Part IV: Of Arms

[§ 1. Of Militias.]

In the beginning of society the defence of the state required no police, nor particular provision for it. The whole body of the people rose up to oppose any attempt that was made against them, and he who was chief in time of peace, naturally preserved his influence in time of war. But after the division of labour took place, it became necessary that some should stay at home, to be employed in agriculture and other arts, while the rest went out to war. After the appropriation of lands and the distinction of ranks were in some measure introduced, the cultivation of the ground would naturally fall to the meanest rank. The less laborious, but more honourable employment of military service, would be claimed by the highest order. Accordingly we find that this was the practice of all nations in their primitive state. The Roman equites or knights were originally horsemen in the army, and no slaves or those who did not pay taxes ever went out to war. In like manner among our ancestors only they who held by what was called knight’s service were employed in the defence of the state, and the ancient villains were never considered as a part of the national force.

When the state was thus defended by men of honour [261] who would do their duty from this principle, there was no occasion for discipline. But when arts and manufactures increased, and were thought worthy of attention, and men found that they could rise in dignity by applying to them, and it became inconvenient for the rich to go out to war, from a principle of avarice, these arts, which were at first despised by the active and ambitious, soon came to claim their whole attention. The merchant who can make two or three thousand pounds at home will not incline to go out to war, but it was an amusement to an ancient knight who had nothing else ado. When the improvement of arts and manufactures was thought an object deserving the attention of the higher ranks, the defence of the state naturally became the province of the lower, because the rich can never be forced to do anything but what they please. In Rome, after the knights gave over serving in the army, the lowest of the people went in their stead, and in our own country, after the feudal militia went out, another of the lowest ranks succeeded. This therefore is the progress of military service in every country. Among a nation of hunters and shepherds, and even when a nation is advanced to agriculture, the whole body goes out together to make war. When arts and manufactures begin to advance, the whole cannot go out, and as these arts are laborious, and not very lucrative, for the reasons formerly adduced, the highest go out. After that, when arts and commerce are still farther advanced, and begin to be very lucrative, it falls to the meanest to defend the state1. This is our present condition in Great Britain.


[§ 2. Of Discipline.]

When the whole body went out together there could be no occasion for military discipline, they being all, as it were, upon the same level, and as their common cause was so well discerned, it was quite unnecessary. When the highest orders went out, a principle of honour would supply the place of discipline, but when this office fell upon the lowest order, the most severe and rigid discipline became necessary, and accordingly we find that it has been introduced into all standing armies. In general, it is necessary that they should be kept under such authority as to be more afraid of their general and officers than of the enemy. It is the fear of their officers and of the rigid penalties of the martial law, which is the chief cause of their good behaviour, and it is to this principle that we owe their valiant actions. In the late war eight hundred Prussians defended a pass a whole day against several thousands of Austrians, and at night in their retreat deserted almost to a man. What could be the foundation of this courage? It was not a principle of honour, nor love to their country, nor a regard to their officers, for these would still have detained them; it was nothing but the dread of their officers, who were hanging, as it were, over their heads, and whom they durst not disobey. This, by the by, shows the governableness of our nature, and may also show how much that manly courage we so much boast of depends upon external circumstances. We may further observe how far this principle of fear may be carried. If a bold, fierce, and tyrannic adjutant be succeeded by one of a mild and gentle disposition, the ideas of terror are conveyed with the coat, and it is some time before it be perceived that he is not so terrible as the other.


[§ 3. Of Standing Armies.]

In this manner standing armies came to be introduced, and where there are none, the country is an easy prey to its enemies. The only thing to be observed concerning them is that they should be raised in the most convenient way, and with as little hurt as possible to the country. However much standing armies may be exclaimed against, in a certain period of society they must be introduced. A militia commanded by landed gentlemen in possession of the public offices of the nation can never have any prospect of sacrificing the liberties of the country for any person whatever. Such a militia would no doubt be the best security against the standing army of another nation.

Standing armies are of two kinds: the first is when the government gives offices to particular persons, and so much for every man they levy. From such a standing army as this, which is the model of our own, there is less danger than from the second kind, when the government makes a slump bargain with a general to lead out a certain number of troops for their assistance, which is the model of the standing armies in some little states of Italy. They make a bargain with some chieftain in those parts where the arts have not yet reached, and as the officers are all dependent on him, and he independent of the state, his employers lie at his mercy. But a standing army like ours is not so apt to turn their arms against the government, because the officers are men of honour, and have great connexions in the country. Yet on some occasions a standing army has proved dangerous to the liberties of the people, when that question concerning the power of the sovereign came to be disputed, as has been the case in our own country, because the standing army generally takes the side of the king1. The principle [264] of the soldier is to obey his leader, and as the king appointed him and pays him, it is to him that he thinks he owes his service. This would never be the case if a proper militia were established. In Sweden, where it takes place, they are in no danger. Thus far concerning standing armies. It is needless to enter into any account of their pay, and other circumstances.⚓✪

Having considered the laws of nature as we proposed, as they regard justice, police, revenue, and arms, we shall proceed to the last part of our plan, which is to consider the law of nations, or the claims which one nation may have upon another.