The Birth of Militarism in an Age of Democratic Revolutions

TitleThe Birth of Militarism in an Age of Democratic Revolutions
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsBell, David A.
EditorForrest, Allan, Karen Hagemann, and Michael Rowe
Book TitleWar, Demobilization and Memory: The Legacy of War in the Era of Atlantic Revolutions
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
CityBasingstoke, UK

Militarism can be defined as the imposition of military values and customs on civilian society, politics and culture. The chapter argues that militarism constitutes one of the principal legacies of the age of democratic revolutions and revolutionary war. It was only in this age that "the military" and "civilian society" came to be conceptualized as separate and opposing realms of human activity. As a result, qualities long associated with warriors-honor, masculinity, discipline, selflessness, a preference for glory over material gain-could now be presented as quintessential attributes of "the military," and used to assert its moral superiority over an allegedly corrupt, materialistic "civilian" world. This moral superiority in turn became, for ambitious military figures, a source of political legitimacy distinct from both monarchical and democratic varieties, and eventually a justification for military rule. The paper will trace the birth of militarism during the age of democratic revolutions, with particular attention to France in the 1790's, and show how it remained an important feature of political life in the west even after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

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