Blogs > Liberty and Power > Stanislav Andreski - The Military and Society

Jul 26, 2005

Stanislav Andreski - The Military and Society

In our previous post, we discussed Stanislav Andreski’s important works on Latin America and Africa in Parasitism and Subversion and The African Predicament . No discussion of Andreski would be complete without an assessment of his classic work Military Organization and Society published just over 50 years ago in 1954, especially in light of the active debate within national security circles over the need for force transformation to accommodate the changing role of the United States on the global stage.

Building on the early work of Max Weber in The Theory of Social and Economic Organization and Gaetano Mosca in The Ruling Class, Andreski explores the influence of military organization on society with characteristic directness: “military organization influences social structure mainly by determining the distribution of naked power or, to use another word, the ability to use violence.”

Andreski’s chapter titles capture his key themes. His first chapter is “The Omnipresence of Struggle”, revealing the strong influence of the conflict school of sociology (founded by Ludwig Gumplowicz with such works as Histories of Theories of State published in 1905) on Andreski’s perspective. Andreski asserts in the first sentence of this chapter:

The most general assumption, on which the whole theoretical framework of this study rests, is the recognition of the fact that the struggle for wealth, power and prestige . . . is the constant feature of the life of humanity.
The second chapter on “Stratification” explores patterns of social inequality in terms of status, distribution of wealth and political rights. In his writing on stratification, Andreski was heavily influenced by Herbert Spencer’s distinction between militant and industrial societies in Spencer’s Principles of Sociology.

Andreski acknowledges the importance of economic inequalities, but he emphasizes economic power is ultimately derivative and the only irreducible form of power comes from “the ability to compel through the use or the threat of violence.” As a consequence, “it is not surprising that it is almost always those who wield the military power who form the supreme stratum of society.” Of course, this does not mean that military commanders will necessarily be in the ruling group. Instead, Andreski is focusing on those who hold the reins of military power, whether it is the aristocracy or economic interests that mobilize the resources required to fund the military.

In the third chapter on “The Size of Political Units and their Cohesion”, Andreski turns to the role of the military in shaping the concentration or dispersion of power. He indicates that the predominance of attack over defense will generally lead to concentration of power while societies which focus more on defense will tend to have more dispersed power.

As a complement to Andreski’s perspective, be sure to check out Charles Tilly’s great collection of essays (including especially those by Tilly himself, S. E. Finer and Gabriel Ardant) in The Formation of National States in Western Europe. The connection between foreign policy adventures (military or otherwise) and domestic state building has been a key theme of a number of social analysts and historians. Otto Hintze has been especially insightful on this, especially in his essays on “The Formation of States and Constitutional Development: A Study in History and Politics” and “Military Organization and the Organization of the State” available in Felix Gilbert’s edited collection, The Historical Essays of Otto Hintze.

Andreski’s next chapter addresses “Subordination and Hierarchy”. Here Andreski makes the point that the growth of the armed forces in a society tends to promote more hierarchical forms of organization with subordination to a single source of authority. In a subsequent chapter on “The Extent of Government Regulation”, Andreski generally agrees with Herbert Spencer that wars “produce the extension of state control over the economic and other aspects of social life”. Andreski observes that

When Spencer spoke about industrial societies . . . he had in mind a type of society similar to the England of his day – commercial, laissez-faire, liberal, contractual, spontaneously mobile. . . Without the long peace the nineteenth-century liberalism could not have thriven.
Two other analysts have provided powerful insight into the role of war, war preparations and standing armies in the growth of the state and the decline of liberty. Arthur Ekirch’s The Decline of American Liberalism and Robert Higgs’ Crisis and Leviathan both look to U.S. history to trace the inevitable conflict between war and liberty.

Andreski is not optimistic about broader trends. He sees a general tendency for military organizations requiring mobilization of broad segments of the population, high subordination and high cohesion with consequent tendencies towards larger and more concentrated political units and increasing levels of social stratification. He anticipates (remember, he was writing in 1954) that

The technico-military circumstances make world hegemony fully possible. The improvements in transport and communication and the increasing preponderance of organized armed forces over the unarmed population . . . render the task of keeping down the population of the world fairly easy. . . . Let us suppose that a state like the U.S.A., where liberalism and democracy are deeply rooted in the tradition, establishes world hegemony. Would it be likely to continue to adhere to these traditions? It does not seem so.
Andreski’s book anticipated many other works that have focused on the role of the military and war in shaping the broader institutions of society. One can think of William McNeill’s
The Pursuit of Power and Bruce Porter’s War and the Rise of the State. Of these, Bruce Porter is the only one to indicate any awareness of, much less influenced by, Andreski’s work. Andreski’s work still represents a promising foundation for others to build upon.

Andreski himself built upon the foundations of others. One of the authors that influenced him was Alexander Rustow, whose Freedom and Domination: A Historical Critique of Civilization remains a key work in classical liberal social analysis. We will discuss the significance of Freedom and Domination in more detail in a future post.

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Kenneth R Gregg - 7/26/2005

Walter & John,
Thank you for the excellent post. I've only read Andreski's "Parisitism and Subversion" so do not have a sufficient background on his other writings. I certainly appreciate your brief outline of his theories.

I was wondering if there were any mentions of Francis W. Hirst's "The Political Economy of War" in Andreski's writings? Mark Brady and I have discussed him briefly. He was a manchesterian classical liberal and wrote it prior to WWI. As far as I am aware, it was the first attempt to provide a treatise on the subject by a classical liberal. While largely historical, he does have some good insights there.

Porter Sargent's "War and Education," written around WWII, had a lot of material on the relationship between educational institutions and war as well, and I have always highly regarded it. Sargent was a leading educator and his publishing company continues to publish one of the best directories of private schools in the world.

Just a thought.
Just Ken