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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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General Images. The history of ideas about war and
militarism is largely one of combinations of prevailing
ideas in political, social, and moral philosophy. Modern
war is an armed conflict among states. But war predates
states and remains an expression of so pervasive and
traumatic a feature of mankind's evolution that ideas
about the origins of man's warlike tendencies are dis-
cussed in many philosophical systems. Classical and
neo-classical military literature thus includes philo-
sophical discourses which mention war along with
military histories and practical soldiers' handbooks and

Ideas about war are peculiarly, though not uniquely,
affected by historical events and social problems. The
need to train large numbers of men to engage in po-
tentially self-destructive acts, for example, grew
greater after the French Revolution had shown the
military value of more popular armies and after the
Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions had increased
the material resources and manpower which could be
devoted to warfare. In what Herbert Spencer later saw
as a resulting metamorphosis of institutions, the time
required to train a soldier was cut from two years to
two months, while compulsory education for a peaceful
life in an industrialized society increased the citizen's
preparation for and his personal resentment of military

A positivistic philosophy of war was developed dur-
ing the nineteenth century. This combined Carl von
Clausewitz' view of its nature, more explicit assump-
tions about its origins in human nature, society, or the
state system, and a set of ideas for its management.
These gave military “scientists” positive goals during
a century of peace in which the major European
military events were Prussia's scientifically managed
victories over both Austria and France in 1886 and
1870-71. The result was a clarification of what Waltz
(1959) sees as three images of the relations of man,
the state, and war, and of war's origins in human
nature, in social “containers,” in which, like water in
a boiler, men are “made to 'behave' in different ways.”
This latter view is inherent in Montesquieu's remark
that “As soon as man enters into society he loses the


sense of his weakness; equality ceases, and then com-
mences the state of war” (Esprit des lois, Book I, Ch.

“Militarism” is a nineteenth-century liberal pejora-
tive label for systems which overvalue the military
virtues, glorify war, or give inordinate power or re-
wards to soldiers. These evils became clearer as more
uniform states replaced the feudal orders and as na-
tional and democratic armies (in which noble officers
were still favored) replaced bands of mercenary mili-
tary artisans. But books on their art were still collec-
tions of maxims (from Sun Tsu's Art of War, 500 B.C.,
to Burnod's Military Maxims of Napoleon, 1827), hand-
books (Vegetius' Military Institutions of the Romans,
390, or Frederick the Great's Instructions for His Gen-
1747), or formal treatises of advice to princes
(Machiavelli's Art of War expands a paragraph in The

Clausewitz' work On War (published posthumously,
1832-36) became the writ of a positivistic philosophy
of war after Prussia's victories in the mid-nineteenth
century. Like the Marxist, Social Darwinist, and other
social positivists of this era, Clausewitzians often used
On War for incantational purposes, but all of their
works reflected the events which had again freed “the
primitive violence of war... from all conventional
restrictions.... The cause was the participation of the
people in this great affair of state,... [arising] partly
from the effects of the French Revolution,... partly
from the threatening attitude of the French toward
all nations.” The acceptance of his view that war is
“not merely a political act but a political instrument”
shifted debate to the right means of managing a
“chameleon,... [which] in each concrete case...
changes somewhat its character... of the original
violence of its essence,... of the play of probabilities
and chance,... and of the subordinate character of
a political tool, through which it belongs to... pure
intelligence” (Book VIII, Ch. iii; Book I, Chs. xxiv,
xxviii; trans. Jollis).

Two world wars then shook this post-Napoleonic
science of war. Failures in the Great War of 1914-18
came from unscientific evaluation of weapons. The
more than Napoleonic victories in the Second World
War confirmed a new faith in scientific mechanization.
But “absolute” nuclear and biochemical weapons and
“assured” delivery systems revived doubts about war
as a political instrument, though analogies from ritu-
alized intraspecific and primitive conflict revived the
Garden of Eden for some observers.

Classical Warfare. Classical observers of primitive
warriors had stressed not their play acting but their
courage, treachery, and indiscipline. Greco-Roman
political and social institutions were partly based on
kinship groups, but “civilized” men saw few analogies
between themselves and barbarians, perhaps because
they had so largely overcome the restrictions which
tribalism places on political and military efficiency,
perhaps because the technological gap between civi-
lized and barbarian peoples, even in metallurgy, re-
mained relatively small. Barbarian incursions might
also spark slave or social insurrections, and their few
laws of war applied only to other civilized peoples.

War began with plunder. “Both Hellenes and Bar-
barians... were commanded by powerful chiefs, who
took this means of increasing their wealth and pro-
viding for their poorer followers” (Thucydides, Pelopon-
nesian War,
trans. Benjamin Jowett, Book I. Chs. v-vi).
This fitted the facts of legend and history. The Spartans
“were virtually the first of the Greeks to feel... greed
for the territory of their neighbors” (Polybius, Histories,
trans. Mortimer Chambers, Book VI, Ch. xlix). To keep
her gains Sparta made every citizen a professional
soldier and mercenaries her main export. But Aristotle
saw her constitution as a true union of aristocracy and
democracy, though Polybius found Rome's less demo-
cratic one better for expansion. The Romans managed
the most efficient city-smashing, land-grabbing, slave-
catching machine of antiquity. As Montesquieu was to
note of this “city without commerce, and almost with-
out arts, pillage was the only means individuals had
of enriching themselves” (Grandeur et décadence des
Ch. I).

