Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK XIII: On War - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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BOOK XIII: On War - Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 
Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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From What Point of View War Can Be Considered As Having Advantages
We will not repeat here the endless denunciations of war. A number of philosophers, inspired by a love of humanity, in praiseworthy exaggeration, have seen it only from its adverse perspectives. I am happy to acknowledge its advantages.
War itself is not an evil. It is in man’s nature. It favors the development of his finest and greatest faculties. It opens up to him a store of exquisite pleasures. He is indebted to it as the protector of cherished objects of his affections. He cheerfully places himself between these and danger. He acquires largeness of spirit, skill, coolness, courage, scorn for death—without which he cannot be sure he will not commit all the dastardliness demanded of him. War teaches him heroic devotion. It makes him form sublime friendships. It joins him in the tightest of bonds with his companions in arms. It renders his fatherland real so that he will defend it. It brings in turn elevated endeavor and elevated leisure. Overlong periods of peace degrade nations and make them ready for servitude.
All these advantages of war, however, are subject to an indispensable condition, namely that it results naturally from the situation and character of nations. When war results only from the ambition of governments, from their greed, their policies and calculations, then war can bring only ill.
 Nations of warlike character are usually free nations, because the same qualities which inspire love of war fill them with a love of freedom. Governments which are warlike against the national grain, however, are never anything but oppressive ones.
War is like all things human. They are all, in their day, good and useful. Outside it, they are all fatal. Likewise, when it is desired to uphold religion against the spirit of the age, it becomes a kind of mixture of mockery and hypocrisy. When, ignoring the peaceful character of peoples, one wishes to perpetuate war, it will consist only in oppression and massacre.
The Roman Republic, lacking commerce, letters, or art, its only domestic occupation farming, its only territory too confined for its population, surrounded by barbarian peoples, always menaced or menacing, followed its destiny in committing itself to nonstop military undertakings. A modern government which let itself be carried away by a rage for conquest, by an unquenchable thirst for domination, by endless projects of aggrandizement, and which believed it could imitate the Roman Republic, would face precisely this difference, that going against the tide of its nation and its era, it would be forced to resort to such extreme means, to such oppressive measures, to such scandalous lies, to such a multiplication of injustices, that the conquerors of its empire would be as wretched as the conquered. A people thus governed would be the Roman people, but without the freedom and the national commitment which make all sacrifices easy, without the hope every individual had of a share in the land, in short, without all the circumstances which in Roman eyes embellished this hazardous and stormy way of life.
The situation today prevents nations from being warlike in character. “The risks and fortunes of war,” says an estimable writer,1 “will never be able to offer a prospect comparable to that which today presents itself to the working man, in all countries, where work is paid the wages due to it.” The new mode of combat, the changes in weaponry, artillery: these have deprived military life of what used to be most attractive about it. There is no longer a struggle against danger; there is fatality. Courage today is no longer a passion; it is indifference. One  no longer tastes therein that joy in will and vitality, in the development of physical strength and the moral faculties, which made hand-to-hand combat so beloved of the heroes of antiquity and the knights of the Middle Ages. War has lost its greatest charms. Thus the time it could be loved has passed. We must not let ourselves be deceived by our memories, but envisage it in a new light, the only true one in our day, as a necessity to be endured.
Considered in this way, modern war is now only a scourge. In the case of commercial, industrious, and civilized nations, with lands sufficiently extensive for their needs, with links whose interruption becomes a disaster, with no prosperity or increase in affluence to be expected from conquest, war unsettles, without compensation, every kind of social guarantee. The domestic controls it seems to authorize put individual freedom at risk. It brings a destructive acceleration to legal processes both in terms of their sanctity and their purpose. It tends to represent all the adversaries of government, all those it regards with ill will, as accomplices of the foreign enemy. Finally, troubling the security of all, war also presses on the general wealth, through the pecuniary sacrifices to which all citizens are condemned. War’s very successes throw conquering nations into exhaustion. They lead only to the creation of States without bounds, whose governance demands limitless power and which, after having been during their span of life a cause of tyranny, are brought to collapse in the midst of crime, by countless disasters.
