Military parades, uniforms, drills, salutes, and so on, are typical in the martial world. However, is it militarism? Militarism is broader than that, and we’re going to see it right here, right now.
Today, I want to speak to you about the meaning of militarism. From time to time, we hear this word, especially when someone refers to military regimes, or to a specific country and period of history that people associate with militarism. In general, it has pejorative connotations. It’s difficult to see someone who praises militarism outright. Yet, it’s more usual to glorify certain attitudes and other cultural aspects that are related to militarism. In some way, we can claim that militarism is also a mindset, and it’s pervasive in specific moments and places.
Nevertheless, on this occasion, I’m going to focus on the political dimension of militarism. That means paying attention to those aspects that define the political role of the military in society and how it affects the social organization. That will allow us to make clear the meaning of this concept.
The meaning of militarism
What does militarism mean in political terms? In other words, what kind of political and social organization does militarism advocate for? What international implications does militarism have? They are basic questions to clarify the meaning of this concept and its political connotations.
Therefore, if we want to define this concept, we find two dimensions—one of them regarding the domestic realm, and the other one related to the international field. In domestic politics, militarism is a synonym of advocating for the predominance of the military estate in politics and society. That entails the existence and maintenance of a strong military capability with a large standing army. In brief, militarism involves the supremacy of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the State. Naturally, this political stance goes with the glorification of the military and the vindication of military ideals.
Militarism, in the internal sphere of the State, gives the military a leading role in politics and society. It may involve the intervention of this institution in political affairs. In these cases, high-rank military officials hold posts in the government, or they exercise a pervasive influence on politics and society, although it may not be explicit. Naturally, militarism doesn’t have the same fashion everywhere, and it shows differences depending on the particular context in which it is present.
Aside from each country’s peculiarities, militarism is present in every society with a standing army. Nowadays, all States have an army, and that makes militarism present in all nations. The intensity of its influence and presence in public life depends on many different factors. The most important is the political weight of this institution, besides resources it concentrates, and also the historical trajectory of the country because it affects the mindset of its commanders.
In general, no one can escape from the influence of this institution. The reason is simple: the existence of any State rests on its army. Indeed, we can claim that the military is the backbone of the State. So, it ensures its existence by defending it from internal and external threats. If we take a look at history, we’ll see its leading role in the State-building process. However, this matter would deserve a more detailed analysis of the relation between this historical process and the rise of militarism.
The presence of the military in society poses a question about the balance between this institution and society. In this regard, militarism has been a political force that has driven the expansion of armed forces. The result of this dynamic has been the militarization of society, and therefore, the unbalance in the relationship between the State and society. The reasons to justify this situation are many, but it would need an entire episode. Nevertheless, the logic behind militarization is always the same, and it’s the need to protect the State from internal and external threats. In the domestic domain, the main danger is the people because of the dichotomy between rulers and ruled. In the external field, the primary concern comes from other States that are rivals in the competitive environment of the global stage.
When militarists come to public opinion to defend their proposals, they resort to different arguments aimed to justify the leading role of the military. In any case, when the government adopts these policies, the armed forces grow in importance and power, and society loses freedom. That is the phenomenon of the militarization of society, and it always involves a loss of liberty and the increase of taxes.
Aside from the arguments that militarists resort to justifying their policies, they use them to hide the reality I’ve already depicted. They never claim the expansion of the army is to protect the State from the people and to increase social control. Otherwise, they wouldn’t get the consent of the people. For this reason, they always have to conceal their real intentions that, in general, are more comprehensive than the arguments they set forth.
Militarism has always played an essential role in domestic politics, as I discussed so far. However, what happens with the international realm? That’s something we have to analyze carefully because it also has consequences in the inner domain.
Militarism in the domestic and international spheres
The State shows itself as a protector. One of its primary functions is to provide security. That is valid in the domestic and external realm. Regarding the inner sphere, the State ensures order and law. It’s important to stress that we’re talking about its order and its law. They are an imposition through coercive means. It resorts to law enforcement agencies to grant order and safety. However, that hasn’t been all the time. Until the nineteenth century, in most countries, the military was in charge of this function. Despite this change, the army still intervenes in domestic security matters when the police can’t fulfill its task. That’s normal in a crisis, but some countries, due to their political and social instability, resort to the military as a law enforcement institution.
Militarism justifies the expansion of the armed forces to provide security in the domestic realm. Nevertheless, this is one dimension of this question. We have to keep one eye watching the inner field and the other in the international sphere. Why? The reason is the interrelation between both domains, something I discussed on another occasion.
What happens in world politics has its impact on the domestic politics of States. Insofar as the global stage is competitive, and rivalries are the general rule in the conduct of foreign relations, the need for security becomes crucial. In this respect, the military has always been the guard of safety. External threats have always been a great concern for States, and the expansion of the army has been the response. For this reason, militarism has set forth the supposed security requirements under a specific light. External dangers have represented a compelling justification for reinforcing the armed forces. The main consequence of this dynamic has been the growth of social control by establishing military service. That shows us the domestic implications of the external realm and the international dimension of militarism. In this way, the military has operated not only as a protector but also as a means of social cohesion. The military service has proven to be a cohesive force by nationalizing society. Armies fight on the battlefield, but they also develop an ideological function by permeating society with military values and nationalism.
Even when officials of the army set out militarist rhetoric based on defensive issues, the general trend is, in any case, to encourage militarization of social and political life. They have their interests and compete with other departments and branches of the executive to get more funds. We’re talking about budget and personnel, and that means power. Besides, they have to defend their importance insofar as security issues are critical. They don’t hesitate to show themselves as necessary. That’s not all. Due to the nature of all armies, officials want to promote their careers, and the way to do it is by exaggerating possible threats and encouraging war. War is fundamental for military officials because it’s an excellent opportunity to advance their careers up to the highest ranks in the army. These officials, due to their position, are prone to warfare.
High-rank officials consider strong military capabilities a good strategy to ensure national security. That stance goes with militarism as a political, ideological, and social trend that involves the leading role of the military in society. When the military capabilities of the State are significant, militarism adopts a blatant aggressive and expansionist character in the international sphere. We see it in arms races, geopolitical competition, wars, and so on. Indeed, history is full of examples that show how militarism works in global politics, and more specifically, in imperialist policies. I’m not going to enumerate all these cases. Instead, I only want to mention some of them, such as Japan, Nazi Germany, North Korea, the Soviet Union, and many more.
This dynamic, with its origin in international politics, has its repercussion in the domestic sphere. The spread of militarist values and attitudes aim to get popular support for the military, and society’s cooperation. That’s common when governments resort to propaganda, and they exalt martial values and military institutions and personnel. National festivities are, as a general rule, a clear occasion in which parades, speeches, drills, and so on, are instruments of propaganda for militarism.
After all, the army wants to be a popular institution, keep up its reputation before the public opinion, and receive more recruiters and public funds. It isn’t unusual to see how it resorts to propaganda by supporting video clips with pop superstars, or movies that are a clear recruitment spot.
The military has always aspired to merge with the people and expand its control without limits. The stronger the military capabilities are, the more aggressive and expansionist its foreign policy is. Besides, that’s also a guarantee to develop a leading role on the global stage. In this regard, militarism is the reflection of this dynamic as a glorification of martial institutions. In brief, militarism is the ideological and political expression of this trend that aims the militarization of the whole society to compete in the international realm.
Question of the day
Question of the day! Do you think militarism is nowadays in decline or, on the contrary, there is a new wave of it in the world? Post your opinion in the comments section below, and I’ll check it out.
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