Guardians WERE Warriors




Some may look at this site and see my use of “Guardians” and “Warriors” and make a snap decision as to the nature of the content.

They are probably wrong.

I use the term in order to take back what has been taken out of context in the current discussion surrounding law enforcement and “Guardianship,” pointing out that the Guardians, in the original sense, absolutely were warriors, in fact were a warrior class, and that ideas surrounding their cultivation addressed them as such.

To be fair, I am not sure our society really would want a ruling class such as the Guardians. (Yes, imagine that, the police as a ruling class...that really is worse than some of your cops being warriors, innit?))  And I am not so sure that many law enforcement officers would want to be warrior-guardians or soldier-guardians in the Platonic sense, either. There were some pretty strict aspects as to how they could live their lives.

But all this only further illustrates that taking a concept and term out of context for a political end, versus truly understanding its meaning  – or even what you are trying to define – is fraught with difficulties.

As far as I can tell, the original dissemination of the whole Guardian vs. Warrior idea came from this op-ed in the Seattle Times, by Sue Rahr, current head of the Washington State Basic Law Enforcement Academy. I post it in it’s entirety here:

Guest:  From warriors to guardians — returning American police culture to democratic ideals
Originally published August 26, 2014 at 4:10 pm Updated August 26, 2014 at 6:16 pm
By Sue Rahr

In a republic that honors the core of democracy — the greatest amount of power is given to those called Guardians. Only those with the most impeccable character are chosen to bear the responsibility of protecting the democracy.

— Plato

BEGINNING in the 1960s with the so called “War on Drugs” and later fueled by post-9/11 fear, American policing has slowly drifted away from Plato’s vision of law enforcement by guardians toward a culture and mindset of warriors at war with the people we serve.

As a nation, we have tended to acquiesce and relinquish some of our sacred constitutional rights in favor of the perception of improved safety and security. Constitutional rights are now viewed by many, including police, as an impediment to the public-safety mission.

Sadly, we seem to have forgotten that protecting constitutional rights — the foundation of our democracy — is the mission of our police. The images being broadcast from Ferguson, Mo., of peace officers clad in military-style uniforms using equipment designed for modern warfare, serve as an impetus for public-safety leaders and political leaders to pause and assess the state of American police culture.

It is easy to rush to judgment about the equipment — armored personnel carriers and high-powered rifles — and condemn its use by civilian police. In fact, this equipment can be essential for modern police forces to protect themselves and their communities from very real threats of the 21st century.

The fundamental issue is not the equipment — it’s the philosophy, policies and protocols directing its use. The equipment has been relatively easy to acquire, but carefully considered protocols have not. It’s time for law-enforcement and political leaders to step up and develop policies and protocols for the wise use of this valuable and sometimes necessary equipment, and more important, to address the culture that will determine acceptance of new model policies. Developing those policies will be relatively simple. Addressing the culture is tougher.

So where do we start? At the beginning, in the academy. Most police academies are run like military “boot camp” despite the absence of logical, evidence-based reasons to train police officers as we do soldiers. Although police officers wear uniforms and carry weapons, the similarity ends there.

The missions and rules of engagement are completely different. The soldier’s mission is that of a warrior: to conquer. The rules of engagement are decided before the battle. The police officer’s mission is that of a guardian: to protect.

The rules of engagement evolve as the incident unfolds. Soldiers must follow orders. Police officers must make independent decisions. Soldiers come into communities as an outside, occupying force. Guardians are members of the community, protecting from within.
This is not a simple distinction because the role of a police officer is not one-dimensional. There are times when the guardian officer must fight fierce battles, as a warrior, without hesitation or apology. So our guardians must also possess the skills of a warrior. The challenge of training new police recruits is to equip them with the judgment and confidence to properly balance both roles, rather than simply follow orders.

We need police officers with the skills and tenacity of a warrior, but the mindset of a guardian.

