I came across an academic analysis of Hagakure. "Embracing Death: Pure will in Hagakure" by Olivier Ansart, University of Sydney.
It's extremely well-researched, but the author can't wrap his mind around the concepts because they're so alien to him.
Here's a footnote, for instance - emphasis added:
There would indeed be some conceptual contradiction, or at least tension, in the notion of a blind obedience that would depend on reward. The ideal of unconditional, or gratuitous, service was of course frequently encountered in the moral discourses of the period – and was later often singled out as one striking difference between the feudal relationships in Japan and in Europe. However in practice, cases where harshness, ingratitude and shabby treatment of the retainers by their master all but dissolved the obligations they felt to his person or family were even more common. After all, absent a favor to be returned could there be an intelligible reason for good and loyal service?
It's funny, because Ansart is staring at the whole picture. He has thoroughly digested the words of Hagakure, but can't think like its meaning.
He writes, "After all, absent a favor to be returned could there be an intelligible reason for good and loyal service?"
This would be the same if a military chemist couldn't grasp someone who liked learning just to learn. Couldn't you imagine such a man writing, "After all, absent a productive use to be found could there be an intelligible reason for reading and scholarship?"
The answer comes down to ethics. Service as an ethic is alien to so many academics. "I serve." They don't get it. Some do. A few. But a number of my friends have gone into the academy for longer or shorter periods of time, and the observations have always been similar - it's not a place of scholarship and diligent service, but rather of all sorts of politics and backbiting where you desperately try to carve out your own private sphere in a confusing bureaucratic jungle.
Which is a shame, because it shouldn't be that way.
Regardless. Many academics can't conceive of warrior's ethics, of which "service as an ethic" is sometimes one of them. Service is its own reward. You should choose what you serve very carefully, but then follow that cause fanatically as long as the underlying chosen reason remains there and cohesive. (Abandoning, for instance, a religion that revealed itself to be an insane cult on further scrutiny, or an economic system that results in pure destruction would be no breach of service, if you entered in that service to elevate humanity.)
But the good doctor Ansart has a hard time conceptualizing service as its own ethic with its own reward for its adherence, just like the military chemist can't imagine scholarship as its own ethic with ots own reward for faithful adherence.
I love academia in theory. I like a lot of academia in practice. But much of it can't imagine life outside of the towers. Choose your causes carefully and devote yourself fully. Service is its own reward.
(This isn't a sleight against the good doctor, though. There are some interesting insights in there, and it's worth a read if you're interested in the topic. The language is unnecessarily verbose, but that just comes with the territory. The analysis is worth reading.)
It's good to see this article being talked about. I see you recognise the insights that Ansart's atricle contains, but I assume you judge these to be for the most part incidental.
However, without disrespect, you do not appear to have grasped the nature and purpose of Ansart's exegesis (and it is exegesis with the intention of arriving at understanding, not partisan advocacy of any variety of "warrior ethics", which he is undertaking). The purpose of Ansart's inquiry is, as he states a number of times, first by reference to Davidson's principle of charity in interpretation, to identify whether there is any governing coherence to the "bundle of contradictions" which Hagakure contains, contradictions into which its author appears to provide very little insight, assuming he is alive to them at all. For it may be that the contradictions are stubborn for the very reason that they reflect a stubborn truth which is dialetheistic, or at the very least paradoxical. But before we get to that point - and it is easy to jump straight to it, since apparent paradox is often used as a lazy device for concealing confusions and tensions in thought which a writer mistakes for profundity or wisdom - we need to unbundle the contradictions, or conceptual tensions, to get a clear look at them.
That is what Ansart is attempting to do. There is a tension in the proposition that service in loyalty should be blind and other exhortations in Hagakure that the servant should be, in effect, a prudent practical reasoner for his retainer's benefit and guidance. Ansart rejects the argument that loyalty of counsel equates with the blind loyalty which Hagakure extols, for the obvious reason that the later form of loyalty does not just eschew the practical rationality of counsel but appears to valorise its opposite: a kind of arational (if not always irrational) intensity of commitment. Ansart offers one ingenious suggestion that the contradiction may indeed be, in the context of those social relations which obtained among samurai contemporaneous with Hagakure, only apparent, since it was accepted – and expected - that different people would discharge each different form of loyalty: they operated to some extent as supplements of each other.
