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20170604 – Forged through Fire



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The main idea here is that contemporary democracies are a product of wars that required mass mobilization of people and resources. The democracy is necessary because such mobilization is not possible without active support of population, which in turn requires political inclusiveness. From this point of view future and viability of democracy is not clear because new technology made mass armies obsolete, while typical democratic way of doing things is inefficient and is also often ineffective in political decision-making. It reasonably could be considered an impediment to increase in prosperity, so societies can conceivably decide to rid of it. On other hand democracy could be in and of itself a valuable luxury good that the vast majority of population will prefer to retain.



The introduction is about the main theme if this book: war, society mobilization it requires, and how different forms of society could provide for this mobilization. It is built around two graphs representing types of societies under review and military effectiveness of these types:

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Chapter I The Twenty-First-Century Wars Without Citizen Armies

This is about contemporary military circumstances of democracies. The main characteristic is overwhelming superiority of conventional military power of democracies over any potential enemies removing need for mass mobilization and consequently leading to limitation of wars to small wars of choice like Iraq or Afghanistan with very limited and mainly political impact on society. Such wars have practically no consequences for majority of population great many people in which do not even know or care that country is actually at war.



Chapter 2 War and Democracy in Classical Athens

This is an interesting approach to ancient Greek democracies. It looks at military necessity of mobilizing high proportion of population to fight competing polities. Author is trying to identify circumstances when need for high level of mobilization lead to high demand for participation in decision making and consequently some form of democracy and when it leads to increase in central control and repression. Specifically author looks at Athenian democracy, its successes and accesses. Interestingly enough it looks at different level of democratization need for Army and Navy using Salamis and Marathon as test cases. The navy dependent heavily on poor who would participate by rowing triremes that did not require any investment on their part, while more affluent middle class citizens could buy equipment necessary for hoplite soldier of army. The democratic form of polity in Athens seems to be more effective military organization than competing oligarchies and monarchies.

Chapter 3 The Glory That Was Rome

The story of Rome had at first highly admirable period of republic with multiple checks and balances preventing ambitious aristocrats from taking full power. This was characterized by huge military success. However this success led to development of professional military class that eventually turned it into empire. The period of empire was based on alliance: Emperor and low-level masses often politically countered Aristocracy, while productive abilities of society heavily depended on slaves regularly produced by military class affiliated with Emperor. The success of farmer-soldier of Roman republic was substituted with top down control combined with bottom up loyalty, which eventually led to dissolution of empire into multitude of feudal polities constantly forming and dissolving new alliances and fighting each other.

Chapter 4 A Millennium of Landed Aristocracy

This is pretty much review of power plays in feudal societies, mainly in Europe, but also in China and Japan. Generally it came down to constant fight between different levels of landed aristocracies: barons and kings. One of the points here is that this political organization made peasants into permanent latent thread to existing order, depriving feudal polities of advantages of potential military mobilization against external enemies. Author also provides a very brief look at China and Japan of this period.


Chapter 5 The Emergence of Monarchy in France and Spain

This is about development of monarchy as more military effective form of polity organization. The competition between landed aristocrats was minimized by the use of overwhelming power of monarch who was able to raise and maintain more powerful force than any one or any group of aristocrats with strong ideological multiplier of masses believing in sacred nature of monarchy.

Chapter 6 War and Representation in England, the Netherlands, and Sweden

This chapter returns to the English history and shows how feudal fight of aristocrats led to Magna Carta: one of examples of attempt for some legal settlement to diminish cost of these fights. It shows how somewhat different historic development when nobody had upper hand brought much more participatory polity there than in France and Spain where kings were successful in acquiring overwhelming power. Even more participatory polities were developed in Netherlands and Sweden where small size of population and lack of English protection of being an island demanded much higher level of mobilization and therefore political participation.

Chapter 7 Italian Republics

This is another case of development of participatory polities where small Italian polities constantly competed between themselves economically and military. It is interesting that logistically challenging Venice with its lagoons providing some measure of protection to aristocrats from unifying despotic power, which was on display in other parts of Italy like Milan or Florence.

Chapter 8 Eastern Lands in Early Modern Europe

This is review of development in Eastern Europe were Holy Roman Empire devolved into multitude of small Duchies and Kingdoms based on culturally and linguistically diverse population. Somewhat different was development in Germany where Hanseatic League combined multiple free cities and provided military protection. However it was eventually dissolved by increasing power of autocracies forming all over the Europe.

Chapter 9 Mountain Republics

Another distinctive case is represented by Swiss confederation, which mountainous topography presented huge challenge to anybody who would aspire for conquest. The topography for all practical purposes removed military advantage in numbers and even technology, dramatically increasing military value of individuals. In such conditions any military viable polity should be significantly more participatory, which was exactly what happened with Swiss Confederation.



Chapter 10 The Nineteenth-Century Pivot

This is about XIX century change in the way countries conducted their wars. Starting with mass mobilization that allowed France not only to withstand massive attack of monarchical Europe, but also practically conquer the continent, clearly demonstrated that massive people’s army is by far superior to relatively small forces of armies of serves led by non-meritocratic aristocrats. Author reviews wars of France, Prussia, and Russia demonstrating that each time it led to increase in expansion of the franchise in society, even if it was in Russian case just cancellation of serfdom.

Chapter 11 Twentieth-Century Wars of Full Mobilization

This is continuation of review of the link between mass mobilization and democratization of society moving into XX century with its wars. It looks at countries participating in WWI, WWII, and Korean War demonstrating their impact on societies.

Chapter 12 War, Racism, and Civil Rights in the United States.

The final chapter looks specifically at USA and how its mass mobilization for WWII caused increase in self-respect of black population combined with increase of their respect by general population, which started include blacks into the group of us-Americans leading to initiation and eventually mass support for civil rights movement.


The conclusion not only summarizes ideas of this book, but also provides a number of useful graphical representations:

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I pretty much agree with general idea of this book that democracy is product of evolution of military competition between societies and was developed when such competition required mass mobilization of population impossible without providing higher level of stakes in the society for practically everybody. However historically the highest known level of society mobilization was achieved not by democracies, but by totalitarian regimes of National Socialists in Germany and Communists in Soviet Union during WWII. Author does not discusses this period of history, consequently missing the point of ideological mobilization when masses in society while deprived of any meaningful political rights, perceive themselves as part of collective entity survival and prosperity of which is inseparable from their own survival and prosperity.

I think I am more optimistic about future of democracy, mainly because I believe that the stakes of individuals in society will continue to grow. The reason is that with huge development of technology the existential dangers to society could come not only from external competition from hostile society, but also internally from individuals within society who for some reason do not accept its rules and arrangements. Consequently every individual member of society will have serious concern and need not only participate in formulating and enforcing these rules and arrangements, but also assure that everybody else has opportunity to do it. I think it would lead to increase in demands for democracy going way beyond the representative democracy of XX century to the kind of society that is based much more on market with its inherent win-win type of game, than society on political win-loose type of game.

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