Militarism

November 18 2013

[A] discouraging symptom in Modern Western history had been the emergence there, first in Prussia and latterly in Germany at large, of a militarism that had been deadly in the histories of other civilizations. Militarism was a portentous moral evil because it was an abnormal one. The millions of human beings who had sacrificed wealth, happiness, and life itself in fighting the battles of some parochial state, whose subjects they had happened to be, had mostly gone to war, not because they had delighted in War for its own sake, but because they had more or less ruefully resigned themselves to war-making as an evil necessary for the preservation of another evil – Parochial Sovereignty – to which they had perversely said “Be thou my good”. [Footnote: Milton: Paradise Lost, Book IV, l. 110.] In contrast to this normal negative human attitude towards the evil of War, militarism was a state of mind in which War had ceased to be looked upon merely as a means of serving an idolized state and had become an idol and an end in itself; and this cult of War was manifestly something contrary to Human Nature.

On this showing, it was disquieting for a Western historian to recall in A.D. 1952 that a Modern Western militarism in its pristine Prussian form had made its first appearance – regnantibus Frederico Gulielmo I et Frederico II, A.D. 1713-86 – in an age in which, of all ages of latter-day Western history, the evil of War had been at its minimum. Yet this Western militarism, as it had been practised in Prussia in the days of Frederick the Great and even in the darker days of Bismarck, had been, like the Hellenic militarism practised at Sparta in the days of Cleomenes I, a vice that had still been kept within bounds by a surviving respect for at least some of a civilization’s traditional conventions. The more devastating militarism of a post-Bismarckian Prussia-Germany which had brought upon the Western World the catastrophe of A.D. 1914-18 had been a Western counterpart of a Spartan spirit, exacerbated by the Great Atheno-Peloponnesian War of 431-404 B.C., which had found its nemesis in 371 B.C. at Leuctra, or of a Babylonic militarism practised in Assyria in the days of Asshurnazirpal II and Shalmaneser III (regnabant 883-824 B.C.). As for the mad-dog militarism of a National-Socialist Germany, this could only be compared with the last phase of the furor Assyriacus, after its temperature had been raised to the third degree by Tiglath-Pileser III (regnabat 746-727 B.C.). It was true that, in A.D. 1952, it might look as if the fires of Western militarism had at least temporarily burnt themselves out, even in Germany, and at the same date it seemed improbable that even the virus of Russophobia would prove sufficiently inflammatory to kindle the same flame in the traditionally unpropitious atmosphere of the United States. Nevertheless, the fact that, no farther than seven years back, one of the principal nations of the Western World had been still waging an unprovoked war for war’s sake, and this with all its might, was a fact of bad augury for the Western Civilization’s prospects.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

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