The Four Domains of War: From Self to Spiritual

Wherever there are people, there is war. Taken in its most general interpretation, bellum or war is a constant in the human condition. War was waged among the first men thousands of years ago; war is waged today; and war will be waged far into the future. Though war is constant, it is not necessarily simple. Yes, war is hitting each other with clubs and bullets, but such “hot wars” are only one expression of human conflict. The domains of war both dig deeper into each person and expand beyond the comprehension of any one person.

The Battlefields

There are four “domains” or battlefields that war is fought on. First, there is the War of the Self, the struggle within each of us to do what is right. Then, there is the War of Peoples, which is the common form of war we speak of most often, with guns blazing, swords flashing, fists flying, and words let loose. Third is the War of Ideas, which most commonly has its outlet in the realms of politics, philosophy, and the “great conversation” of minds through the ages. Then, last but superlative to all others, there is the War of Souls, or spiritual warfare.

What delineates a domain of war? 1) its combatants, 2) its tools, 3) its outcomes. In the War of the Self, the combatants are, obviously, the self alone. It’s tools are psychological, and it’s outcomes result in individual human action. In the War of Peoples, the combatants are simply people verses people, using the full array of weapons of war (fists, swords, bows, guns, cannons, missiles, etc.); it’s outcomes are exceptionally diverse, including territorial movements, physical destruction, economic effects, cultural erasure, death, psychological trauma, etc. Next, the War of Ideas increases in abstraction, as its combatants are ideas themselves. The tools of the ideological wars are numerous: speeches, books, dinner-table conversations, political activism, propaganda, movies, radio, podcasts, news-spin, and all levels of political action, among others. The outcomes of ideological war include regime changes, political peace or turmoil, economic growth or decline, lawmaking from the federal level to the household rules of a family, the values people judge themselves and each other by, concepts of good and evil, and the list goes on. Lastly, is the War of Souls, which has as combatants our very souls, the angels, and God himself versus those forces that have turned against God from the very beginning. The tools are temptation, Christian teaching and traditions, prayer, and the world itself at large. The outcomes of the Spiritual War are the fates of our souls. Let’s now turn to understand each type of war and how they relate to one another.

A War of the Self

The most “personal” war by its very nature, yet perhaps the most overlooked, is the war within each of us. The “intrapersonal” or self-war is that war within us between choosing right and wrong, between perseverance and waving the flag of surrender, between drinking to our bodily health and to drinking our bodies to death, between discipline and recklessness.

The war of the self is one of a “self-help” nature, where we are the territory to be won by either the heights of human achievement or its lows. This war has multiple fronts: the psychological, the emotional, and the bodily. Each is coupled to the other, as our psychological health affects our emotional and bodily health and vice versa. While natural impediments may cause one to lose ground on each of these fronts, no front is completely lost nor fatal in the war of the self.

Ultimately, this war is lost only by choice, only when the protagonist “gives up” his mind, heart, or body to his weaknesses. This does not mean ignoring one’s natural impediments, such as a paralysis of the body and trying to walk again. Rather, this “giving up” is one of the human spirit, of a will to life and meaning. Viktor Frankl described this will to live as the central marker to whether one would have any chance at surviving the Nazi concentration camps. Give up this desire to live, and one’s life was certain to fade away. Keep it, and one may live to see brighter days.

Vincit qui se vincit.He conquers who conquers himself.

Publilius Syrus

How is the war of the self won? While myriads of self-help books may provide many right (and wrong) answers, the short answer from a healthy dose of self-love and self-hate. This comes about, interestingly, from both a satisfaction with our best aspects and a dissatisfaction with our worst aspects. As G.K. Chesterton asked about the world in his great book Orthodoxy, “Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?” Likewise, to win the self war, we must hate those parts of us that need to change, yet love ourselves enough to want to change.

A War of Peoples

The War of Peoples is the common usage of the word war. This is the type of war where mothers lose their sons, kids come home with black eyes, countries wage both hot and cold warfare, factions take to the streets in riots, and politics. There are two main types of this War of Peoples: 1) between families, friends, and small groups, and 2) between cities, states, and empires. The expressions of differing political opinions fall in this category and include verbal attacks, subterfuge, diversion, and physical attacks. Note however, that other aspects of politics, such as the ideology driving political actions, fall into the third type of war.

