Weapons and Freedom

2004-12-05

In Weapons Systems and Political Stability: A History, Carroll Quigley investigates the relationship between advances in weaponry and the freedom or autocracy of human societies. His conclusions are sobering for anyone who values human liberty. At any point in history, the most advanced weaponry is either available equally to all persons (traditionally, men) or selectively to some kind of elite. Before about 3000 BCE, weaponry was not very advanced and was available equally to all, resulting in basically free people. From 3000 BCE to about 600 BCE, the most advanced weaponry was quite expensive and available only to an elite; this time period coincided roughly with the rise of the early empires and the first instance of authoritarian rule in human experience. That cycle was broken briefly from about 600 BCE to 400 BCE in the early classical period in certain parts of the Mediterranean, leading to the relatively free, democratic culture of the Greek city-states. However, that brief hiatus did not last long, and the most advanced weaponry again remained the province of the elite through the Roman Empire, medieval times, feudalism, and the dynastic states of the early modern period. It was only around the time of the American Revolution that the most advanced weapons were once again available to all in certain societies, leading to a rash of revolutions and the mostly free societies of the nineteenth century. By the time of the First World War, the tide had begun to turn decisively again to specialist armies and authoritarianism because of the extreme cost of advanced weapons (fighter aircraft, gunboats, nuclear weapons, and the like) in recent times. Further, Quigley argues that only when advanced weapons are once again affordable to and owned by the average citizen will we once again witness a flowering of freedom and true democracy ("people-power"). Unfortunately, if human history is any guide, we may have to wait a long time for that to happen.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal