Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do Wars Make States? - Part II


Continued from Part I

In the case of the United States, the kind of fiscal-military pressures outlined above were instrumental in the development of the young republic. Though possessing a militia tradition and certain resources, the colonies were without significant armed forces at the outbreak of the Revolution. As a result, military and financial institutions had to be created, institutions which gave substance to the new state. “The first central administrative organs of American government came into being during the conflict… They were almost exclusively military or fiscal in their function” (Bruce Porter, War and the Rise of the State, 251).

Even after the fighting of the Revolution was over, other military demands remained, ensuring that the national government, with the authority to “exercise clear priorities” over local institutions, did not slip into powerlessness. Ongoing military threats, both foreign and domestic (such as Shays’ Rebellion), were a major consideration in one of the earliest and greatest political changes in American history: the adoption of the Constitution. “Nationalist leaders… pressed the case for a central government largely on military grounds, arguing that individual states could not wield adequate forces for either defense or the maintenance of order” (Porter 252). The resulting document reflected this emphasis on war powers: “Of the eighteen clauses defining the powers of Congress, nine directly concerned military affairs” (Porter 253).

War not only created important American state institutions, but also helped form American ideology. “The proximate causes of the American revolt were military in substance, stemming from Britain’s attempt to maintain a permanent military force in the western territories of the colonies” (Porter 249). Moreover, the onset of violence helped push colonists off the fence and into one of the two emerging camps. “Each time an American died so did some part of moderation” (Robert Middlekauff, quoted in Porter 248). Finally, the shared experience of war helped to bond together colonies which had previous viewed themselves as separate entities. “At the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, Nathaniel Greene from Rhode Island led a Virginia division, while Anthony Wayne of Pennsylvania commanded troops from New Jersey. This arrangement, unthinkable at the onset of the war, epitomized the unifying effect of military service” (Porter 250-1).

Several thinkers have pointed out that, by placing considerable demands upon the population of a state, warfare changes the relationship of a population to its government.
Reliance on mass conscription, confiscatory taxation, and conversion of production to the ends of war made any state vulnerable to popular resistance, and answerable to popular demands, as never before. From that point onward, the character of war changed, and the relationship between warmaking and civilian politics altered fundamentally (Tilly 83).

In the case of the United States, Bruce Porter notes that “over half the states broadened the franchise during or shortly after the [Revolution]” (251). The general argument is that “universal and compulsory military service” implies “democratic forms of government,” with soldiers demanding political and social rights in return for their service (Eliot Cohen, Citizens and Soldiers, 117). While this is one possible outcome, as the American example shows, there are reasons to doubt that the states produced by war will necessarily or even usually be democratic. Authoritarian sentiment, limited service and militaristic populism all militate against pro-democratic forces.

Adam Smith pointed out that a “‘well-disciplined and well-exercised standing army’ will always be superior to a militia composed of men accustomed to liberty” (Cohen 119). Thus, the desire for victory may bring with it certain undemocratic elements, among them authoritarian discipline. Smith believed that “if the sovereign is commander-in-chief and the nobility and gentry of a country make up the officer corps, a country need have little fear of military dictatorship,” since would-be dictators would have a stake in the system and would therefore be reluctant to overthrow it (Cohen 120). In a democratic system, high pay and social status go some way to ensuring that officers feel invested in the system; however, extraordinary political powers for military leaders would be at odds with the political equality of democracy.

Moreover, Cohen’s argument that universal service military service leads to democracy assumes that war imposes universal service, which is not always the case. Wars may simply be too small to require such outpouring of civic service. Or societies may choose, for reasons distinct from the conflict itself, to limit the size of their military forces. Smith contended that in a commercial society no more than 1% of the population may be spared for military service without imperiling the economy (Cohen 120).

“In the long run,” Tilly writes, “military requirements for men, money, and supplies grew so demanding that rulers bargained with the bulk of the population” (95). But bargaining does not always mean democracy. If the “bulk of the population” must buy in, significant minorities may still be left out or even oppressed. Moreover, populist militarism may win over the population with economic incentives or the glories of conquest, while still withholding participation in the political process. This is precisely what occurred in 19th century Germany. “The advent of the modern cadre/conscript army… was in no way coupled with political liberalism; indeed, the introduction of military service allowed the Prussian monarchy to subvert and eventually abolish the real military bulwark of Prussian liberalism, the voluntary Landwehr” (Cohen 124).

Thus, we see that the pressures of war drive the formation of states and their institutions, as happened in the United States. The need to mobilize a population for war may have democratic effects, but these can be counteracted by a variety of other forces.
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