The Assassins' Politics

by Nick Dinicola

28 March 2011

Assassin's Creed 

Assassins: From Humanists to Communists

The Assassins used to be like journalists, gathering information about the Templars’ manipulative tricks and exposing them to anyone who would listen. Much of Altair’s journal in Assassin’s Creed II revolved around how people reacted when confronted with the truth that their religious leaders had lied. By showing us how these pillars of society were controlled, the game becomes a social commentary, a warning about how these aspects of society can be used against the populace they purport to serve.

The message is that the blind faith encouraged by organized religion can be dangerous, and the constant drive for profit leaves a capitalist society amenable to outside influence. This criticism doesn’t mean that the Assassins are against religion and capitalism, just the submissive behavior that they promote. After all, they did allow a nun to join their ranks.

However, as the Templars entered the world of politics and business, this journalistic tactic became less effective. People have a more cynical attitude towards business and politics than they do religious leaders; the idea that CEOs or politicians lie is not surprising, so simply exposing those lies won’t hurt the Templars’ power structure. To combat this new threat, the Assassins started to use Templar tactics.

In Cluster 3, there is a quote hidden within a picture of a Russian protestor, “How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeois and the intelligentsia who, with whatever faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement.” This sounds like a criticism of the Assassins, who continually fight against entrenched powers in the upper class, and a validation of the Templars, who believe themselves inherently better than the rest of the world. In fact, this is a quote is from John Maynard Keynes, a British economist writing in 1931, criticizing communism.

The game makes a very specific effort to link the Assassins to communism, especially with this quotation that appears rather early in the puzzles. The use of the word “creed” is meant to make us think that the Assassins’ creed is the subject of the sentence, and the word “proletariat” is commonly associated with communism. The comparison is one that Ubisoft wants us to make, and it makes sense. If capitalism is the key to the Templars’ plan, then the most effective way to oppose them would be to stop the spread of capitalism. It’s only natural that the Assassins would latch onto communism as it is the extreme opposite of capitalism.

However, once again, the Assassins are not communists, they simply embrace that economic system because it allows them to fight the Templars in the world of politics. It’s hard to pin down Assassins politically. Despite their socialist tendencies, they’re organized more like a feudal monarchy with masters, disciples, and a single head assassin. There are advisors to the head assassin, but they’re just advisors.

There’s no actual system of checks and balances in place to protect the group if the head decides to go bad, which is what happened in the original Assassin’s Creed. They’re guided by a general desire to uphold the inherent dignity of humankind, but while this humanist philosophy was easy to understand when contrasted with the religion of their day, there’s no perfect parallel for it in modern politics, leaving the Assassins with a much weaker core identity. An identity that’s further compromised as they try to guide the rise of communism against the Templars, manipulating society from behind the scenes just like their enemy.

Preparing for the Apocalypse
In addition to the plot about secret, conspiratorial wars, Assassin’s Creed contains a sub-plot about the coming apocalypse. It’s odd that the end of world is treated as a sub-plot, but this tendency mirrors the Assassins’ own misplaced priorities.

At the end of Assassin’s Creed II, Ezio activates a recording of an ancient alien that early humans mistook for a god, a god known in the game’s mythos as Minerva. She tells him of a disaster that her kind was unable to stop, “So busy were we with Earthly concerns, we failed to notice the Heavens. And by the time we did, the world burned until naught remained but ash.” She also tells him about special temples that were built to protect such a massive disaster from ever happening again. Using Ezio’s memories as a conduit, she then talks to Desmond, the present day Assassin, strongly urging him to find these special temples in order to save the world.

However, at the end of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, a similar recording of another alien god takes a different tone with Desmond, admonishing the Assassins (or perhaps all of humankind) with menacing warnings like “You will know only when it is too late.” Also, once all the Cluster puzzles are solved, we hear a similar message from the mysterious Subject 16, “It is far later than you know. Too late to save them… Everything you hold dear, it’s already gone.”

These ominous messages suggest that some disaster has already struck—perhaps not the apocalypse, but some other catastrophe. This occurs despite the advance warning that the Assassins received from Minerva back in Ezio’s time. They failed to understand that warning and focused instead on their immediate conflict with the Templars, letting themselves get dragged into an endless religious, economic, political, ideological war.

It became an obsession, so much so that they compromised their core beliefs in order to continue fighting it, orchestrating the rise of an economic system that they don’t really believe in just because it opposes the Templars’ goals. Like the alien gods before them, the Assassins became distracted with “earthly concerns” and failed to see the greater danger.

The Assassins were supposed to be apolitical, so perhaps their greatest mistake was getting involved with politics in the first place. Ironically, the “politics of an assassin” simply shouldn’t exist at all.

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