Aristotle related constitutions to military systems.
Cavalry's replacement by infantry had been democ-
ratizing. But modern ideas of militarism came after
the technology which ended the dangers of barbarian
incursions had threatened to make civilized wars self-
destructive. Disciplined and efficient soldiers were
necessary for a state's survival in fighting barbarians
with very similar hand weapons. The Romans benefited
from “the abundance and convenient accessibility of
their military supplies,” but they also glorified war.
“Their customs” provided “many incitements to de-
velop... bodily strength and... personal bravery”
(Polybius, Book VI, Chs. 1, lii).

Soldiers often fought each other for political power,
but the social costs of ancient—and medieval—
armaments and warfare are difficult to estimate. Forti-
fications which protected capital, surplus food, and
occasionally a transportation network may have taken
most of the social surpluses which went to armaments.
Such public works usually used the seasonally un-
employed labor of a “backward” agricultural system.
Population pressures were relieved by more distant
ventures which might add to a state's land and labor


capital. And the disasters which overtook Rome were
too insidious (soil erosion, malnutrition, endemic dis-
ease, anomie) or too traumatic (plagues, barbarian
invasions, civil and foreign wars against equal enemies)
to be regarded as other than acts of God.

Images of pacifism mirror a society's images of vio-
lence. Most of the ancients whom the moderns were
to regard as rational saw internal and external political
violence in terms which were not too incongruent with
Clausewitz' view of “physical force (for no moral force
exists apart from the state and law)” (Book I, Ch. i)
as normal. Early Christians rejected as evil a society
founded on coercion rather than on love. An estab-
lished Church regarded those who felt that it should
not defend itself as naive and sinful. Greco-Roman
feelings of shock at Carthaginian child immolation—
which modern Tunisian historians try to explain
away—or at Christian pacifists are analogous to those
later feelings of hatred which the Faithful directed at
Peoples of the Book who were not True Believers. And
as long as the military and technological balance be-
tween civilized and barbarian remained relatively
even, both needed an enemy to be envied, feared,
hated, enslaved, and plundered.

Medieval and Early Modern Warfare. Medieval
society's hieratic military, political, and other orders
defy historical generalization. Armored horsemen and
fortifications dominated war and an unarmed peas-
antry. But medieval societies were not easily seen as
militaristic, and medieval Christians and Muslims had
good reasons for “just” wars. Citizens of city-states saw
their political and military problems as analogous to
those of city-states in antiquity. The result was that
there were few new generalizations about the relations
of man, the state, and war before the eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries. By that time centralized
sovereign states had taken away the right of declaring
just wars from a broken Universal Church. And Fichte
and Hegel had reconciled the individual moral imper-
atives which Kant had found in the natural right doc-
trines of Rousseau—“the Newton of the moral world”—
with the historical imperatives of social ethics.

Long before Clausewitz, Machiavelli mixed ancient
and modern examples with a philosophy, implicit in
his case, which saw political violence and raison d'état
as normal. “A wise prince... takes as his profession
nothing else than war.... In peace he trains himself
... to find the enemy, to choose encampments, to plan
battles, and to besiege towns.” His view of Ferdinand
of Aragon's actions which grew “one from another”
so that people had “no leisure for working against him”
(Prince, trans. Allan Gilbert, Chs. XIV, XXI) was to be
Bodin's idea that “the best way of preserving a state
... against sedition... is to... find an enemy against
whom they [its subjects] can make common cause”
(Commonwealth, Book V, Ch. v). The Romans, Mach-
iavelli noted, had made “their wars, as the French
say, short and big.... [They led] large armies...
against the enemy and at once fought a battle.” Cannon
favor the offensive; infantry are more valuable than
cavalry. “Fortresses generally are more harmful than
useful.” And “Roman generals were never excessively
punished for any misdeeds; nor... ever punished...
[for] incapacity or bad planning” (Discourses, trans.
Allan Gilbert, Books I-II).

Machiavelli's maxims sound Napoleonic today but,
except in the field of international law, the con-
servative, liberal, socialist, and internationalist sciences
of the management of social violence did not appear
until four centuries later. The events of those centuries
were to simplify the problems of both politics and war.
Gunpowder gradually made all men tall, the infantry-
man again dominated war. Better transportation and
siege weapons forced soldiers to think of grand tactics
involving whole countries. More food, forage, and
metals were available to support masses of men and
horses. The French Revolution had involved many
middle-class citizens. For the first time, perhaps, since
antiquity, enough literate and politically conscious
citizens knew enough about war to “ask the right
questions about... battle” (Polybius, Book XII, Ch.
xxviii a). And Clausewitz was not to be the only veteran
of the Napoleonic wars to write about an art which
was no longer the sport of kings or the secret of cabi-
nets and great captains.

Modern and Contemporary Warfare. Every ancient
soldier after him might try to be an Alexander. Every
modern one may try to be a Napoleon. The failure
of all the European armies' war plans in 1914 led
B. H. Liddel Hart to exorcise The Ghost of Napoleon
(London, 1934) by claiming that “the influence of
thought upon thought is the most influential factor in
history,” and that Clausewitz had not been “the
prophet... of Napoleon,” but “the Mahdi of mass
and mutual massacre” (pp. 11, 120). Liddell Hart ad-
mitted that Clausewitz was easy to misunderstand, but
Clausewitz' contemporary, A. H. Jomini—who had
reduced Frederick's and Napoleon's grand tactics to
geometrical figures which are still used in military
science—did not think that he was obscure, but that
he was much too skeptical about military science. This
was true, though many later mathematical military
scientists failed to note in their Clausewitzian incanta-
tions his remark that while an enemy's “power of
resistance” can be “expressed as a product of two
inseparable factors: the extent of the means at his
and the strength of his will,” only the first
can be estimated in “figures,” and that the second


is “only approximately to be measured by the strength
of the motive behind it” (On War, Book I, Ch. ii, 6).

The people had to be armed, although Clausewitz
saw “a people's war in civilized Europe... [as] a
phenomenon of the nineteenth century” which might
be “as dangerous to the social order at home as to the
enemy.” Prussia's conservative military reformers, es-
pecially after the Revolution of 1848, had to manage
national and popular “passions,” while carefully train-
ing and indoctrinating a mass conscript army which
might again have to “advance against Paris, and engage
the French army in a great battle.” Prussia was still
the weakest of the great powers. Hence Prussia and
her allies should “act with as much concentration...
[and] as swiftly as possible.” Clausewitz could not have
been expected to see that a new Napoleon would be
more afraid of arming the people than Prussia's con-
servatives would be. But he did fear that since “bounds
once thrown down, are not easily built up again,...
at least whenever great interests are in question, mu-
tual hostility will discharge itself in the same manner
as it has done in our time” (ibid., Book VI, Ch. xxvii;
Book VIII, Chs. ix, iii b).

Although “militarism” is a nineteenth-century term,
its meaning received little attention from nine-
teenth-century philosophers. There is no index entry
for it in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia
(1911). John H. Muirhead's article on Hegel
ignores Hegel's idea that modern war fosters unselfish-
ness and does not lead individuals to hate individuals,
and stresses “the overpowering sense of the value of
organization” which had led Hegel to feel that “a vital
interconnexion between all parts of the body politic
is the source of all good” (Encycl. Brit., XIII, 203).
Later, democratic propagandists saw Nietzsche's
supermen and Treitschke's history as characteristically
militaristic, conservative, German, Clausewitzian, and
Hegelian. Tocqueville, on the other hand, feared that
the inevitable growth of democracy would also lead
to despotism and militarism. While “peace is peculiarly
hurtful to democratic armies, war” and its popular
passions give “them advantages which... cannot fail
in the end to give them the victory.” His “secret con-
nection between the military character and... [that]
of democracies” was the profit motive. “Men of democ-
racies are... passionately eager to acquire what they
covet and to enjoy it on easy conditions,... worship
chance, and are much less afraid of death than of
difficulty.... No kind of greatness is more pleasing
to the imagination of a democratic people than military
greatness—a greatness of vivid and sudden luster ob-
tained without toil by nothing but the risk of life”
(Democracy in America, trans. Henry Reeves, London
[1840], IV, 239-40).

Tocqueville felt that “no protracted war can fail to
endanger the freedom of a democratic country,” if only
because “it must increase the powers of civil govern-
ment.” Democracy's defenses against militarism and
Bonapartism lay in “characteristics of officers, non-
commissioned officers and men” which were not uni-
form “at all times and among all democratic nations.
In every democratic army the noncommissioned offi-
cers will be the worst representatives of the pacific
and orderly spirit,... and the private soldiers the
best.” If the “community is ignorant and weak,” its
soldiers may “be drawn by their leaders into disturb-
ances;... if it is enlightened and energetic, the com-
munity will itself keep” its leaders “within the bounds
of order” (ibid., IV, 231-32).

Tocqueville died in 1859, the year in which Prussia's
conservatives began to strengthen her army against
Napoleon III's designs on the Rhine. The next decade
ended with their founding of a German Empire at
minimal costs in “blood and iron.” This left them in
a good position to combat the industrial classes' grow-
ing egalitarianism by the deliberate promotion of a
popular militarism which promised still more “vivid
and sudden luster.”

During the next long peace the English liberal
Hegelian, T. H. Green, argued that more democratic
states saw the general good less militaristically, were
less prone to resort to war, and were more likely to
“arrive at a passionless impartiality in dealing with
each other” (Principles of Political Obligation, London
[1890], para. 175). His Social Darwinist contemporary,
Herbert Spencer, held that the individualism sparked
by the profit motive was the main source of modern
social progress and that the progress of democracy and
industrialism had already resulted in “a growing per-
sonal independence,... a smaller faith in govern-
ments, and a more qualified patriotism.” These would
eventually lead democratic industrial societies to return
to the norms of “certain uncultured peoples whose lives
are passed in peaceful occupations,... honesty, truth-
fulness, forgivingness, kindness.” The general “decrease
of warfare” in the nineteenth century had already
brought considerable relaxation of governmental con-
trols and popular militancy, although Germany's upper
classes had successfully combined feudal controls and
popular nationalism to spark those “increases of arma-
ments and of aggressive activities” which had forced
a temporary regression “toward the militant social
type; alike in the development of civil organization
with its accompanying sentiments and ideas, and in
the spread of socialistic theories” (Principles of Sociol-
New York [1897], Vol. II, Ch. XXIII) in Europe.