On the Pretexts for War
Governments themselves have been forced to recognize these truths for some time, at least in theory. They no longer claim that the nations are there to establish, at the price of their blood and their poverty, the disastrous fame of some of their leaders.  However despotic a modern leader, I think he would scarcely dare to present his subjects with his personal glory as compensation for their peace and their lives. Only Charles XII misconstrued his century thus.2 But since that revolution in ideas, governments have invented so many pretexts for war that the peace of nations and the rights of individuals are still far from guaranteed.
We will examine only very much in passing these various pretexts. National independence, national honor, the need to make our influence respected abroad, the rounding off of our frontiers, commercial interests. What else can I say? The fact is that this vocabulary of hypocrisy and injustice is inexhaustible.
What would one say of an individual who held his honor and independence compromised as long as other individuals possessed some honor and independence, and thought himself safe only when surrounded by slaves and trembling victims? Aside from the insolence and immorality of such a reckoning, this individual would be headed for destruction, precisely and solely because hatred would unite against him those whom his skill and daring had momentarily surprised and subdued. It is the same with a State. The independence of peoples rests on equity as much as force. The kind of force necessary to hold all the other peoples in subjugation is a situation against nature. A nation which places the guarantee of its independence, or to put it more accurately, its despotism, in such force, is in greater danger than the feeblest of nations, for all public opinion, all wishes, all hatred menace it. Sooner or later this hatred, this public opinion, these wishes, will break out and envelop it. Doubtless there is something unjust about these sentiments. A people is never guilty of the excesses its government makes it commit. It is the government which leads it astray, or more often dominates it without leading it astray. But the nations which are victims of its deplorable obedience cannot take into account the hidden sentiments to which its behavior gives the lie. They blame the instruments for the excesses of the hand which directs them. The whole of France suffered from Louis XIV’s ambition and detested it;  but Europe accused France of that ambition, and Sweden paid the penalty for the madness of Charles XII.
As for influence abroad, without our examining whether the excessive extent of that influence is not frequently a misfortune for a nation rather than an advantage, we have to consider the instability of all headstrong and disordered influence. Even when acceding to its momentary ascendancy, the world does not believe in its lasting character. Everyone in such a period, at such a given moment, will perhaps obey the dominant government. But nobody identifies its reckonings with his own. It is seen as a transient calamity. People wait until the torrent ceases to roll its waves along, sure it will perish one day in the arid sand and that they will sooner or later trample dry-footed on the earth its course has furrowed.
If the talk is of rounding off our frontiers, we will reply that guided by this pretext, the human species could never enjoy an instant of peace. No monarch to my knowledge has ever sacrificed a portion of his territory to give his lands a greater geometric regularity. So it is always outside that peoples wish to do their rounding off. This, then, is a dispensation whose basis moves to destruction of its own accord. It is one whose elements are at war and whose operation can rest only on the spoliation of the weakest, one which inexorably renders illegitimate the possessions of the strongest. International law could thereby be nothing more than a code of expropriation and barbarism. All the ideas of justice which the enlightened scholars of several centuries have brought into international relations, as into those between individuals, would be repelled and banished anew by this dispensation. The human race would step back toward those times of devastation and invasion which used to seem to us the opprobrium of history. The only difference now would be the hypocrisy, a hypocrisy all the more scandalous and corrupting in that no one would believe it. All words would lose their sense. That of moderation would presage violence, that of justice would announce iniquity. There is a theory of rounding off of frontiers which resembles, save for the good faith of those who profess it, ideal theories of the perfection of constitutions. This perfection is never attained,  but every day it serves to motivate some new upheaval.
Were someone to put forward the interests of commerce, I would ask whether people believed in good faith that we serve commerce by depopulating a country of its most thriving young men, uprooting the labor most necessary to agriculture, manufacturing, and other production, by raising between other peoples and oneself barriers sprinkled with blood? “War costs more than its expenses,” a wise writer has said; “it costs everything it stops from being earned.”3 Commerce rests on a good understanding of nations between themselves. It is sustained only by justice. It rests on equality. It prospers in peace. Yet it is for the sake of commerce that a nation is to be kept in nonstop wars, that universal hatred is to be heaped on its head, that the march is to be from one injustice to another, that every day credit is to be disrupted by violence, and that equals are absolutely not to be tolerated.
