The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics

By S. E. Finer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
The Past and the Future of Military Intervention

1

THE experiences of Rome, of the medieval Italian city-states, of England under the Commonwealth and the Protectorate; the activities of such corps as the Mamelukes, the Janissaries, the Streltsi; all these seem to attest the antiquity as well as the perennialism of military intervention in politics. Nevertheless these differ in essential aspects from the military interventions of today for which they provide analogies rather than antecedents. The military intervention that we have been describing is a modern phenomenon, not yet two centuries old.

Rome has bequeathed the terms 'dictatorship', 'Caesarism', and 'Praetorianism', the last two of which are sometimes used as synonymous with 'military intervention'. Certainly, the situation in the later Empire where the Praetorians and later the legions literally made and undid the Imperial succession amid a welter of carnage seems to represent the ne plus ultra of military intervention. Objective conditions in the Empire largely corresponded to those we have styled states of low or minimal political culture. Any rule of succession had long disappeared. Civilian political forces, even a recognized aristocracy and governing class, had long since atrophied and the Roman Senate had been reduced to a cipher. At the same time the Empire, on the defensive against the Barbarians, was totally dependent on the armies and on the generals. The armies represented the only coherent formations capable of making or at least of enforcing any political initiative. Yet for all this it is hard to find any political motivation behind the armies' activities, from the wars of Marius and Sulla onwards, other than individual self-interest -- the desire to put their own man in office, to receive better pay and conditions,

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