The Moral of the Story
After recently playing the latest Assassin’s Creed game, Syndicate, I decided to review the ideologies of the Assassins and Templars. I wanted to understand what has driven these two factions to centuries of fictional conflict. By reviewing character quotes throughout the series, I was able to build a much clearer idea of each society’s convictions. The Templar and Assassin ideologies are rooted in two opposing beliefs about humankind. The Assassins believe humanity requires free will to reach its fullest potential. The Templars believe humanity requires order and direction to achieve greatness. These are somewhat opposing views, but the lesson to be learned from the series is not which one is right. Instead, the moral of the Assassin’s Creed storyline is both are right when there is a balance between the two.
The Story and the Moral
The conflict between Templars and Assassins, the premise of each game, is firmly rooted in a difference in values. The Assassins’ ideology is summed up by the famous motto, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”. There are some varying interpretations of this phrase and what it means. I believe the phrase is most clearly explained by Ezio Auditore, the protagonist of Assassin's Creed: Revelations, "To say that nothing is true, is to realize that the foundations of society are fragile, and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilization. To say that everything is permitted, is to understand that we are the architects of our actions, and that we must live with their consequences, whether glorious or tragic." To me this explanation is a call to acknowledge the responsibility of free will. A statement which asserts I am the master of my own destiny and make my own choices. The society I live in is based on the choices of those around me and ultimately the civilization we all live in is based on the sum of humanity’s decisions.
The Templars, on the opposite side of the coin, do not have a creed or motto. Haytham Kenway in Assassin’s Creed III explains the reason for this, “It is because the Order is born of a realization. We require no creed. No indoctrination by desperate old men. All we need is that the world be as it is. And this is why the Templars will never be destroyed." The realization which Haytham speaks of is the foundation of the Templar order, the belief of humanity having a predisposition to violence. Because of this the Templars believe strict order and control is required to temper humanity’s violent nature. This goal is what keeps the Templar Order consistently seeking tools and positions of power in order to achieve their desired level of control.
These two views of humanity are fundamentally opposing and contradictory. However, when I look at the timeline of the Assassin’s Creed series, I see how both are valid beliefs but only when they exist in a state of balance. Throughout my research of the series, I noticed the Assassin’s never have their own agenda. There is never defined goal the group is working towards. Instead they are always acting to stop a devious Templar plan or to take out a corrupt or evil Templar puppet. This is interesting because the Assassins are not acting as anti-establishment anarchist seeking to free the world but more of an equalizer. They spring into action when the Templars begin to seek methods of absolute control and power. This is evident by the fact that the Assassins normally have their targets selected by a council of elders. There is no mandate stating all Templars must die anywhere at any time. Instead, the group picks and chooses the most corrupt or evil among the Templars. With all of this in mind the two ideologies work as balancing factors for each group. The Templars constantly impose control and order which promotes civilization while the Assassins keep them from becoming completely totalitarian.
Life and the Moral
I am not going to try and prove humanity does actually require free will to prosper and I won’t enter the philosophical debate of humans requiring control to restrain a violent nature. But I do see how free will and order have worked in balance to bring humanity to where it is today. Forms of government are a constant element in all of history as are tales of revolution when those governments become dictatorships. From my point of view humanity desires freedom but wants a certain amount of control and order. To take it down to the individual level, I personally prefer having a set schedule and order to my day to day but still value the freedom to choose my weekend activities. I also know people in general enjoy a varying amount of order in their lives, some are content to have every part of life decided for them while others rebel at the slightest hint of control. I always considered it to be a factor of childhood upbringing and part of a person’s personality. However, these two lesson in human nature shown to me by Assassin’s Creed makes me wonder. Is the constant sway between order and freedom a conscious choice or is it influenced by human nature? Whichever the answer is, Assassin’s Creed has taught me one thing. When a balance between the two does not exist there will be conflict.
[If you enjoyed this article, head over to moralsofthestory.com to read its companion article]
*Image Source: deviantart.com