“War is hell.”

William Tecumseh Sherman

What drives these familial, factious, political, and international feuds? In some cases, we might find that the War of the Self overflows beyond the inner psyche of a single person and pours out into conflicts between that stressed person and his or her friends, family, or community. These conflicts arising from the Self War and overflowing into the War of Persons tend to be small – only so large as a single person can cause. An imbalanced person with the right powers in hand can lose the War of the Self in spectacular fashion (letting the ego run rampant, perhaps) and thereby cast the world into war, but such cases are rare and of significant historical note. These latter macro-wars are sometimes the result of many peoples uniting under a common banner and finding themselves at odds with other peoples united under a different banner. It is these types of conflicts that spring forth from the third type of war, the War of Ideas.

A War of Ideas

The War of Ideas, or the Ideological War, is the penultimate war and encompasses cultural, philosophical, and ethical battles as abstracted away from their political skirmishes (which fall into the War of Peoples). It is a war of right vs. wrong, of truth vs. lies, or competing values for primacy. Such wars are described by phrases like “freedom vs. security”, “individualism vs. collectivism”, “theism vs. atheism”, and other philosophical debates. Here, it is helpful to adopt Socrates’ belief in ideas as abstract things that exist apart from everything else. Such ideologies find themselves common to significant portions of a population and act as invisible forces pushing global movements. The Ideological War is a torrent of multiple currents crashing calamitously together and spilling out into the War of Peoples via politics, revolutions, and wars.

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”

John Stuart Mill

The Ideological War, though the name carries a connotation of fanaticism derided by many today, is not something that should or can be shunned. There is no “opt-out” of this war as everyone has some idea of how the world should work, what is right, what is valuable, etc. Though one might not express this idea to another for fear of “ideological combat” (e.g. arguing), one lives by their ideas in ways often undetectable. Culture and politics are the obvious arenas where ideological war becomes manifest (and often enters into the War of Peoples), but they are not the only places where the Ideological War touches humanity. The Ideological War is “fought” with strange tools: study, thought, and persuasion.

Education is a major mode of the Ideological War. This education may be an action of a “system” or teacher upon a student to sway their ideology one way or another, but it need not be insidious. Education can also occur when a student acts upon a subject, meaning the student (student in the broadest sense of anyone searching to know something) engages in their own research. Both forms of education serve to shape the mind to some ideology – some set of ideas about the world. Persuasion is when one ideology engages in “combat” with another ideology through the words of a person.

As we know well, however. The clashes of ideologies do not tamely reside in the ethereal world of ideas, but often become hot wars and political fights in the War of Peoples, too. Such is the nature of war. It is messy, and spills out into all other domains of war.

A War of Souls

Last but greatest of all is the War of Souls or the Spiritual War. The problems of our world are multi-tiered. Physical and psychological pains of the self have analogues in the spiritual domains. The wars of nations likewise act against a spiritual backdrop of good vs. evil (though the war may not be so simple as the green army men are good and the tan army men are evil). Likewise, the nature of good ideas is rooted in their spiritual truth. Hence, all the Wars of Self, Peoples, and Ideas are subsets of the grander War of Souls, as the ultimate reward of all such skirmishes (comparatively) is the power over souls.

The War of Souls is, quite simply, the war over whether my soul, your soul, and others’ souls will be saved or not in the end – whether they will live eternally in Heaven (whatever that may look like) or live forever separated from God. The Spiritual War is the only war that recognizes an eternally significant conclusion; hence, it deserves our fiercest attention.

“Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign in sabotage.”

C.S. Lewis

The best course is to address the ultimate war, not the subordinate wars that appear only as battles from the spiritual vantage point (though we shall not ignore them); victory is achieved only on this highest level. The War of Peoples is merely how men think best to fight, but in reality, the War of Peoples is the least significant of all the Wars. Rather, those of the Self and the Spiritual are the most important: the first because it lies completely within our control, the second because it lies completely out of our control. The latter War will undoubtedly be won (at the macro-scale) by Good, but whether we choose to be part of the Good is our free choice.