Hegel and Tocqueville were closer to the realities
of people's wars and revolutions than Green and


Spencer were. But none of this was very new, and there
were no major philosophical treatises on or major
histories of militarism. Each philosopher put his exam-
ples of Spencerian “social metamorphosis” into his
general social philosophy. On War remains the only
major philosophical treatise on that subject. By 1914
Clausewitzian ideas on the scientific management of
war dominated military thought, and Napoleonic mili-
tary ideas were as uniformly widespread as Frederician
ones had been in 1789. But, as in the other social
sciences, the scientific method had been only partly
applied to the resulting mixture of ancient and modern
lore which bolstered the discipline and morale of the
industrial nations in arms.

Clausewitz did not see how the nascent Industrial
Revolution would change war. British arms and money
had played only supporting roles in defeating Napoleon
in Russia and Germany. Better planning, rather than
better weapons, had built the German Empire, though
everyone saw the importance of national industrial
potential. War's “accelerating self-transformation” was
to be partly due to the “institutionalization of...
innovation in... research laboratories, universities,
... [and] general staffs” (William H. McNeill, The Rise
of the West,
Chicago [1963], p. 567), but what White-
head later called the “invention of the method of
invention” had been only partly applied in the peace-
time armies which took the field in 1914.

Ardant du Picq's Battle Studies (1880) and Colmar
von der Goltz's The Nation in Arms (London, 1883)
had argued that men could only be moved against
modern firepower by the “internal power” of “national
egotism.” More important, France's outnumbered army
thought that it could win a Napoleonic battle with
Germany. General Ferdinand Foch cited Frederick the
Great, de Maistre, Napoleon, G. J. D. von Scharnhorst,
Marshal de Saxe, Xenophon, and Clausewitz to show
that, “A battle won, is a battle in which one does not
confess oneself beaten,
” and that the “old theory” of
“superior numbers,... guns,... positions” was as
“radically wrong” (Foch, Principles of War [1903],
London [1921], pp. 286, 3) as the Russian banker and
economist Ivan S. Bloch's statistical projections of The
Future of War in Its Technical, Economic, and Political
(1898). Bloch saw the future of war as one
of technical military deadlock, economic collapse, and
political and social revolution.

Fifty years after the deadlock began, just before a
new test of military thinking, a United States Air Force
Basic Doctrine (1964) declared that “technological and
tactical improvements must be continuous.” Many
nineteenth-century officers came from a class which
knew as little science as many of its classically educated
critics. Weaponry was left to private contractors or
branch specialists. Testing was hampered and general
industrial progress aided by the longest general peace
in modern times. And “physical force” was being used
to uphold the “moral force” of international law. De-
spite the fact that Bloch's work on the future of war
influenced Nicholas II's call for the International Peace
Congress of 1899, international arbitration among the
great powers was seen in the article on “Arbitration,
International” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911)
as offering only faint hope amidst “the springs of
warlike enterprise still found in commercial jealousies,
in imperialistic ambitions and in the doctrine of the
survival of the fittest which lends scientific support to
both” (II, 331). The author, M. H. Crackanthorpe, was
the President of the Eugenics Education Society.

Two generations of violence produced many new
combinations of old ideas. Technology was the deus
ex machina
in most victory, peace, and prosperity of
Western nations. Science, for example, is the basis for
Kenneth E. Boulding's “great transition” out of the
war, development, population, and entropy “traps” of
The Meaning of the Twentieth Century (New York,
1964). But this prolonged military intellectual crisis
produced no new ideas about the origins of war, and
even the definition of militarism was greatly affected
by national experience and by more general con-
servative, liberal, and socialist ideas of conflict resolu-
tion or management.

Definitions of Militarism. Vagts's massive History
of Militarism: Romance and Realities of a Profession

(1937, p. 11) reflected a liberal exile's view of recent
German history in its distinction between a scientific
“military way” and an unscientific militarism. “The
military way is marked by... concentration... on
winning specific objectives of power... with the least
expenditure of blood and treasure. It is limited in scope,
confined to one function, and scientific.... Militarism
is so constituted that it may hamper... the military
way.... It may permeate all society and become
dominant over all industry and arts. Rejecting the
scientific character of the military way, militarism
displays the qualities of caste and cult, authority and
belief.” But military authority rests partly on belief.
The French army which had lost the Battle of the
Frontiers defeated the Germans at the Marne, and faith
kept both armies attacking until they were finally

Middle-class Prussian liberals were the first to define
militarism. With the economic fortunes of the landed
aristocracy still in decline, the officer corps sheltered
many refugees. The now traditional values of loyalty
to a monarch as a personal feudal lord, or nobles whose
ancestors had sold out to or been ennobled by him,
were in even sharper contrast with the middle-class


values of equal opportunity for hard work for private
profit. The first Prussian debates had turned on the
status of middle-class Landwehr officers whose units
were to prove untrustworthy during the Revolution of
1848. While the same events made the middle class
as afraid of socialism as were the conservatives, its
growing wealth was not matched by more openings
for its sons in the officer corps.