During the French Revolution a pretext for war hitherto unknown was invented, that of delivering nations from the yoke of their governments, which we took to be illegitimate and tyrannical. Under this pretext death and devastation were brought into places where men either lived peacefully under faulty institutions, ones nevertheless softened by time and habit, or had enjoyed for several centuries all the benefits of freedom. A period forever shameful, in which we saw a perfidious government inscribe sacred words on its guilty standards, to trouble the peace, violate the independence, destroy the prosperity of its innocent neighbors, adding to the scandal of Europe by lying protestations of respect for the rights of man and of zeal for humanity. The worst conquest is the hypocritical type, says Machiavelli, as if he had predicted our history. Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy.4
To give a people freedom in spite of itself is only to give it slavery. Conquered nations can contract neither free spirits nor habits. Every society must repossess for itself rights which have been invaded, if it is worthy of owning them. Masters cannot impose freedom. For nations  which enjoy political freedom, conquests have furthermore, beyond anything else we might hypothesize, this most clearly insane feature, that if these nations stay faithful to their principles, their triumphs cannot help but lead to their depriving themselves of a portion of their rights in order to communicate them to the conquered.
When a nation of ten million people governed by its representatives adds to its territory a province in which a million more live, what it gains is the loss of a tenth of its representation, since it transfers this tenth to its new fellow citizens.
One is forced to believe that the absurdity of the politics of conquest in conjunction with a representative constitution, somehow eluded the republican government of France. Ancient habits have so great an empire over men, however, that they act in virtue of these habits, even when they have solemnly abjured them. Under the Directory, by dint of victories and territorial mergers, France came close to being represented in the main by foreigners. Every new success was for the French one less French representative.
The Effect of the Politics of War on the Domestic Condition of Nations
After our examination of the most specious pretexts of war on the part of modern governments, let us dwell on one of their effects, one in my view insufficiently remarked on hitherto. This politics of war casts into society a mass of men whose outlook is different from that of the nation and whose habits form a dangerous contrast with the patterns of civil life, with the institutions of justice, with respect for the rights of all, with those principles of peaceful and ordered freedom which must be equally inviolable under all forms of government.
Over the last sixteen years there has been much talk about armies composed of citizens. To be sure, we do not wish to visit insults on those who so gloriously defended our national independence, on those who by so many immortal exploits founded the French Republic. When enemies dare to attack a people on its territory, the citizens become soldiers to repulse them. They were citizens,  they were the leading citizens, those who freed our soil from the profaning foreigner. In dealing with a general question, however, we must set aside remembrance of glory, which surrounds and dazzles us, seductive and captivating feelings of gratitude. In the present state of European societies the words “citizen” and “soldier” imply a contradiction. A citizen army is possible only when a people is virtually confined to a single city-state. Then the soldiers of that nation can rationally justify obedience. When they are in the bosom of their native land, between governors and governed whom they know, their understanding can count for something in their submission. A very large country, however, whether monarchy or republic, renders that supposition absolutely chimerical. A very large country requires from soldiers a mechanistic subordination and makes them passive, unreflective, and docile agents. As soon as they are displaced, they lose all the prior information capable of illuminating their judgment. The size of the country permitting those in charge of the armed forces to dispatch the natives of one province to another distant one, these men, subject to a discipline which isolates them from the local natives, are only strangers to the latter, although they are nominally their compatriots. They see only their commanders, know only them, obey their orders alone. Citizens in their birthplace, everywhere else they are soldiers. Once an army is among strangers, however it is organized, it is only a physical force, a pure instrument. The experience of the Revolution demonstrated only too well the truth of what I am affirming. We were told it was important for soldiers to be citizens, so they would never turn their arms against the people, and yet we have seen the unfortunate conscripts taken away from their ploughs, not only to contribute to the seige of Lyon, which could not be other than an act of civil war, but also to make themselves instruments of torture of the Lyonnais, disarmed prisoners, which was an act of implicit obedience and discipline, of  precisely that discipline and that obedience from which we had believed that the citizen soldiers would always be able to protect themselves.
