“Warrior” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. There are road warriors, and social justice warriors, and ninja warriors. But what does it really mean to be a warrior?
My guest today sets out a working definition in his book The Warrior’s Manifesto. His name is Daniel Modell, and he earned his Master’s Degree in philosophy before going on to serve for twenty years in the New York City Police Department.
Daniel and I begin our conversation discussing what makes a warrior and the lessons Spartacus can teach us on that score. Daniel and I then discuss why warriors do what they do, why violence is sometimes necessary for peace, and what it means to be savage without becoming savage. We then discuss how bureaucracy kills leadership and why you don’t need a title to be a leader. At the end of our conversation, Daniel talks about why it isn’t just members of the military and law enforcement who need to understand the way of the warrior, but ordinary civilians as well.
- How Danny turned a Masters in Philosophy into a career as a police officer
- How Danny’s philosophy background informed his police work
- What makes a warrior? What are the defining characteristics?
- How Spartacus is the embodiment of what it means to be a warrior
- What are the ideals that a warrior fights for? How do you decide what’s worth fighting for?
- What the Persian War can teach us about a warrior’s why
- The dichotomy between leaders and bureaucrats
- Don’t you need to play within the system sometimes though?
- What is the central riddle of the warrior?
- Why violence doesn’t beget violence
- How to be savage without becoming a savage
- Why should even civilians understand what it means to be a warrior?
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- When Violence Is the Answer
- Why You Need a Philosophical Survival Kit
- The Spartan Way series
- Manvotional: Spartacus to the Gladiators
- Persian War
- The Worth of War
- The Master Virtue: Practical Wisdom
- How Harry Truman Handled Being Out of His Depth
- The Warrior Ethos, With Steven Pressfield
- The 4 Archetypes of Mature Masculine: The Warrior
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. “Warrior” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. There are road warriors, social justice, warriors, ninja warriors; what does it really mean to be a warrior? My guest today sets out a working definition in his book, The Warrior’s Manifesto. His name is Daniel Modell, and he earned his Master’s degree in philosophy before going on to serve for 20 years in the New York City police department.
Daniel and I began our conversation discussing what makes a warrior a warrior, and the lessons Spartacus can teach us on that score. Daniel and I then discussed why warriors do what they do, why violence is sometimes necessary for peace, and what it means to be savage without becoming savage. We then discuss how bureaucracy kills leadership and why you don’t need a title to be a leader. At the end of our conversation Daniel talks about why it isn’t just members of the military and law enforcement though need to understand the way of the warrior, but ordinary civilians as well. After the show is over, check out the show notes at AOM.is/WarriorManfesto.
Daniel Modell, welcome to the show.
Daniel Modell: Thanks very much for inviting me Brett.
Brett McKay: You have a book, The Warrior’s Manifesto. But before we get into the book, let’s talk about your background, because I think it’s really interesting. You’re a 20-year veteran of the New York City police, but you got your Bachelor’s in philosophy and your Master’s in philosophy. How did that happen? How did you go from philosopher to New York City police officer?
Daniel Modell: Seems like a totally natural transition. Both endeavors begin with a P, right. I developed an interest in philosophy as an undergraduate at New York University. At the time there was, for me anyway, a pretty vibrant intellectual atmosphere on campus. We were encouraged to take a range of core courses, and philosophy really appealed to me. Particularly the history of ideas and how they developed and expressed themselves in different systems. At the same time, I’d been interested in the idea of policing for a long time, and so right around the time when I finished up my undergraduate studies I took the exam to become a police officer in New York City. As I recall it, there were some legal challenges to establishing a list from my exams, so I continued to pursue my interest in philosophy, and I ended up in a graduate program in the University of Texas at Austin. During that time a list of candidates was finally established from my police exam, and I deferred my investigation to become a cop so that I could finish my studies at Austin. Once I did that, I moved back to New York City, started my investigation, and was hired by the NYPD in 1995.
Brett McKay: When you were doing your graduate studies in philosophy, what type of philosophy were you focused on?
Daniel Modell: I thought it out at the University of Texas with a specialty in ancient philosophy. During my time there I ended up hooking up with a professor by the name of Edwin Allaire whose work was more in early modern philosophy, so over time I developed an interest in that, Descartes, Hume, Berkeley, figures like that. I still maintain an interest in ancient philosophy, Plato and Aristotle, some of the presocratics really interested me, but I ended up writing a Master’s thesis on something more like early modern with Allaire.
