Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 26 a: Some Considerations on War in Democratic Societies - Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition, vol. 4
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chapter 26 a: Some Considerations on War in Democratic Societies - 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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Some Considerations on War in Democratic Societies
[<War exercises such a prodigious influence on the fate of all peoples that you will pardon me, I hope, for not abandoning the subject that deals with it without trying to exhaust it.>]
When the principle of equality develops not only in one nation, but at the same time among several neighboring nations, as is seen today in Europe, the men who inhabit these various countries, despite the disparity of languages, customs and laws, are nevertheless similar on this point that they equally fear war and conceive the same love for peace.1 In vain does ambition or anger arm princes; a sort of apathy and universal benevolence pacifies them in spite of themselves and makes them drop the sword from their hands. Wars become rarer.
As equality, developing at the same time in several countries, simultaneously pushes the men who inhabit them toward industry and commerce, not only are their tastes similar, but also their interests mingle and become entangled, so that no nation can inflict harm on others that does not come back on itself, and all end by considering war as a calamity almost as great for the victor as for the defeated.
Thus, on the one hand, it is very difficult in democratic centuries to bring peoples to fight with each other, but, on the other hand, it is almost impossible for two of them to make war in isolation. The interests of all are so intertwined, their opinions and their needs so similar, that no people can keep itself at rest when the others are agitated. So wars become rarer; but when they arise, they are on a field more vast.
Democratic peoples who are neighbors do not become similar only on a few points, as I have just said; they end by resembling each other in nearly everything.2
Now this similitude of peoples has very important consequences concerning war.
When I ask myself why the Helvetic confederation of the XVth century made the largest and most powerful nations of Europe tremble, while today its power is in exact proportion to its population, I find that the Swiss have become similar to all the men who surround them, and those men to the Swiss; so that, since numbers alone make the difference between them, victory necessarily belongs to the biggest battalions. One of the results of the democratic revolution taking place in Europe is therefore to make the force of numbers prevail on every battlefield, and to compel all the small nations to become incorporated into the large ones, or at least to take part in the policy of the latter.c
[≠This must necessarily make wars rarer and greater.
This resemblance that the citizens of different peoples have with each other has still many other consequences.≠]
Since the determining factor for victory is numbers, the result is that each people must with all its efforts strain to bring the most men possible onto the field of battle.
When you could enroll under the colors a type of troops superior to all the others, such as the Swiss infantry or the French cavalry of the XVIth century, you did not consider that you had the need to levy very large armies; but it is not so when all soldiers are equally valuable.
The same cause that gives birth to this new need also provides the means to satisfy it. For, as I said, when all men are similar, they are all weak. The social power is naturally much stronger among democratic peoples than anywhere else. So these peoples, at the same time that they feel the desire to call all the male population to arms, have the ability to assemble them there; this means that, in centuries of equality, armies seem to grow as the military spirit fades.d
In the same centuries, the manner of making war is also changed by the same causes.
Machiavellie says in his book The Prince “that it is much more difficult to subjugate a people who have a prince and barons for leaders than a nation which is led by a prince and slaves.” Let us put, in order not to offend anyone, public officials in the place of slaves and we will have a great truth, very applicable to our subject.
It is very difficult for a great aristocratic people to conquer its neighbors and to be conquered by them. It cannot conquer them, because it can never gather all its forces and hold men together for a long time; and it can never be conquered, because the enemy finds everywhere small centers of resistance that stop it. I will compare war in an aristocratic country to war in a country of mountains; the defeated find at every instant the occasion to rally in new positions and to hold firm there.
Precisely the opposite makes itself seen among democratic nations.
The latter easily bring all their available forces to the field of battle, and when the nation is rich and numerous, it easily becomes victorious; but once it has been defeated and its territory has been penetrated, few resources remain to it, and if it gets to the point of having its capital taken, the nation is lost. That is very easily explained; since each citizen is individually very isolated and very weak, no one can either defend himself or offer a point of support to others. In a democratic country only the State is strong; since the military strength of the State is destroyed by the destruction of its army and its civil power paralyzed by the taking of its capital, the rest forms nothing more than a multitude without rule and without strength that cannot struggle against the organized power that attacks it. I know that you can reduce the danger by creating liberties and, consequently, provincial entities, but this remedy will always be insufficient.
Not only will the population then no longer be able to continue the war, but it is to be feared that it will not want to try.
[≠The greatest difficulty that a democratic population finds is not to defend itself with weapons in hand, but to want to defend itself in such a way.≠]f
According to the law of nations adopted by civilized nations, wars do not have as a purpose to appropriate the goods of individuals, but only to seize political power. Private property is destroyed only accidentally and in order to attain the second objective.
