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Foreign Policy Analysis
The Philosophy of Attack on Titan – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Attack on Titan – Wisecrack Edition


What’s up wisecrack? Jared here. Today we are talking about a colossal series
with amazing fight scenes, a shit ton of crying cowards, and gargantuan steamy ken dolls:
Attack on Titan. Many anime properties explore death but few
ruminate on the visceral reality of it quite like Attack On Titan. In a way, Titans are the physical personification
of death: walking reminders of human mortality—a sort of existential confrontation with the
inevitability of demise. It’s pretty horrifying. However, the darkest element of the series
isn’t the eerily introspective confrontations with death or the fact that Titans have no
genitals—it’s the construction of the society behind the walls itself. The show is set in an anachronistic quasi-Germanic
society full of German architecture, German war cries, and characters with German names. But the similarities to German history don’t
stop there. Upon closer inspection, the political ideology
of this society lines up with the beliefs of one of the most notorious Nazi philosophers:
Carl Schmitt. Now just to be clear: Schmitt’s a real piece
of shit. Dude was a card carrying Nazi, unrepentant
to the end. We are in no way saying that his ideas are
good, nor is Attack on Titan saying they’re good. We are saying that the show can be understood
as an exploration of his ideas. What makes Attack on Titan so dark is that
it presents us with a society, faced with a horrific enemy, that maintains stability
while reflecting Nazi ideology. Is Attack on Titan one of the most provocative
shows out there? Not because of the balls to the wall violence,
but because it dares to ask: is it possible that in this dystopian society—a controversial
philosophy may be the only thing keeping the fabric of society from collapsing? Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on Attack
on Titan. Spoiler alert, and oh yeah- We’re only covering
the TV show, not the manga. They’re going to be different anyway. Also we had to use dubs so we don’t have
subtitles all over the video. So please, don’t freak out. Central to Schmitt’s philosophy and Attack
on Titan’s civilization is the concept of what he calls “the political.” For Schmitt there are three concepts that
situate the political and create a stable society: conflict and inequality, clear distinctions
between friends and enemies, and sovereignty. The first thing that Schmitt highlights is
that conflict, division, and inequality among human beings is inevitable. Central to this is an understanding that humanity,
in its most basic nature, is savage and hellish. People are essentially shitty and life isn’t
fair. Mikasa, Armin, and Eren, all make arguments
about the way the world is that are completely in line with this thinking. When young Mikasa is kidnapped it is the image
of a mantis eating a moth and her father with a duck he hunted, that kick starts the killing
spree that saves her and Eren. It’s a constant theme that the show returns
to: it’s a dog eat dog world and you have to fight to survive. This constant war against all is in line with
philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ understanding of humanity’s most basic nature- we’re all monsters at
heart and social structures are the only thing that can keep us at bay. Schmitt takes things a step further: it isn’t
just that people are terrible: rather hostility is unavoidable. For Schmitt, inequality is sort of inevitable:
people will always be smarter, fitter, more attractive, and it’s not the job of politics
to fix it. If society is to function properly, according
to Schmitt, it doesn’t make sense to attempt to eliminate antagonism or inequality because
they will always exist: instead a strong sovereign ought to be concerned with maintaining order
and control of the population–focusing on social issues like inequality misses the point,
for him. In Attack on Titan, we see this first hand:
classes are separated by literal walls. Each wall section is its own caste system. The people in wall Maria are not as safe as
the people inside wall Rose and Sena. While people are being eaten in Trost—people
in the inner city are chillin in castles, playing chess and shit. The scouts venture past the wall and risk
their lives while the MP’s in the inner walls barely know how to use their Omnidirectional
Mobility Gear—they just sort of get drunk all day. Most media narratives would see severe inequality
as something to be repaired, but in Attack on Titan- we haven’t seen much evidence
of that. At least yet. Trying to alleviate things like inequality,
for Schmitt, is a distraction from what’s really important for “the political”:nationalism
and survival—and this is where the parallels between the series and Schmitt get pretty creepy. Nowhere is this focus on the nationalistic
duty of the warrior class more apparent than in the theme song for the first half of season
1, which looks and sounds like “triumph of the will” level nationalistic propaganda. The lyrics of the song are about fighting
past defeat, trampling over corpses, having the will of starving wolves and piercing scarlet
holes in the twilight with bows and arrows, over scenes of the soaring military and crazy
battle scenes. It may as well have been a post-World War
I rallying cry for the defeated German people. Which gets us to Schmitt’s second element
of the political:a clear distinction between friend and enemy. The idea is—good governments need an enemy
to struggle against without completely dominating them. The titans provide a sort of check against
total conquest beyond the wall. Without a clear enemy, human nature drives
a war against all: an unending civil war full of war crimes, dehumanization, and the eradication
of your own people becomes an inevitability. The existence of a clear enemy impedes the