Brett McKay: I’m curious, when you finished your Master’s and you went back to become a cop, how did your background in philosophy influence your approach to policing?
Daniel Modell: It’s an interesting question. It’s not that easy to answer. I’d say there was, in some ways, an influence. I guess in the broadest sense inquiry, investigation, a willingness to think deeply about issues or problems, are core factors in philosophy, and in some ways, although the practical details are very different, policing requires some of that capacity and willingness to inquire, investigate, figure out what at route is happening in a particular situation, often a volatile one. In a very broad sense there are these mirrored set of skills between the two.
That said I don’t want to exaggerate the similarities. In the course of my career as a cop, I don’t recall any encounters in which I was tempted to cite a passage from Plato’s Symposium, or to counter a crazy rant from an emotionally disturbed person by pointing out to them the law of non-contradiction or something like that. Maybe the best way I could say it is this. Speaking for myself, developing a thoughtful temperament was helpful in navigating some of the craziness of policing, and studying philosophy did help.
Brett McKay: I imagine. It would’ve been great for a cop show if you had equipped with the Symposium.
Daniel Modell: That’s my next project, with quotes from Plato.
Brett McKay: Are you still with NYPD or are you doing something else now?
Daniel Modell: I’m not. I retired in 2015, so about three years ago I retired as a lieutenant. I, in the meantime, started a business with a couple of partners of mine, they were sergeants in the NYPD, both of them are also retired at this point. It’s called Aries Tactical and Emergency Management Solutions. We do self-defense and tactical training for civilians, law enforcement, security personnel, and we have a blast doing it.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about, you’ve also become a writer, so you’ve got this book, The Warrior’s Manifesto.
Daniel Modell: Yes.
Brett McKay: What was the impetus behind this book? Was it basically trying to distill all your thoughts about … I don’t know, what it means to be a warrior. Because you’re in an interesting position there, because you’ve studied this abstractly, reading plateau and Aristotle, but also you’ve lived it day to day. Was there a moment after you retired where you were like, “I need to write this book,” or has this been brewing in your mind for a long time and you finally just decided to, I guess, finger the keyboard and get it out there?
Daniel Modell: The later, Brett. I’d been thinking about a project like that for some time, certainly before I retired. It’s hard to kind of bear down and write a book while you’re working third platoon at a Bronx precinct, but yeah, I’d been thinking about it for some time. I would say there were two major factors that kind of pushed the book out of me. The first was this kind of felt need to understand in fundamental terms what the warrior professions are really about, why society needs military and law enforcement, and the ideals that they should strive towards. The second one, and this was felt more towards the end of my career, it’s related to the first in some ways though, was a desire to answer the relentless din of criticism that was coming from some of the more shrill activists around at the time. Directed at law enforcement currently, but look, let’s not forget, there was some pretty shrill criticism of the military not more than a couple generations ago. I wanted to provide some sort of comprehensive answer to that okay criticism, not directly but more in the way of establishing a framework that kind of detailed the extent to which the warrior professions are critical in really all works of civilization.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it’s sort of Platonic in a way. So let’s get Platonic. Let’s start off which definitions. What, in your idea of a warrior, what makes a warrior a warrior?
Daniel Modell: Good question, and one that I try to tackle in the book. I’d say when we raise large questions like “What is an X” as a point of method, it’s always good to start with common or traditional answers to the question. That is, by the way, Socratic.
Brett McKay: That’s what Socrates did, right.
Daniel Modell: For example, if you want to say that fighting for country is a defining characteristic of the warrior, you want to figure out whether that excludes too much and includes too much. I think that it does. If you want to take that as a defining characteristic, let’s not forget you have to include Japanese soldiers of the Axis who, at certain times, caught Chinese infants on their bayonets in a kind of warped competition.
On the other hand, you would have to exclude an extraordinary figure like Spartacus, who didn’t fight under the banner of any nation, quite the contrary. Having said that, by the way, fighting for country may be critically important personally for individual warriors, and maybe should be in many cases, but I would say it can’t be a defining characteristic of the warrior as such because it includes too much and excludes too much.