Sue Rahr is director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, overseeing the state-wide police academy. She is the former King County sheriff.


I’ll let that stand as it is written.

The whole thing may actually prove to be a non-starter in law enforcement circles; though even the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing uses “Guardian” language (perhaps because Ms. Rahr is on the commission…). The launch of this idea seems to be faltering, because  even in changing the narrative pertaining to “law enforcement’s warrior problem,” everyone must admit to the fact that “sometimes,” officers have to be warriors.

As in places like Orlando, and Dallas.

The rest of this post will address what the Platonic Guardian actually was,  and that the problem we have is not so much with terminology or inculcating a Warrior Mindset, but rather with what a Warrior Ethos means, and how it is cultivated.

It will also hopefully make it clear that law enforcement executives, politicians, and intellectuals who do not  understand this ethos – frankly who seem afraid of it as they are afraid of those exemplifying it – are the last people who should be in charge of defining, codifying, or disseminating it through the ranks.

No matter what you call it.




 “I don’t think that word means what you think it means…”

Before delving into the Guardians, a brief introduction of the topics in Republic is in order.

Note: I have been reading from two different versions of the Jowett translation. One is available online and for download., as well as an annotated version of the same by Barnes and Noble Classics, with an introduction by Classical scholar Elizabeth Scharffenberger.

The gist of Republic is a philosophical discussion on justice and the conduct and thinking of the just man, and the formation of an ideal state. Some have concluded that this was in actuality intended as a Socratic dialogue, that is, to stimulate the reader’s own thinking and questioning to come to their own conclusions. Socrates is in fact the principle interlocutor in the book.

An inherent message – openly stated – is that the views and opinions of “the many” are unreliable, and pale against the light of the enlightened few. These few are those that are truly just; the ones who should be in charge.

An aristocratic and just elite.

Democracy is negatively contrasted with the moral excellence of the just elite. Indeed, democracy is seen as among the “most defective” forms of government.

Republic critiques pervasive problems in Greek culture – and democracy – at the time: materialism, the prioritization of “good looks, wealth, social status, and political power” over inner goodness. The concern was that “Hellenic culture encouraged a fundamentally childish attachment to pleasure -not just physical and sensual pleasures, but to the psychological pleasures gained through the exercise of power, or through the indulgence of ambition, pride, grief, grief, anger, and other strong emotions. Athenian democracy is seen as exacerbating these childish tendencies, because it maximizes the number of individuals who are permitted to indulge themselves with little real restraint.”(Introduction pp.xxxv)

Modern Western Democracy…. there is a knock at the door.

The Guardian concept was not formulated to  protect THIS state of affairs. The institution of the Guardian is in fact antithetical to it, as is the ideal state the guardians are to protect – a theme also current in discussions over instilling a Warrior Ethos in our military.

In Republic, an unjust aristocratic elite is equally unacceptable, for that is tyranny. Indeed, tyranny is seen to arise from Democracy, and to be the other of the two most defective “constitutions.”

Things that make you go hmmmm.

However, there is a presumption that there are those few – and only a few “best men” -sufficiently gifted to wield political power. These people will take responsibility for their people. These are the Guardians and the Philosopher Kings.

After a fascinating  association of justice with “expert knowledge,” that is, specific professionalization with each individual “doing their own work,” a discussion of the Ideal State (it is never called “The Democracy” as Rahr did) commences, to include how the people will be organized,

“including how it’s classes of warriors and leaders will be selected, educated, and provided for,” to include the training of guardian children. (Ibid pp. xlii)

The lifestyle of the Guardian class in the ideal state is laid out, which includes: the abolition of individual families, communal wives and children, “near-equality” (this is ancient Greece, remember…) of female guardians who would be warriors and leaders, and the abolition of private property for the guardians. (Ibid pp. xlii-xliii)

From here, we will start to explore what Republic says about training its soldier-guardians…


But is not War an Art?