quest for constant war and infighting. Both Erwin and Pyxis are concerned with this
friend enemy distinction. On the wall with Eren, Pyxus makes this very
comment about the necessity of the Titans as the enemy: Both Pyxis and Erwin Smith worry that the
Titans aren’t the actual enemy—that they are not the real threat—the real threat
is humanity itself—the Titans merely keep people in line. They give everyone a common goal. Now, the purpose of the Titans is not yet revealed in the show. We know there is a face in the wall, and that
there are abnormal Titans that are controlled by people. It could be the case that they are merely
tools of the elite to lower the population– they could be trying to break people out of their
cages–or they could just be evil. If Annie is in fact working for government
officials to create emergencies and lower population, if the rogue Titans are in fact
part of an inside conspiracy–then what we have is a government-fabricated enemy–a threat
that is a Schmitt-ean wet dream–an intelligent, strong… naked enemy worthy of battle that
will keep humanity from fighting each other.. Also, incidentally if this were the case, it would be a great criticism of Schmitt’s politics. In a way the Titans could be read as an allegory
for the perfect scapegoat, as the source of all fears that mobilizes a population and
gives the people in control their very power. Even in the show’s theme of freedom, it reflects Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction. The scouts badge is the wings of freedom. Eren and Armin are constantly crying about
a life beyond the walls. And humanity is likened to penned in cattle. More than that, freedom and community, for
Schmitt, is defined as denying cowardice in the face of impending death —joining the
scouts is a sort of liberation from the fear of living inside the wall waiting to die. The desire to join the scouts together cements
Eren’s class as a community—but not just any community—a political community that
gives life a purpose…the battlefield. For Schmitt a political community is defined
by the ability to kill your enemies for the sake of your friends or dying at the hands
of your enemies for the sake your friends. The scouts that risk their lives are like
the troops in the the Alfred Tenyson poem “the charge of the light brigade.” Yeah Attack on Titan characters’ quote Shakespeare
and Tenyson. Having him quote Tenyson is particularly
prescient-“the Charge of the Light Brigade” is an exemplar war poem about dying with your
comrades in battle—especially given how many scouts die fighting Annie. This sense of camaraderie and political community
is what binds together the remnants of humanity, rather than letting them tear themselves apart. However, the friend-enemy distinction gets
a little fuzzier as the show progresses. Eren and Annie being Titans erodes the clear
lines between a foreign enemy and a domestic friend—it’s why the partial transformation
scene: when Eren saves Mikasa and Armin from cannon fire, is essential. It shows what happens when there isn’t a
clear division between human and titan—the line between who needs to be protected, and
from what, blurs and it makes the task of securing the population near impossible. The final element of Schmitt’s, the political,
is the power of the sovereign itself. Sovereign entities have the ability to declare
states of emergencies that justify sacrificing populations for the greater good—like sending
a battalion to reclaim wall Maria. The ability to declare this kind of state
of emergency is crucial for the long-term stability of most societies: you don’t want
political bickering getting in the way of fighting the giant monster about to murder
you all. The sovereign can also make exceptions in
the law—like special citizen status for the people to live inside wall Sina. In Attack on Titan we don’t have a very
good explanation of how the political works outside of the military–it appears that the
current leadership structure is based on marshall law and military rule. Sure, we know that Premiere Dhalis Zachary
is in charge of the military tribunal that has the power to execute Eren—and we know
that the wall cultists have grown in power since the attack on Shiganshina—but the
actual structure outside of military control hasn’t been revealed. We do know that the leaders send millions
to their death to ensure the safety of the rest of the people inside the walls. Pixus explains that the retaking of wall Maria
was little more than a thinly disguised purge to ease the stress from the massive influx
of refugees–it was a decision to kill off part of the population for the greater good. As twisted as it sounds, for Schmitt, the
sovereign must maintain this ability to do even the most horrendous of things if order
is to be maintained. So wisecrack—with this in mind, I invite
you to ponder this: what would happen if all the Titans suddenly disappeared? Would society devolve into anarchy? Would there be a civil war inside the walls
that would be even more brutal than the occasional Titan attack? Or would it be an opportunity for liberation
and greater peace? For Schmitt eradicating your enemy isn’t
an option because there is always a drive for warfare, another enemy to be found. Eliminate one enemy and another one pops up
until there are no people left to kill but your own population. Of course, we should be wary of a guy who
warned about unending war while being a principal theorist for the Nazi Party. There is still a pretty robust debate in academia
about the redeemability and use of Schmitt’s work for understanding international conflict. People still invoke Schmitt when discussing
executive power, the pitfalls of our current system, and even the war on terror. Attack on Titan could go in so many directions. It could reverse course and become a scathing
criticism of Schmitt style politics, or it could simply complicate them. we’ll just have til season two to find out!