The same is true, if I could push forward a little bit, even if you want to say fighting in a war really defines the warrior. Because think about it this way: there are many, many hundreds, thousands, who have joined army, navy marines, Air Force, and with everything that that implies, willingness to fight and die so that other can sleep soundly, but given the times that they joined the military, which were relatively peaceful, they never did fight in a war. But I know plenty of these guys, as I’m sure you do Brett, and it seems wrong not to call them warriors. The same I would say is true of cops. Cops, at least in their capacity as cops, don’t fight in wars, as that term’s commonly understood anyway, but nevertheless, I’ve served with many of them over the course of a couple of decades, and they are every bit the warrior.
Then on the other side of it, not everybody who dons a uniform, or who’s even in a trench is necessarily a warrior, and some of the better soldiers will be the first to tell you that. We could go on. Historically, some who fought in wars after they defeated or achieved their military end would rape and pillage, and we don’t generally want to apply the term warrior to those guys, because they behave like thugs. Thug and warrior, at least in my mind, don’t go together.
I think when you try to consider what it is that’s essential to being a warrior, we’re looking for something larger, and I would say that it is fighting for an ideal, understood as such, as a matter of professional obligation, and as a matter of principle, when that ideal is potentially threatened by violence or attack.
Brett McKay: Got you. You mentioned Spartacus. In the book you went into great detail using him as an example of what it means to be a warrior. Because like you said, he didn’t fit for a country.
Daniel Modell: That’s right.
Brett McKay: But despite that, you still considered him a warrior. What is it about Spartacus that lines up with that definition that you’ve come up with?
Daniel Modell: I think that what’s so compelling about Spartacus as a historical figure, and in no small part as a figure of myth, is that he defied all of these traditional categorizations associated with the warrior. Like I said, and as I point out in the book, he didn’t fight under the banner of any nation, he certainly didn’t have a traditional organization to his army, and yet he fought with a purity of purpose, and kind of stubborn defiance, in the face of adversity, that any warrior would surely recognize in himself. I think he really captured very neatly that you fight for a larger ideal, in his case freedom. He started out as, or he was captured, and kind of forced into slavery in the gladiatorial games, so he fought for freedom, both for himself, and rallied others to his cause, and when that was threatened, as it was immediately, but counter attacks, and his possible destruction, he fought for himself with all that he had. Tactical savvy, raw guts, and again, all in the service of that larger ideal of freedom. That’s a warrior. I think that really sums up what a warrior is.
Brett McKay: We’ve talked about the what of the warrior, they fight for some ideal. Let’s talk about those ideals. That’s the why of the warrior. How do you decide which ideals are worth fighting for? Because that gets tricky. It’s that phrase, everyone’s a hero in their own brain, or their own mind. They might think they’re fighting for a great cause, but it might not be.
Daniel Modell: It can get pretty tricky at times. I would say there are some views that are obviously kind of off. If you’re fighting for the right to exterminate a defenseless minority, it seems a wild set of rationalizations that would justify that in your on mind, where you’re still calling yourself a warrior, somebody who’s fighting for some worthy cause. Does that make sense so far?
Brett McKay: Yeah, that makes sense so far.
Daniel Modell: While I think you’re right, there are issues that are debatable around the periphery, at the core a warrior is a protector. A warrior doesn’t want to fight or kill the defenseless or the innocent. To the extent that a warrior wants to fight, he wants to fight bad guys, or he wants to fight another warrior. At core, I think we start there and try to figure out what it is that, the ideals toward which warriors should strive. Does that sort of answer the question at least in a preliminary way?
Brett McKay: Yeah, in a preliminary way sure. I think examples are useful, like Plutarch. That’s why I love Plutarch, he gives actual examples. You do this in your book. You talk about the Persian war as sort of a case study in exploring the why of the warrior. What can the Persian war teach us about that?
Daniel Modell: The Persian war, I think, is instructive in this sense. It was a conflict between two alternative visions of society. One, represented by Xerxes, was essentially planned, despotic, surrounded by vassal colonies, and Greece, which was really a series of separate nations, separate city states, each inclined often to spar with the other, each very jealous about guarding its independence, and with at least a rudimentary respect for freedom. When Xerxes invaded Greece to make it yet another vassal state, the Greeks, or at least some of them, formed a federation to stand up against that attack and maintain their freedom and their independence.
One of the most dramatic battles of that conflict was the 300 at Thermopylae. There was a small group of Spartans. For religious reasons Sparta didn’t enter fully into the war, at least not at that time, and so a small group of 300 led by their king, Leonidas, took up a position at a terrain that was tactically advantageous for them, Thermopylae, the Hot Gates. It was narrow, and so allowed them to manage and control the conflict, even though the Persian army was enormous, far larger of course than the 300. Some estimates, like from Herodotus, say that there was a million of them. That might be an exaggeration, but in any case there were many, many more than the 300 Spartans.
For several days the Spartans were able to defy and defeat the Persian army, and gave time for the Greek confederation to set themselves up, both at sea and on land. It was their sacrifice that allowed the battles at Salamis and Plataea to go the way of the Greeks. The Spartans were defeated ultimately, I think almost exclusively because they were betrayed by one of their own and they ended up being flanked by the Persians, but they all died to a man, and again, they died in the service of freedom. They didn’t want to function as yet another vassal state in the enormous empire of Persia. That’s a worthy ideal to fight for.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Daniel Modell: Yeah, and so I think the Spartan 300 are great examples of that.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and even then it gets tricky, because from what I remember from my classical history, the Persian emperors, they come in, they make the states … They weren’t states, but these city states, part of their kingdom, and they’d be vassal and they’d have to pay taxes, but other than that they were pretty lenient. They let them continue to worship their own gods, kind of function in their own culture, they didn’t impose Persian culture on them, so it’d be like “Yeah, that sounds not so bad. They’ll just kind of leave us alone and give us some protection maybe.” But there’s always a price, and that price is always that freedom, and the Greeks weren’t willing to pay that price.
Daniel Modell: That’s right. The Greeks were, at that time, 5th century Greeks were an unruly lot. I think that was their great virtue. Part of what makes them intellectually so interesting, the advancements in philosophy, mathematics, geometry, inquiry generally, was really potent in at least some of the cultures. Interestingly enough, you’re right, history is kind of sloppy, not so much in Sparta. Despite their bravery at Thermopylae, Spartans were not generally a really inquisitive lot like the Athenians. In fact I’ll go further and say that the Spartans in general were much more noble in defeat than they were in victory. The Spartans, after all, had a whole system of helotry, if you remember any of that. It was in many ways a slave society itself.
History looks always more sloppy maybe than we’d like, but on the whole, on the whole, when you compare the Persian empire at the time under Xerxes, there was a definite overlord at its center. He did see himself as a god. He wasn’t alone in that, but he did see himself as a god, and thought that the remainder of the world should come to heel, because after all, he was a god. On the other side you have the Greeks, who didn’t accept that, who believed, at least some of them, in the power of individual inquiry, the importance of freedom, democracy. Between those two, I think that the Greek approach is the right one, and in this case at least, it showed in battle.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I imagine the why of the warrior, it’s something that I think someone in that position has to grapple with. They probably grapple with it all the time, whether they’re a police officer or a soldier. They sign up for a position where their job is to execute an order, or execute a law, but they might think, is the law just? They might go through that, but they’re in a position where they have to, that’s their job, but there’s that internal struggle, is this the right thing. How do you, in your experience or just talking to other people in that position, what’s the thought process that goes on there, when they’re trying to figure out the why of the warrior? They might have this ideal, but on the day to day they might feel like they’re coming up short on it.
Daniel Modell: I think as a practical matter, most guys in law enforcement and the military have a healthy respect for the notions of freedom and individual rights, so in the broad sense I don’t think that they struggle at that level, but as you’re getting to and pointing out, it’s more on, with particular decisions and our particular policies, are they just? How do you navigate that? It’s a good question. I think you never want to forget your humanity, and you always want to remember that, in the end, you’re there to protect, in the broader sense, the defenseless, the innocent, those who aren’t really in a position to defend themselves.
If you start to veer towards, “Look, I’m just sort of doing this by the numbers and for the numbers,” if I could put it that way, to be specific about it, “My boss or executive management wants X number of criminal court summonses issued per month, or X numbers of arrests, and so I’m just going to do it, even though discretion other other circumstances would press me to probably give a break in a lot of these cases otherwise,” that’s when you start veering into losing a sense of yourself. That is a problem in bureaucracies, where performance is so commonly measured quantitatively. It’s that, to borrow a phrase from Jerry Muller, the tyranny of metrics. But when you start thinking almost exclusively in terms of numbers, you’re going wrong. You want to think more qualitatively about what it is that you do, because if you don’t you kind of sap the nobility from the enterprise.
Brett McKay: That makes sense, it’s very Aristotelian. It’s like using your, what do you call it, phronesis, your practical wisdom, to figure out what the right thing to do, at the right time, for the right reasons.
Daniel Modell: To be sure, yeah, to be sure. Like I said, one tell is this tendency nowadays to kind of quantify everything, and think that you’ve summed up the person or the world by doing that. Policing, and I would say the military too, has always been more art than science. Don’t get me wrong, science plays a role in both professions, but it’s always been more art than science, because after all, in the end it’s about human relationships and how you navigate those, under extreme circumstances to be sure, but nevertheless, they’re human relationships, and in the end human relationships can’t be finally quantified, if that makes sense.
Brett McKay: That makes sense. Facebook things you can quantify, those relationships, but that’s not how it works in real life.
Daniel Modell: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Let’s kind of carry on this idea about the tension between a warrior and bureaucracy.
Daniel Modell: Yeah.
Brett McKay: We had a guest on a couple weeks ago talking about the worth of war, and he talks about all the innovations that have come from warfare, and one of them is bureaucracy. We got bureaucracy to wage war more efficiently. So there’s a role for bureaucracy, because it makes things more efficient, makes sure things get done, but as you said, it’s a double-edged sword, and it can sort of muck things up and make things harder on the day to day questions. In the book you talk about, there’s a dichotomy between leaders and bureaucrats. What’s the difference between the two?
Daniel Modell: A leader is really all about vision. He looks to articulate a vision for those who follow him, subordinates, even peers, and sometimes frankly even supervisors. A leader looks to define a common sense of purpose, and to inspire his guys to act in accordance with the best within them. He’s looking to bring out the best in his guys and the best in himself. Again, that’s a qualitative endeavor, going back to that whole quality-quantity dichotomy that we briefly talked about before. I’d say at root, and perhaps most importantly, in practice, the leader treats his men as men.
Contrast that with the bureaucrat, who concerns himself primarily with securing his status within an organization, particularly the executive managers. The idol that a functionary kind of worships is moving up, promotion. The art that he learns is not so much how to bring out the best within the guys that you work with, but rather manipulation, politicking, careerism. He can’t inspire people because, among other things, the bureaucrat doesn’t generally share glory, doesn’t accept blame. One thing that you’ll almost never hear from a bureaucrat is, “That’s my fault. That one’s on me. It’s my responsibility.” But you will hear that regularly from a leader.
The bureaucrat, especially a certain kind of bureaucrat, is really concerned with propelling himself forward within a bureaucracy. So among other things, what the bureaucrat has to master is process, protocol, paperwork, procedure, and in many ways these define the limits of his world. Whether the process, the paperwork, the procedural minutiae, serve any meaningful purpose, it’s a question that a functionary never really raises. In fact functionaries don’t question period, because they understand implicitly, if nothing else, that pushing upward in a bureaucracy means not upsetting the status quo, and not rocking the boat.
The leader’s the opposite. He questions when it makes sense, he challenges when he needs to, he speaks out because he’s motivated by a larger sense of right and wrong for himself, for his guys, and for the organization too for that matter. Those are kind of the critically different portraits of the leader and the bureaucrat.
I’m actually curious about the guy that you spoke to about the development of bureaucracy, and I wonder whether it’s really as efficient as we think. When I think of bureaucracy sometimes, and I just kind of run through a rolodex of concretes, I think of experiences that I had at, I don’t know, the DMV or the post office, and they don’t seem all that efficient. Frankly I’ll say even, having been in the NYPD for 20 years, so I’m kind of sort of intimately familiar with that bureaucracy, efficiency isn’t a word that I would attach to the organization, but I wonder if maybe he wasn’t talking about the initial stages of development of bureaucracies in military contexts.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I think he’s talking more about that. There was actually some semblance of organization that went on that didn’t exist before. As you were talking, describing the difference between a bureaucrat and a leader, and you were describing a bureaucrat, the thought that came to mind was that it’s really easy to become a bureaucrat.
Daniel Modell: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Because as you said, you have a system, you know exactly what you’re supposed to do.
Daniel Modell: That’s right.
Brett McKay: That’s comforting, so you do that. A lot of people, a lot of times we feel, “I would never become a bureaucrat.” But I think our tendency would be like, “Yeah, that’s nice, because I’ve got something to tell me what to do each and every day, and I don’t have to think at all.”
Daniel Modell: That’s right, you’re exactly right. The comfort of bureaucracy is that you never really have to raise larger questions for yourself. Your role is entirely defined by procedure and protocol. Hannah Arendt made a really interesting point in regards to this in her book on Eichmann, where she said look, in some ways we want to see a figure like Eichmann as this deeply and obviously evil Darth Vader, Satan-like character, but the truth is, he was the perfect bureaucrat. All he as really doing was pushing paper from one side of the desk to the other, because that’s what the bureaucracy defined his role as. The fact that the papers involved transporting defenseless people to gas chambers never really fundamentally entered his thinking. He was all about his role within the bureaucracy. But of course that’s one of the problems with bureaucracy. It is comforting in some sense, it is easy, but what it takes from you is that very human impulse to question, but am I doing the right thing. That’s the deep problem with bureaucracy, and it certainly asserts itself in, I think, many, many different organizations, but certainly law enforcement and military organizations.
Brett McKay: I imagine that there’s a tension for individuals who are striving to be leaders, because on the one hand they want to question, and they want to make sure they’re doing the right thing, but on the other hand you have to sort of play the game. If you just run roughshod, and you just become belligerent and say, “You guys are idiots, you’re doing everything wrong,” no one’s going to listen to you. You’ll get kicked out or just ignored. Maybe in your own experience, or seeing the experience of other people in law enforcement or the military, how do they balance that tension of being a leader, but also having to sort of play the game so people actually pay attention to them? Does that make sense?
Daniel Modell: Let me start by saying, frankly a lot of them didn’t. Leadership within law enforcement organizations, among executive management, I don’t think that it’s common. Where you would expect to see it, by the way, other things being equal, but it’s not that common, and it’s not common for precisely the reason that you cite. If you don’t, as it were, play the game, if you cast yourself as somebody who’s going to question and rock the boat, you’re not going to be pushed forward in the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy loves its own status quo, so if you’re all about change, and trying to make things better, and trying to improve morale for example, you’re going to have a hard go getting pushed up with bureaucracy. It’s what’s required, certainly more than questioning, and what is admired, by the bureaucracy, more than challenging, is how could I push forward and protect the agency?
I had an interesting conversation once with a very high-ranking chief in the NYPD. He’s still there, but his name’s not important. It was during the whole controversy with stop, question, and frisk. The court case was underway. I was chatting with him about it, so I said the case doesn’t seem to be going well for the agency, and look, maybe that’s right. It’s not very clear that the stop, question, and frisk policy was ever a great approach to getting guns off the street. That is to say, once again, quantity over quality, but in any case, we can talk about that more if you want, but I really want to actually just highlight the nature of this discussion I had with this chief. He said “Look, hopefully the court case does go well for the agency,” and I said to him at one point, “Maybe that’s what we need. What if we were wrong about the whole approach to stop, question, and frisk?” He stopped for a minute and just kind of stared, I’m tempted to say somewhat vacantly at me, but then with a certain amount of edginess he said, “Look, in the end you’ve got to defend the department, don’t you?” I said, “But what if the department’s wrong?” I tell you, that was really the last discussion I ever had with him. He didn’t want to talk to me any more after that.
That captures the bureaucratic mentality at its most dysfunctional core. You just don’t question whether the policy that you’re implementing really makes sense, whether it really serves a larger mission, whether it’s the right thing to do or not. It’s really just about defending the agency, or the bureaucracy, or the organization, just because that becomes your whole world.
I might have gotten a little far afield in tackling the question that you answered Brett, but it’s difficult to be a leader and to be an executive manager in a large bureaucracy, at least as they’re currently constituted. It’s just not a common thing, and so much of executive management is about getting the bars and the stars. There doesn’t seem to be much active thought beyond that. I hate to paint such a pessimistic picture of things, but I’m afraid that it’s well-grounded.
Brett McKay: I imagine in your idea of a warrior, a warrior would be a leader, have those traits, and not a bureaucrat, correct?
Daniel Modell: Sure, because the warrior is driven by, or should be driven by, a sense of right and wrong. A warrior would never be disinclined to question. That doesn’t mean that he’s questioning his every single action. When you’ve got to fight you’ve got to fight, and most of the time it’s pretty clear when you have to do that. But there’s a whole series of peripheral issues that, as an independent actor who’s striving towards the best within himself, and towards larger ideals, yeah, he would tend to question and to challenge, when that’s necessary. I think the rudiments of leadership kind of fall within every warrior. Not necessarily every warrior is a leader, but all the rudiments of solid leadership, I think, are within the warrior, and that’s things like self-possession, the willingness to grow, the willingness to ask whether at any given point I’m doing the right thing, whether our sense of purpose has gotten lost along the way somewhere. So yes, I would say leadership certainly comes from those who dedicate themselves to developing the art of the warrior. I don’t think that you can develop into a leader if you’re mired in process and protocol and paperwork and procedures, the real center of most larger organizations.
