The "total-compusion State"

Posted by Tory Historian Wednesday, February 18, 2009 ,

Tory Historian rather enjoys reading newspapers of many decades ago but finds the exercise a little depressing, comparisons with the present day not being of the happiest.

For reasons too difficult to explain, Tory Historian was reading letters in The Times of March 1939 on the subject of conscription, then much discussed as the Bill was going through Parliament. The letters columns had various arguments for and against, one of the most vociferous and long-winded being the great military historian and theorist, Captain Basil Liddell Hart (later Sir Basil) who was a fervent opponent of the whole idea.

His arguments were two-fold. Firstly, he thought it was impractical. Soldiers, he reasoned, accurately enough, needed to be trained. Numbers were not enough, one needed equipment and, above all, qualified instructors, who had to understand military technique and be able to expound it well. Absent these, the recruitment of large numbers and, especially, conscription of even larger ones, made things considerably worse.

Many would argue that the early campaigning by the British Expeditionary Force proved Liddell Hart’s point, up to and including Dunkirk.

His second argument was based on a simple idea: conscription was alien to a democratic society. There were those who produced counter-arguments, citing other democracies that had conscription. One letter referred to France and the Scandinavian countries adding that these were “countries in every sense more democratic than our own”. I hope the writer meant the Scandinavian ones for France, where women did not get the vote till well after the Second World War, can hardly be called a superior democracy in 1939. Looking back on its army’s collapse within a year of that debate one would be justified in doubting the efficacy of conscription.

Liddell Hart would have none of it.

Whatever the case for compulsory service in an earlier generation, when other democratic nations adopted it, it is inevitably affected now by the fact that we are threatened by nations who have made it not merely a means but and end – a principle of life. The Totalitarian State is the total-compulsion State, to which the individual is enslaved. For us to adopt compulsory service under pressure of their challenge would be a definite surrender of our own vital principles – and admission of spiritual defeat.
These are words that, mutatis mutandis, need to be pondered over today. They also tie in quite interestingly with the thesis propounded by Jonah Goldberg in “Liberal Fascism”, where he points repeatedly to the fondness evinced by “liberal” or left-wing leaders, politicians, governments for using the idea of a war and compulsory service in non-military situations in order to build up an orderly and obedient society.

1 Responses to The "total-compusion State"

  1. davod Says:
  2. I agree with Liddle Hart's arguments. However, sometimes Urgency and quantity trumps quality.

    I would be interested to know whether Liddell Hart's views on the draft changes after afer WWII.

    Can you point me in the right direction?

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