As the social effects of victory wore off, the German
Empire's liberals returned to the attack. Prussia's con-
servatives did not invent “scientific management”—a
late nineteenth-century term made popular by an
American, Henry O. Taylor—but they had greatly
extended the scope of military, educational, and politi-
cal management in a system which won the loyalties
of large segments of the middle and lower classes.
Many of the most extreme Social Darwinist glorifica-
tions of war came from such late nineteenth-century
military publicists as Friedrich von Bernhardi. Von der
Goltz felt that The Nation in Arms demanded an “in-
of our moral forces,... for... [in Scharnhorst's
words] 'never are moral forces at rest; they fall as soon
as they no longer increase'” (trans. Philip A. Ashworth,
p. 290). These effusions did not halt the decline of the
conservative parliamentary parties; they did warn
Germany's neighbors of the dangers of German mili-
tarism. And Bismarck's constitution could not cope
with a supreme warlord who sounded like the ghost
of Napoleon, but could not act like the ghost of
Frederick the Great.

The German Empire was militaristic in tone, but
military men did not determine its policies. The Ger-
man army could not check massive expenditures on
a navy which helped to bring Great Britain into an
anti-German coalition. No staffs for scientific weapons
evaluation or research and development, for army-navy
cooperation, or for coordinating foreign and military
policy were set up to advise the Emperor. A popularly
elected Reichstag could check spending, but not mili-
tary or foreign policy action. Chancellor Bethmann-
Hollweg later boasted that he had not interfered in
a military policy which led to the invasion of neutral
Belgium. Germany became a military dictatorship in
1916. Its war aims made the destruction of militarism
and the democratization of Germany popular goals
among her enemies. To link their weak attempts to
secure those goals with their greater efforts to weaken
Germany needed no Hitler.

Postwar fascism also influenced Vagts's views of
militarism. Its rhetoric became still more flamboyant
in imposing new orders on masses which had been
deliberately led to hope for more revolutionary results
from their sacrifices. Vagts was not sure of communist
militarism. He did note that “Fascist and Communist
armies alike appeal to honor in secular language,” that
“the old Christian international idea of honor” had
survived “better in newer countries with less of a feudal
heritage, as in the United States,” and that much
military history was “a phase of militarism” (pp.
484-85, 21). He could not have been expected to see
that none of the totalitarian powers, except Japan, was
militaristic in the sense that military scientists deter-
mined policy.

The totalitarian powers' evaluations of air power—
the most important new weapon of the interwar
era—were no more scientific than the evaluation of
sea power by Wilhelmine Germany, and rather less
so than those made by the “Anglo-Americans.” Their
politicians “interfered” in military operations more
often than was the case with democracies which had
improved their decision making institutions to cope
with matters which the Great War had shown to be
“too important to be left to the generals.” The postwar
Clausewitzians managed the populist version of con-
servative militarism as poorly as the nobles had man-
aged France to support Tocqueville's view that “an
aristocratic nation... [which] does not succeed in
ruining” a democratic one “at the outset of the war
... runs a great risk of being conquered by it” (De-
mocracy in America,
IV, 240).

Social Darwinism is not necessarily evidence of
democratic militarism. Carolyn E. Playne's The Neu-
roses of the Nations
(London, 1925), Edward Glover's
War, Sadism, and Pacifism (London, 1947), and Alix
Strachey's The Unconscious Motives of War (London,
1957) are typical popularizations of many efforts to
apply social psychiatry to militarism. One can accept
Playne's idea of a mass mind which “first in Germany,
then in France, [showed] signs of nervous breakdown,”
but not that “parliamentary government in France
abdicated to the War Office” and “military authority
ruled the land, the Court and the Kaiser in Germany”
(pp. 461, 464) before 1914. She saw “time” and “hope”
as curatives, but German, Japanese, and Italian mili-
tarism were to be cured by outside powers, while
militarism remains a plausible restorative for both
conservative and radical nationalists in many countries.

The idea that militarism chiefly affects great powers
which have accomplished something by war is sup-
ported by those who see contemporary American
militarism as an outgrowth of her crusades against war,
fascism, and communism. In 1890 there were less than
4000 American officers on active duty in a population
of nearly 63,000,000. In spite of the demands of im-
perialism and navalism, there were fewer than 27,000
such officers—a quarter of the number of physi-
cians—in a population of nearly 130,000,000 in 1938.
By 1965 there were 350,000 officers for “normal”


armed forces of 2,500,000 in a population of
195,000,000. Until the second half of this century, the
American soldiers' guild had to see war, S. P. Hunting-
ton noted in 1957, “as an independent science,...
the practice... [of which] was the only purpose of
military forces” (p. 255). The soundness of its profes-
sional advice was partly responsible for militarism's
growth in a liberal society in which Huntington fur-
thermore sees “the power of the military” as “the
greatest threat to their professionalism” (p. 464). His
“militarism” is Vagts's “military way.” Its American
strands are “technism, popularism, and profes-
sionalism” (p. 193), its main “historical fact... the
extent to which liberal ideology and conservative Con-
stitution... dictate an inverse relation between polit-
ical power and military professionalism” (p. 143).