A large army, whatever its basic elements, contracts, involuntarily, an esprit de corps. Such a spirit always seizes hold of organizations assembled for a single purpose, sooner or later. The only lasting thing men have in common is their interest. In all countries, in all centuries, a confederation of priests has formed, within the State, a State apart. In all centuries and countries, men associated together in the army for long periods have separated themselves from the nation. The very soldiers of freedom, in fighting for such, conceive a kind of respect for the use of force, regardless of its purpose. Without knowing it they contract thereby morals, ideas, and habits which are subversive of the cause they defend. The measures which ensure the triumph of war prepare the collapse of the law. The military spirit is haughty, swift, swaggering. Law must be calm, often slow, and always protective. The military spirit detests the thinking faculties as incipient indiscipline. All legitimate government rests on enlightenment and conviction. So in the annals of nations we often see armed force driving enemies from the territory; but we also see it no less often handing the fatherland over to its chiefs. It carries the glory of nations to the highest level; but it also adds their rights to the tally of their conquests, to be ceremoniously deposited at the feet of the Triumpher. We see the Roman legions, composed at least in part of citizens of a Republic illustrious from six centuries of victories, men born under freedom, surrounded by monuments raised by twenty generations of heroes to that tutelary deity, trample underfoot the ashes of Cincinnatus and the Camilli and march to the orders of a usurper, to profane the tombs of their ancestors and enslave the eternal city.5 We see the English legions who, with their own hands, had broken the throne of kings and shed their blood for twenty years to establish a republic spring into action with Cromwell against that nascent republic and impose on the people a tyranny more shameful than the chains from which their valor had delivered it.
 The idea of citizen soldiers is singularly dangerous. When armed men are directed against unarmed governments or peaceful individuals, it is said that citizens are being opposed to citizens. The Directory had the soldiers deliberate beneath their banners, and when it ordered a political opinion from them as if it were a drill, it said that citizen soldiers, far from having less right than the others, had more, since they had fought for the fatherland. Thus did the military spirit emerge in the Republic. It was claimed that for freedom as for victory, nothing was more appropriate than swift movements. Opinions were seen as like troops, to enroll or to fight, representative assemblies as agencies of command, opposition to them as acts of indiscipline, law courts as camps, judges as warriors, the accused as enemies, trials as battles. So it is not immaterial that there be created in a country, systematically, by way of war prolonged or constantly renewed under various pretexts, a mass of men imbued exclusively with the military spirit. The severest despotism becomes inevitable, if only to contain these men. And this is itself a great evil, that there should be a large minority of people containable only by the severest discipline. But these men, against whom despotism is called for, are at the same time despotism’s instruments against the rest of the nation. It is hard for soldiers, whose first duty is obedience to the slightest signal, not to persuade themselves effortlessly that all citizens are subject to this duty.
Detailed safeguards against this danger, the most terrible which can menace a nation, are not enough. Rome had taken strong ones. No army could come near the capital. No soldier under arms could exercise citizen rights. It is always easy, however, for a government to evade these precautions. In vain we may give the legislative power the right to move the troops away, to fix their numbers, to block those of their movements whose hostile intentions seem apparent—and finally power to disband them. These means are at once extreme and impotent. Executive power must have de jure, and  always has de facto, control of the armed forces. Charged with watching over public security, it can make trouble break out to justify the arrival of a group of regiments. It can make them come in secret, and when they are gathered it can extract from the legislative power the appearance of agreement. All the safeguards which require the legislature to deliberate subsequently on the danger which threatens it turn in a vicious circle. The legislature has power to act only at the moment when the peril is displayed, that is to say, when the harm is done, and when the harm is done the legislative power can no longer act.
The military spirit, however, wherever it exists, is stronger than the written laws. It is this spirit which must be restrained. Only a national spirit focused on another purpose can do this. The national spirit communicates itself from the nation to the army, whatever the composition of the latter. When this national spirit does not exist, the soldiers, though formerly citizens, adopt the military spirit nonetheless. When this national spirit exists, the military spirit, even among soldiers who are not citizens, is checked by this, and tyranny itself is softened. “Those who corrupted the Greek republics,” says Montesquieu,6 “did not always become tyrants. That is because they were more attached to eloquence than the art of war.”
