Alexander Hamilton warns of the danger to civil society and liberty from a standing army since “the military state becomes elevated above the civil” (1787)

Alexander Hamilton

Found in The Federalist (Gideon ed.)

In Federalist Paper no. 8 "The effects of Internal War in producing Standing Armies, and other institutions unfriendly to liberty" Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) warned of the dangers to liberty when the importance of the military is elevated above that of the citizenry:

But in a country, where the perpetual menacings of danger oblige the government to be always prepared to repel it, her armies must be numerous enough for instant defence. The continual necessity for his services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionably degrades the condition of the citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil. The inhabitants of territories often the theatre of war, are unavoidably subjected to frequent infringements on their rights, which serve to weaken their sense of those rights; and by degrees, the people are brought to consider the soldiery not only as their protectors, but as their superiors.

Hamilton taps into the 18th century well of thinking which was very hostile to the existence of a standing army. We have noted Thomas Gordon’s writings on this in a previous quotation and his views were shared by many American colonists. The fear of course was directed at the British Empire. Hamilton comments on the institutional changes which would come about (“the military state”) if war fighting became permanent: huge demands on government finance, the people becoming “broken to military subordination”, frequent infringements on the peoples' rights, and the populace coming to regard the army not as the protectors but as their superiors. This brings us back to the perennial problem of “who guards us from those who were appointed to guard us?”