The Morality of the Assassin Order


                Nothing is True, Everything is permitted. This is what we are told is the creed of the Assassin’s. If we look at this from a logical standpoint however, the first rule would negate the second rule, if nothing is true, then it is not true that everything is permitted.  To get an accurate picture of the Assassin Order’s morality, you have to look at their actions throughout the series, although it is most clearly illustrated in AC 2 and AC: Brotherhood. In the beginning of AC2, Desmond Miles says that he is glad to be working for the good guys this time, implying that the Assassins are the good guys and the Templars are the bad guys. Shaun, a fellow Assassin, derisively tells Desmond that Assassins assassinate people, implying that the Assassins are in fact little better, if in fact they are better than the Templars. Although, there are several moral beliefs that indicate that the Assassins are in fact morally superior to the Templars, it is difficult to prove. First we must address how the Assassins are similar to the Templars before we can make a legitimate claim for their moral superiority, lest comparisons be drawn later on in an attempt to discredit the Assassins.


                The Templars and the Assassins are similar in many ways, some of which are subtle and could have been missed by casual players. First of all, both factions kill people, the Assassins are not a peaceful order, they achieve their goals through force of arms, through a centuries long war. The Just War theory was created by St. Thomas Aquinas and is still used today. The theory states several principles: one, war must be the last possible resort, two, there must be reasonable chance of success, three, the damage done must not exceed the damage that would be done if one did not go to war and lastly, non-combatants must not be harmed.  However, the first principle creates a significant problem for the idea of a just war, if war is the last resort, someone has already disobeyed the just war theory through excessive threat or use of force, therefore, only one side of the war is justified, therefore only part of the war is justified, war in and of itself is therefore inherently evil, but occasionally certain sides may be forced into going to war. In other words, war itself can never be justified, only specific sides of the war. This topic will be revisited later but for now we will move on to another for now. Both factions use terrorism to achieve their goals. The Templars are widely known for murdering innocent people to instill such terror into the populace that they might maintain order, but the Assassins do the same thing. Think of the War Machines missions in A.C. Brotherhood, Ezio beats the engineers until they give up the information. In the missions that you send your recruits on, you can send them out to assault merchants that supply Templars or to assault scholars that are about to discover or publish Assassin secrets. Attacking non-combatants in order to achieve one’s goal is the definition of terrorism. Lastly, both sides have absolute faith in their cause and never stop to consider the possibility that the other side might be right. Now that I have discussed why these two factions are similar and left them sitting on equally shaky moral grounds, I will build up the case in favor of the Assassins.


                The most obvious difference between the Templars and Assassins is the cast of characters that represents each side. The Templars have the Borgias in their ranks alongside Jaccopo de Pazzi, real life villains. On top of that, the Templars were allegedly very connected with Isabella and Ferdinand and may have inspired them to enact the Inquisition. The Assassins however can either count among their ranks or their friends, such legends as Leonardo Da Vinci, Lorenzo di Medici, Caterina Sforza and Machiavelli. If we are to assign moral efficacy on the grounds of who is friends with who, it is easy to say that the Assassins are the more ethical order, but this is not a logically sound argument. There is also the fact that the Templars are much larger and much more financially secure than the Assassin order, which relies heavily on beggars and thieves. Although one would like to support the Assassins because they are the perennial underdogs and because they do not profit from their gains while the Templars do, this does not really prove one side to be more moral than the other. There are certain things that the Templars do that the Assassins, don’t and not just because they lack the man power and funding. The Templars instigate wars (they claimed responsibility for WWII and a “purge” in Abstergo records), they control economic growth to make sure that they stay in power, refusing to let people rise based on their merits if they do not serve the Templar order. Basically, they use people, but not so benignly as one uses pawns in chess, it is more accurate to say that they farm and harvest people for their resources. This violates one of the most potent philosophical concepts of the last few hundred years, Kant’s concept of respect for persons. It is a concept that while founded as a deontological principle, has been quoted by utilitarians, virtue ethicists, care ethicists and even the occasional ethical egoists. While the Templars claim they do this to maintain order, the Assassins would welcome chaos, so long as the people were truly free to live their own lives and make their own decisions, which complies with the concept of respect for persons.  Think of it this way: would you rather be a pet that was well cared for, but ultimately property meant to amuse someone else, or would you rather struggle to survive but live your own life, subservient to none? I admit, this theoretical question presents a false dilemma, but this is the actual dilemma that we are presented with by the Templars and Assassins respectively.


                But the question still remains, does this difference as important as it is, justify what war, murder, thievery and terrorism that the Assassins engage in? The answer is provided by the writings of one of the Assassins most famous members: Machiavelli. Machiavelli is often criticized for his harsh and brutal view of the world. This view is because of a key difference between Machiavelli and nearly every other philosopher, where most philosophers are idealists, Machiavelli is a realist. Kant’s deontology is all well and good if you’re wealthy, but if you’ve ever been so hungry that it hurts (and it does indeed hurt) then the idea that stealing is always wrong seems harder to accept when you see unguarded food. On top of that, Kant’s deontology assumes that all people are rational human beings, which is not always the case, a similar problem is presented with Thomas Hobbe’s social contract theory. Greek and Eastern virtue ethicists merely want people to try to promote virtuous behavior in themselves to make themselves better, but how can one be virtuous when they are faced with an enemy that will not allow them? Utilitarians believe that the end justifies the means, but they also believe that the inherent pain caused by war, torture and execution make them unacceptable measure in all but the most dire situations. Machiavelli was not hindered by such philosophical concepts, he believed in doing what needed to be done no matter what some people might think about it. Machiavelli understood that there is right and wrong, but he also understood that to protect the innocent and do what is right would sometimes mean taking harsh and brutal measures. “Armed prophets have always succeeded whereas unarmed prophets have failed” (Machiavelli). One might point to Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. to discount this belief, but one must remember that both men became infinitely more powerful after they were assassinated and that is why they were successful, it was not enough to be peaceful, their pacifism had to serve as the juxtaposition to which their oppressors barbarism could be exposed. What it boils down to is that Machiavelli believed that to defeat evil, evil would be required, but if evil is required, is it not better for evil men fighting for an evil cause to be killed than for the innocent to be killed?  Machiavelli did what needed to be done, as did the Assassins. Ideally, the Assassins could sit down and talk to the Templars and work out some sort of treaty, and ideally Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini could have been reasoned with, but the world is not and never has been ideal. For good to prevail, evil must be vanquished, sometimes, if we are lucky, this can be done peacefully, but as is often the case, this cannot be done. The Assassins do what they must do, because someone must do it.


                Where the Templars seek order through dominance and obedience, the Assassins want freedom and equality for all. The Templars started to fight in order to oppress and control, the Assassins fought because they had no other choice. The war between the Assassins and Templars may be immoral, but the Assassins have the most moral ground to stand upon, and as is the case in most forms of media, the moral ground is high ground. The Assassins are not Saints, they do not radiate an aura of benevolence, but they do what must be done because it must be done. For Machiavelli and the Assassins everything is permitted, but this at least is true.