Tippett from NPR? I would love to hear you and her discuss spirituality and manliness. Our culture doesn’t really associate manly virtues with the spiritual quest for deeper meaning, openness, and compassion. This part of life also demands boldness and bravery. Many men resist the vulnerability that comes with an open mind and heart, but this posture is essential for an authentic, breathtaking experience of life.

7 Richard December 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Very enjoyable interview , I’m immensely fascinated and interested on this topic , going through my owns struggles (resistance) . The interview really speaks volumes of truth that people really don’t want to listen to , or just plain ignore . Once again . Thank you for a fascinating interview . Two thumbs up

8 Gerald December 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Two of my favorite men these days talking about things I love!

Tanks for having Steven on Brett, really enjoyed this one!

9 Greg December 15, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I love Steven Pressfield’s books and I appreciated Brett’s questions for Steven; all in all it was a fascinating interview.

For me, the themes of “The War of Art”, “Do the Work”, and “Turning Pro” are highly compatible with Christianity. Christianity is certainly a struggle, but victory does not lie in being like Jesus (as Pressfield said), but in grace and in understanding that we are incapable of being like Jesus due to our human (sin) nature. When we acknowledge this transformational truth, we are then free to enlist our “muse”, and to do all we can to put our own unique dents in the universe.

Again, great interview, fascinating person, great books, thank you.

10 Ron December 15, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Thanks to Greg for setting the record straight on Christianity which is all about a relationship and not, repeat not, about being able to accomplish anything by ourselves, by our own steam. And, if you wish to talk about someone with “balls of steel” Mr. Pressfield should really get to know Jesus, not simply just know a little bit about Him. Brett, I understand your role as an interviewer and I respect your treating your guest kindly and hospitably. However, I believe you know better than what Pressfield was saying about Christianity and fault you for failing to set the record straight regarding the nature of Christianity. One final thought, there is no warfare like spiritual warfare. It is more demanding on a true warrior than anything written about by Clausewitz or Sun Tzu or demonstrated by Col. John Boyd, although the same manly qualities are tested.

11 Mike December 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm


Don’t think that we didn’t notice how you accepted that compliment with class at the end.

12 Mike d December 17, 2013 at 2:20 pm

I enjoyed this podcast by Stephen Pressfield. The one area I got a bit defensive about and disagree with him was on his mention of Christianity. In the true spirit of manliness I must cordially disagree with his lump assessment of Christianity as a belief system: “if I just live like Jesus, I will be happy.” While I agree with the point that we will never find a paradise/ or a perfect world, that is not the point of Christianity. He perhaps does not know that Christianity is primarily about relationship with a revealed God and only secondarily a way to find happiness. This life can be happy or full of suffering, but we still maintain relationship with God. I realize he was not trying to make a deep assessment or maybe even a critique of Christianity, but I felt I needed to make the point. Christianity is a way of love, not necessarily implying happiness.

13 D.K. Carman December 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I learned some valuable lessons from all his books. I especially lied The Proefessionals. There is a difference between a soldier/Marine and a warrior. It has to do with the morals and ethos of the individual

14 Mike Lally December 18, 2013 at 7:45 am

Thanks for a great interview, Brett! I am HUGE Pressfield fan and you really hit on some great topics!! Well done, sir. Well done.

15 M Raghavan December 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I also think that Mr. Pressfield has gone a bit too far in his analysis of Western religion. Monotheism, whether Eastern (and there are some) or Western has a Spartan, Andrean, element to it. The idea of being a humble servant to the Will of G*d, engaging in ethical action – doing the work – for His Good, can easily be used as inspiration for the cultivation of manly virtues.

16 Jason December 19, 2013 at 1:43 am

I like the raw strength Steven alludes to throughout, but @8:25 he’s off point about Christianity. The foundation of the faith is that redemption is freely offered to mankind because we are unable to perform an act(s) to merit/earn our salvation. According to the bible, good acts/services/etc and “living like Jesus” do not grant admission to heaven. I found a citation:

Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The salient point is that salvation is “…not by works…” Living like Jesus is done due to the inward belief that doing so is morally correct. It does not earn salvation or help move you into “a higher level.” I have no reason to think Steve’s being malicious, but he is mistaken.

17 John Francis December 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Love your stuff. The podcast was interesting, however the potshots to Christianity finally turned me off. Tried to listen, but when you hear phrases like, “Christianity…we know that %$#&^ don’t work.” This is not an example of integrity, which is above most manly virtues. Not your fault though. Great work!

18 Marine OCS Blog December 21, 2013 at 7:52 am

Fantastic interview with a great author and former Marine. Kudos to you for being so well prepared.