This first major American treatise on civil-military
relations found American and Soviet patterns histori-
cally “similar;... the dominance of a single anti-
military ideology... put obstacles in the way of
military professionalism.” Better relations between the
U.S. and Russia, he felt, would depend on both adopt-
ing a more “conservative outlook, divorced from uni-
versalistic pretensions.” He defined the “military ethic”
as one which combined a conservative view of “the
permanence... [of] evil in human nature” with the
Hegelian “supremacy of society over the individual,”
medieval ideas of “order, hierarchy, and division of
function,” and modern ones of “the nation state as the
highest form of political organization,... the con-
tinuing likelihood of wars among nation states,... and
the importance of power in international relations”
(ibid., pp. 463, 79). If the United States and the Soviet
Union have become militaristic by a “realistic and
conservative” acceptance of the results of their vic-
tories, the process was rather like that by which defeat
forced both democracy and militarism on France after

Realistic conservative nineteenth-century Marxists,
such as Karl Liebknecht, saw the social evil of private
ownership of the means of production as the source
of all social conflict. Militarism “exhibits... the na-
tional, cultural, and class instinct of self-preservation,
that most powerful of all instincts.” Its history is that
“of human development,... strained relations and
jealousies between nations and states, arising from their
desires for political and social power or economic
advantage,... [and] class-struggles within nations and
states for the same objects” (Militarism [1907], Eng.
trans. New York [1917], p. 2). The Marxist contribution
to military thought was practical rather than theoret-
ical. Engels' ideas for training workers for the coming
revolution did not allay conservative fears of mass
armies' unreliability. The French socialist, Jean Jaurès,
agreed with Spencer that industrialized democracies
were less likely to become militaristic; he wanted to
begin military training at ten and to cut peacetime
active service to six months (L'Armée nouvelle, Paris
[1910]; trans. as Democracy and Military Power, Lon-
don [1916]). But no democratic socialist general strikes
erupted in 1914. That nations in arms have fought so
well when “great interests” are involved underlines the
populist and nationalist demands for military power
which may result in what Janowitz (1964b, p. 16) calls
“reactive militarism.”

Contemporary research on militarism takes in de-
veloping societies in which militarism is mainly inter-
nal, as well as developed ones, and tries to fix the
degrees of political and social power held by soldiers.
Some advanced democracies now need only an internal
or international “constabulary” for peacekeeping pur-
poses (Janowitz [1964a], p. 12). The soldiers of some
totalitarian popular democracies may well be quite
realistic conservatives, but they are still subject to
political interference in their professional affairs. In
Huntington's view of professionalism in a liberal soci-
ety, political involvement hampers professional sol-
diers, who seldom get the expertise to compete with
its political, profit-making, and technological profes-
sionals. In its industrial-political-military complexes,
soldiers may become the scapegoats of “reactive mili-
tarism.” Liberals who are already suspicious of military
men credit the guild's successes to its liberal indoc-
trination, and blame it for any political failures. Sol-
diers may then blame their failures on a “stab in the
back” by the liberal politicians who ordered the war
or the profit-makers who sold them a particular weap-
ons system in the first place.

Finer (1962) sees the descent into convert or overt
military rule beginning with threats of mass resignation
or noncooperation. Then come vetoes of particular
policies or politicians, manipulating or delaying elec-
tions in the interest of public order, or the preventive
detention or murder of opposition politicians, and
covert or overt rule by soldiers. While they can take
advantage of the communications and intelligence
networks needed by all modern armies, their heavy
weapons may not produce for military politicians the
force they were once supposed to have even against
urban dissidents. And as Clausewitz once remarked
about a romantic view of people's war: “Even if we
do not consider it as an... unconquerable element,
over which the mere force of an army has as little
control as... over the wind,... we cannot drive
armed peasants before us like a body of soldiers who
keep together like a herd of cattle, and usually follow
their noses” (On War, Book VI, Ch. xxvi).

The “reactive” theory of militarism best fits great


powers—such as Prussia—under constant foreign mili-
tary pressure. The demand for weapons and profes-
sional military leadership was a popular national con-
cern, though professional politicians with mass parties
behind them can generally get military efficiency
without sharing real political power. Existing demo-
cratic polities survived total wars in Great Britain and
the United States, wars which led to more effective
civilian governments in Russia and China. Postwar
great power military aid programs increased soldiers'
power in other states, but did so by increasing their
managerial skills as much as by giving them better
weapons. And realistic liberals, conservatives, nation-
alists, and socialists have tapped so many popular
forces to strengthen their external and internal power
positions that the resulting spectrum of attitudes to-
ward the just uses of social violence can be made to
fit almost any a priori definition of militarism.