Serious discussion of the Guardians begins in Book II.  The term itself is phylax, which literally means “watchman.” Innocuous enough, but in the description that follows over the next chapters, it is very clear that the Guardian is viewed as a warrior class. Indeed, at least in the Jowett translation, the terms “guardian,” “soldier,”  and “warrior” are used almost interchangeably.

The combination “guardians and their auxiliaries” also comes up a bit later (in 414.a-b), with the auxiliaries described as the soldier/warrior, and differentiated from the rulers, though the latter are drawn from the same class. This class is specifically related to the ideal state, which as noted in Republic is not called “The Democracy,” as it is today when re-defining guardians.

Republic uses the term “The State.”

It is recognized that the ideal state must have recourse to go to war when necessary to both expand its borders and to protect itself.  To meet this need, an army (of guardians) is required. Apropos the idea of each “doing his own work,” and that “one man cannot practice many arts with success,” Socrates then asks:

“But is not War an Art?”

“Certainly.” it is replied.

And the discussion then goes that  as other artisans were not allowed to do work outside of their field, so…

“Now nothing can be more important than that the work of the soldier should be well done. But is war an art so easily acquired that a man may be a warrior who is also a husbandman, or shoemaker, or other artisan, although no one in the world would be a good dice or draught player who merely took up the game as a recreation, and had not from his earliest years devoted himself to this and nothing else? No tools will make a man a skilled workman or master of defense, nor be of any use to him who has not learned to handle them, and has never bestowed any attention on them.  How, then, will he who takes up a shield or other implement of war become a good fighter all in a day, whether with heavy armed or any other kind of troops?”

(Book II, 374.a-d)

One wonders whether Plato was taking a page from the Spartans, the professional soldiers of the Greek world, at least as conveyed in our times by Leonidas in the movie 300

This specialization is continually stressed, and forms the basis of the guardian concept.

How the Guardian Grows

With the profession of guardian now delineated, Republic goes on to treat the qualities and education and training of the guardian, as well as various social aspects and restrictions on the guardian class.

We need not go into all of that here, as I fear this horse is nigh beaten to death… needless to say very specific prescriptions and restrictions are discussed at length even as to the kinds of poetry and storytelling and music to which the guardians should be exposed in order to protect them from the vitiating influences of popular culture, the attitudes of the times, politics and political personalities (uh-oh…),”moral deformity,” and various other psychological and physical ills.

And here we see how the guardians as originally conceived simply are not a proper fit for a modern, pluralistic, free-thinking, and non-judgmental society. They had some of that going on in Greece at the time, and the ideal State was supposed to be the antidote to it.

It is more useful, I think, to go into how the guardian class were to “be” in the commission of their duties.

Here are various quotes from the text, italics mine:

“Selection will be no easy matter” for “it will be our duty to select natures which are fitted for the task of guarding the city.” (374.e)

“Is not the noble youth very like the well bred dog in respect of guarding and watching?… I mean that both of them (dogs and guardians) ought to be quick to see, and swift to overtake the enemy when they see him; and strong too if, when they have caught him, they have to fight with him.

..and your guardian must be brave if he is to fight well?

..Have you never observed how invincible and unconquerable is spirit and how the presence of it makes the soul of any creature to be absolutely fearless and indomitable?

I have.

Then now we have a clear notion of the bodily qualities which are required in the guardian” (375.a-b)


Then we come to the crux of the comparison: the subject of the combined nature of the guardians.

“But are not these spirited natures apt to be savage with one another, and with everybody else?

A difficulty by no means easy to overcome, he replied.

Whereas, I said, they ought to be dangerous to their enemies, and gentle to their friends, if not, they will destroy themselves without waiting for their enemies to destroy them.

What is to be done, then? I said: how shall we find a gentle nature which also has a great spirit, for the one is the contradiction of the other?