19 Braden December 21, 2013 at 11:26 am

Well done! As a new subscriber, this was the first podcast I have listened to on the site and I loved it. The concept of overcoming Resistance and your discussion of how inspiration is found in the process, not the product, definitely resonated with me. Great stuff!

20 John Junger December 26, 2013 at 10:03 am

So, I mulled this interview over for a few weeks to see what I think about it. I was sure that there would be some reaction from Christians, because he lays out an attack towards them. I wanted to make a few points and perhaps some things to think about.
I love ancient Greece but thinks it is ironic that American’s are now, and have been for a long time infatuated with the Spartans. This intellectual pull between the societal openness of Athens and the Societal closedness of Sparta of course reflects our own internal societal divide. I believe Sam Adams wanted the US to be a “Christian Sparta,” for whatever that means. You also see people today espousing spartan virtue and the “warrior ethos” which again seems strange to me. I think Alexander Hamilton summed it up when he points out that it’s just talking points until you’re willing to share your wife and eat spartan black broth. Sparta was a military cult. The understanding that we live in now, nor ever have as American’s lived in a Spartan society should be abundantly clear. The closest thing we have to the hide-bound conservatism of Sparta are the Amish, but of course they’re pacifists. One can appreciate the sublimation of the sacrifice at Thermopylae, without developing the foolishness of children about the virtue of the spartans. Also, as the book suggests they wiped children to death, so you know,… there’s that.
Lastly, on his point about western religions in general I think the Socratic dialogue “Second Alcibiades” underscores the need for god’s to be rationally consistent. In my estimation the pagan pantheons are less consistent that monotheistic gods. And I’ll leave it at that, considering how inconsistent monotheistic gods can be.
It is hard for me to parse out Mr. Pressfields arguments about Christianity as the interview was too short, and too short on details on this particular point. I would speculate that it would be the focus on the afterlife that is distasteful in Christianity. However, I think most successful leaders of nations are extremely religious which would tend to counter the assertion. Religious zeal can be a powerful force even if psuedoandrea.

21 Jason December 30, 2013 at 10:16 am

Awesome interview, Brett! Never heard Stephen, so upbeat & chirpy & gung ho on any other interview of his, that I’ve heard

22 Charlie January 6, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Playing catch up and just listened to this podcast. I appreciate what you do here and I really enjoyed the interview. i’m adding the Steven Pressfield’s books to my list. Thank you.

23 Chris January 6, 2014 at 9:43 pm

Brett, this was an excellent interview. I had read Pressfield’s Tides of War and Turning Pro and enjoyed both of them. You guys covered a lot of good ground in a half-hour, and it went by quickly. Great job!

24 David Tindell January 12, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I have read most of Pressfield’s work and enjoyed it very much, but I agree with many of the earlier comments regarding his apparent dismissal and misunderstanding of Christianity. I think that it is entirely possible to have a society that embraces many of the best virtues of ancient Sparta and also upholds the moral code of Christianity. Imagine, for example, if we could combine the physical and intellectual discipline and loyalty to the state of the Spartans, along with the Christian’s dedication to caring for our family and serving our neighbors. (Substitute the best of Judaism or Islam for Christianity and I think we can have the same result). Then we would really be onto something. Yet, I fear that instead we are embracing the worst of the Athenians combined with rejection of any religious guidance whatsoever. As Pressfield says, we should focus on the process, not the product.

25 George January 13, 2014 at 4:06 am

I’m a big fan of Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire” and “Warrior Ethos”…found his interview a bit disappointing though. It’s a shame he had to insult the many Christian warriors in the military and law enforcement fields with ignorant and unfounded statements. He’s still a great author but he would do well not to insult part of his audience.

26 Bobby G March 10, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Mr. McKay, that was a great interview, as usual. I love it when the interviewees say, “These are great questions, Brett!”- in every podcast. I never heard a podcast host get this compliment in nearly ever podcast. Keep up the great work!

27 Bobby G March 11, 2014 at 9:16 am

One more thought- I had no problem whatsoever with Mr Pressfield stating his beliefs. Each man has to find his own way through the wilderness of spirituality. Therefore, he is under no obligation to believe what I do. In this day and age, I am just glad that he has some kind of belief, whether it is Olympian gods or otherwise. His beliefs do not offend me in the least.

28 Christopher Delano March 31, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Pressfield forgets something very important regarding Greece and Christianity, namely that both Christianity and Greek culture were at the very center of life in the Eastern Roman Empire, aka Byzantium. Though largely forgotten or underappreciated by Americans and Western Europeans, Byzantium ruled over Large swaths of Europe and Asia Minor, and did much to preserve Ancient Greek texts and promote Hellenism. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 is considered by some historians to be the end of the Middle Ages. Anyone more interested in Byzantium should check out the 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast, hosted by Lars Brownworth who also wrote a great book called Lost To The West.

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