When an aristocratic nation is invaded after the defeat of its army, the nobles, although they are at the same time the rich, prefer to continue to defend themselves individually rather than to submit; for if the conqueror remained master of the country, he would take away their political power to which they are even more attached than to their property; so they prefer combat to conquest, which is for them the greatest misfortune, and they easily carry the people with them, because the people have contracted the long custom of following and obeying them, and besides have almost nothing to risk in war.
In a nation where equality of conditions reigns,g each citizen takes, on the contrary, only a small part in political power, and often takes no part at all; on the other hand, everyone is independent and has property to lose; so that there conquest is feared much less and war much more than among an aristocratic people. It will always be very difficult to cause a democratic population to take up arms when war is brought to its territory.h This is why it is necessary to give to these peoples rights and a political spirit that suggests to each person some of the interests that cause nobles to act in aristocracies.
It is very necessary that princes and other leaders of democratic nations remember: only the passion and the habit of liberty can, with advantage, combat the habit and the passion of well-being. I imagine nothing better prepared for conquest, in case of reverses, than a democratic people who does not have free institutions.
Formerly you began military campaigns with few soldiers; you fought small battles and conducted long sieges. Now you fight great battles, and as soon as you can march freely ahead, you race toward the capital in order to end the war with one blow.
Napoleon, it is said, invented this new system. It did not depend on one man, whoever he was, to create such a system. The manner in which Napoleon made war was suggested to him by the state of society of his time, and it succeeded for him because it was marvelously suited to this state and because he put it to use for the first time. Napoleon is the first to have traveled at the head of an army the path to all the capitals. But it is the ruin of feudalj society that had opened this road to him. It is to be believed that, if this extraordinary man had been born three centuries ago, he would not have gathered the same fruits from his method, or rather he would have had another method.
I will add only one more word about civil wars, for I am afraid of tiring the patience of the reader.
Most of the things I have said concerning foreign wars apply with stronger reason to civil wars [<and it is there above all that the strength of the State and the weakness of individuals are revealed>]. Men who live in democratic countries do not naturally have the military spirit; they sometimes take it on when they are dragged, despite themselves, onto the fields of battle. But to rise up by himself, in a body, and to expose himself willingly to the miseries that war and above all civil war bring, is a choice that the man of democracies does not make. Only the most adventurous citizens agree to throw themselves into such a risk; the mass of the population remains immobile.
Even when the mass of the population would like to act, it does not easily succeed in doing so; for it does not find within it ancient and well-established influences to which it wishes to submit, no already known leaders to gather the malcontents, to regulate and to lead them; no political powers placed below the national power, which effectively come to support the resistance put up against the nation’s power.
In democratic countries, the moral power of the majority is immense, and the material forces at its disposal are out of proportion with those that, at first, it is possible to unite against it. The party in the majority’s seat, which speaks in its name and uses its power, triumphs therefore, in one moment and without difficulty, over all particular resistances. It does not even allow them the time to be born; it crushes them in germ.
So those who, among these peoples, want to make a revolution by arms, have no other resources than to seize unexpectedly the already functioning machine of the government, which can be carried out by a surprise attack rather than by a war; for from the moment when a war is official, the party which represents the State is almost always sure to win.
The only case in which a civil war could arise would be the one in which, the army being divided, one portion raised the banner of revolt and the other remained faithful. An army forms a very tightly bound and very hardy small society which is able to be self-sufficient for a while. The war could be bloody, but it would not be long; for either the army in revolt would draw the government to its side just by showing its strength or by its first victory, and the war would be over; or the battle would begin, and the portion of the army not supported by the organized power of the State would soon disperse on its own or be destroyed.
So you can accept, as a general truth, that in the centuries of equality, civil wars will become much rarer and shorter.3
Je remplirais mal l’objet de ce livre si, après avoir montré les idées et les sentiments que l’égalité suggère, je ne faisais voir, en terminant, quelle est l’influence générale que ces mêmes sentiments et ces mêmes idées peuvent exercer sur le gouvernement des sociétés humaines.
Pour y réussir, je serai obligé de revenir souvent sur mes pas. Mais j’espère que le lecteur ne refusera pas de me suivre, lorsque des chemins qui lui sont connus le conduiront vers quelque vérité nouvelle.
After having shown the ideas and the sentiments suggested by equality, I would badly fulfill the purpose of this book if, while concluding, I did not show what general influence these same sentiments and these same ideas can exercise on the government of human societies.
