By Cruz Marquis
The raising, deploying, and maintaining of standing armies is the most injurious possible development for liberty. Republicans effectively remodeled the image of our standing army to be nationalistic, pro-family, and an all-around good to camouflage the inherent negatives of large militaries. How should the libertarian and the conservative toe the line between respecting the soldiery on the one hand and opposing the matrix of interests which promotes war on the other?
This is no easy question and it admits of no quick answers. As I wrote in my previous article, the Republican Party effectively remodeled the US military and cast it as a special institution without negative externalities, the purest essence of America one could possibly isolate. This is both true and untrue, and the propaganda campaign masks the realities of standing armies, the negatives of which the US military is not exempt.
First, the purest essence of America is to be found nowhere else but in the pews, and on the hearth. The home and the church represent all that a nation is, being that they are the strongest institutions that do not rely on political power (which thereby excludes those odious, artificial constructions we call states). In both, man is raised and socialized into the culture, language, faith, and mores of the nation, and both are there for him at every stage of his life. When a child, his parents and his church teach him right from wrong, and how to live as an upstanding man in the nation. As an adult, his family and the church mutually support each other, giving and receiving moral and financial charity where it is just and needed. As an elder, he is cared for by his children and the church, while also providing the wisdom and knowledge peculiar to the greatly aged. This is America.
It is true, many of America’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines come from just these ideal environments and being inculcated with a love of nation from family and church are in themselves the embodiment of all that is good about America. That much is true of the US military. I knew more men than not which fit this description in my brief service in the Marine Corps. The great majority of America’s warfighters are good men relative to the world in which they live –let me not be accused of defaming the character of America’s soldiery.
Consequent to the character of the soldiery being a good one relatively speaking, the tactics of total disrespect for anyone in the profession of arms is erroneous. In modern parlance, it is abhorrent to spit on soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, even though the US never should have been in either country in the first place. Holding these two positions simultaneously brokers no contradiction.
Second, standing armies of every shape and size are expensive, and dangerous to liberty. Being a professional military force that never demobilizes, keeps huge stocks of weaponry, forms castes separate from the general citizenry, and is on call whenever it is needed at home or abroad, the US military belongs to the class of standing armies and thus all criticisms of the class refer also to the instance ipso facto.
Sadly, the Overton Window, which is the range of “acceptable opinions,” has swung so far in favor of the state that almost all discussions of standing armies has utterly ceased and become the sole affair of the consumer of pamphlets from long ago. This is a tragedy since it shows a near universal acceptance of the institution with the capacity to end representative government at a stroke, effect the general impoverishment of the citizenry, and deprive the same of their liberty. Worse, the debate is unexamined since the shift of the Overton Window has advanced so far that the acceptance is by default, as opposed to rational consideration.
The whole of the founding generation of this country would be frozen in horror, as was Lot’s wife at the sight of the desolation of Gomorrah (albeit without being turned to salt in all likelihood), should they behold the American people failing to see the dangers of standing armies and accepting them without even a thought. Their words on the matter are insightful and equally applicable today as they were then:
- “That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; And that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power. —The Pennsylvania Constitution
- “A standing military force, with an overgrown executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have always enslaved the people.” –James Madison, speech at the constitutional convention
- “Standing armies are dangerous to liberty.” –Alexander Hamilton, the Federalist Papers
- Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for brining the many under the domination of the few. –James Madison Political Observations April 20, 1795
- “[United under one government, we] Will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.” –George Washington, Farewell Address September 17, 1796
Since the Founding Fathers explicitly loathed everything to do with standing armies, it is hardly an affront to Americanism to oppose them as an idea. This is an important point for the conservative since a deep sense of patriotism is a conspicuous and auspicious component of the American variety of this ideology. I personally love my nation, and that which it has always stood for. If I did not consider America as an idea important, I would not hang a Betsy Ross flag on my office wall, nor hang adjacent to it a placard with the words of the second amendment laid over an American flag, nor would my writing desk support a miniature sculpture of the Marine Memorial in Washington DC.
Because of the conservative’s love of country, it is important to see through the remodeling of the US military in a “100% pro-America, all benefits, no negatives,” way. Ever since the Vietnam War, it has been a standard Republican counter that opposing the standing army is equivalent to hating America. Sometimes, they are flat out correct: Some of the smelly protestors who abuse returning war veterans hate the hearth-and-pew alliance through which America as an idea was created and is propagated. Anyone who deplores home and church is anathema, and the conservative who opposes the standing army due to it being destructive to the same ought not be classed with the smelly protestors.
The anti-statist conservative who sees the danger of standing armies should flip the tables on conventional Republicans and ask them if the institution tends not toward impoverishment, the destruction of liberties, and a constant risk of the abolition of representative government. All three of those questions must be answered in the affirmative.
The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which funds the military for a fiscal year will cost $857 billion, and it a bill like that does not tend toward the general impoverishment, nothing under the sun can. Regular troops are often used to quell civil disobedience and on occasions, these encounters lead to deadly force, i.e., the Kent State Massacre. As for the potential to crush representative government in one fell swoop, it is best not to comment on the stationing of 15,000 soldiers in the capitol during the tumultuous winddown of 2020, and how the disturbing noises the officer corps started making about military coups around the same time.
What Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, or even Alexander Hamilton would say about these developments, we will never know on this side of the pearly gates. We can however make some inferences.
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 All of these quotations are sourced from The Quotable Founding Fathers: A Treasury of 2,500 Wise and Witty Quotations From the Men and Women Who Created America. Page 227.
 Ibid. Page 229.
 Ibid. Page 230
 Ibid. Page 232
 Ibid. Page 232