AskDefine | Define militarism

Dictionary Definition

militarism n : a political orientation of a people or a government to maintain a strong military force and to be prepared to use it aggresively to defend or promote national interests

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. an ideology which claims that the military is the foundation of a society's security, and thereby claims to be its most important aspect



  • Catalan: militarisme
  • Croatian: militarizam
  • German: Militarismus
  • Spanish: militarismo

Extensive Definition

Militarism is the "belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests" [Source: Apple Dictionary, Version 1.0.2]. It has also been defined as "aggressiveness that involves the threat of using military force" Online dictionary, as well as "Glorification of the ideals of a professional military class" and "Predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state" American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.


Under the justification of force, militarism asserts that civilian populations are dependent upon — and thereby subservient to —the needs and goals of its military. Common tenets include advocation of "peace through strength" as the proper method to secure the interests of society — and is expressed as one that overrides all others; including traditional precursory diplomatic relations and issues related to social welfare. Militarism is essentially undemocratic and antidemocratic. Therefore, it is not part of the culture of democratic societies but flourishes in those subjected to totalitarian theories like fascism.Militarism is sometimes contrasted with the concepts of comprehensive national power and soft power and hard power.
This quality may be identified in economic terms by several methods; including the determination of those nations with large modern militaries requiring large or substantially higher budgets than the average among nations to maintain large military forces (as of 2005 viz United States, the People's Republic of China, Russia) or to expand such forces (as of 2005 viz Israel, Kuwait, Singapore), or to nation-states devoting substantial portions of their GDPs per capita to develop such forces (as of 2005 viz. North Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia).
Militarism, in practice, is a preference toward goals, concepts, doctrines, and policies that will be carried out by the threat or actuality of military force. Militarism does not require that the direction come from members of the military, as there may be militarist policies in society that has civilian control of the military. There are intermediate cases where former active military officers have taken control of civilian posts and hold both military and civilian titles. In nonmilitaristic societies such as the United States or the United Kingdom, freedom of speech and association, and the right to petition government provides for the formation of groups formed by civilians, former military members and veterans and their families to promote, represent or lobby for the different military services goals, concepts, policies and doctrines.
In a democratic republic, a central component of the state constitution is the body of rules concerning how military rule (martial law, and executive powers) may be implemented, and how such powers are to be returned to the elected government.

Historic and modern manifestations of militarism

Militarism tends to be considered as a direct opposition to self described peace movements in modern times. Today characteristics of militarism are observed by critics in several nations and groups of nations; viz. the loosely allied Anglo-Saxon powers (led by the United States), the People's Republic of China, France, Israel, Syria, and Russia.
Militarism is most clearly observable in the history of nation-states and empires when they engaged in imperialism or expansionism; viz. British Empire, Empire of Japan, Nazi Germany, New Roman Empire of Mussolini, the expansion of the Russian SFSR into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and later reign of Joseph Stalin, Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein, and the United States during the period of Manifest Destiny and army reform. An example of militarism in ancient history would be the Greek city state of Sparta.

German militarism

The fact that a nation, through universal conscription, maintains a large standing army in times of peace does not necessarily make it a militarist state; prior to the First World War most European nations (except Great Britain) maintained such an army, yet not all had a government which could be defined as militaristic. Prior to the First World War in Germany, however, the armed forces were the strongest influence in government, and at times used their influence to override the civil power. Additionally, most Chancellors and some leading German political figures in this period were serving or retired officers in the armed forces. There was a strong culture of nationalism and deference towards the Kaiser. The Captain of Köpenick incident in 1906 is considered in Germany as an iconic example of that era's attitudes
The roots of German militarism can be found in the history of Prussia during the nineteenth century, and the subsequent unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. After Napoleon conquered Prussia, early in the nineteenth century, one of the conditions of peace was that Prussia should reduce her army to not more than forty-two thousand men. In order that the country should not again be so easily conquered, the king of Prussia enrolled the permitted number of men for one year, then dismissed that group, and enrolled another of the same size, and so on. Thus, in the course of ten years, it would be possible for him to gather an army of four hundred thousand men who had had at least one year of military training. The officers of the army were drawn almost entirely from among the land-owning nobility. The result was that there was gradually built up a large class of professional officers on the one hand, and, on the other, a much larger class, the rank and file of the army. These men had become used, in the army, to obeying implicitly all the commands of the officers, creating a class-based culture of deference.
This led to several results. Since the officer class furnished also most of the officials for the civil administration of the country, the interests of the army came to be considered the same as the interests of the country as a whole. A second result was that the governing class desired to continue a system which gave them so much power over the common people, contributing to the continuing influence of the Junker noble classes.
Militarism in Germany continued after the First World War and the fall of the German monarchy. During the period of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), the Kapp Putsch, an attempted coup against the republican government, was launched by disaffected members of the armed forces. After this, some of the more radical militarists and nationalists were subsumed into the Nazi Party, while more moderate elements of militarism declined. Nazi Germany was a strongly militarist state; after its fall in 1945, militarism in German culture was dramatically reduced, as a backlash against the Nazi period.
The Federal Republic of Germany today maintains a large, modern military and has one of the highest defence budgets in the world.