The Spiritual War is integrated and superordinate to all other wars; it influences the Wars of the Self, of Peoples, and of Ideas. No person, nation, or idea is without some spiritual significance, and this fact keeps one from withdrawing totally from this world for the sake of the higher world. We are in this world, though not of it, and thereby have a duty to continue fighting in each war so long as it serves to win the highest war, the Spiritual War. By this reasoning, there is indeed a need to better ourselves (to “clean our room” as Dr. Jordan Peterson puts it); there is a duty to support a just war; there is a need to speak truth in the War of Ideas. To fight in the Spiritual War, we must also participate in the subordinate wars within ourselves, amongst other peoples, and in the realm of ideology. Benjamin Franklin poignantly recognized that our participation in subordinate wars is ultimately a participation in this highest War of Souls when he said, “Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.” Man is both body and spirit; hence, we should not be surprised that the wars we fight span the material and the immaterial.

The Synthesis of Wars

As St. Joan of Arc said, “All battles are first won or lost, in the mind.” The first fight each of us must take up is the fight for ourselves in War of the Self. Without winning the battle over ourselves, we cannot effectively participate in the Wars of Peoples and Ideas. We must put ourselves in right order to a higher standard before we can be successful in tackling these wars. A moral person (one who has been mostly victorious in the Self War) is much less likely to fall into extreme/dangerous ideologies (War of Ideas) or physical confrontation (War of Peoples) and will better discern their bearings in the Spiritual War. Losing the War of the Self, though seemingly insignificant in proportion to the Wars of Peoples, Ideas, and Souls, is not so innocuous as it might seem. To lose your own War of the Self may well become the flap of the butterfly’s wing that causes a hurricane on the other side of the globe. On the other hand, making ourselves better makes the whole world better. Though a trope, I find this objectively true. Were one to calculate the sum of “Goodness” in the world, its value would be greater if you are just little better.

The War of Souls, however, in many ways overlaps the War of the Self, because this grandest war naturally spans from the interior of the human person (the soul) to the entirety of creation. Thus, the War of Souls is innately tied to all other wars; it is ultimately God’s war against Satan – ultimate Good vs. ultimate Evil. The good news is, no subordinate war will change the outcome of this great war. No loss in the Self War will change the outcome that ultimate Good will prevail against Evil. Likewise, no defeat in the Wars of Peoples and Ideas will hinder Good from its ultimate destiny in victory. However, the subordinate wars do indicate our participation in the War of Souls. In the Self War, we choose whether to ally ourselves to Good or Evil. In the War of Peoples, no thing falls outside the stratagem of God. In the War of Ideas, some ideas lead to Good, others to Evil.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.

 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 6:10-12

As the War of Souls subordinates all other wars, do these subordinate wars then influence each other? Undoubtedly, the War of Peoples is often the result of someone’s Self War boiling over in an ugly manner, resulting in rash, egotistical actions. The War of Ideas has great power in both the War of the Self and the War of Peoples; in the former case an idea (such as a “Victimhood” mentality) may produce untold damage in the self. In the latter case, ideas have demonstrated a capacity to lead to hot and cold wars between nations and other groups. The reverse is equally true: the self participates in the War of Ideas (for an idea must be expressed by some person first), and the results of the Wars of Peoples often decide the fates of the War of Ideas, at least for some time (e.g. the North’s victory in the U.S. Civil War ended debate on slavery in the U.S.).

Winning the Wars

We will never have true peace until all four natures of war are won. So long as individuals are stained by sin, there will be wars between peoples and ideas. Only when the War of Souls is finished will all wars be ended. However, this is not to suggest that “peace” is all or nothing. We cannot win total peace now, but we can win greater peace in our homes and communities by first doing battle with ourselves and setting our weakness and ill desires fleeing from our minds. By looking up to the spiritual war and down to the war within us, we may find greater peace in between.

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Published by Christian Poole

Catholic | Father | Husband | Founder of ThinkingWest .com

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