Brett McKay: We’ve been talking about the ideals of a warrior, what makes a warrior, but we haven’t hit on the actions of a warrior. Because they have these ideals that they fight for, so that means they have to use violence sometimes. You call this the central riddle of the warrior, that to fight violence you have to use violence. Why is that the central riddle?
Daniel Modell: There’s a common belief that violence begets violence, and so if the warrior uses violence, and surely he does, doesn’t that merely perpetuate something that’s not at all desirable? That is to say, in using violence you merely beget further violence. So the warrior is really just kind of taking up his appointed role in this perpetual dance that never ends. It is a riddle and it’s a challenge that’s worth thinking about and answering. I would say that, historically, as a general principle, it’s not true that violence necessarily begets violence. I’ll give you a specific example at that may be instructive.
Let’s take the conflict between, primarily, the United States and Japan during World War II. Fighting in the Pacific was ferocious during that conflict, and imperial Japan had said quite explicitly that they were willing to fight to the last man rather than surrender. Party as a result of that, Truman ended up okaying the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, and it brought, obviously, horrible devastation. After that, the Japanese did surrender, and so what happened as a result of that? The Japanese rejected the former philosophy that kind of pushed them into alliances with the other Axis powers. They rebuilt, they reorganized, they became an extraordinary economic power, and at this point geopolitically, Japan and the United States are fast allies, and have been for decades, and I don’t think that any sensible person worries that Japan is secretary seething with rage, wait for a moment to wreak vengeance on us. It’s instructive. We dropped atomic bombs on Japan. That didn’t beget further violence. In fact there has been, like I said, decades of peace between the two countries since.
Let me try to bring it down to an even more individual level. When your mom or your dad or both told you, stand up to the bully, did they tell you that because they thought that standing up to him, perhaps fighting him, would beget more violence? The answer is surely no. They gave you that advice because, first of all, you should be willing to defend yourself. You should be willing to stand up for yourself, or you’re going to be a doormat your whole life. More than that, what they, at least intuitively, recognized in giving you that advice, is that on the whole, the bully will back down if you confront him forcibly. In fact, if you have to fight a bully, even if you lose, it’s unlikely that he’s going to target you again, because bullies are looking to target or attack what they think is weakness and not strength.
So historically and logically, I don’t think that there’s any real reason to accept the premise that violence necessarily begets violence. You could give me examples of instances in which it has. Actually the armistice at the end of World War I is a good example of a kind of strategically ineffective violence that ultimately led to a worse violence, but in any case, the larger point is, violence doesn’t necessarily beget violence. Sometimes violence, and decisive violence, is the only way to stop an initiated act of violence. That’s why it’s just part of the necessary makeup of the warrior professions that they be skilled at the use of violence.
Violence is a tool in the end. In itself it’s neither good nor bad. It’s amply attested in nature, as I pointed out in the book. If a lion or a pride of lions attack a wildebeest, rip out its throat and consume it, that’s certainly violent, but it would be silly to say that it was a good or a bad thing for the lion to do in moral terms, it’s just silly. Violence in itself is neither good nor bad. When we’re talking about human action, and there’s choice involved, that’s when you can talk about good or bad, and intention and context are critically important in figuring out whether a particular act of violence is good or bad. We can talk some more about that if you want, but I’ve probably droned on a bit too long.
Brett McKay: So violence is sometimes the answer.
Daniel Modell: Yeah.
Brett McKay: You have this great line in your book, that a warrior has to be savage without becoming a savage. I imagine that’s hard. There’s that line from Nietzsche, be careful when you go look for monsters, because you’ll become a monster too.
Daniel Modell: Yeah.
Brett McKay: How does that look like in the life of a warrior, or a law enforcement, military guy, someone who has to use violence, and not let that degrade them, where they start to like it and enjoy it, and they become savage, like you say?
