On the origin of sapience: Yoda’s advice to the clones

In Season 1, Episode 1, of The Clone Wars, directed by Dave Filoni based on the original films by George Lucas, the famous character Yoda gives some advice to his clone troopers. Based on a rogue bounty hunter, the clones are nonetheless stereotyped as being identical, a stereotype they internalise on the eve of battle. Yoda seeks to quell this fear through the hope of wisdom. Here’s how.

Yoda in the Clone Wars: Words of wisdom from the master of analysis.

To the first clone, Yoda says: Do not hope to win battles. Only seek to draw on the best of yourself, and those around you. In this solidarity, true victory is secured.

To the second clone, Yoda says: Do not look to your weapons. Use your mind. Size isn’t everything.

To the third clone, Yoda says: Do not constantly look for a fight. Hope to survive, and that is enough.

Yoda gives two pieces of advice to each clone — one negative, one positive; what not to do, and what to do. In a war, the aim should not simply be winning the war, but finding the things worth winning for. Then, the war is truly won.

Yoda is like the figure of Socrates in Plato, a philosophical lover of wisdom. The Jedi are thus like the guardians of Plato’s city of Callipolis. The clones, meanwhile, are like the auxiliaries, or warrior lovers of victory. The people are the producers, or lovers of what is productive, and popular.

Yoda warns against love of self and love of victory, seeking to displace both with love of wisdom, and of solidarity — the true path to victory. Philosophy if a less well-worn weapon of war, but Yoda is prepared to weaponise it. Whether he is right is a better of debate, considering how the clone wars end. To weaponise something, however good, is to downgrade it, to make it a took on the path to victory. Perhaps this is why Yoda avoids fighting, leaving it to the clones and lesser Jedi. Perhaps this is why they fail.

But Yoda suggests another piece of advice, to the third clone. After giving Aristotelian or Stoical advice to the first clone, insisting on the importance of community, Yoda gives Platonic advice to the second, concerning the importance of philosophy. The last piece of advice comes from a different source: Thomas Hobbes.

For Hobbes, love of victory is natural, but dangerous. To be victorious, the best path is to not seek to win but to survive. This is sometimes termed ‘defensive realism’, or an honest picture of the world (‘realism’) which recommends protection over expansion, or ‘defence’ over ‘offence’. But Hobbes also suggests that people pursue ‘power, after power’, and this arises from the survival drive. So, some term Hobbes an ‘offensive realist’, in the line of international relations theorist John Mearsheimer, who draws on a ‘darker’ vision of Hobbes than is commonplace among intellectual historians, who prefer idealising Hobbes as a theorist of ‘light’.

To which theory does Yoda ascribe? Yoda, in theory, is a defensive realist, as per his cautious recommendation to the third clone. But in practice, Yoda is an offensive realist, practising an aggressive sabre style, albeit without the forthright ‘force lightning’ of the Sith. Yoda’s offensive capabilities are limited by age, size, and affiliation with the Jedi. Anakin Skywalker, an apprentice of Yoda’s students, falls to the ‘dark side’ in part due to his concessions to offensive realism: his aggression and desire for expansion lead to a quest for hegemony that hit against the limits of the Jedi order. He was not expelled, but he did not rise as fast his abilities would suggest. This perceived slight to his insecure sense of pride toppled the republic into empire, and concluded the clone wars.

Anakin Skywalker went against every piece of advice Yoda gave the clones. Instead of looking to himself and those around him, to his mind, or to the basic needs of survival, Anakin was looking for a fight. He tried to avoid the return to slavery that his childhood presaged, being an economic slave as a child and a military slave as an adult (in the form of soldier-leader ‘Darth Vader’, apprentice to the fallen philosopher Darth Sidious, who defeated Yoda with force lightning at the end of the clone wars). He tried to follow Yoda’s advice. But the pressures were too great, and the demands themselves were too high.

Of course, if Yoda said to the clones, ‘follow my advice — most of the time’, it would have sounded ridiculous. How could clones know when the rules demanded an exception? Anakin was happy playing the role of Carl Schmitt’s sovereign, or ‘he who decides the exception’. Yoda at one point exploits this to use Anakin to escape from the Council when Yoda’s age accelerates visions of worlds beyond life itself. Yoda also agrees with Obi-Wan Kenobi to enlist Anakin a pad-won, Ashoka Tano, who is later expelled from the Jedi order on false pretences, to Anakin’s anger and dismay. The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker is both foretold, anticipated, managed, and ultimately made possible by Yoda’s optimistic wisdom.

But wisdom need not be so optimistic. Nor need it be pessimistic. It may strike a balance between the force of ideas and the flow of deeds — between Yoda and Anakin. The priority must always lie with the former, just as the philosopher must lead the warriors, not the other way around. And if this balanced priority seems itself an unrealistic demand, just consider the demands placed on three clones by an old and wise man, in a galaxy far far away …

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