Keeping Norms Normal: Ancient Perspectives on Norms in Civil-Military Relations (Spring 2021)




Golby, Jim
Liebert, Hugh

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Texas National Security Review



The norms that uphold democratic values are a vital part of a healthy system of civil-military relations, but they are not well understood in the United States today. Ancient political philosophers, however, developed rich analyses of what norms are and how they work. We argue Plato, Aristotle, and Polybius established useful ways of thinking about civilian control focused on the apportionment of public honor and shame. We apply their insights to an ancient case: the civil-military breakdown in the Roman republic during the time of Marius. We argue that ancient modes of civilian control — based on education, honor, shame, unwritten norms, and social pressure — have enduring value. An orientation toward non-material incentives can help us better understand why civil-military norms have been weakening in the United States over recent decades. Ancient modes of civilian control may also help us prevent the type of civil-military problems that hastened the fall of the Roman republic.

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