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Kurt Kuhlmann


HST 261


Review:                  Stanislav Andrzejewski, Military Organization and Society (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954).

In this short book, Stanislav Andrzejewski takes a comparative sociological approach to the study of war.  His goal is to provide a theoretical framework for studying the influence of military organization upon society and vice-versa.  The basis for his theory is explained in the important first chapter: "The Omnipresence of Struggle."  Andrzejewski takes the Malthusian view that the root of all conflict is competition for limited resources.  Population can only be limited by lowering the birth rate or increasing the death rate.  Until recent times, only the latter was significant, and it was accomplished by war, famine, and disease.  The last two are obviously the result of a scarcity of resources, and Andrzejewski argues that this is also the main cause of wars, directly or indirectly.  While seemingly simplistic, the argument is also very difficult to refute.  From this he sets forth a theory of military organization based on three sociological variables: the proportion of a society's manpower that is involved in the military, the cohesion of the military, and the subordination of the military to a higher authority.  He both supports and illustrates his theoretical framework with historical examples drawn from all eras and regions.

Not the least of Andrzejewski's multitude of sins is this use of history as data.  He makes sweeping generalizations about the Roman Empire or medieval China in the most matter-of-fact manner, as if these are simple facts universally acknowledged.  In this context footnotes would be useless--what could he cite to support a statement like "The increasing predominance of heavily armed horsemen [in medieval Europe] . . . was mainly due to the introduction of the stirrup"? (p. 58)--and he understandably does not bother to try.

The preceding quote illustrates another serious problem, his tendency to fall into technological determinism.  Andrzejewski is fairly attentive to this trap in his own field.  In his discussion of military organization and society, he stops short of attributing cause and effect, merely explaining why certain military forms usually accompany certain societal forms.  But his shortcomings as a historian become glaringly evident in his discussion of changes in military technology and technique, which he invariably assigns as the cause of societal and organizational change.  Using the example cited above, it could be argued that the supremacy of armored knights on medieval European battlefields came from societal change (the disintegration of the political authority necessary to make effective military use of large numbers of footsoldiers) rather than vice-versa.

A last problem is Andrzejewski's complete failure to predict the future.  For a theoretical work of this kind which is intended to be predictive, this is a serious weakness.  Writing in 1950, he saw only three possible outcomes: a period of "warring states" followed either by the destruction of civilization or the conquest of the world by one power, or the creation of a peaceful World Federation.  None of these has come to pass, or even appears imminent.  However, this does not necessary mean that the theory is thereby proven invalid.  Andrzejewski was too involved in the contemporary sense of crisis to form an objective judgement about the future.  Like other writers of the time, he saw little chance of avoiding a catastrophic showdown between the two superpowers.  He certainly did not foresee that a modern totalitarian state, with its tremendous "facility of suppression," could fall apart internally during peacetime.

Despite its many flaws, however, this is an extremely interesting and stimulating book.  Much of what Andrzejewski proposes is very plausible, and can be a useful way of looking at broad processes of change in societies and their military organization.  Even his questionable use of history forces the reader to decide whether his generalizations are correct or not, and why.  Theory is only valuable if it is concrete enough to be tested empirically, and Military Organization and Society  fits this prescription.  Andrzejewski may not be entirely correct, but simply by proposing a framework for the interaction of society and the military he has provided a valuable starting point for further exploration.

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