Antimilitarism: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Antimilitarism is a doctrine commonly found in the anarchist and, more globally, in the socialist movement, which may both be characterized as internationalist movements. It relies heavily on a critical theory of nationalism and imperialism, and was an explicit goal of the First and Second International. Whereas pacifism is opposition to violence in general, antimilitarism is opposed to war between states in particular and, of course, militarism.

While antimilitarism is an ideology typically associated with the left, it is also found among Old Right and libertarian elements, most notably in the United States.


Distinction between antimilitarism and pacifism

Pacifism has been historically associated with faith in transcendent ideas, such as "God" or "Humanity", which Stirner, for example, criticized in The Ego and Its Own (1844), a milestone of individualist anarchism. Pacifism is thus opposed to atheistic antimilitarism, which is based on a critical analysis of the military state institution, the military-industrial complex and, in a broader sense, patriotism and the nationalist concept of nation-states' sovereignty. Thus, Gandhi justified non-violence by an ideal of redemption with the idea that non-violence makes one morally stronger, while the early Martin Luther King based his civil disobedience techniques on his Christian faith (later his criticism of the Vietnam War was quite secular). On the contrary, antimilitarism was commonly found alongside anti-clericalism, since the Church and the Army both represented repressive institutions (or Ideological State Apparatuses - ISA - as Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser called them). Antimilitarism, as a specific doctrine distinguished from pacifism, is not opposed to violence in general, but mainly to the state's monopoly on legitimate violence, represented by its control of police forces and the military institution. Antimilitarism is thus often a logical consequence of anti-statism, and vice-versa. Finally, antimilitarism should not be confused either with the Clausewitzian doctrine of civilian control of the military, which considers that "war is the continuation of politics by other means" and that tactics and strategy must thus be controlled by diplomacy and political objectives. Although Clausewitz opposed Jomini's advocacy of the autonomy of the military institution, which became a reality with Prussian militarism and the Schlieffen Plan, the latter limiting the political choices available until war finally became the only solution available (and thus exploded in World War I), his doctrine of limitation of military power was clearly an effort to increase the power of the state, rather than to oppose inter-state wars[1]

Criticisms on violence

Following Hegel's exploration of the relationship between history and violence, antimilitarists argue that there are different types of violence, some of which can be said to be legitimate and others non-legitimate. Anarcho-syndicalist Georges Sorel advocated the use of violence as a form of direct action, calling it "revolutionary violence", which he opposed in Reflections on Violence (1908) to the violence inherent in class struggle. Sorel thus followed the International Workers' Association (IWA, aka the First International) theorization of propaganda of the deed.

Later, Walter Benjamin, in his Critique of Violence (1920) would also establish a difference between "violence that founds the law", "violence that conserves the law", and an additional last type, "divine violence" which breaks the "magic circle" between both types of "state violence". The "violence that conserves the law" was roughly equivalent to the state's monopoly of legitimate violence, while the "violence that founds the law" was the original violence necessary to the creation of a state. The last type of violence, Benjamin also called it "revolutionary violence", and it was totally separated from the juridical sphere.[2] Giorgio Agamben showed that the theoretical link between the law and violence permitted Nazi thinker Carl Schmitt to justify the "state of exception" as the characteristic of sovereignty. Thus, indefinite suspension of the law, which is the way to include-exclude violence in the juridical sphere (this simultaneous inclusion and exclusion is characteristic of the structure of "ex-ception"), may only be blocked by breaking this link between violence and right. This explains why Agamben refers to Benjamin, whose theorization of a "divine violence" broke the theoretical structure of the state of exception, which is at the basis of the state's sovereignty.

War, as violence, can be distinguished into inter-states' war and civil war, in which case class struggle is, according to antimilitarists theorists, a primordial component. Hence, Marx's influence on antimilitarist doctrine will come upon as no surprise, even though it would be doubtful to make Marx accountable for the whole antimilitarist tradition. However, it would also be unwise to believe in the myth of an eternal antimilitarist spirit, present in all places and time, since modern military institution is a historic achievement, related to the formation, in the 18th and 19th centuries, of nation-states. Napoleon's invention of conscription is a fundamental progress in the organization of state armies. Later, Prussian militarism would be reveeled by a huge majority of 19th century social theorists.

Cover of the Piano Score for the light opera The Chocolate Soldier, based on George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man - both of which make fun of armies and militarist virtues and present positively a deserter who runs away from the battlefield and who carries chocolate instead of ammunition.

