Home › Forums › Discuss Freedom’s Progress: The History of Political Thought, Part II › War and the State Readings
June 8, 2016 at 1:23 pm #21555
I’m enjoying your thorough course! Under the War and the State section of the course, you reference a writer, Bruce Porter. However, I did not see him listed in your list of recommended readings. Can you provide the title of the writing or writings you reference in these lectures and would you recommend his writings for further insights?
On a personal note, thanks again for your time and hospitality last summer when I visited you at UCD! Keep up the great work!
DarrenJune 9, 2016 at 10:10 am #21556
Good to hear from you, and thank you for the kind comments on the course.
Here, including the Porter book, are some references to material on war. Some of this I may have included in the recommended reading but just in case…..
I’ve been doing a lot of work on a history of political thought based on the lectures and the whole will come out soon as a book called Liberty’s Progress? I’ve included quite a bit more material than I managed to cover in the lectures and I’ve and expanded some of the material already there. The manuscript is being edited right now (I hope to have it back tonight!) and then it’s the inevitable wait for the publisher to come through.
Davie, Maurice R. (1929 ) The Evolution of War: A Study of its Role in Early Societies. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc.
Ferguson, Niall. (1998 ) The Pity of War. London: Penguin.
Gat, Azar. (2006) War in Human Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hanson, Victor Davis. (2010) The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
Hochschild, Adam. 2012 ) To End All Wars: A Story of Protest and Patriotism in the First World War. London: Pan Books.
Keegan, John. (1994) A History of Warfare. New York: Vintage.
Keeley, Lawrence H. (1999) War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Porter, Bruce D. (1994) War and the Rise of the State: The Military Foundations of Modern Politics. New York: The Free Press.
Walzer, Michael. (1977 ) Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, 4th ed. New York: Basic Books.
All of these books, including Porter’s, have something to contribute to political philosophy, but Porter specifically addresses the connection between war and the state. A list of his chapter titles will give you an idea of what he discusses:
The Paradox of War
The Mirror Image of War
War and the Passing of the Medieval Age
The Military Revolution and the Early Modern State
War and the Rise of the Nation State
Total War and the Rise of the Collectivist State
War and the Totalitarian State
War and the American Government
The Paradox of the State
I recommend Bruce Porter’s book, not that I agree with everything Porter has to say—in fact, I disagree strongly with his optimistic evaluation of the virtues and strength of democracy—but the overall thrust of his book, especially its demonstration of the intimate connection between war and the state, is undeniably correct.
Here are some passages from the book that I use in Liberty’s Progress?
Something else died on the green fields of France. ‘European liberalism,’ writes Bruce Porter, ‘finally perished on the battlefields of Verdun and the Somme.’ [Porter, 161]
‘The machinery of the modern state,’ writes Bruce Porter, ‘is derived historically from the organizational demands of warfare, and states as we know them today trace their origins and development in large measure to the crucible of past wars.’ [Porter, xix]
Bruce Porter take the view that if the state is to be conceived of as a sovereign power exercising a monopoly of force over a specific geographical area and its population, then the state ‘simply did not exist in the medieval world. The state as we know it is a relatively new invention, originating in Europe between 1450 and 1650.’ [Porter, 6] Since its emergence during this period, the state has taken on a variety of forms. First, there was the quasi-dynastic state with roots in its medieval past but, more significantly, with limited sovereignty, even if this was coupled with unlimited ambition. ‘The European state was no more than a private dynasty, more than a cluster of feudal realms, but it was not yet widely perceived as the political incarnation of a sovereign people.’ [Porter, 106] Second, we see the emergence of the nation state, erupting in the French Revolution and dominating the nineteenth century. Here, for the first time, we see the attempted identification of the nation, a cultural entity, with the state, a political entity. ‘Originating in war and propagated by invading armies, this nationalism transformed dynastic states into true nation states….multinational empires split into a host of new states…[and]…wars of national unification welded disparate principalities into unitary states….This period essentially ended after the First World War, which precipitated the final disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, creating a boomlet of new nation-states on the periphery of Europe.’ [Porter, 106] Third, we see the emergence of the collectivist state in the twentieth century. This state is characterised by the mass participation of its citizens in its politics, at least in principle, but, even more significantly, the extension of the state’s remit to the control of the economy and to the provision of welfare for all its citizens. All these various forms of state were the products of war: the Dynastic State (1648-1789) was a product of the Thirty Years War; the Nation-State was a product of the French Revolutionary Wars and their aftermath (1789-1914); and the Collectivist State resulted from World War I and World War II (1914-present).