Under whatever point of view we consider this terrible question of war, we have to be convinced that any enterprise of this kind which does not have a defensive purpose is the worst outrage a government can commit, because it brings together the disastrous effects of all the outrages of government. It endangers all kinds of freedom, harms every interest, tramples underfoot all rights, combines and authorizes all the forms of domestic and foreign tyranny, depraves the rising generations, divides the nation into two parts, of which one scorns the other and passes readily from scorn to injustice, prepares future destructions by way of past ones, and purchases with the misfortunes of the present those of the future.
These truths are not new, and I do not offer them as such, but truths which seem recognized often need repetition.7 For  government, while calling them commonplaces, in its haughty disdain constantly treats them like paradoxes. It is, furthermore, a rather remarkable thing, that while our government, in all its public speeches, in all its communication with the people, professes the love of peace and a desire to give the world tranquillity, men who claim to be devoted to that government write daily that the French nation being essentially warlike, military glory is the only kind worthy of her and that France must win renown by her military brilliance. These men ought to tell us how military glory can be acquired other than through war and how the purpose they are proposing to the French people alone fits in with the peace of the whole world. I might well add that these authors themselves may never have thought about it. Happy to speak in flowery language, sometimes on one subject, sometimes on another, following the fashion of the moment, they rely, rightly, on forgetfulness to cover up their inconsistency.8 I have sometimes thought that this doctrine, wherever it dared to present itself, deserved rebuffing, and that it was worthwhile discomfitting writers who, when they deal with future government, recommend despotism, because they hope never to be other than its agents and, when dealing with international relations, see nothing so glorious as war, as if from the depths of their obscure study, they were the distributors of all the scourges which can weigh on the human race.
On Safeguards against the War Mania of Governments
We ought now to indicate some safeguards against the unjust or pointless wars which governments may undertake,  since, in the present state of society, those undertakings which are great evils in themselves also lead to all the other ills. But general maxims would be inadequate and reflections on constitutional limits which can be assigned to government would take us beyond the boundaries of this work.
Nothing is easier to judge in the light of reason than the measures of government in relation to war. Public opinion is always accurate enough in this matter because the interest of one and all speaks out loud and clear on this question. Everyone thinks war is a fatal thing. Everyone also feels that cowardly patience when foreigners hurt or insult us, inviting them to become doubly vainglorious and unfair, sooner or later brings the war we wanted to avoid, and that once hostilities have begun, arms cannot be put down until we have acquired solid safeguards for the future, since a shameful peace is only a cause of new wars with less favorable prospects. But just as public opinion is infallible on this question, so it is impossible to prescribe or determine anything in advance.
To say we must confine ourselves to defensive wars is to say nothing. It is easy for governments to insult or menace their neighbors to such an extent that they feel bound to attack, and in this case the guilty party is not the aggressor, but the one who, joining treachery to violence, forced the other to aggression. Thus defense can sometimes be only adroit hypocrisy while attack may become a legitimate defensive precaution. One can affirm that any war which national feeling disapproves of is unjust; but no means exist for ascertaining this national feeling. Governments alone have the floor. They can seize the press exclusively, and their creatures and writers, speaking in the name of a silent, repressed people, form a concert of artificial agreement which prevents real public opinion from making itself heard.
As for the nations which enjoy political freedom, we would probably find in the public discussions of political assemblies, in the consent to taxes or their refusal, in ministerial responsibility, means of checking abuses relating to war, in a way which, if not satisfactory, is at least generally useful and such as to prevent the worst excesses. Furthermore, we would find,  on close inspection, that these guarantees are too often illusory, that it is always easy for the executive power to start a war, that the legislative power is then forced to support it against foreigners the executive has provoked, that if, in propping up that executive, the legislature engages in censure, the enemy will be encouraged by this disagreement between the branches of government, that the armed forces will be less ardent in a war disapproved of by the nation’s representatives, that the people will cooperate less by way of pecuniary sacrifices, that the government, feeling itself accused, will bring to its operations less decisiveness, less certainty, less speed, that the hostile claims will get larger, that peace will become more difficult to conclude, simply because the war will have fallen under public disapprobation. I do not mean that there is no remedy for these drawbacks. On the contrary, I think it would be possible to indicate one, the seed of which is present in several nations, though it does not yet exist completely in any single one. We could not examine this issue here, however, without distorting this book totally. We have kept separate from it everything concerning political freedom, and we would find ourselves drawn by it into all the discussions about constitutions. For all questions of this sort hold tightly together. For a constitution to work in one respect, it has to do so for all the others.