Andreski's look at “war, its alleged evil or beneficial
effects, its causes, and the possibilities of its abolition”
(1954, p. 1) goes with his belief that only Weber and
Mosca among sociology's founders had examined the
role of “military factors in shaping societies.” This
reflects “the insidious utopianism which pervades socio-
logical thinking” and soldiers' fears that a “critical
examination of the exercise of violence... might
besmirch... [their] idols.” But his theoretical classifi-
cation of societies by military population ratios and
levels of subordination and cohesion is only another
sign of the interests which turned Chicago scholars
from the historical and legal studies of Wright (1942)
to Janowitz' “elite analysis” of The Professional Soldier
(1960) based on “empirical data on social background,
career lines, professional ideology, and decision-
making” (1964a, p. 15) without greatly illuminating
war's fundamental causes.

Origins of War. Buchan's War in Modern Society
shows that if “strategic studies, the analysis of the role
of force in international relations, have yet to find their
Keynes” (1966, p. xii), social psychologists are no better
managers of what their predecessors called the instinct
of aggression. McDougall's “instinct of pugnacity” was
a secondary one, activated by inhibiting another.
“Emulation” would replace it in advanced societies,
to “end what has been... probably the most import-
tant factor of progressive evolution... [in] individuals
and societies” (Social Psychology, London [1908], Ch.
XI). William James felt that “our ancestors have bred
pugnacity into our bone and marrow,” and that “mili-
tary instincts and ideals are as strong as ever.” His
argument for a “Moral Equivalent of War” (1910;
Bramson [1964], pp. 21-31) was similar to those of
Bloch or of Norman Angell's widely read The Great
Illusion: a Study of the Relation of Miltary Power in
Nations to their Economic and Social Advantage
don, 1911). “Modern war,” James held, “is so expensive
that we feel trade to be a better avenue for plunder.
... Competitive preparation... is the real war,...
battles are only a sort of public verification of the
mastery gained during the 'peace' interval.... When
whole nations are the armies and the science of de-
struction vies in intellectual refinement with the sci-
ences of production,... war becomes absurd and

Freud took years to admit an “aggressive instinct
alongside of the familiar instincts of self-preservation
and sex, and on an equal footing with them.” But by
1930 he felt that “men are not gentle creatures who
want to be loved, and who at the most can defend
themselves if... attacked.” Checks on aggression are
one source of civilized man's discontents. It had “very
probably” taken “the bees, the ants, the termites...
thousands of years” to arrive “at the State institutions
... for which we admire them.” The “question for
the human species... [is whether] their cultural de-
velopment will... [master] the disturbance of their
communal life by the human instinct of aggression...
[now that] they have gained control over the forces
of nature to such an extent that... they would have
no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last
man” (Civilization and its Discontents [1930], New
York [1961], pp. 8, 58, 92).

Some Freudians' views of militarism have been noted
elsewhere. In “Personal Aggressiveness and War”
(1938; Bramson [1964], pp. 81-103), E. F. M. Durbin
and John Bowlby saw the projection of aggression to
internal or external scapegoats as relieving social ten-
sions. The work of John Dollard and others on Human
Frustration and Aggression
(New Haven, 1939) was
followed by his practical Fear in Battle (New Haven,
1943) and official Studies of Social Psychology in World
War II
(4 vols., Princeton, 1949), but L. L. Bernard
felt that War and Its Causes (New York [1944], p. 23)
still eluded “all-purpose” definitions. And in the con-
temporary social explosion—from overpopulation,
poverty, etc.—theory of war goes little beyond
Machiavelli's or Bodin's maxims.

Konrad Lorenz' and other ethologists' works On
(New York, 1966) enliven the 1960's. Lorenz
sees aggression as a general instinct which is highly
adaptive to ecological conditions. In territorial species
it divides the habitat for their survival. In social ones
it may create hierarchical structures in which authority
and experience are predominant. Baboons' controlled
group aggressiveness fits their feeding habits; related
species act as if dominance were less important. But
ethologists study species with highly stereotyped re-
sponses, and most of the argument is by analogy. Ag-


gressive human responses to many situations are far
from stereotyped even in individuals, and the social
anthropologist Ashley Montagu (On Being Human,
New York, 1966) sees all this as a new myth of original
sin to project and displace the learned social evils of
war and aggression to nature.

Our ideas of progress and states make it hard to take
Polybius' view of history as “education... for political
action” with “the memory of other people's calamities”
as “the only source from which we can learn to bear
the vicissitudes of Fortune with courage” (Histories,
Book I, Ch. i). Wright (1964, p. 154) found so many
historical causes of war that studying “the engineering
of peace” was more profitable. After showing war as
“the proximate cause of the breakdown of every civili-
zation... known for certain to have broken down”
and the failure of all universal empires, Toynbee (1951,
pp. vii-xii) still hoped for “a voluntary association of
peace-loving peoples” strong and wise enough “to
avoid any serious wish to challenge its authority.” And
McNeill (Rise..., p. 806) hopes that power “which
has dominated the whole history of mankind” will
“coalesce under an overarching world sovereignty
[until] the impetus now impelling men to develop new
sources of power will largely cease.”