100 comments on “The Philosophy of Attack on Titan – Wisecrack Edition

  1. Well you're right about the Titans not being the main enemy but are tools for the sovereign to control the masses. Once the Titans are gone, the new threat are the Marleyans and neighboring countries around paradise island.

  2. little did anyone know that Eren and Zeke are gonna work together to destroy all eldians from the island of paradis and that mikasa is a programed slave….

  3. Its an interesting idea to compare the society in this show to the ideas of Carl Schmitt. However, I think you guys when a bit overboard with your analysis since your are missing one key difference. Schmitt lived in the 20th century in a society after the enlightenment and industrial evolution and in a world with many democracies. In contrast the show takes place in a medieval time period, which is apparent from the architecture and the technological level. In medieval times a feudal / stratified society was the norm, not the exception. And many societies where militaristic due to constant threats from the outside. So I would argue that the type of society in the show is just what you would expect from the time period and nothing more. Personally I see more parallels to the warrior culture of medieval Japan.

  4. with out the nazi we wouldn't have had the manhattan project, and with out that the war probably would have been much longer and deadlier …

  5. I might be late, but, your mind will 100% blow after knowing what's under Grisha Yeagar's (Eren's dad) basement.

  6. 8 episodes into Attack on Titan. It seems to me to be 60% monologues of characters feeling sorry for themselves, 20% monologues of characters "snapping out of it", 10% abusive relationships and 10% story and action. Bit of a yawnfest so far. Might have to skip through a lot to get to the end.

  7. imagine commander Erwin in german dubbed version when he is yelling .
    like Hitler,s generals perhaps.

  8. Schmitt was a POS but his idea does have bases. A common enemy unites humanity. Social classes will always exist. The willingness to fight is what keeps humanity going.

  9. Spoilers for the manga, it's funny because at one point all the titans are killed and a civil war erupts. Just as you said

  10. The scariest thing about the Nazis wasn’t the fact that they committed genocide, but the fact that they made good points about humanity while doing it. That’s what I admire about Japanese riders. They aren’t afraid to make the bad guys human.

  11. All philosophies should be open for discussion. Trying to cover up the philosophy of the Nazis is the worst decision ever made. People love to argue that the reason for this is because that would mean that no one would come up with that idea ever again and just forget about it, but that is exactly the problem. If you don’t study the philosophy of an evil organization, then said evil organization may rise, thinking it is fighting evil. That is why the term Nazi is being thrown around so often. It is yet another word to use for someone you deem to be evil. The only people that understand the Nazi ideal at all are those who do thorough, and I mean very thorough research on them. Even the alt right, self-proclaimed neo-Nazis, have only the most basic understanding of the Nazi ideal. If you are only able to know what people did instead of why, then you are headed for doom because you might accidentally make the same mistakes as they did.

  12. If you’re only going by the anime, please make another video if we get to season 4-5. When the anime catches up to the story of the manga, the overall philosophy of the show will completely change, and there’d be a lot for you to talk about. And we would definitely enjoy that 👍🏻

  13. Great video! A "fabricated enemy" really sounds just like Germany from 1933 till 1945…and the USA from 1945 till, well now!

  14. I find it super funny that you guys figured it out immediately but now that the manga has made the connection super explicit the Internet is freaking out about it

  15. Really interested to see an updated version of this video with season 3 now out with Commander Erwin's glorious speech 😛

  16. Nobody:
    Wisecrack: we chose dub so there won't be subtitles all over the screen.
    Also wisecrack: proceeds to put on English subtitles on the screen.

  17. That… Soo… Fucking… Innacurate… Quote mining pixie, without of taking scene into contest, making alot of over-reaching assumptions (how is anime opening similiar to that german propaganda again? You found few lyrical symilarities so You assumed music is similiar and so are scenes, cuz ''there are soldiers''? Putting subtitles with BOLD so You can support Your innacurate point even when scene does not, if You would watch it as a whole…. As to politics i'm not going to rewatch season 1 again now, but i'm quite sure there were quite a few hints at political system with nobles in positions of power, will not argue that one tho. Too many innacuracies before that one to even care. So god damn bad it hurts my eyes to see people gag on that *** and ask for more…

  18. We need an update, sht just got real (in the anime) and I am loving it. One thing about this video though, Humanity has lived in relative peace for a 100 years on the first season before the titans came in. So no need to ask the question of what would happen, apparently they have a stable society.

