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New Left Review I/162, March-April 1987

Michael Mann

The Roots and Contradictions of Modern Militarism

I define militarism as a set of attitudes and social practices which regards war and the preparation for war as a normal and desirable social activity. This is a broader definition than is common among scholars. It qualifies people other than John Wayne as militarists. But in an age when war threatens our survival, it is as well to understand any behaviour, however mild in appearance, which makes war seem either natural or desirable. In many societies militarism is ‘up-front’. Young men are educated in violent pursuits to teach them techniques of riding, shooting and close combat and their accompanying forms of morale. Notions of skill, bravery, honour, leadership and cunning acquire military coloration among males. We have examples from many societies—from ancient Persia to Republican Rome to medieval Europe to early modern Prussia. But modern society is not like that. Education and the socialization of the young are largely pacific. Our sports do not relate well to modern warfare, even violent ones like boxing. True, the play of young boys is often militaristic, and male notions of honour retain some of the coloration of traditional militarism. But these are elements in a diverse modern culture, not its core. Nor could they be reasonable preparation for the highest nuclear level of warfare.

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Michael Mann, ‘The Roots and Contradictions of Modern Militarism’, NLR I/162: £3

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