You may believe that a representative assembly can stop the executive power in its military undertakings. For a representative assembly to impose its will on the executive power, however, it must derive its commission from a legitimate source, it must be armed with prerogatives and encircled with guarantees which put its independence beyond all danger. If it is armed with extensive prerogatives, it must also at the same time be contained in its acts and checked in its excesses, since an unrestrained assembly is more dangerous than the most absolute despot. Thus from whatever part of the circle you start, you will be forced to go around it entirely before arriving at a satisfactory result.
I will make one reflection only on political constitutions, because I am not aware that any such reflection has ever been made. Some modern writers claim that the institutions which limit and separate the powers are only misleading formalities which governments skillfully elude. Even if this were true, these formalities would still be useful. Governments obliged to elude them have less time to devote to foreign undertakings. They are  too busy at home to be looking outside for some meretricious occupation. Despots keep their subjects in far-off wars to distract them from domestic matters. People who want to enjoy some peace must give government something to do at home, so as not to be precipitated by its idleness and ambition into the calamities of war.
I will add that I am far from agreeing that the institutions protecting freedom are only worthless formalities. They give citizens a great feeling of their importance, a great enjoyment of this feeling, and a lively interest in the prosperity of the State. In this way, independently of their direct advantages, they are advantageous in creating and maintaining public spirit. This public spirit is the only effective guarantee. It is based in public opinion; it penetrates the offices of ministers; it modifies or stops their projects without their knowing. But take good note that this public spirit comes much more from the organization of government than from its actions. An absolute government under a virtuous despot can be very gentle without creating any public spirit. A limited government may, under a bad prince, be very vexatious despite its limits, yet for all that the public spirit will not be destroyed. But, I repeat: all these things are foreign to our topic.
On the Mode of Forming and Maintaining Armies
The aversion of modern nations to the hazards of war, which have ceased to be pleasures, makes the question of recruitment very difficult. When the spirit of the human race was warlike, men ran to combat. Today they have to be dragged to it.
The rights of government in regard to recruitment very much need to be fixed. If it is invested in this respect with boundless power, it is as if it had unlimited sway over everything. What does it matter if it cannot arrest citizens at home and keep them indefinitely in dungeons, if it can send them, them or their children, to die on faraway shores, if it can have this threat hover above the heads of loved ones and bring  despair into every home at will, by the exercise of bogus right?
There are two modes of recruitment, which subdivide again, but to one or the other of which one can relate all the different ways adopted in all countries.
The first consists in imposing on all citizens of a given age the duty of bearing arms for a certain number of years; the other is free and voluntary recruitment.
The drawbacks of the first mode are incontestable.
In certain periods of human life, interruptions to the exercise of intellectual or working faculties are never made good. The dangerous, careless, and coarse ways of soldiering, the sudden rupture of all family dealings, mechanical thralldom to minute duties when the enemy is not around, complete independence of moral ties at the age when the passions are most actively in ferment, these are not immaterial things in terms of morality and education. Condemning to a life in camps and barracks the younger sons of the affluent classes, in which reside, in short, education, refinement, and right thinking, as well as that tradition of gentleness, nobility, and elegance which alone distinguishes us from barbarians, this is to do the whole nation an ill uncompensated either by worthless success or the profitless terror she inspires. To commit to the soldier’s life the merchant’s son, or the artist’s, the magistrate’s, the young man devoted to letters, to science, to the exercise of some difficult and complicated activity, is to rob him of the fruit of all his previous education. This education itself will be affected in advance by the prospect of an inevitable interruption. Parental zeal will be discouraged. The young man’s imagination will be struck for good or ill by what lies in store. However his imagination may react to all this, his application can only be the worse. If he is intoxicated by brilliant dreams of military glory, he will scorn peaceful study, sedentary occupations, work of application contrary to his fancies, and the changeableness of his nascent faculties. If he thinks of himself sorrowfully as being dragged away from home, if he works out how much the sacrifice of several years will retard his progress, he will despair of himself. He will not want to exhaust himself in efforts whose fruits an iron hand will steal from him. He will tell himself that since his country contends with him for the time necessary to acquire  his learning, perfect the art he cultivates or the work he has embraced, it is pointless to struggle against power; he will resign himself, lazily, to what lies in store.