  19. A good analysis on the Germanic philosophies that inspired the world of attack on titan, but I feel like the titans represent more than ‘the inevitability of death’

    they represent US, that is, inhabitants of the ‘first world’.
    All the titans are white, most have big dumb indulgent smiles as they consume everything in their path. Others look stupidly stressed or suffering. This could very much be seen as the reasons why the ‘titans’ of modern society keeps CONSUMING.

    Most titans do this mindlessly, yet some seem to be very aware of what they’re doing and seem to have some insidious agenda

    In a couple of panels, shadows are cast over the ‘dumb ones’ chests to look like business ties.

    The ‘titans’ that consume mindlessly for pleasure and not sustenance while dooming mankind in the process (especially the poor and the refugees from areas they’ve destroyed) are US.

  20. Honestly the more terrifying part of attack on titan is the way the series manipulates even the viewer with propaganda

  21. I don't see how any of this is a criticism of Shmitt at all, let alone a good one. Everything seems pretty reasonable.

  22. No fan of Nazi's but surely a society like this with a monarchy would be closer to feudalism, not fascism.

  23. Human beings are nothing more than glorified animals, we are ruthless, ignorant, egocentric, violent creatures, and the only thing that keeps us from tearing each other apart is the fact that laws exist. We will always seek to be with those who resemble us (in some way or another) and vilify those who are different. Just take a look at the current landscape of "social justice". There's people who actively seem to be looking for inequalities where there aren't any. We currently live in a low-conflict era (at least here in the west) and because we lack an identifiable common enemy, people are just turning against each other. Take the concept of Attack on Titan: Titans are the common foe that requires people to band together in order to fight them, all under the command of a regime that seeks to utilize people as nothing more than pawns in a chessboard in order to maintain social stability and their own quality of life. Now, replace the Titans with every other group you can think of, and you've just arrived to the true purpose of every single war that's ever been fought. Just organizations/countries/groups seeking to maintain their status and quality of life, by declaring another as their enemy, never seeking to truly eradicate them and willing to use their young men as cannon fodder, in order to maintain social balance. Say what you will about Schmitt, but his ideas all seem accurate.

  24. Of course people who are already in power want you to think that you'll just fight each other if they don't stay in power. Schmitt didn't want a populist revolt, so he made up some bullshit "humans are inherently violent"
    Humans are violent because of inequality. That was unavoidable pre-industry, but now we have more resources than people and the only reason to fight anyone is if they try to hold power over you

  25. Gotta hand it to isayama he totally mindfucked you guys the greatest storys are the ones that challenge are perceptions of what we believe and confirm are moral values

  26. IDK I feel like the whole Germany thing is to place us into the titan world with something we know to be heinous, to relate to. I think it's more about war, especially the US. Here we are fine with viewing Afghanistan as the enemy as opposed to asking why we're harming this country. The use is only there to create conflict within the people and thus take their oil. Or even how we're more than fine with letting 3rd world countries starve and suffer catastrophes when clearly developed countries are the ones most responsible for global warming. I think it's more of the oligarchy that is the US today, especially after season 3

  27. I guess it isn't a coincidence that the king who brought the people to Paradis was named Karl Fritz, similar to Carl Schmitt in name.

  28. I dont wanna say anything regarding season 3 part 1 and 2 here but this is pretty outdated and the situation has changed COMPLETELY

  29. oh my god I hate the DUB jesus they even fucked up the name "wall maria" who the hell pronounces it wall Mahr-ea instead of Ma-re-ya eww good lord.

  30. "We're going to be using the dub so the video isnt covered by subtitles"
    Covers the dub with subtitles 10 seconds later

  31. This was a really good presentation until the start of season three. That invalidated the parallels because it really was the city versus the world.

  32. It is interesting how before the 3rd season came out there were a lot of theories trying to convince people how fascist the show is when most of the points they bring up to support their theories are Marxist in their own right.

  33. *SPOILERS for Season 3*
    Now that the first part of Season 3 has been out, which covers the whole Uprising arc, it's a nice time to re-watch this video and realize that, while the first 2 seasons reveled at Schmitt's ideas (mainly because we lived it throught Eren's eyes, who was subject to all the political propaganda from the governement), the show/series ridicules and mocks Schmitt's philosophy completely and presents more mature and depper political questions.

