Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 23 a: Which Class, in Democratic Armies, Is the Most Warlike and the Most Revolutionary - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4
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chapter 23 a: Which Class, in Democratic Armies, Is the Most Warlike and the Most Revolutionary - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4 
Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 4.
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Which Class, in Democratic Armies, Is the Most Warlike and the Most Revolutionary
It is the essence of a democratic army to be very numerous, relative to the people who furnish it; I will talk about the reasons further along.
On the other hand, the men who live in democratic times scarcely ever choose the military career.
So democratic peoples are soon led to renounce voluntary recruitment in order to resort to compulsory enlistment.b The necessity of their condition obliges them to take this last measure, and you can easily predict that all will adopt it.
Since military service is compulsory, the burden is shared indiscriminately and equally by all citizens. That again follows necessarily from the condition of these peoples and from their ideas. The government can more or less do what it wants provided that it addresses itself to everyone at the same time; it is the inequality of the burden and not the burden itself that ordinarily makes you resist.
Now, since military service is common to all citizens, the clear result is that each of them remains in the service only a few years.
Thus in the nature of things the soldier is in the army only in passing, while among most aristocratic nations, the military state is a profession that the soldier takes or that is imposed on him for life.
This has great consequences. Among the soldiers who make up a democratic army, some become attached to military life; but the greatest number, brought in spite of themselves into the service and always ready to return to their homes, do not consider themselves seriously engaged in the military career and think only about getting out of it. The latter do not contract the needs and only half-share the passions that arise from this career. They comply with their military duties, but their soul remains attached to the interests and the desires that occupied it in civilian life. So they do not take on the spirit of the army; instead they bring into the army the spirit of the society and preserve it there. Among democratic peoples, it is the simple soldiers who most remain citizens; national habits retain the greatest hold and public opinion the most power over them. It is through the soldiers above all that you can hope to make the love of liberty and respect for rights, which you knew how to inspire among the people themselves, penetrate into a democratic army. The opposite happens among aristocratic nations, in which the soldiers end up having nothing at all in common with their fellow citizens, living among them like strangers and often like enemies.
In aristocratic armies, the conservative element is the officer, because the officer alone has kept close ties to civilian society and never gives up the will to resume sooner or later his position there; in democratic armies, it is the soldier and for entirely similar reasons.
It often happens, on the contrary, that in these same democratic armies, the officer contracts tastes and desires entirely separate from those of the nation. That is understandable.
Among democratic peoples, the man who becomes an officer breaks all the ties that attached him to civilian life; he emerges from it forever and he has no interest in returning to it. His true country is the army, since he is nothing except by the rank that he occupies there; so he follows the fortune of the army, grows or declines with it, and it is toward the army alone that from now on he directs his hopes. Since the officer has needs very distinct from those of the country, it can happen that he ardently desires war or works for a revolution at the very moment when the nation aspires most to stability and peace.
Nonetheless there are causes that temper the warrior and restless temperament in him. If ambition is universal and continuous among democratic peoples, we have seen that it is rarely great there. The man who, coming out of the secondary classes of the nation, has arrived, through the lower ranks of the army, at the rank of officer, has already taken an immense step. He has entered into a sphere superior to the one he occupied within civilian society, and he has acquired rights there that most democratic nations will always consider as inalienable.1 He stops willingly after this great effort, and thinks about enjoying his conquest. The fear of compromising what he possesses already softens in his heart the desire to acquire what he does not have. After having overcome the first and the greatest obstacle that stopped his progress, he resigns himself with less impatience to the slowness of his march. This cooling of ambition increases as, rising higher in rank, he finds more to lose from risks. If I am not mistaken, the least warlike as well as the least revolutionary part of a democratic army will always be the head.
What I have just said about the officer and the soldier is not applicable to a numerous class that, in all armies, occupies the intermediary place between them; I mean the non-commissioned officers.
This class of non-commissioned officers, which before the present century had not yet appeared in history, is henceforth called, I think, to play a role.
Just like the officer, the non-commissioned officer has broken in his thought all the ties that attached him to civilian society; just like him, he has made the military life his career and, more than the officer perhaps, he has turned all of his desires solely in this direction; but unlike the officer he has not yet reached an elevated and solid place where it is permissible for him to stop and to breathe comfortably, while waiting to be able to climb higher.
By the very nature of his functions that cannot change, the non-commissioned officer is condemned to lead an obscure, narrow, uneasy and precarious existence. So far he sees only the perils of the military life. He knows only privations and obedience, more difficult to bear than the perils. He suffers all the more from his present miseries, because he knows that the constitution of society and that of the army allow him to free himself from these miseries; from one day to the next, in fact, he can become an officer. Then he commands, has honors, independence, rights, enjoyments; not only does this object of his hopes seem immense to him, but before grasping it, he is never sure of attaining it. There is nothing irrevocable about his rank; he is left each day entirely to the arbitrariness of his leaders; the needs of discipline require imperatively that it be so. A slight fault, a caprice, can always make him lose, in a moment, the fruit of several years of work and efforts. Until he has reached the rank he covets, he has therefore done nothing.d Only then does he seem to enter into the career. With a man thus incited constantly by his youth, his needs, his passions, the spirit of his times, his hopes and his fears, a desperate ambition cannot fail to catch fire.
So the non-commissioned officer wants war, he wants it always and at any price, and if you refuse him war, he desires revolutions which suspend the authority of the rules; in the midst of these revolutions he hopes, by means of confusion and political passions, to expel his officer and take his place; and it is not impossible for him to bring about revolutions, because he exercises a great influence over the soldiers by shared origins and habits, even though he differs greatly from them by passions and desires.
You would be wrong to believe that these various predispositions of the officer, of the non-commissioned officer and of the soldier depend on a time or a country. They will appear in all periods and among all democratic nations.
In every democratic army, it will always be the non-commissioned officer who will least represent the pacific and regular spirit of the country, and the soldier who will best represent it. The soldier will bring to the military career the strength or the weakness of national mores; there he will manifest the faithful image of the nation. If the nation is ignorant and weak, he will allow himself to be carried away to disorder by his leaders, without his knowing or despite himself. If the nation is enlightened and energetic, he will keep them in order himself.
[a. ] In democratic armies, soldiers, having to spend only a little time in the service, and being drawn to it in spite of themselves, never completely take on the spirit of the army. These are the ones who remain citizens the most. The officers on the contrary, since they are someone in society only because of their military rank, become entirely attached to the army and can become like strangers to the country. Their turbulent spirit is often weakened, however, by the stability and the sweet pleasures of the situation already acquired.
These reasons are not found to temper the restless ambition of the non-commissioned officers. The latter form the really military and revolutionary element of democratic armies (YTC, CVf, pp. 49-50).
[b. ] “The natural tendency of a democratic people is to have an army of mercenaries” (Rubish, 2).
[d. ] The manuscript of the chapter ends here. In the margin, with a bracket that goes from the beginning of the paragraph to this place: “All of this is the weak part of the piece. Developed and yet incomplete.”