An Army Afraid of War


Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831

Appendix X: Physical Gratification and a Taste for Well-Being leading to an Army Afraid of War. 


In the chapter to which this note relates I have pointed out one source of danger; I am now about to point out another, more rare indeed, but more formidable if it were ever to appear If the love of physical gratification and the taste for well-being which are naturally suggested to men by a state of equality, were to possess the mind of a democratic people and to fill it completely, the manners of the nation would become so totally opposed to military pursuits that perhaps even the army would eventually acquire a love of peace, in spite of the peculiar interest which leads it to desire war. Living amid a state of general relaxation, the troops would ultimately think it better to rise without efforts, by the slow but commodious advancement of a period of peace, than to purchase more rapid promotion at the cost of all the toils and privations of the field. With these feelings, they would take up arms without enthusiasm and use them without energy; they would allow themselves to be led to meet the foe, instead of marching to attack him. . It must not be supposed that this pacific state of the army would render it adverse to revolutions; for revolutions, and especially military revolutions, which are generally very rapid, are attended indeed with great dangers, but not with protracted toil; they gratify ambition at less cost than war; life only is at stake, and the men of democracies care less for their lives than for their comfort.

Nothing is more dangerous for the freedom and the tranquillity of a people than an army afraid of war, because as such an army no longer seeks to maintain its importance and its influence on the field of battle, it seeks to assert them elsewhere. Thus it might happen that the men of whom a democratic army consists would lose the interests of citizens without acquiring the virtues of soldiers; and that the army would cease to be fit for war without ceasing to be turbulent. I shall here repeat what I have said in the text: the remedy for these dangers is not to be found in the army, but in the country; a democratic people which has preserved the manliness of its character will never be at a loss for military prowess in its soldiers.


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