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September 27, 2006



And yet the American "Revolutionaries" won their War of Independence even though their army was so hierarchical that the officers took shelter behind their men in battle, unlike their Hanoverian opponents. (Whence the American invention of the legend that so many Hanoverian officers died, compared to "Patriot" officers, because the Patriot armies were especially blessed with sharpshooters.)

james higham

Dearie me, that's as maybe but I'm [w]racking my brain trying to think of instances where the hypothesis doesn't hold water. There aren't many.


How does the Roman empire fit into this thesis?


The hypothesis is by no means absurd. Inequality and the loyalty of troops is seen very obviously in the case of Tsarist Russia during WWI, for example. But, while I appreciate that the study looks at bi-national wars, I don't think this is a credible method to use because the nature of the regime, including the degree of economic inequality therein, is bound to be a crucial variable determining how many countries are involved in the conflict in the first place.

More likely the degree of economic equality functions as a proxy for modernity - a point argued by Eric Hobsbawm with regards to Napoleon's armies. In this context, the experience of the United States in Vietman and now Iraq can't be placed beside, for example, the Franco-Prussian war, because this isn't comparing like with like. With this one European example alone, I don't think it can seriously be argued that the crushing defeat that the Prussian inflicted on the French in 1870-71 was a function of economic equality. And regarding the Iraqi insurgency - given its complex make-up, I think it's frankly absurd to suggest that this somehow represents an 'egalitarian mini-state'.

Would anyone expect Sweden to defeat the United States on the battle-field? Enough said.


James, Pelop,er Pellopa, um, didn't Sparta beat Athens?

Pete in Dunbar

It seems to me that the whole premise is absurd, and that they have - how can one put it? - just made stuff up. I fail to see, for example how the Prussian moanarchy can be described as 'more egalitarian' than the French Empire (they seem to be using level of industrialisation as a proxy measure of inequality, which seem frankly silly). Frequently they seem to assume the degree of egalitarianism in order to make the evidence fit their hypothesis(their explanation of Napoleon's victories and defeat, for example - Russia more egalitarian that France? How do they get away with parading ignorance like this?). You also find them picking and choosing amongst opponents (forgetting, for example that the Crimean War involved the Ottoman Empire on the winning side). All in all it seemed a shoddy piece of work to me.

Barry Marshall

Nice theory, but it's so unweildy and subject to too many variables and subjective evaluations of the criteria themselves as to be almost worthless.

Almost, I say, because it does strike one as being on the right lines, though that may be just my prejudice!

One thing they completely forgot (though it is out of their time-frame it would still have been worth a mention) is the New Model Army, which thrashed the Royalist forces during the English civil war.


Perhaps the relationship is the other way around?

When a country wins a war that involves large numbers of its population there is a greater demand for equality to honour the sacrifice. An example being the post war keynesian settlement in the UK as the returning soldiers didn't want to return to the depression of the 30s.

The implication here being that in order to improve morale the soldiers need to know they and their families will be looked after. In Iraq the opposite applies with veterans benefits being cut and reduced by the Bush administration.

Maynard Handley

It would seem that they left out the single most important issue:
In a properly functioning more egalitarian society, decision-making listens to a wider spectrum of viewpoints and is willing to change its mind when confronted with evidence that planned or ongoing operations will/are not achieving their objectives.

As always in these things, there are degrees. I imagine that North Vietnam and the Viet Cong probably suffered a fair bit of groupthink and unwillingness to criticize leaders, but comparable to the US leadership's bullheaded "stay the course" of 1965 to 1975? Stalin would appear to contradict this but, honestly, would Stalin have won if the war were simply Germany vs Russia with the rest of the world not getting involved? It's not clear IMHO.

James Galbraith

To repeat a comment also made at The Economists' Voice, we do not claim that Russia was more egalitarian than France. Our argument relates to the French Empire, meaning all the lands that Napoleon occupied in 1812, and from which he recruited his army. Less than half of the Grande Armee came from France.

Planeshift's comment is of course spot on: countries that look after their soldiers (and their families) tend to win wars.

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