Japanese militarism

In parallel with 20th century Germany's militarism, Japanese militarism began with a series of events by which the military gained prominence in dictating Japan's affairs. This was evident in 15th century Japan's Sengoku Period or Age of Warring States where powerful samurai warlords or shogun played a significant role in Japanese politics. Japan's militarism is deeply rooted in the ancient samurai tradition, centuries before Japan's modernization.
Even though a militarist philosophy was intrinsic to the shogunates, a nationalist style of militarism came in under the Meiji Restoration. It is exemplified by the 1882 Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors. Still, there was a distinct change, roughly in the 1920s, from two main factors. One was the Cabinet Law that required the Army and Navy to name serving officers as Army and Navy Minister before a cabinet could be formed, essentially giving the military a veto over any cabinet in the ostensibly parliamentary country. Another factor was gekokujo, or institutionalized disobedience by junior officers . It was not uncommon for radical junior officers to press for their goals, to the extent of assassinating seniors.
Centuries of civil wars have brought about rigid military rule and secured a place for the military in government affairs only to last until Japan's unconditional surrender in World War II after the United States brought about democracy to the once militaristic state. With this dictatorial power, Japan invaded the Republic of China in 1931 and overtook half of Chinese land within 11 years, and finally spread the Second World War to the Pacific by the Pearl Harbor Attack.

US militarism

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries political and military leaders reformed the US federal government to establish a stronger central government than had ever previously existed for the purpose of enabling the nation to pursue an imperial policy in the Pacific and in the Caribbean and economic militarism to support the development of the new industrial economy. This reform was the result of a conflict between Neo-Hamiltonian Republicans and Jeffersonian-Jacksonian advocates over the proper administration of the state and direction of its foreign policy--between proponents of professionalism based on business management organizations and fuller local control by available figures-including amateurs.
After the end of the American Civil War the national army fell into disrepair. Reforms based on various European states including Imperial Britain, Imperial Germany, and Switzerland were made so that it would become responsive to control from the central government, prepared for future conflicts, and develop refined command and support structures; it led to the development of professional military thinkers and cadre.
During this time the intellectual ideas of Social Darwinism propelled the development of an American Empire in the Pacific and Caribbean. This required modifications for a more efficient central government due to the added administration requirements.
The enlargement of the US army for the Spanish-American War was considered essential to the occupation and control of the new territories acquired from Spain in its defeat (Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba). The previous limit by legislation of 24 000 men was expanded to 60 000 regulars in the new army bill on 2 February 1901, with allowance at that time for expansion to 80 000 regulars by presidential discretion at times of national emergency.
Again, US forces needed massive enlargement for the First World War. Officers such as George S. Patton were permanent captains at the start of the war but received temporary promotions to colonel, but reverted to low rank after the military cutbacks. There was no real concept of a standing large military until the very late thirties, with the draft instituted with the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940.
Between the first and second world wars, the US Marine Corps, while reduced, did engage in questionable activities in the Banana Wars in Latin America. Retired Major General Smedley Butler, at the time of his death the most decorated Marine, with two Medals of Honor, spoke strongly against a trend to what he considered trends toward fascism and militarism. The Latin American expeditions ended with Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy of 1934.
Roosevelt briefed Congress on what he described as a business plot for a military coup, for which he had been suggested as leader; the matter was partially corroborated, but the real threat has been controversial. There is little evidence that any serious military coups were planned in the US. Even during the American Civil War, officers sympathetic to the Confederacy resigned their commissions rather than mutinied. Robert E. Lee, suggested as the overall Union commander, felt that his greater loyalty was to his home state, and regretfully resigned from the US Army.
Even after the Second World War, there were major cutbacks, such that units responding early in the Korean War, under United Nations authority (e.g., Task Force Smith) were understrength, underequipped, and undertrained, resulting in catastrophic performance. It should be noted that when Harry S. Truman, the ultimate civilian authority, fired Douglas MacArthur, the tradition of civilian control held and MacArthur left without any hint of military coup. While he received a hero's welcome on his return, and there were even trial balloons of running for the presidency, in his own words, in a farewell address to Congress, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away." "And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away — an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-bye."
Serious permanent buildups were a result of the Cold War. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a retired top military commander elected as a civilian President, warned of the development of a military-industrial complex, more complex than many traditional ideas of militarism. In the Cold War, there emerged many civilian academics and industrial researchers, such as Henry Kissinger and Herman Kahn, that had significant input into the use of military force.
It has been argued that the United States has, since the end of the Vietnam War, shifted to a state of neomilitarism, which is a form of militarism adapted to the constraints of an advanced market society. It is distinguished by the reliance on a relatively small number of volunteer fighters; heavy reliance on complex technologies; and the rationalization and expansion of government advertising and recruitment programs designed to promote military service.
The Military budget of the United States for 2007 is estimated by the US Department of Defense to be $504 billion dollars