I mean to say  that there do exist natures gifted with those opposite qualities… Would not he who is fitted to be a guardian, besides the spirited nature, need to have the qualities of the philosopher?” (375-376.a)



(Image from


“Like Wakeful Dogs”

Then we get into the guardians physical training, which is termed gymnastics, necessary  of course “for the men are in training for the great contest of allare they not?” (404)

“Ordinary athletics” are not considered suitable training, for reasons to include that “athletes sleep away their lives, and are liable to dangerous illnesses if they depart ever so slight a degree from their customary regimen.” (404.a)


“…a finer sort of training will be required for our warrior athletes, who are to be like wakeful dogs, and to see and hear with the utmost keenness; amid the many changes of water and also of food, of summer heat and winter cold, which they will have to endure when on a campaign, they must not be liable to break down in health…”

And regarding diet:

“My meaning may be learned  from Homer; he, you know, feeds his heroes at their feasts, when they are campaigning, on soldiers fare; they have no fish, although they are on the shores of the Hellespont, and they are not allowed boiled meats, but only roast, which is the food most convenient for soldiers…” (404.a-c)

Care is later taken to note that “excessive care of the body; when carried beyond the rules of gymnastics, is most inimical to the practice of virtue.” (407.b)

“The very exercises and toils which he undergoes are intended to stimulate the spirited element of his nature, and not to increase his strength; he will not, like common athletes, use exercise and regimen to develop his muscles.

Very right, he said.

Neither are the two arts of music and gymnastics really designed , as is often supposed, the one for the training of the soul , the other for the training of the body.

What then is the real object of them?

I believe, I said, that the teachers of both have in view chiefly the improvement of the soul.” (410. b-c)

In a fascinating comment differentiating the guardian’s training from that of the common athlete and musician, it is said that “the mere athlete becomes too much of a savage; ” and ” the mere musician is melted  and softened beyond what is good for him.” (410. d)



To end on this point (though Republic goes on and on with it…) I’ll quote 411.c-d, which brings together the reasoning behind this cultivation of guardian-specific physical exercise, diet, music, and philosophy:

“And so in gymnastics, if a man takes violent exercise and is a great feeder, and the reverse of a great student of music and philosophy, at first the high condition of his body fills him with pride and spirit, and he becomes twice the man that he was.


And what happens? if he does nothing else, and holds no converse with the muses, does not even that intelligence which there may be in him, having no taste of any sort of learning or inquiry or thought or culture, grow feeble and dull and blind, his mind never waking up or receiving nourishment, and his sense not being purged of their mists?

True, he said.

And he ends by becoming a hater of philosophy, uncivilized, never using the weapon of persuasion – he is like a wild beast, all violence and fierceness, and knows no other way of dealing; and he lives in all ignorance, and evil conditions, and has no sense of propriety and grace.”


Make no mistake about it, there is a small but vocal segment of our society, to include many intellectuals and police executives, that think this latter comment describes many of our law enforcement officers.

This is of course absent any evidence of it in the vast, vast majority of the millions of police-citizen contacts across our nation, day in, day out.

These same people are in the place to define terms and then to oversee the selection, education, training, and deployment of law enforcement officers using their own definition of “guardian.” They have so stated this, and that language is in the mission statement for “21st Century Law Enforcement.”

Without the warrior framework, the concept of the guardian following the original in Republic is simply unworkable. Moreover, the very means through which the guardian is to be selected and trained, developed and deployed, is incompatible with today’s modern Western society in the most critical elements laid out in Republic – law enforcement rather seems more often eager to lower standards for selection and entry, reduce critical skills training, and to remove perceived barriers and notions of elitism and merit.

In terms of the expectations on the nature of the guardian, there is plenty of material there worthy of adaptation – things that we should be doing, but currently don’t.

Doing so will demand a heavy cost, for society in terms of time and treasure, for the guardian law enforcers themselves in a personal commitment to unending training and excellence, and for police executives – who would be held personally responsible for the readiness of their people – and increasingly for their failures.










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