His most original suggestion is, however, that the principle of coherence in Hakagure resides in the notion of a will which is unbounded by and unrelated to personal, socially-constituted, loyalties of any kind; a will which is not an instrument in the performance of moral obligations, or a necessary condition precedent to practical reasoning about moral obligations, but a power which lies and is exercised beyond those obligations by which we are tied in relations of liability to or power over other socially-situated persons. Because it is to this will which Hagakure’s fascination with blind devotion and frenzy is directed, the work is not, after all, a “bundle of contradictions”. Hagakure expresses, on Ansart’s argument, a “proto-existentialist” theme and this is what “explains its enduring appeal”. In the course of arriving at his formulation of this theme, Ansart has shown himself fully capable of understanding the meaning and value of the notion of “service as an ethic”. He does, in fact, “get it”; his purpose, however, is to show that the prescriptions which Hagakure extols as necessary to this “ethic” are not at all straightforwardly coherent; and that its real intention is, in any case, much more exploratory (and ethically creative) than prescriptive.
His writing is a model of clarity and discrimination; he writes prose in which the intelligence can be seen as active and alive. All these are traits which few academics possess. He betrays not the slightest interest in the pompous obscurity and self-indulgent theorising which tiresome academics “trained” in post-modernist rhetoric inflict on their readers (or rather their captive students, since surely they have few genuine readers). He has produced, in just under 20 pages, an essay which offers a wholly new and persuasive interpretation of the text, and does so with insight and a scholarly apparatus which contains many pregnant relevancies fit for further investigation.
In any case, and for what it is worth, the above is my assessment of the article.
"Those who can't do, teach."
Academics generally are pretty clueless about most things.
They are like someone who studies tennis -- average ball velocity, spin techniques, statistical analysis of shot placement -- but has never picked up a racquet.
Doing is the only way really to learn something.
I read books written only by people who DID the thing they are writing about. Reading anything by an academic generally is a waste of time.
Your example of abandoning a flawed religion or doctrine actually seems a bit like what the author is talking about. If you adopt some kind of belief to elevate humanity, but in the event humanity does not get elevated, how is that really different from a favour not being returned, thus justifying not continuing your service?
I'm not sure the values of the warrior and the scholar are really all that far apart when you look closely. Saying "service is its own reward" is not that different from the "knowledge is its own reward" that motivates academics to do what they do. And I'm still generally convinced that is the motivation for academics, as many could earn more money and status in other professions if they chose to. Certainly the politics and bureaucracy of university life seem like an affront to the values of pure and noble academic pursuit, but the professors I've met seem to view playing that game as just a necessary means to an end. By some accounts, modern military forces also suffer from similar kinds of bureaucracy, intransigence and internal politics.
Incidentally, Steve Dutch, an American geologist with military experience, makes some interesting points about modern military values from the perspective of 'academics' at http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/WestTech/xmilitar.htm . Maybe this is isn't really the same as the warrior ideals you're talking about here, but note the point he makes about obedience not being mindless obedience.
I read "The Samurai Ethic and Modern Japan" by Yukio Mishima recently. Fascinating book - it's an analysis and review of Hagakure, a 17th century book of samurai ethics.
Lots of interesting ideas. Many I disagree with. But none more fascinating than this one - Mishima writes about externally-focused morality.
In Hagakure it says, "A samurai must never seem to flag or lose heart."
This remark suggests that it is a defect to seem to flag, to seem disheartened. The most important thing is that a samurai not manifest externally his disappointment or fatigue.
Over Christmas break, I watched all of Blue Mountain State on Netflix. It's a raunchy comedy aimed at young men centered around college football players at a stereotypical big state school. It's a hilarious TV show that I would recommend for anyone who enjoys inappropriate and perhaps offensive humor (guilty pleasure, sorry).
During the end of the third and final season, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) hits the school with huge penalties for its program. In retaliation, Alex Moran (starting quarterback and main character) fires back by attempting to expose the NCAA and how unfair they are to student-athletes.
Currently, there is a lot of debate going around the amateur status of college athletes, mainly football and basketball players. Football and basketball games are huge sources of revenue for most universities, generating millions of dollars for their programs (the University of Texas generated more than $100 million of revenue in 2011 - 2012).
The athletes don't see any of this, at least not legally. They aren't allowed any compensation besides the scholarships they receive along with perhaps a small living stipend. They aren't allowed to accept free materials (not even cream cheese!). Athletes have often professional-like schedules where their days are packed with practice, training, and film review. Recently, they have started to come together because they believe they should be paid as they are generating tons of revenue for their respective universities.