War tends to promote territorial enlargement and integration, the cult of the great leader, and the internal repression of a state’s citizens. Europe went from having roughly 1,000 political units of various kinds in the 1300s to around 25 in 1900. War tends to encourage warring factions within the state to submerge their differences. War tends to centralise power and promote the emergence and enlargement of bureaucracies. War invariably increases the government’s fiscal depredations upon its own population in the form of taxes, confiscations, conscriptions, or massive borrowings to be set against future tax income. As Porter notes, ‘few states are able to sustain wars out of current revenue alone, wars almost invariably add to the public debt; historically, a vast portion of the public debt of European countries has accumulated during wartime.’ [Porter, 16] The levels of centralisation, taxation, and bureaucracy attained in war never return to pre-war levels but ratchet up to new heights.
‘Given the close linkage between war and state formation, it can hardly be regarded as coincidental that both the Puritan revolution in England and the secular Revolution in France culminated in military rule.’ [Porter, 133] One made a general Lord Protector; the other made a general an Emperor. Napoleon was responsible for the complete rationalisation and centralisation of power in France by means of the dismemberment of the pays d’états and the creation of départements, the establishment of the Ministries of the Interior and the Ministry of Police, the first to regulate pretty much all activities in France—commerce, transport, education, scientific establishments; the second to censor, carry out surveillance, and control movement by means of identity cards and passports, the latter device still with us. The multiple local legal codes, some four hundred of them, were swept away in the Code Napoléon, a uniform body of law applicable to all. Napoleon, the general, restructured France in the image of a well-organised army. ‘Napoleon’s enduring bequest to France was his forging of a centralised nation-state infused with a secular spirit, substantially divested of traditional impediment to state power, and possessed of a uniform system of administration and laws.’ [Porter, 140-141]
The human suffering and physical devastation are obvious enough consequences of war, though not so obvious as to prevent its constant recurrence. What is not so often noted is the staggering financial cost of war resulting not only from the damage and destruction of property which has to be replaced but from the finance needed to pay, transport and supply the soldiers who are to partake in this unique form of social interaction. C. Northcote Parkinson remarks that from war ‘we inherit the grisly legacy of taxation. Horses, chariots and arms have to be paid for. Taxes bring with them all the attendant horrors of arithmetic, estimates, assessment and accounts. War is thus accompanied by and largely responsible for a vastly more complicated administration.’ [Parkinson 1958, 51] Bruce Porter notes that ‘One factor in the collapse of laissez-faire during World War I was the enormous cost of the war, which dwarfed all previous European conflicts in the magnitude of resources required for its waging. The result was an extremely robust fiscal-military cycle of bureaucratic expansion, centralization, and increased taxation. The percentage of national income devoted to military spending in all the major powers rose on the average from slightly over 4 percent to between 25 and 33 percent over the course of the war.’ [Porter, 162]
The absolute state of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century was not the nation state. There was no belief at this time that nation and state should necessarily coincide. This was to become the dominant ideology of the nineteenth century. ‘Nationalism is also a powerful collective emotion fixated on the mystical and mythical image of the nation. It is a kind of modern tribalism or political religion capable of eliciting strenuous exertions, supreme sacrifices, and deeply felt hostility—above all in war and in connection with war.’ [Porter, 122]
Nationalism has been instrumental in the growth of the American state, and war has been instrumental to nationalism. ‘Throughout the history of the United State’, writes Porter, ‘war has been the primary impetus behind the growth and development of the central state. It has been the lever by which presidents and other national officials have bolstered the power of the state in the face of tenacious popular resistance. It has been a wellspring of American nationalism and a spur to political and social change.’ [Porter, 291]
