(Sketch article)

Militarism assumes that the martial order provides the primary explanation and directive of ethics – that life in all its forms (sexual, commercial, aesthetic, religious, etc.) should bow to the martial order. War and the military profession provide the standard but also the guide for the civil order – without the military, the argument proceeds, the civil order would be nothing, so it is only right for the military to define the characteristic and tone of ethics: military ethics is thus the pinnacle (or symbolizes the pinnacle) of the good and the right.

There are many versions of militarism from the patently obvious warrior societies whose life and its values revolved around fighting to more subtle insinuations that the military life of discipline, order, and obedience constitute higher values than the permissiveness and apparent chaos of civilian life. The former may be found in Sparta, the Mongols under the Khans, the Zulus under Shaka, or German youth under Hitler; the latter may be heard and read in the military academies of the West in thinly veiled or explicitly critical commentaries on the modern moral order.

If we take up a Hobbesian state of nature thesis for a moment, it could be argued that the move towards a civil society which explicitly necessitates the formation of authority in effect generates a military (or policing) force to ensure that the social covenant is abided by. The military thus symbolize the emergence of law and order and hence form a representation of the core values of civilized life in contrast to the anarchy of the state of nature in which all are deemed to be at each other’s throats. Alternatively, if we take up a similarly caricature Hegelian thesis that for a nation or people to be recognized and to be identified then they must struggle and fight against others, then again we may follow a short logical path to militarism – identity and recognition are only gained through fighting and war, therefore the military once again exemplify the best that society has to offer, for without the military the people would be slaves to other domineering societies.

The counter view is that militarism is ultimately untenable, for however we seek to justify a militaristic ethic standing apart from the civilian ethic, or the absence of any ethic at all, we cannot help note how civilian codes of conduct that normally ply social interaction in peacetime act to infuse and give form to the military order and its moral remit. Accordingly, the military order is a derivative order: derived from the defense of the core values of the peaceful society from which its members are drawn. And once the sword is relinquished soldiers must return to the civilian codes of conduct and the expectations of peaceful life and ethos of nonviolent interaction; and it is either then or because such an umbrella of values hangs over the military that military ethics can be justified.

The civil eye does not fade – and its reach is not constrained by post-bellum issues but also all actions taken within war. Militarism proposes a moral inversion that swiftly becomes contradictory and inconsistent: the professionalism of the soldier is underwritten by the moral order from which he stems; in contrast, the brigand, bandit, highwayman, outlaw, or pirate is despised by the professional soldier, for the brigand represents the use and threat of force that is untethered to any moral order except the “morality of thieves” – the professional soldier has his or her honor codes and regulations to follow. But these gain only gain credence from the civilian order, they do not emerge spontaneously within the military. Or do they?

At this stage, if we take a step back, the duality seems insurmountable: two premises are offered – either the military order generates the truer values that uphold civil order or the civil order delegates its values to the military. One solution, and one that generates its own controversies of course, is to look to history and to the economics of cooperation versus destructionism: the wealth that people enjoy can only be the outcome of the complex voluntaristic interactions of the market place and concomitant property rights – societies that have progressed typically have done so as their division and specialization of labor have deepened and such a progression from peace to prosperity can only occur under peaceful conditions; to protect its wealth, a society may divert part of its social fund into the formation of a military from brigands who would prey upon the surpluses that settled, civil communities form – and so the civil order gives birth to the military order. Historically, the military have at times taken over the civil order and imposed their violent hand upon the peaceful, open society, but when their violence reaches totalitarian levels, the civil orders upon which they prey have tended to disintegrate – a historical and sociological argument that would support the primacy of civilian morality and ethos over that of the military.

Article by Dr Alexander Moseley
Added Fri, 4 Mar 2011 00:02

Web design by Island Webservices.