The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe

By Clifford J. Rogers | Go to book overview

The Military Revolution in History and Historiography

CLIFFORD J. ROGERS

"THE ORDINARY THEME and argument of history," wrote Sir Walter Raleigh early in the seventeenth century, "is war." 1 Few of his contemporaries would have disagreed with this assessment: as J. R. Hale has pointed out, "there was probably no single year throughout the period in which there was neither war nor occurrences which looked and felt remarkably like it." 2 Until recently, however, most academic historians have treated war and military affairs as subjects of tertiary interest at best, completely overshadowed in importance by social and economic structures and processes.

I am by no means one to disregard the importance of economic forces in history. There can be little doubt, for instance, that the development of civilization proper along the banks of the Nile, Indus, Yellow, and Tigris and Euphrates Rivers can be rivalled only by the Industrial Revolution as a key turning point in human history, or that both of these were, first and foremost, economic phenomena. But if the "carrot" of the production and allocation of wealth is one of the basic motive forces of history, the "stick" of the creation and application of coercive force is the other. The walls of Uruk, like the steam-powered European gunboats that coursed the Yangtze in the nineteenth century, symbolize how economic and military developments almost inevitably go hand in hand. Control over the means of violence, as sociologists from Aristotle to Weber and Andreski have argued, can have as much impact on social and political systems as does control over the means of production. 3

Unfortunately, however, military history has been nowhere near as successful as economic history in integrating its material into the "big picture" presented in general histories. There are exceptions, of course -- Heinrich Brunner and Lynn White, for example, enjoyed remarkable success in arguing that the rise of heavy cavalry to military predominance in Western Europe laid the foundation for the feudal system, and so for medieval society as a whole. 4 In general, though, mili-

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