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Adam Smith appears to consider this question to be satisfactorily solved by “the irresistible superiority” which, he says, “a well-regulated standing army has over a militia." And he mentions, as the first great revolution in the affairs of mankind of which history has preserved any distinct account, the victory which the standing army of Philip of Macedon obtained over what he terms “the gallant and well-exercised militias of the principal republics of ancient Greece. This statement contains several grave errors.
It is true that Philip's army may be termed a standing army, and it is also true—though Adam Smith has omitted that essential element, and therein lies one principal fallacy of his argument--that it was a standing army formed of good materials; but it is not true that the troops of Greece which it defeated were at that time "gallant and well-exercised militias.”
Indeed," as Mr. Grote has well observed,† “ the Spartan infantry, from their peculiar and systematic training, possessed, though not in the days of Philip of Macedon, the arrangements and aptitudes of a good standing army.” And it is no small proof of the superiority of a well-regulated standing army formed of good materials, that every Greek who contrasted his own brave and patriotic but unsystematized militia with the symmetrical structure of the Lacedæmonian armed force, and the preparation of every Spartan for his duty by a painful discipline and laborious drilling, experienced a feeling of inferiority which made him willingly accept the headship of “ these professional artists in the business of war,” as they are often denominated by the Greek writers.*
* Wealth of Nations, bk. v. ch. i. † History of Greece, vol. ii. p. 606.
But Adam Smith's words, “gallant and well-exercised militias," would lead to the inference that the armed forces of the several States of Greece were in as sound a condition at the time of the battle of Chæronea as at the times of the battles of Marathon, Thermopylæ, and Platæa. The fact was, however, very different. We have the best authority for the conclusion that, in the course of the century preceding the battle of Chæronea, the military excellence of the Lacedæmonian armed force had greatly declined, if it had not almost disappeared, and that Athens no longer possessed a “gallant and well-exercised militia." I will endeavour to explain the causes of this change in these two States respectively. Mr. Grote, indeed, seems to think that the subdivision of Greece into numerous independent States
-a subdivision in great part arising from the mountainous nature of the country—proved finally the cause of her ruin, and that, had the Amphictyonic
* Grote, vol. ii. pp. 608, 609. Plutarch. Pelop. c. 23: Návrwv ακροι τεχνίται και σοφισταί τών πολεμικών όντες οι Σπαρτιάται. . Xenoph. “Rep. Lac.” c. 14.
Λακεδαιμονίους δε μόνους τω όντι τεχνίτας των πολεμικών. .
† History of Greece, vol. ii. p. 299.
Council really been the 66 commune Græciæ concilium ” which Cicero calls it, united Hellas might have maintained her independence not only against the Macedonian kings, but even against the conquering legions of Rome.* But the fact that Greece did maintain her independence against the great Persian invasion proves that her subdivision into numerous independent States was not the cause of her ultimate ruin. That cause must, I think, be looked for elsewhere. And in regard to the two principal States of Greece, Sparta and Athens, there exist sufficient data whereon to found a tolerably accurate conclusion. No union could ever have imparted a durable and healthy vitality to a nation with such a government as either the Spartan oligarchy or the Athenian democracy
The question of standing armies and militias I shall hereafter consider more in detail. But Adam Smith, in the exaggerated importance he appears to me to have attached to standing armies generally, has, I think, taken an erroneous view of this question. At the same time the general opinion of the other States of Greece respecting the effect of the Spartan discipline seems to prove the advantage of superior discipline, whether the troops possessing that discipline are called a militia or a standing army. It is a remarkable fact that the militias of Epaminondas, Cromwell, and Washington beat the professional soldiers opposed to them.
* History of Greece, vol. ii. p. 332.
The fundamental element of a nation's strength is the physical hardihood of its people, combined with that force and energy of character which are the consequences of such hardihood, and the patriotism, or love of and pride in country, which is the consequence of some degree of good government. Accordingly, all nations which have been at any time strong have encouraged the use of manly and athletic exercises; the neglect of which has a most pernicious effect, not only on the bodily strength, but on the bodily and mental health and courage of the community. For a coward—a man incapable of defending himself-as a celebrated writer * has observed, wants one of the most essential parts of the character of a man, being as much mutilated and deformed in his mind as a man who is deprived of some of his limbs, or has lost the use of them, is in his body. And to prevent that sort of mental mutilation, deformity, and wretchedness which cowardice necessarily involves in it, from spreading through the great body of the people, deserves the most serious attention of the government; in the same manner as it would deserve its most serious attention to prevent a deadly pestilential disease from spreading itself among them.
The great writer above referred to, however, does
* Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations, bk. v.ch. i. part iii. art. ii.
not appear to estimate truly the danger of such a disease; when comparing it to a leprosy, he adds, “or any other loathsome and offensive disease, though neither mortal nor dangerous:" for the disease of cowardice, when it has to any extent attacked a nation, is not only dangerous but mortal.
Now, though it is true that the greatest courage and determination and force of character, as well as vigour of intellect, may co-exist with a feeble constitution and frame of body, yet, besides courage, bodily strength, hardihood, activity, power of endurance, and some skill in the use of arms, are essential for defence against an enemy; and these qualities can only be attained and preserved by some degree of bodily training and practice in the use of arms-a familiarity with which of itself imparts to men a certain amount of courage and self-reliance. Accordingly, all healthy and powerful nations have cultivated bodily strength and hardihood, from the early Persians to the English yeomen, whose strong right arms sent their deadly shafts among their enemies' ranks with such unerring aim and irresistible force. Of the careful training of the English archers, I shall have occasion to speak hereafter.
While the Persians were in their healthy and vigorous state, the three great lessons the youth were taught, from five to twenty years of age, were to ride, to shoot with the bow, and to speak truth. * But the
* Herod. i. 136.