‘In its formative years,’ writes Bruce Porter, ‘the New Deal derived considerable inspiration from Woodrow Wilson’s wartime administration. The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, one of the legislative milestones of the “Hundred Days,” established the National Recovery Administration consciously modelled after the War Industries Board of 1918-1920.’ [Porter, 277] Bad as the bureaucratic expansion of government had been in WWI, it paled into insignificance beside the WWII expansion. If progression was the innovation of WWI in respect to tax, ‘withholding’ was the innovation of WWII. Introduced as a temporary measure, needless to say it became permanent. ‘By making income taxation largely invisible and hence less painful, withholding not only helped finance the war effort but greatly facilitated postwar revenue extraction and the permanent maintenance of a large federal bureaucracy.’ [Porter, 283] The growth of the regulatory state was further enhanced by World War II so that our mid-twentieth century world found itself with states regulating, sometimes even owning, coal mines, railroads, airlines, steelworks, electricity and gas utilities. Porter writes, ‘The contrast between the liberal Britain and France of 1914 and the highly regulated, economically engaged states that emerged after 1945 was striking.’ [Porter, 169]
By its very nature, totalitarianism has been half in love with easeful death. ‘The antecedents of totalitarianism all shared a common thread: a belief in the achievement of human progress through violence and conflict.’ [Porter, 205] Conflict, strife, struggle are thought to be the very stuff of life—and death. Totalitarian societies are civil societies organised as if they were armies. ‘The defining attribute of the totalitarian state was perpetual mobilization for war—war against foreign adversaries, both real and imagined, and war against its own population.’ [Porter, 195]
It can be no surprise to find that those who have been militarised by their service in the war were receptive to the siren song of the totalitarian state. Life in a genuine civil society is hard, not least because one has to take responsibility for oneself. To those used to the comradeship of the trenches, the challenge of self-sufficiency came as an unwelcome shock. Little wonder, then, that the offer of the incipient totalitarian states to replicate the solidarity and comradeship of war in civilian society was well nigh irresistible to many. Half of all National Socialist recruits ‘were veterans of World War I, a figure far higher than the population as a whole.’ [Porter, 219] Another factor that made the social environment propitious for the new tribalism was the devastating effect of the war on the institutions of civil society. Little remained between the naked individual and the state. The choice seemed to be—on your own or with everyone together. Of course, there were gaps between the totalitarian ambitions of the new tribal states and their ability to implement totalitarianism in fact. Of the various states that took this route, Stalinist Russia was perhaps the most successful in deleting intermediate social institutions, certainly more successful than National Socialist Germany and conspicuously more successful than Fascist Italy.
It is not common to link warfare and welfare. One seems to be organised mass social destruction; the other, organised mass social construction. Yet they are linked. Porter writes, ‘the historical linkages between war and the welfare state are too close and too extensive to dismiss as mere coincidences of chronology.’ [Porter, 180] The beginnings of the welfare state is to be found in Bismarck’s Prussia in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war but it becomes more widely instantiated only during and after World War I until finally it achieves the status of an unquestioned, perhaps even fundamental, part of the role of the state after World War II.June 9, 2016 at 11:44 am #21557
Thank you for the excerpts. It was helpful to read them after listening to this part of your course yesterday! The Porter book looks like it should be on my reading list for sure, and I will take a look at your other suggestions as well.
Congratulations on putting together a manuscript for Liberty’s Progress?. I look forward to hearing of it’s publishing. I’m finding that the history of political thought is fascinating and it is interesting to learn how ideas have been propagated and built on throughout human history.June 25, 2016 at 3:58 am #21558
Hello again, Darren,
My manuscript has just been edited and as soon as we make progress on the typesetting front, I hope to have positive news about publication.
Gerard CaseySeptember 23, 2017 at 11:12 am #21559
Congratulations on getting your book published. I was happy to hear the announcement on the Tom Woods show yesterday! I’m going to have to get one for myself 🙂September 23, 2017 at 11:41 am #21560
Many thanks for the kind message. I hope you find what my publisher, in reference to its weight, called ‘an offensive weapon’ to be worth the read.
Gerard CaseySeptember 23, 2017 at 11:47 am #21561
Based on how much I enjoyed your course, I’m sure I will!September 29, 2017 at 10:30 am #21562
Let’s hope there aren’t too many typos!
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