Part 3: How standing armies can corrupt republics.


With the preceding thoughts from parts 1 and 2, we arrive at just why a professional army is such a problem. While any permanent public service can be problematic to a republic, for the reasons just mentioned, a professional military is extremely dangerous because its purpose is war itself. Due to its extreme nature, war necessarily subordinates everything to the goal of victory, failing to do so results in defeat and ruin. In a situation where the survival of the people is at stake, it even makes sense to restrict the very freedoms of a republic in order to divert as many resources as efficiently as possible towards the defeat of the enemy. This is only justified though in the case of a purely defensive war or a war that directly serves the interest of the all the people in the republic.

Leaving the issue of the morality of offensive war itself, we can say for now that the principles of a republic would not be opposed to the idea if the people as a whole would benefit from it somehow. What a republic can never allow is that a few special interested parties benefit from war, especially of that benefit is at the expense of the whole nation. Yet when you have a professional military, where its members dedicate themselves solely to the art of war, a strong interest is created on the part of the same, to engage in war whenever possible. For them to do otherwise would be akin to a doctor learning how to practice medicine but never being able to cure a patient of disease in his or her entire career. Thus while most professional soldiers, marines, sailors and their officers will humbly profess that they wish to avoid war, secretly there will always be a burning desire to be tested on the battlefield and see if they can perform honorably. Hence they will likely jump at the chance to go to war, especially if there has not been one in a while and few in positions of leadership remember the true horrors that go with it.

The above problem is only magnified in advanced industrial economies where there exist enterprises that can support the preparation for war with advanced arms and new technologies. These companies find that their existence becomes inexorably tied to maintaining a situation where new threats are always on the horizon and new weapons must constantly be developed to defend against them. While this may indeed be related to actual threats, what we see in reality is that often those threats are exaggerated or even invented in order to keep support among the legislature for the funding of whatever weapon system is in fashion. Defense companies thus have an incentive to use their money to corrupt the representatives of the people into funding expensive systems and also to use those systems in actual conflicts in order to prove their worth. This is because if they are not used, then eventually the justification to buy them will cease to exist and the companies will lose business.

What we have therefore, in the creation of a permanent and professional military, is an incentive to go to war and maintain a constant preparation for war. This not only saps the resources of a republic, resources which could otherwise go towards benefiting the common good, it also erodes the liberties of the republic because there is always a new threat to counter. Furthermore, the spirit of perpetual war that now pervades the republic creates a need for expediency under threat that makes all manner of despotic measures seem perfectly reasonable and quite easy to pass even in the most liberal of legislatures.

In part 4, I will discuss how a well-regulated militia composed of the people can provide for the common security without threatening the foundations of a republic and thus preventing it transformation it into a monarchy, aristocracy, or tyranny.

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