Militarism has always been intimately linked to propaganda. Machiavelli already considered popular armies to be superior to mercenaries, and Althusser demonstrated how he had thought the unification of Italy and therefore the creation of an Italian nation-state (aim which would only be attained in the 1860s) through the implementation of popular armies, leading to the creation of an esprit de corps which would form the basis for the future nation. Rousseau also thought the creation of the military institution as a form of education for the people. Finally, Michel Foucault would show in Discipline and Punish how the Army had invented the concept of "disciplines" to compose bodies together, thus paving the way for disciplinary institutions (barracks, prisons, hospitals, schools, etc.) and, ultimately, a "disciplinary society".

Thoreau's pacifism

Henry David Thoreau's 1849 essay " Civil Disobedience" (see text), originally titled "Resistance to Civil Government", can be considered an antimilitarist point of view, even though it would probably be mixed with pacifism (downright moral condemnation of all kinds of violence). However, Thoreau's latent anarchism and general anti-statism permits claims of ascendency from antimilitarists. His refusal to pay taxes was justified as an act of protest against slavery and against the Mexican-American War (1846-48). Opponents of war considered as a major evil and as a cause of most of human kind's troubles may indeed be inclined to treat the modern idea of "nation-states" as one of the most dangerous invention, leading to endless nationalism and bellicism. Hence, antimilitarist argue that any true pacifist must also be at least cautious of the state's claim (this "cold monster" as Nietzsche had dubbed it) to impartial justice and eternal peace.

Capitalism and the military-industrial complex

Antimilitarism has always been based on a political and social analysis of the state and the concept of sovereignty. Indeed, capitalism has often been thought by antimilitarist literature to be a major cause of wars, an influence which has been theorized by Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg under the name of "imperialism". The military-industrial complex has also been accused of "pushing for war" because of private economical interests.

The Second International was therefore opposed to the participation of the working classes in war, which was analyzed as a competition between different national bourgeois classes and different state imperialisms. However, after the assassination of French socialist leader Jean Jaurès days before the proclamation of World War I, nothing more was able to stop the masses from participating in the coming war. The proletariat thus remained divided into different nation-states. In Mars or the War Judged (1921), Alain would criticize the destruction brought upon by militarism, and demonstrated that it wasn't patriotism that forced the soldiers to fight, but the bayonets behind them.

After World War II, US President Eisenhower's 1961 warning on the influence of the "military-industrial complex" came as no surprise to many antimilitarist-minded people. However, it did underline the relationship between industrial power, economics, politics, etc. (in other words, "capitalism"), and the making of wars. See RAND Corporation

Far-right antimilitarism in the United States

American right-wing antimilitarists draw heavily upon the statements of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers condemning standing armies and foreign entanglements. They also note that the United States Constitution allows Congress to raise and support armies "but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years," making the United States Army possibly unconstitutional.

Right-wing antimilitarists in the United States generally believe that "A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country," as stated by James Madison. To this end, there is much overlap between the Militia movement and right-wing antimilitarists, although the two groups are not mutually inclusive. It should be noted that the term "well regulated" in the above quote (and in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution) is taken by such antimilitarists not to mean "regulated by the state" but rather "well equipped" and "in good working order," as was a common usage of the word "regulated" in the late 18th century.

Antimilitarist groups

Also see: list of anti-war organizations, peace movement, etc..

Until its dissolution, the Second International, like the First, was antimilitarist. Jaurès' assassination on July 31, 1914, marks antimilitarism's failure in the socialist movement. The American Union Against Militarism is an example of a US antimilitarist movement born in the midst of the first World War, from which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) formed from after the war. Some Refuseniks in Israel, who refuse the draft, and draft resisters in the USA [1] may be antimilitarist or pacifists, depending on the particular reasons for their opposition to conscription. Many pacifist organizations, such as the War Resisters International and the War Resisters League in the USA, are also antimilitarist.


  1. ^ Concerning Clausewitz's theory of the necessary control of military institutions by the civilian power versus Jomini's advocacy of the autonomy of the military institution and the separation between politics and war, and the application of Jomini's theories by the Prussian army, in particular in the Schlieffen Plan, and later by the RAND Corporation, see Manuel de Landa's War in the Age of the Intelligent Machines (1991)
  2. ^ Walter Benjamin, Zür Kritik der Gewalt (1920) in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. II, 1 (1977) ("Criticisms on Violence")

See also




Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address