late, sundry elevated Neo-Conservatives have been
facing up to the implications of their demands on
History’s Muse. In passing, I note that for a movement
said, "not to exist," they have been all
over the place with their latest cogitations. Have
their recent cogitations led them to draw back from
their program of world empire and universal philanthropy-by-cruise-missile?
instead of any rethinking, their present ratiocinative
trajectory has driven them to look at what "we"
might have on our hands, once all the famous future
victories roll in. Mind you, they assure us once a
day that all will go well – smashingly, old chap –
we shall pulverize, level, and conquer (and the Devil
take the hindmost, I guess). They are great prospective
there is one fly in the ointment of universal democratic
"capitalist" reform through warfare. It
is this: upon completion of these famous victories,
"we" shall have to occupy militarily "one,
two, three, many Vietnams" – oh, I’m sorry, one,
two, three, many… Middle Eastern satrapies.
Well, no skin off the Neo-Cons’ noses; they’re up
for it. But where, oh where, to get the manpower?
their expected unerring logic and insane zeal, the
Neo-Cons are floating the idea of bringing back one
of their favorite institutions: mass conscription;
well, maybe not their very favorite, but they’ll ask
for it, if it seems at all necessary to their Big
Plans. I don’t expect any of them will be caught up
in it – I mean the draft, not the mere advocacy of
it - any more than they have personally volunteered
for the new crusades.
better to emulate Walter Lippman, who whooped it up
for World War I, but explained in a letter to Felix
Frankfurter at the War Department that he was the
sole support of his dear old mother, and, anyway,
his talents were better spent writing memos on war
strategy in Washington rather than at the battle front.(1)
well recall an agonized essay in the early seventies
by a fellow who later emerged as a certified defense
expert. The essay brought us up to speed on the Liberal,
Harvard-educated guilt he felt at not having been
drafted into LBJ’s big adventure. Poor chap, he was
quite overwrought about remaining unkilled and unmaimed,
while the sons of the working class went to Vietnam
for their senior trip.
need not worry that Neo-Cons will write many such
CONSCRIPTION, TOTAL WAR, AND EMPIRE
for mass conscription itself, why is it even brought
up at all? How can it be treated as non-controversial?
When did we sign on to the notion that such an institution
is compatible with liberty?
rather briefly, no state successfully imposed mass
conscription until the French Revolution. In response
to the Jacobins’ success in this endeavor, neighboring
states took up conscription, modifying their existing
social structure where needed, so as to be able to
put mass armies in the field against the new menace.
By erasing the distinction between citizen and soldier,
French liberals adopted one of the more problematic
points of republican theory, but justified it on its
were the results? One, to be sure, was the ability
to put larger armies in motion than ever before. Why
this is regarded as a worthwhile achievement, I cannot
say. That ability drowned Europe in blood for over
famous wastefulness with his men stemmed precisely
from the fact that soldiers were cheaper than before,
because of conscription.
If you wish to overturn civilized society, multiply
state power tenfold, and make every war into a colossal
bloodbath, you should adopt mass conscription. Hence
the strong appeal of this method of recruitment to
those who like that sort of thing. In the late 18th
and early 19th centuries, however, there
was much reluctance to adopt, or submit to, this innovation.
Michael Geyer writes: "Only radical egalitarians
and radical proponents of the state were unequivocally
inclined to dissolve the premodern system of exemptions
or ‘liberties’ that sheltered large segments of society
from conscription."(2) Both
types of radical were to be found in the leaders of
the French Revolution. French radical republicanism,
based on "a schoolboy’s vague but over-heated
notion of ‘ancient liberty,’"(3)
was the seedbed of modern integral nationalism.
the end of the 19th century, conservative
social classes all over Europe frightened by socialism
(and rightly so) had adopted the originally leftist
cause of nationalism, and the institutions that went
with it, including mass conscription. I cannot report
that conscription was any more "conservative"
or less socially disruptive in their hands than in
the hands of Jacobins. The great bout of organized
insanity known as World War I was made possible, in
great measure, by the institution under discussion.
shouldn’t say any of this, really, because all the
worthy Neo-Cons, whether they exist or not, have ordered
us to believe than World War I was, at least on the
Allied side, a good and virtuous enterprise. The only
good points I can find in the war are these: 1) The
Christmas fraternization of December 1915, 2) the
French mutiny, and 3) the fact that the damned exercise
SELL-OUT BEGAN EARLY
connection between citizenship, as defined by European
liberals, and conscription suggests that the sell-out
of liberty by liberals began very early. As a mistake,
it matches the liberals’ frontal assault on religion.
Whatever the role of churches in the Old Regime, this
liberal policy was wrong both in principle and as
point is simply that liberal mistakes in key areas
left us with sundry disasters which libertarianism
arose to redress. Now that new pretexts have arisen
for enhancing state power, we shall see which libertarians
can keep their bearings. We already have some idea.
but will any of our virtue-flogging liberventionists
endorse conscription? – that will be interesting.
in pursuit of their Neo-Jacobin world-revolutionary
vision, the Neo-Cons have begun to speak of drafting
this generation. Good luck! It is hard enough trying
to get them to do a term paper.
is another piece of evidence for an intimate relationship
between Jacobinism and militarism. During the Algerian
War, advanced thinkers in the French Army began preaching
a doctrine of "revolutionary war." To compete
with the Algerian rebels, these French theorists argued
that France had to uplift Algerian women, improve
the lot of the poor, and offer full-scale integration
of Algerians into a Greater France.(5)
That program is now a museum piece, but its proper
home is the Museum of Military Jacobinism.
close by admitting that the objections to conscription
given above have only involved consequences. There
is a case against conscription to be made on the basis
of individual rights. But that argument can wait for
another time, if the threat draws nearer.