To succeed in doing that, I will often be obliged to retrace my steps. But I hope that the reader will not refuse to follow me when roads that he knows lead him toward some new truth.
[a. ] All democratic peoples are similar in the love of peace. All are equally led to commerce by equality, and commerce links their interests so that they cannot hurt their neighbor without harming themselves. So wars are rare. But they are great because these two peoples cannot set about to make war on a small scale.
Since men are similar, only numbers decide, from that the obligation for large armies. Thus armies seem to grow as the military spirit fades.
Great changes take place as well in the manner of making war.
A democratic people can more easily than another conquer and be conquered (illegible word). Why you always march on the capitals. Why civil wars become very difficult (YTC, CVf, pp. 51-52).
On the jacket of the chapter: “≠Perhaps all that will be to delete./
Chapter to look at again closely, done a bit too hastily.≠”
The idea that decentralization hinders the rapidity of reaction but increases the capacity of resistance is already found set forth in a letter of 1828 to Beaumont. This letter comments at length on the History of England of John Lingard (Correspondance avec Beaumont, OC, VIII, 1, p. 53).
[1. ]The fear that European peoples show for war is not only due to the progress that equality has made among them; I do not need, I think, to point it out to the reader. Apart from this permanent cause, there are several accidental ones that are very powerful. I will cite, before all the others, the extreme weariness that the wars of the Revolution and of the Empire have left.
[c. ] Baden, 5 August 1836.
I wondered today to myself why certain small peoples of Europe such as the Swiss for example had formerly played such a great role, while today their power had become in exact proportion to their number and their strength, so that while the confederation of the XVth century made the greatest continental powers tremble, today there is no people of Europe having four or five million inhabitants that cannot in the long run oppress Switzerland, which has only two.
The reason is that the Swiss have become more or less similar in everything to the peoples who are around them and the latter to the Swiss, so that, since numbers alone make the difference between them, to the biggest battalions necessarily belongs victory.
One of the results of the great democratic revolution that is taking place among peoples as well as between individuals will therefore have as a final result to make the force of numbers prevail everywhere and to deliver small nations without hope to the tyranny of large ones [v: they are forced to become incorporated into the large ones or to take part in their policy] (Rubish, 2).
[d. ] In the margin: “<Comfort does not prevent the military from fighting but it prevents the bourgeois from taking up arms.>”
[e. ] Machiavelli in his horrible work The Prince expresses a true and profound idea when he says in chapter IV that among principalities those that are governed by aprince and slaves must be clearly distinguished from those that are governed by a prince and barons.
The first, he says, are difficult to conquer because you cannot find within them subjects powerful enough to aid the conquest, and because the sovereign who governs them can easily gather all the forces of the empire against you.
Conquest accomplished, the same reasons allow you to preserve it easily.
The second are easy to penetrate because it is not difficult to win over a few of the great men of the kingdom. But does the conqueror want to hold on? He experiences all sorts of difficulties. It is not enough for him to extinguish the race of the prince; a crowd of powerful lords will always remain who will put themselves at the head of the malcontents, and since it is impossible for him to make every one content and to destroy those powerful lords, he will soon be chased away.
Machiavelli explains in this way the ease that Alexander had establishing himself on the throne of Darius and the difficulty that has always been encountered in conquering France.
Machiavelli who after all is only a superficial man, clever at discovering secondary causes, but from whom great general causes escape, touches there accidentally and without seeing it one of the great political consequences that clearly follow from a democratic or aristocratic social state.
Democratic States in fact make very much greater efforts to defend themselves than others, but once beaten and conquered, there is less of a remedy than among aristocratic nations.
To this cause you must equally attribute the difficulty of making long civil wars among democratic peoples.
As democratic peoples become more democratic you can count on the fact that civil wars there will become rarer and shorter. This is what explains the length of wars as regards religion, unless in a democratic country there are provinces strongly constituted, in which case there will be foreign wars in the form of civil war (Rubish, 2).
[f. ] In the margin: “≠Bad in form but the idea of transition good.≠”
[g. ] The manuscript says: “In a democratic nation.”
[h. ] “Difficulty of making a democratic people take up arms.
“That is true in all democratic countries, but above all in democratic countries that do not have free institutions” (Rubish, 2).
[j. ] The manuscript says: “But it is the progress of equality of conditions that had opened it.”
[3. ]It is well understood that I am speaking here about single democratic nations and not about confederated democratic nations. In confederations, since the preponderant power always resides, despite fictions, in the government of the state and not in the federal government, civil wars are only disguised foreign wars.
[a. ] Plan of this part in a draft:
General influence of democratic ideas and mores on government./
≠1. How democratic ideas favor the establishment of a centralized government.
