I was struck by a sudden realization while going through “Hagakure” by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Many of the topics, problems, solutions and issues that are brought up are remarkably similar to what we have to deal with today. I don’t think I’m pushing the line by noticing the cyclical nature of this. Even though this work in particular is many hundreds of years old, I immediately recognized specific points from similar self-help books I’ve recently read. Ground-breaking and transformative innovations often don’t suddenly appear thanks to the work of a single brainiac. Human flight, radio, the telephone and so on were worked on by several people around the world at roughly similar times. In the same manner we can see astonishingly similar tips and wisdom from this Eastern work as found in contemporary Western books and gurus.
First of all, I think this speaks to the accuracy, applicability and timelessness of certain wisdom. The outer trappings of culture and technology goes through a natural evolution with the passing of decades and centuries, but the core aspects of cultural relationships and values endure. Even a first-time readthrough by someone like myself who is in no sense of the word an expert or a scholar in such matters, I was able to find “hooks” on which to hang much of the knowledge contained in the words.
“Hagakure” addresses the apparent feminization of men taking place in Japanese society at the time. Many people in the modern “New Right”, “Manosphere” and Anti-Feminist circles lament a similar trend taking place in the West right now. Just like Yamamoto’s lamentations about men taking excessive care of their appearance, we find modern critics of the metrosexualization of the modern man. I immediately thought of Sonny Arvado’s comparison of James Bond as portrayed by Sean Connery and Daniel Craig. The book also addresses the concept of loyalty, especially in the form of loyalty to one’s master. The same problem has reared its head in contemporary politics, with politicians and economic actors torn between loyalty to globalism versus the nation state. If we want to push the envelope a bit, we can even apply this to the debates surrounding race and ethnicity in the Alt-Right, and how Western politicians are handling the pressures of migration.
Other relevant topics that are brought up include the focus of young men on materialism over bigger societal issues, the importance of having a presentable appearance (can be extended to include political optics), learning from one’s mistakes and “posers”. That is people that put up a front that fails upon closer scrutiny. In the book this takes the form of a fable about a man surrounding himself with images of dragons and obviously inhabiting a deep-seated admiration for them. He then sees a real live dragon and flees in terror. Again, the modern equivalent is painfully obvious, virtue signalling. A final example I’ll highlight is a section that tells you to “do what your purpose is regardless of expectations of outcome”. To me this is similar to the overarching theme of “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peals and the affirmations movement.
What then is the role of so-called ancient wisdom in motivating and guiding modern political and cultural operatives? Speaking from personal experience, I’ve combined ancient wisdom with writings from contemporary sources. Both have a role to play, but only to the extent that you can draw concrete guidance from them. Ancient wisdom can be a bit “hit and miss”. I didn’t gain much from the famed “Art of War” by Sun Tzu or “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi, although I got quite a bit from “Hagakure”. This might say more about me and my state of mind at the time of reading them than the factual content of these works. Modern works are naturally more approachable and benefit from a more concrete anchoring in contemporary societal conditions.