Here is something interesting that I think you will like.
It is about a society’s ability to mobilize for war.
There is always something new and useful to learn.
As usual the yellowing is my ow editorializing.
A Brief History of Military Force Generation
One of the peculiarities of European history is the truly shocking extent to which the Romans were far ahead of their time in the sphere of military mobilization. Rome conquered the world largely because it had a truly exceptional mobilization capacity, for centuries consistently generating high levels of mass military participation from the male population of Italy.
Caesar brought more than 60,000 men to the Battle of Alesia when he conquered Gaul – a force generation that would not be matched for centuries in the post-Roman world.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, state capacity in Europe deteriorated rapidly. Royal authority in both France and Germany was curtailed as the aristocracy and urban authorities grew in power. Despite the stereotype of despotic monarchy, political power in the middle ages was highly fragmented, and taxation and mobilization were highly localized. The Roman capacity to mobilize large armies that were centrally controlled and financed was lost, and warfare became the domain of a narrow fighting class – the petty gentry, or knights.
Consequentially, medieval European armies were shockingly small.
At pivotal English-French battles like Agincourt and Crecy, English armies numbered less than 10,000, and the French no more than 30,000. The world historical Battle of Hastings – which sealed the Norman conquest of Britain – pitted two armies of fewer than 10,000 men against each other. The Battle of Grunwald – in which a Polish-Lithuanian coalition defeated the Teutonic Knights – was one of the largest battles in Medieval Europe and still featured two armies that numbered at most 30,000.
European mobilization powers and state capacity were shockingly low in this era compared to other states around the world. Chinese armies routinely numbered in the low hundreds of thousands, and the Mongols, even with significantly lower bureaucratic sophistication, could field 80,000 men.
The situation began to shift radically as intensified military competition – in particular the savage 30 years’ war – forced European states to at last begin a shift back towards centralized state capacity. The model of military mobilization shifted at last from the servitor system – where a small, self-funded military class provided military service – to the fiscal military state, where armies were raised, funded, directed, and sustained through the fiscal-bureaucratic systems of centralized governments.
Through the early modern period, military service models acquired a unique admixture of conscription, professional service, and the servitor system.
The aristocracy continued to provide military service in the emerging officer corps, while conscription and impressment were used to fill out the ranks. Notably, however, conscripts were inducted into very long terms of service. This reflected the political needs of monarchy in the age of absolutism. The army was not a forum for popular political participation in the regime – it was an instrument for the regime to defend itself from both foreign enemies and peasant jacqueries. Therefore, conscripts were not rotated back into society. It was necessary to turn the army into a distinct social class with some element of remoteness from the population at large – this was a professional military institution that served as an internal bulwark of the regime.
The rise of nationalistic regimes and mass politics allowed the scale of armies to increase much further. Governments in the late 19th century now had less to fear from their own populations than did the absolute monarchies of the past – this changed the nature of military service and at last returned Europe to the system that the Romans had in millennia past. Military service was now a form of mass political participation – this allowed for conscripts to be called up, trained, and rotated back into society – the reserve cadre system that characterized armies in both of the world wars.
In sum, the cycle of military mobilization systems in Europe is a mirror of the political system. Armies were very small during the era where there was little to no mass political participation with the regime. Rome fielded large armies because there was significant political buy-in and a cohesive identity in the form of Roman citizenship. This allowed Rome to generate high military participation, even in the Republican era where the Roman state was very small and bureaucratically sparse. Medieval Europe had fragmented political authority and an extremely low sense of cohesive political identity, and consequently its armies were shockingly small. Armies began to grow in size again as the sense of national identity and participation grew, and it is no coincidence that the largest war in history – the Nazi-Soviet War – was fought between two regimes that had totalizing ideologies that generated an extremely high level of political participation.
That brings us to today. In the 21st century, with its interconnectedness and crushing availability of both information and misinformation, the process of generating mass political – and hence military – participation is much more nuanced. No country wields a totalizing utopian vision, and it is inarguable that the sense of national cohesion is significantly lower now than it was one hundred years ago.
Putin, very simply, could not have conducted a large scale mobilization at the onset of the war. He possessed neither a coercive mechanism nor the manifest threat to generate mass political support. Few Russians would have believed that there was some existential threat lurking in the shadow – they needed to be shown, and the west has not disappointed. Likewise, few Russians would likely have supported the obliteration of Ukrainian infrastructure and urban utilities in the opening days of the war. But now, the only vocal criticism of Putin within Russia is on the side of further escalation. The problem with Putin, from the Russian perspective, is that he has not gone far enough. In other words – mass politics have already moved ahead of the government, making mobilization and escalation politically trivial.
Above all, we must remember that Clausewitz’s maxim remains true.
The military situation is merely a subset of the political situation, and military mobilization is also political mobilization – a manifestation of society’s political participation in the state.
PS Alesia was ONE of the wars the Roman could deal at the same time.