2. How id. mores do id.
3. Particular causes, but related to the great democratic cause, that can lead there.
4. Type of despotism to fear. Here show administrative despotism and the manner in which it could successively take hold≠ of private life. Dangers of this state.
5. Remedies. Here all that I can say on association, aristocratic persons, liberty, great passions . . ./
1. New affirmation of the irresistible march of democracy.
2.General judgment of this new state.
3. Nations can turn it to good or to detestable account and they hang in the balance (YTC, CVk, 1, pp. 73-74).
Plan of the chapter in the rubish:
General idea of the last chapter./
To do well, this chapter must fit together well with those that precede, which are:
I believe that what would have to be done now would be this:
This is found in a jacket placed with the rubish of the chapter on material well-being (chapter 10 of the second part). The jacket bears this commentary: “How equality of ranks suggests to men the taste for liberty and for equality. Why democratic peoples love equality better than liberty./
“Piece from which I will probably have to make the second section of the chapter and that must be carefully reexamined while reviewing this chapter. 4 September 1838” (Rubish, 1).
The drafts reproduced in notebook CVd bear this commentary at the head:
Ideas and fragments that all relate more or less to the great chapter entitled: How the ideas and the sentiments suggested by equality influence the political constitution./
Sketch of the final chapter./
Individualism. Natural [Material (ed.)] enjoyments./
Perhaps put a part of all that in the chapter on sentiments that favor the concentration of power.
Particularly what I say about the taste for material enjoyments, and individualism. The piece.
More probably place in the work a chapter on material enjoyments and individualism, pieces of this section which merit being kept (28 July 1838).
1bis. 1. Summary of the book. That equality of conditions is an irresistible, accomplished fact, which will break all those who want to struggle against it. This above all true when equality (illegible word).
[To the side: Order of ideas of this chapter.
2. Equality of conditions suggests equally to men the taste for liberty and the taste for equality.
But the one is a superficial and passing taste. The other a tenacious and ardent passion.]
2. That despotism can hope to succeed in becoming established only by respecting equality and by flattering democratic tendencies.
3. How a government that aspires to despotism must set about doing so and the opportunities that the ideas, the habits and the instincts of democracy provide for it.
I. Why democratic peoples are naturally led to the centralization of power.
Theory of centralization presents itself naturally to the mind of men when equality exists.
Difficulty of knowing to whom to return intermediary powers. Jealousy of the neighbor. All this increased by revolutions.
II. Democratic taste for material well-being which leads men to become absorbed in searching for it or in enjoying it.
III. Individualism which makes each man want to be occupied only with himself.
4. Since the government is, in this way, master of everything, it only needs war to destroy even the shadow of liberty.
1. Facility that it also finds in the democratic social state for that.
2. By this means, which will establish despotism, despots will be successively overturned. Picture analogous to that at the end of the Roman empire.
Aristocracy of men of war.
Having reached this point, you can hope to see the end of a tyrant, but not that of tyranny.
[To the side: Opposing view to all (illegible word).
1. To unite the spirit of liberty to the spirit of equality.
2. To separate the spirit of equality from the revolutionary spirit. Why the revolutionary spirit is more natural to democratic peoples and more (illegible word). Particular necessity in these democratic centuries for the spirit of equality. In democratic centuries, you must be scrupulous, extraordinarily respectful on this point] (YTC, CVd, pp. 1-3).
This part is missing in notebook CVf.
[b. ] In the manuscript: “Do only a single chapter from all of that beginning with the foreword (a) and then divided into sections.” This fourth part forms one single chapter in the manuscript and bears the number 60. The conclusion, which constitutes the last chapter, bears the number 61. Apart from the drafts of the chapter, there exist various drafts contained in jackets and bearing the following titles: unity, centralization, administrative despotism; notes of the chapter; relative to the idea of unity; ideas which i can hope to use; and thoughts to add on the influence exercised by democratic ideas on the forms of government.
In July 1838 (OCB, VII, pp. 167-68), Tocqueville writes to his brother,Édouard, that he is working on the last part of his book and that this is composed of two short chapters. At the end of the month of August, he notes that he has already finished the draft of the first version; on October 1 he begins to work on the last chapter. Writing the draft and revision will take an entire year, and the two initial chapters will be replaced by a total of eight chapters. The quantity of notes and drafts testifies to Tocqueville’s efforts to finish the part that he considered the most important of his work.
The manuscript and the drafts seem to indicate that the first chapter of this part was added at the end, and that the second and third chapters formed only one in the first drafts.