Daniel Modell: Right. You want your warriors to fight savagely when that’s necessary, and I’ll be concrete about it again, because I think that’s always helpful in tackling an issue or a question. Start with something in law enforcement, say. If a pedophile attacks a child, that’s certainly an act of evil, and you want a cop, if he comes on that scene, to use violence to stop that act of evil, that initiated act of violence. By the way, it really could be anybody, civilian or anybody, you’re certainly justified in using violence to stop the pedophile from attacking the child. Let’s shift to a military context. If the goal of a special operations unit is to take a town that has strategic value, or where there’s munitions stored or anything like that, they should fight savagely to achieve that end. But once the objective is achieved, there is no real justification for then raping and assaulting and beating up the villagers. Or in the case of law enforcement, once somebody is managed and brought under control, there’s no value in and no justification for then getting in extra beatings on the person. Because if you do that, you then become the very thing that you exist to fit against. You’ve now shifted over into, instead of fighting savages, you’ve become a savage yourself. So that internal contradiction, and it is something that you would look to avoid.
Brett McKay: I guess the question is, how do you avoid that? Is it just being self aware? Is it talking with your comrades about this? What is it that keeps you from going over to becoming a savage?
Daniel Modell: I think self-awareness is critically important, in that as in all things. So yes, self awareness is a critical first step, and consistently questioning yourself, checking your premises, making sure you remember your mission, and the purpose for which you exist professionally. Talking to and having a common sense of purpose with other warriors, military, law enforcement, freedom fighters for that matter, that also would tend to keep you grounded. It is a difficult thing milling around the precincts of violence as a matter of professional obligation, and it is possible, and some guys do, succumb to that tendency to just wallow in the violence. That’s all they come to know. My sense of it is, those guys, the guys who do sort of fall into that trap, always did have a kind of tendency towards thuggery. The guys who really respect the oath that they take, to protect the constitution, in our country in country in any case, to protect the constitution and the rights of individuals, and protect the freedom for people to, to everything, including protest against you, those guys tend to be okay. I think it’s the guys who always did have a little bit of a tendency, and a taste for violence as such, that fall into the trap of just wallowing in it, and kind of yielding to it.
Brett McKay: We’ve been talking a lot about law enforcement, military. I know we have a lot of LEOs and military guys listening to the podcast, but what about civilians? Why do you think it’s important for civilians to understand what you’re trying to tackle here with your book Warrior’s Manifesto?
Daniel Modell: I think there’s a couple reasons, and I think it certainly has a value for any civilians who would be interested in reading it, and kind of delving into the topics that I delve into. Part of it is just that, look, there’s lots of cops and lots of soldiers out there. We all know at least one, and usually know at least one pretty well. If you do want to have a sense of what it means to take on the obligations of the warrior in a professional setting, I think this book will get you on your way towards that.
There, I think, maybe is even a deeper reason, and might be a deeper appeal for civilians, those who aren’t necessarily in law enforcement or in the military. That’s this: You may meet a moment in the course of your life where you may have to use violence, where you may have to protect yourself, where you may have to protect somebody else. A loved one, a friend, or even a stranger for that matter. In that moment you are a warrior. To kind of gain some understanding of what ultimately that moment means, hopefully it’s not much more than a moment or two, but to gain some understanding of what that moment means, and to think deeply about it, “Why did I step up, why was it important for me to take action in this moment,” I think you’ll get at least some answer from the book.
Anything can happen. Even as a civilian, you should be prepared, and you should be think about how it is that you want to act in a situation that calls for, potentially violence, but certainly a firm stand if nothing else. In fact the first section of the book, The Spirit of the Warrior, is really directed towards civilians. I think there’s some value in those two things for civilians.
Brett McKay: Daniel, this has been a good conversation. Besides the book, is there someplace people can go to learn more about your work?
Daniel Modell: I’ve written some articles, The Warrior’s Manifesto is the only book that I have written thus far, but I’ve written some articles. They are, for the most part, about topics in law enforcement. I’ve written some articles on the active shooter phenomenon. I’ve written some articles on case law and some of the more notorious cases involving police shootings. I think probably the most convenient way for anybody to access that is at our website. It’s www.AriesTactics.com, A-R-E-S-T-A-C-T-I-C-S dot come. They might find some value in those articles.
Brett McKay: Daniel, thanks for coming on. It’s been a good conversation.
Daniel Modell: Brett, thanks so much, I appreciate it.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Daniel Modell. He’s the author of the book Warrior’s Manifesto. It’s available on Amazon.com. Also check out our show notes at AOM.is/WarriorsManifesto, where you’ll find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
That wraps up another edition of the Art Of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at ArtofManliness.com. If you enjoy the podcast, you got something out of it, I’d appreciate it if you gave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.