In the last article, Xenophon and the Ten Thousand, I briefly touched upon the principles of Western Civilization. In this article we are going to dig deep and find the answer to the question that I posed in the first article: Why did the Greek hoplites fight in the phalanx wearing heavy armor when the Persians did not?
I’m going to pose a few more questions. How is that a Persian army, drawn from an empire of more than one million square miles, with a population of more than seventy million, fail to conquer the Greek City-States that had a total land area of fifty-thousand square miles? Why were the Roman Legions in Egypt instead of an Egyptian army in Italy? Why were there Spanish conquistadors in Mexico, conquering the Aztecs, instead of Mexicans in Spain conquering the Spanish? Why were the British Redcoats in Africa and India instead of the other way around?
The answer can be found within the foundation left to Western Civilization by Classical Greece and later the Roman Empire.
As I said in the first article, these principles have not remained unchanged over the past two millennia, nor has every nation that we would classify as a Western Civilization embodied every principle in this list. The fact remains though, many of these principles can be found within the foundation that was laid in classical antiquity.
I will attempt to keep this article short and to the point, with the purpose of briefly covering these principles before we move on to their application within a Western Civilization.
“The sinews of war are infinite money.” –Marcus Tullius Cicero
Capitalism and Western Civilization
The amoral wisdom that a free market will most efficiently see to the needs of the people. This idea has been the engine by which Western Civilizations have conquered and colonized large areas of land, areas far larger than their landmass or population would otherwise suggest as possible.
As Cicero stated, unlimited funds really are the sinews of war. Banking systems, the system that allows for the storage of capital, are a uniquely Western concept. It allows a private citizen to store capital, free from the fear of arbitrary confiscation or taxation. When we view the world from the perspective of understanding the huge influence that such a system has on a culture, we begin to understand the mechanism that has allowed the rise and continuance of Western power.
Since we are still in the era of classical Greece, I will use the Persian Empire as an example again. In the Persian Empire, everyone and everything were a chattel of the King. The soldiers that marched in his army were conscripts who either marched or died. They were not free men fighting with the belief that through their victory they were protecting what was there’s. In fact, the opposite is true. They would have marched into battle knowing that all they possessed could be taken from them on the whim of a man they had never met.
A brutal passage of classical literature mentions the account of Pythius the Lydian, who asked the Great King that one of his five sons be allowed to remain behind to tend the old man when the Persian forces left Asia for Greece. Xerxes answered by having Pythius’s favorite son dismembered, his torso on one side of the roadway, legs on the other—so that the vast conscripted army would see the price of disobedience.
It is no wonder that these same soldiers, though vastly outnumbering their enemy, were defeated at the hands of the free men who stood in the serried ranks of the phalanx.
A government that rules with the power granted to it by the people it governs. What a wonderful idea. Throughout history there have been Western governments that have adopted this idea, to one degree or another, and prospered as a result.
A consensual government can take many forms: democracy, republic, or even a constitutional monarchy. When the people are protected from the arbitrary decisions of those in power, and have rights that are granted to and protected by a formal declaration, it fosters a liberated culture.
Even in the Roman Empire, during the time following the death of Christ, citizens had certain rights that were absolute. Paul, an apostle, was arrested and about to be flogged when he turned to the Centurion and asked, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” When the Centurion reported Paul’s words to the commander of the garrison, the commander was alarmed that they had put a Roman citizen into chains.
This story only reflects the attitude that is prevalent in a society where to be a citizen means that one is protected.
We have already touched upon capitalism and the role it plays in Western military dominance. The safe storage of capital by a free citizen cannot exist without a society where the ownership of property is protected by the rule of law. Therefore, capitalism cannot succeed in a nation that does not have a consensual government.
Decisive Shock Warfare
This concept, that warfare is the amoral extension of a nation-states political will; that it should be waged with every ounce of violence that is at that nation-states disposal; and that when an army marches to war it marches with the sole intention of the complete annihilation of the enemy’s ability to wage future war. This is coupled with the concept of an institutionalized military. When decisive shock warfare is mixed with the principle of a free landowning citizenship we see the murderous dividends of the Greek phalanx and the shield walls of the Roman legions. As technology advances we see the birth of line infantry such as the Redcoats of the British Empire and then the massed formations of armored divisions in the Second World War.