The voluminous works of contemporary military
intellectuals contain no new ideas on the origins of war.
They deal with the scientific management of war in
an atmosphere of popular fears of absolute weapons
and revolutionary passions. While great powers are
deterred from direct attacks on each other, this may
produce nonevents which seem like victories, and old
ideas of influence spark wars in which “irresponsible”
small powers may manage their sponsors. Some result-
ing problems are familiar. Guerrillas may counter su-
perior machines hiding among the people; Americans
saved their men by using machines so indiscriminately
that popular passions overturned their managers and
imperiled the “great interests” allegedly in question.

In this situation a “satisfactory” scientific view of
war is as remote as ever. The sociologist Raymond Aron
(1959, pp. 114, 119) finds the “twentieth century an
aggregate of past centuries,... [without] even the
rudiments of an advance over them,” or any hopes for
the further neutralization of areas threatened by nu-
clear war, and notes that these “cannot be indefinitely
extended.” The economist Boulding (Meaning..., pp.
90-91) uses Bloch's argument. “In the age of civili-
zation war was a stable social institution, and for man-
kind as a whole, a tolerable one. In the twentieth
century the system of international relations... based
on unilateral national defense has broken down because
of the change in the fundamental parameters of the
system, and war has therefore become intolerable.” His
hope in the social sciences is James's hope that “the
ordinary prides and shames of social man... are
capable of organizing such a moral equivalent... [of
war]. It is but a question of time, of skillful propa-
gandism, and of opinion-making men seizing historic
opportunities” (“Moral Equivalent of War,” p. 29).

Conclusion. Social science has contributed to some
understanding of the political, technological, and mili-
tary causes of particular wars. It provides psychological
props for the hope that it may help to kill that one
of the four horsemen which did the most social damage
in the first half of the twentieth century, or at least
that one which is most clearly social in origin. But
military science is so rooted in the particular actions
of individuals and groups in so wide a variety of par-
ticular circumstances that the history of ideas about
the causes of war and militarism remains one of new
combinations of old philosophical insights and ideas.


S. Andreski, Military Organization and Society (1954; 2d
ed., Berkeley, 1968). R. Aron, De la Guerre (1957), trans.
Terence Kilmartin as On War (Garden City, N.Y., 1959).
L. Bramson, and G. W. Goethals, eds., War: Studies from
Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology
(New York, 1964) is a
fine anthology. A. Buchan, War in Modern Society: An
(London, 1966). C. von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege
(1832-34), trans. O. M. J. Jollis as On War (New York, 1943).
B. W. C. Cook et al., eds., The Garland Library of War
and Peace
(New York) is a reprint series. E. M. Earle, ed.,
Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machia-
velli to Hitler
(1942; New York, 1966). S. E. Finer, The Man
on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics
(New York,
1962). S. P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The
Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations
(1957; New
York, 1964). M. Janowitz, The Professional Soldier: A Social
and Political Portrait
(Glencoe, Ill., 1960); idem, ed., The
New Military: Changing Patterns of Organization
(New York,
1964a); idem, The Military in the Political Development of
New Nations: An Essay in Comparative Analysis
1964b). T. R. Phillips, ed., Roots of Strategy: A Collection
of Military Classics
(Harrisburg, Pa., 1940). Polybius, Histo-
trans. Mortimer Chambers, abridged, intro. by E.
Badian (New York, 1966). D. B. Ralston, ed., Soldiers and
States: Civil-Military Relations in Modern Europe
1966) is a good anthology. L. F. Richardson, Statistics of
Deadly Quarrels,
ed. Q. Wright and C. C. Lienau (Pitts-
burgh, 1960), and Arms and Insecurity: A Mathematical
Study of the Causes and Origins of War,
ed. N. Rashevsky
and E. Trucco (Pittsburgh, 1960) are attempts at mathe-
matical analysis. G. Ritter, Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk:
Das Problem des “Militarismus” in Deutschland
trans. Heinz Norden as The Sword and the Scepter: The
Problem of Militarism in Germany,
3 vols. (Miami, Fla.,
1969-). T. Ropp, War in the Modern World, 2d ed. (New
York, 1962), history since the Hundred Years War. U.


Schwarz, American Strategy: A New Perspective, the Growth
of Politico-Military Thinking in the United States
City, N.Y., 1966) is a favorable Swiss view of contemporary
American military intellectuals. A. Storr, Human Aggression
(New York, 1968) covers the ethological debate. A. J. Toyn-
bee, War and Western Civilization (New York, 1951). A.
Vagts, A History of Militarism: Civilian and Military (1937;
London, 1960) contains a mass of information. K. M. Waltz,
Man, the State and War: A Theoretical Analysis (New York,
1959) is the most important single work. R. F. Weigley, ed.,
The American Military: Readings in the History of the
Military in American Society
(Reading, Mass., 1969). The
West Point Military Library
(Westport, Conn.) is a second
important reprint series in this field. Q. Wright, A Study
of War,
2 vols. (1942, abridged ed. Chicago, 1964).

Unless noted otherwise, translations are by the author
of the article.


[See also Nationalism; Peace; State.]