Israeli militarism

Israel's many security difficulties since the establishment of the State have led to a prominence of security in politics and civil society, resulting in many of Israel's top politicians being former high ranking military officials (partial list: Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Ezer Weizman, Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Mordechai, Amram Mitzna). On the other hand, the military culture of the Israel Defence Forces has been affected greatly by the civilian culture. Israeli culture is much less formal and regimented than most and this has spilled over into the military, especially since the vast majority of the officers and soldiers are reservists who bring their civilian background and behavioural norms into the army when they are mobilized (an example is the minimum of formality between separate ranks - commanders often being called by name rather than by rank by their subordinates, very little saluting except in ceremonies and such-like). Also the army has been entrusted with many civilian missions (social work, providing teachers in areas where they are lacking and so on), and this too has had its effect on the way army career personnel view the role of the army and their commitment to civilian society and norms (see



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militarism in Arabic: سياسة عسكرية
militarism in Danish: Militarisme
militarism in German: Militarismus
militarism in Spanish: Militarismo
militarism in Esperanto: Militarismo
militarism in Persian: نظامی‌گری
militarism in French: Militarisme
militarism in Korean: 군국주의
militarism in Indonesian: Militerisme
militarism in Italian: Militarismo
militarism in Hebrew: מיליטריזם
militarism in Georgian: მილიტარიზმი
militarism in Dutch: Militarisme
militarism in Japanese: 軍国主義
militarism in Norwegian: Militarisme
militarism in Portuguese: Militarismo
militarism in Russian: Милитаризм
militarism in Simple English: Militarism
militarism in Slovak: Militarizmus
militarism in Serbian: Милитаризам
militarism in Finnish: Militarismi
militarism in Swedish: Militarism
militarism in Turkish: Militarizm
militarism in Ukrainian: Мілітаризм
militarism in Chinese: 军国主义

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Eisenhower Doctrine, Monroe Doctrine, Nixon Doctrine, Truman Doctrine, absolute monarchy, aggression, aggressiveness, antagonism, appeasement, aristocracy, autarchy, autocracy, autonomy, balance of power, bellicism, bellicosity, belligerence, belligerency, brinkmanship, chauvinism, coalition government, coexistence, colonialism, combativeness, commonwealth, compromise, constitutional government, constitutional monarchy, containment, contentiousness, democracy, detente, deterrence, dictatorship, diplomacy, diplomatic, diplomatics, dollar diplomacy, dollar imperialism, dominion rule, duarchy, duumvirate, dyarchy, expansionism, federal government, federation, ferocity, feudal system, fierceness, fight, foreign affairs, foreign policy, garrison state, gerontocracy, good-neighbor policy, heteronomy, hierarchy, hierocracy, home rule, hostility, imperialism, internationalism, isolationism, jingoism, limited monarchy, manifest destiny, martial law, martialism, meritocracy, militancy, military government, mob rule, mobocracy, monarchy, nationalism, neocolonialism, neutralism, nonresistance, ochlocracy, oligarchy, open door, open-door policy, pantisocracy, patriarchate, patriarchy, peace offensive, peaceful coexistence, police state, preparedness, pugnaciousness, pugnacity, pure democracy, quarrelsomeness, regency, representative democracy, representative government, republic, saber rattling, self-determination, self-government, shirt-sleeve diplomacy, shuttle diplomacy, social democracy, spheres of influence, stratocracy, technocracy, the big stick, thearchy, theocracy, totalitarian government, totalitarian regime, tough policy, triarchy, triumvirate, truculence, tyranny, unfriendliness, unpeacefulness, warmongering, warpath, welfare state, world politics
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