It has been a truth of history that a Western army has little to fear from an Eastern one, and that the greatest destruction is found when one Western army meets another one. We see this in the internecine Peloponnesian war, which killed more Greek hoplites than Xerxes ever could; in the lethal Roman Civil Wars that saw more dead legionaries than Hannibal could ever have dreamed possible; in the insane casualties of the First and Second World Wars, where multiple Western armies met and died in numbers that boggle the mind. On a side note, the sustainability of such warfare, the training and equipping and retraining and reequipping of vast armies is a feat that is only capable in a ‘nation at arms’, which is itself a Western concept that relies upon the concepts of a free landowning citizenship and capitalism.
When Hannibal destroyed a Roman army numbering 70,000 at the Battle of Cannae, he never could have foreseen that a year later the Roman Republic would have replaced those losses with men trained and equipped in the exact same way as the original army that he destroyed. Further, while the Roman Republic was capable of replacing one lost army with another, and had the capability of doing so again and again, he had no hope of reinforcement from Carthage.
In fact, in almost every case, when we see a Western army defeated at the hands of an Eastern one, it has multiple causes: The Western army was poorly led and fighting an enemy that was brilliantly led, deployed far from home and fighting an indigenous people that was fighting for their own homes, fighting an enemy that was using Western technology, or that the Western general disregarded the institutionalized rules of their own army.
At Cannae, we see the Romans led by a fool who deployed his army contrary to Roman military doctrine. Deploying in a deep Phalanx rather than the shield wall which was a hallmark of the Roman military.
At Isandlwana we see an arrogant British commander who divided his forces, and then ignored the rules that he had set in place: the failure to complete a fortified camp, the failure to place his artillery, and the failure to ensure the ammunition needed to defend the camp was placed within quick and easy reach. In fact, the ammunition was placed in a centralized depot and kept in locked boxes. Imagine the terror of the Redcoats as their ammunition began to run low and they sent runners to the ammo depot, only to find a long line of other men as they waited for the next box to be opened. The result was that a Zulu force of twenty thousand destroyed a British force of 1800. Only a few hours later at Rorke’s Drift, 150 Redcoats, many of whom were wounded, successfully defended against 4,000 Zulu’s.
These two examples of a Western defeat really only reinforce the rule of Western dominance; imagine a scenario where 1,800 Zulu’s had invaded England, faced a defending force of 20,000 Redcoats, and managed to defend themselves for hours, killing or wounding a quarter of the Redcoats before being overrun.
In reality, when King Cetshwayo’s forces defeated this first invasion of Zulu Land, he had believed that the war was over. He had no concept of the British reality of decisive shock warfare. The Redcoats would be back, in greater strength, and as we know from history, were victorious. The Zulu’s were arguably the most organized and deadly sub-Saharan indigenous empire in the history of Africa. Before their ultimate demise at the hands of the British Empire, the Zulu’s had conquered vast swathes of land, butchering millions of African’s in the process. Their preeminence in Africa would be brutally cut short at the hands of a Western power that relied upon thousands of years of Western military doctrine.
Also of note, the Zulu’s were no less brave than the Redcoats who ultimately defeated them, in fact one must assume that it would have taken a great deal of courage to charge a line of disciplined British infantry. Africa is not lacking in any natural resources, so it cannot be said that the British won because they were more blessed in natural resources. Nor is the British climate superior to that of South Africa. It cannot be said that that the British were racially superior to their Zulu enemies nor that the British were more intelligent. The answer cannot be found by looking at genes, or geography, or natural intelligence; but rather it is a continuation of the foundation laid by Greece in classical antiquity.
The next article, The Principles of Western Civilization P2, we will cover the Free Landowning Citizen.
This article was written by Jake Parrick