  34. The whole point of this video on the philosophy of the series is beautifully pictured here, drawing the similarities and hypothetically "interactions" of the AoT and the Nazi ideology based on Schmitt and I think it is safe to say about it "Pretty good job !!"… Now with the information we currently have come to know of, everything changes considering the Titan shifters working for government officials of the Eldians, unfortunately Marley is the one race who ,out of anger and fear from the past events and the victory of the Eldian Empire, have somehow enslaved the number of Eldians on Paradis, taking their children in their ranks either as just soldier – Titans or warriors to whom Titan shifters will be passed on… And with the latest news of the Eldian Euthanasia plan by Zeke, I think he can be depicted as a Hitler, the nightmare of Eldians… Season 4 will change the whole aspect of the series, and those we once thought as friends and enemies, good and evil will be more complex and with a number of unprecedented implications

  35. The MP’s arn’t some cowards hiding behind the wall doing nothing, they know how to use 3DMG and the First Interior Squad using the Anti personal gear. only the top 10 cadet get to join the mp’s and may I remind you that Titan is not their only enemies there are very dangerous assassines and criminals in every district they have to investigate crime scene, hunt down dangerous criminal and all of that shit

    The life of the MP’s seems easy and for coward because the life of the MP’s is barely showned in the anime

  36. thumbs down. to conclude that Attack on Titan is a story about Nazi's is wrong after the release of season 3. spoiler

    in episode 19 we see Grisha and his sister were living in a Warsaw like town controlled by Marley.

  37. Spoiler Alert: in season 2 the government gets overthrown by the generals because the council proves that they don’t care about the people. So I wanna ask the question, is a coupe d’état inevitable in a society such as this one? Is the natural form of man (that being freedom) so strong that man will still desire to be free even when the personification of death is at their doorstep?

  38. Oh guys, you are so wrong.
    First: If you really want to analyze something, wait until the whole show is over.
    Second: You cannot ignore the original material which is the manga.
    Which brings me to Third: You have to talk about the mangaka and his personal believes and consider japanese history and current sociopolitical issues from when the Manga was written.
    If you read the Manga it becomes clear that SPOILER ALERT the eldian people, which present themselves as victims and claim that they brought prosperity to other countries and did not conquer them, are supposed to be the japanese imperial empire.
    The eldians that live in Marley with the jew star like armband are the japanese who were put into interment camps in the US during WW2 and the Eldians on Paradis Island with their “false king” represent Japan under american rule or rather under the rule of the constitution that was put together by mac arthur with a big hint at article 9 of the constitution of renouncing war (which is represented by the vow of the King to Ymir, shackling himself and future generations of people royal blood alas the Tenno family) and not having an army anymore.
    The whole thing that someone without royal blood needs to get the power of the founding titan to be able to make use of “the rumbling” represents Japan’s current far-right nationalist premier minister Abe and his will to abolish the 9th article of the constitution to “make Japan great again”.
    The fact that the writer of Attack on Titan thinks that Japan didn’t occupy or rule Korea but help develop it as well as drawing Pixis after a japanese general who he admires and that was known for his gruesome rule in Korea during the occupation even before the 2nd WW makes everything even clearer.
    Isayama it very much on the nose with his political believes and what Japan has done and needs to do.
    For the western audience that isn’t in any way familiar with this level of knowledge about Japan the Manga and Anime can just be interpreted as a way of showing how had Nazis were, or like in this video how under certain circumstances some aspects of Nazi ideology can be a necessary evil.
    But the writer uses the germanic, Nazi like themes just as an excuse to not take Japan as an example.

    Now, the manga is in it’s last stretches currently and the final verdict of Isayama’s intentions might be different depending on how the Manga and Anime end (If the anime has some alterations for example), but after having read and reread everything and reading up on Isayama’s background and the typical narratives that japanese nationalists go on about, it is very hard not to miss the obvious.

    While I like most of your analysis, this one falls flat.
    You should have done more research and have had correspondence with someone who is japanese or at least knows the language, culture and history.

    While well written and jaw dropping, in essence this manga/anime is again Japan crying about how they lost the war and how they were the poor losers and victims to the atom bombs while ignoring or flat out denying the (war) crimes they committed in China and Korea.

  39. One big point of view I felt when I watched the show was that soldiers are people, and every death hurts. It is rare to find a show that shows scores of casualties of war from characters that have speaking parts. There so many people that had a story that we got a glimpse into, but they were cut down in a painful death. There isn’t battalions of faceless people that get wiped out every episode; and when a comrade dies, the show displays the pain everyone affected. PTSD and grief are carried by the survivors. Every death hurts.

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