If, transforming in some way the obligation to bear arms into a tax on the rich, you restrict it in reality to the working-class poor, although this inequality seems to have something more revolting about it, then probably it will be less dire in its results than so-called equality, which weighs on all classes. An unskilled laborer or a day laborer suffers less from the interruption of his routine job than men committed to jobs demanding experience, assiduity, watchfulness, and thought. Plucking a farmer’s son away from his plough, you do not render him incapable of resuming his first job on his return. Other drawbacks are apparent, however, ones of no less importance. You will see parents punished for the faults of their children, with children’s interests separated from those of their fathers as a result, with families reduced either to uniting to resist the law, or to division so that one part can constrain the other to obedience, fatherly love treated like a crime, the filial tenderness which does not wish to abandon a father to old age and isolation turned into revolt and struck down harshly, spying and informing, those eternal resources of government once it has created bogus crimes, encouraged and rewarded, odious duties imposed on lesser magistrates, with men unleashed like ferocious mastiffs, in town and country, to pursue and lock up fugitives, innocent in the light of morality and nature. And perhaps all these vexations take place, not for legitimate defense but in order to facilitate the invasion and devastation of faraway regions whose possession adds nothing to the national prosperity, unless one calls the worthless renown of a few men and their fatal celebrity, national prosperity.9
The arguments pleaded in favor of institutions which force all citizens to bear arms resemble in some respects those of the enemies of property, which, under the pretext of a primitive equality, wish to divide manual labor without distinction between all men, not reflecting that the  work split thus will not only be less useful, since it will be badly done, but that moreover it would block all continuity, all specialized work, all the good effects of habit and concentration of effort, and thereby all progress, all perfectioning. Similarly, military life, seizing all the generations in turn during their youth, would infallibly cast a nation into brutishness and ignorance.
The only drawback of the second mode, I mean free and voluntary recruitment, is possible insufficiency.
I think this insufficiency is much exaggerated. The obstacles to recruitment the government finds always pertain to the futility of the war. Once a just war is involved, these obstacles diminish. Public opinion speaks, everyone’s interest makes itself heard. Everybody is drawn by this interest and this opinion. Each soul comes to life. Each offers himself to march to battle, aware of the cause. National movement exists, which the government has no need to create by orders and threats. It has only to direct it.
One can affirm this fearlessly. If governments undertook only just wars, if at home too they took justice as their standard, they would find very few obstacles to the composition of armies. In the present condition of Europe we do not at all dispute their right to maintain a standing military force even in time of peace, and to impose on citizens certain duties for the formation and maintenance of this force. But on the assumption that the government would undertake only legitimate wars, that is, motivated by the need for defense, although circumstances might render them offensive, how much less numerous on this assumption, we repeat, would the indispensable military force be, and how much simpler would it be for the citizens to fulfill these duties! Do not be distrustful then of their zeal. They are not slow to run to take up arms for their fatherland, when they have one. They spring to the maintenance of their independence abroad when they possess security at home. When they remain motionless and have to be constrained, it is because they have nothing to lose, and whose fault is that?
