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Does the end of military conscription threaten democracy?

melian          30 October 2015 05:25 AM

In the Roman Republic, the transition from citizen army to professional military ended the rule of elected politicians. Can the same scenario repeat in the modern democracies?

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aliad 1 November 2015 08:48 PM

The roman republic had several other factors against it which had to be combined with a professional military to end democracy.

1 - incompetence in actually paying for your military and providing adequate retirement. We need to the VA situation under control and we need to watch out that we're not asking for more than we're willing to pay for from our military.

2 - democratic politicians not being able to deliver what they promised. If the political class is constantly saying vote for X because its ugly right that we get X, and they vote for X and then the politicians can't deliver it creates a feeling that there ought to be a better system. We need to have more voices talking loudly about what we can realistically expect politicians to actually do so we don't create a void of unfilled expectations.

If we want to keep a democracy, that is.


melian 2 November 2015 10:07 AM

incompetence in actually paying for your military

I might be wrong but I think this type of problems was more characteristic of the imperial period. The Sulla’s march on Rome did not happen because the soldiers were not paid.
democratic politicians not being able to deliver what they promised.

Is not that typical of all politicians (democratic or not)?


aliad 2 November 2015 08:45 PM

Your right that to a certain extent I was probably conflating late imperial and late republican problems in my mind. But in the time of Caesar the official pay of the troops was low enough that their main income was loot that was made possible by victorious generals, making the troops more loyal to the general than the senate. The senate was also not offering any retirement plan, so generals could cement loyalty by promising to provide one. But the parable is probably not as strong as I thought.

On politicians delivering what they promise, An Emperor has a lot more leeway than a democratic politician to either confiscate his rivals property to pay for X or to simply not promises X in the first place and say X is not practically feasible, and I'm still in charge whether you like me telling hard truths or not.

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ChristianKl 31 October 2015 05:09 PM

Depending on who you ask the US isn't a democracy anymore anyway. Jimmy Cartner holds that opinion.
A Princeton study comes to the same conclusion.

When the head of the NSA lies to congress he get's away without any punishment. He effectively isn't controlled by the democratically elected congress.

We have complex political systems today that don't work in the way that democracy is taught at school


is4junk 1 November 2015 01:00 PM

Is the US political system more like 'yes minister'? Where the bureaucrats actually run everything. It would explain the head of the NSA congressional behavior. It would also explain why in the Princeton study (table 7) that merit pay for teachers is suppressed despite high favor-ability with both the ultra-rich as well as general public.


ChristianKl 2 November 2015 07:52 AM

In "Yes Minister" Humphrey Appleby is appalled at the idea of bringing in people from the private sector into top positions within the bureaucracy.
Money has a lot more influence in the US political system than in "Yes Minister".
The US system is not identical to the British system as it was 30 years ago.

On the other hand the bureaucracy does have huge power.

Peter Thiel who knows a lot about how the intelligence community works from cofounding Palantir and who's going to the Bilderberg conference, so he's in the highest levels of policy decision said that he thinks Barack Obama likely didn't knew that the NSA was wiretapping Angela Merkel.

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gbear605 30 October 2015 12:09 PM

The professional armies toward the end of the Roman Republic were (if I am remembering my History classes correctly) mainly controlled by individual leaders, which is why Caesar was able to conquer Rome. They had no strong force connecting them to Rome other than nationalism, to use a modern term. Today, however, there are many interlocking forces in play.

(Looking at America specifically for the rest of this answer)

For instance, many of the branches require each other to work. The army isn't deploying anywhere without the help of the Navy and the Navy doesn't have offensive power without one of the other groups. I am of course simplifying, as I'm not a military geek, but the idea is there. And of course there's our nuclear armory, but I doubt any president would fire them on America, even in a civil.


melian 30 October 2015 12:51 PM

It is true that in the Roman times generals had much more authority over their soldiers than in the modern democracies. However, limits on generals’ authority do not necessarily prevent military coups. In the recent century, plenty of elected governments have been overthrown by the army in Asia and Latin America.

As for the Navy, I think it was actually more important for the Romans (whose armies were frequently dispersed around the Mediterranean) than for the U.S. or the EU countries. If, for example, the French army wants to march on the Parliament in Paris, it does not need to cross any seas.