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February 09, 2011

Sun Tzu as a habit of the mind

Sun Tzu's Art of War is discussed at Stratblog, which makes the point that it is not teaching a body of doctrine but a habit of mind: a habit of attentive clarity out of which can come true judgment and decisive action.

A free online copy of the Art of War



Morality counts, but at least for some benighted people winning also matters.

Some have tried to turn The Art of War into an antiwar classic. It is true that Sun Tzu speaks constantly about the wastefulness of war, and urges kings and generals to avoid fighting whenever possible. The greatest general is the one who wins without fighting, Sun Tzu says piously (and correctly), but then goes on through the rest of his text to give advice to those lesser generals who are forced into war. And that advice is pretty ruthless. There are no tactics and no weapons that Sun Tzu would exclude on moral grounds. This is not a book from which international lawyers and disarmament activists can take much comfort.

The Art of War, a book which has inspired Chinese emperors, Japanese shoguns, Napoleon, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, does not just subvert conventional morality. It is even more profoundly opposed to the bureaucratic mind: the approach to the world that believes that everything can be reduced to technique and procedures.



From the Stratblog comments -

There are at least three the ways to tell if a philosophy is illegitimate as pacifism is.
1) Does it depend for its existence and prosperity on its antithesis?
2) Does its ultimate success depend on universal acceptance, while it has no credible means to gain universal acceptance?
3) Does it invariably weaken and undermine the society that permits it? Pacifism fits all three, and perhaps others, unmentioned. It is, thus, _inherently_ illegitimate and, I would say, immoral.


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