It might be objected perhaps that this unanimous movement cannot take place in a very large polity, that men run to the defense of their frontiers only when those frontiers are  near their homes and that a war occasioned by entry of an enemy in a faraway province will not produce in the center or at the opposite end of the country either indignation or zeal to repel it. First of all, this assertion is much more contestable than one might think. Suppose a great free people, happy in its freedom, attached by the feeling of good fortune to its government. It will contract wider and more generous ideas than those people who base their power on the degradation of the human race like to believe. Just as men used to freedom see in the oppression of a single citizen, however unknown he may be to them, a punishable assault against the whole of civil society, so also a nation which has a fatherland sees in the invasion of a part of its territory an insult made to the whole of that fatherland. The enjoyment of freedom creates a feeling of national pride so refined and easily offended that government has more often to restrain than arouse it. Doubtless this truth has limits. What follows from it, though, is simply that large countries must have it too. When a country is so extensive that no national link can exist between its different provinces, I can scarcely conceive the argument for this excessive extent.
A nation refuses to defend itself against an enemy which menaces it or to contribute in sufficient proportion to the establishment necessary for the security of the country it inhabits, only when its government by its injustices has detached it from its interests, or when this government’s frenzied ambition, wishing to set up everywhere at the expense of its subjects a tyrannical domination, demands efforts and sacrifices which neither the security nor the prosperity of this nation requires. This government is then reduced to dragging its slaves to war in irons.
Nevertheless, that voluntary recruitment be supposed insufficient suffices to oblige us to indicate the remedy for this insufficiency. It has been said that if a government were not good enough to inspire in its subjects the desire to defend it, then it must bear the penalty for its vices. This is true. But no government will resign itself to that. It is pointless proposing principles whose nature is such that they will not be observed.
When voluntary recruitment is insufficient, the government must indeed be given the right to resort to conscription. When it is not accorded this right, it will take it. To combine this prerogative, however, with a degree of freedom and individual security, we have to revert to political freedom, for as we said at the start, if the right to conscription is not strictly limited, there are no longer any limits to despotism. Everything  leads us back therefore, in spite of ourselves and by every route, to political freedom.
The representatives of the nation must determine how, in what numbers, in what conditions, and for what end the citizens must be obliged to march to the defense of their country. This determination by the nation’s representatives must not be permanent, but it must happen each time circumstances demand it, and it must cease, by law, when the circumstances have changed. And this forces us to repeat what we said above, about all the prerogatives to be granted to the representative assemblies in order for them to attain their goal.10 For if they are weak and dependent, they will vote for everything the executive power wishes.
[2. ]King of Sweden (1682–1718), whose famous military genius Voltaire related in his Histoire de Charles XII (1731).
[4. ]Hofmann failed to find this quotation from Machiavelli.
[7. ]This reflection can be compared with what Constant says in his Journal intime, 10 June 1804: “The new ideas one has should be announced as new only as little as possible. On the contrary, they should be given as far as may be  the appearance of received wisdom, so that they may be accepted less painfully. And if one is obliged to agree on the novelty of one of one’s ideas, it should be surrounded with a whole cortege of ideas to which the public is already more accustomed.”
[8. ]On these writers who preach war thus, see Constant’s letter of 13 messidor an X (2 July 1803) to Fauriel, in: Victor Glachant, Benjamin Constant sous l’oeil du guet, Paris, Plon, 1906, pp. 50–51.
[10. ]On pp. 287–288, but the reference is not clear.
[A. [Refers to page 278.]]Ganilh, I, 237.
[C. [Refers to page 284.]]“Nec civis meus est, in quem tua classica Caesar,
[E. [Refers to page 290.]]There were under the monarchy 60,000 militiamen in France; the period of service was six years. Thus fate fell every year on 10,000 men. Administration des finances, I, 30. M. Necker called the militia a frightful lottery. What would he have said about conscription?
[C. [Refers to page 284.]]“Nec civis meus est, in quem tua classica Caesar,
Jean-Baptiste Say, op. cit., t. II, p. 426.
Lucain, La guerre civile (La pharsale), Livre I, vv. 373–374 and 384–386. See the edition by A. Bourgery, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1926, t. I, pp. 17–18. “It is no longer my fellow citizen, against whom I will have heard the call of your trumpets, Caesar [. . .] our arms will push the battering ram which will sunder the foundation walls of the city whose annihilation you command, even were it Rome.”
[The French translator thinks the “arms” are “ours.” The Latin has “these shoulders.” Translator’s note]
In Ch. 2 De la corruption du principe de la démocratie.