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American Historical Review, Vol. -- (Feb. 1984), p. 98.



Weapons Systems and Political Stability: A History. 

Washington: University Press of America and Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. 1983. Pp. xvii. 1043. $36.50. 


   On his death in 1977, Carroll Quigley, professor at Georgetown University, left a long, but incomplete, manuscript, which his colleagues have now put into print (by photocopy of the typescript) together with appreciative comments and a list of his publications. The author's objective is to enlighten Americans on "the history of weapons systems and tactics, with special reference to the influence that these have had on political life and the stability of political arrangements" (p. 35). 


   Early in the work we are given an analysis of several dichotomies in military development: (1) amateur versus specialized weapons, the former of which could encourage the rise of democracy; (2) missile versus shock weapons, the former of which were preferred by Asiatic peoples 2000 a.c. to A.D. 1400, while Indo-European stocks tended to use shock weapons in that period; (3) the relative advantage of offensive or defensive tactics, a field in which oscillations have repeatedly taken place. 


   These variations are then discussed in the long sweep of human development from prehistory down to about A.D. 1500. The bulk of the text is devoted to Greek and Roman history for the period after what Quigley calls the "great divide" in Western Civilization that occurred about 600 b.c., but there is ample space for Chinese and nomadic history. The book is far more widely based than the brief bibliography suggests and is often provocatively independent in its judgments. Quigley does hop back and forth between Greece and Rome and mixes events of several centuries in one paragraph; the reader needs to be already well at home in ancient and also medieval history. 


   One would wish to speak well of a work with such earnest intent, on which the author spent the last twelve years of his life, but the study must be faulted on many levels. Straightforward errors may be excused as trivial. More serious on the factual side are Quigley's view that Indo-European peoples everywhere shared a fundamentally common ideology -- the search for immortality through public renown -- and his overemphasis on naval power; he also has the strange misconception that ancient historians nowadays do not often consider slavery as vital in Greek development. 


   The major structural flaw, however, is on a higher level, that of the organization of the whole work: for Quigley does not really carry out his intention. His surveys of changes in weapons systems are thoughtful and valuable. but for the reader they become muddled and ineffective amid the detailed narrative and descriptive treatments of political history over many centuries. Nor does the author provide clear judgments about the relations of the two factors in his tale. One looks, for instance, for a sharp analysis of the rise of Rome in light of its significant changes in weapons systems; instead, there is a lengthy discussion of the Roman constitution and other aspects that swell the bulk but do not bear on the topic.


   In the end, moreover, is H. J. Hogan correct in his foreword to the book when he asserts that "society's decisions regarding its weapons systems have been decisive in shaping human social, economic, and political decisions," or is the reverse as likely to be correct?  Quigley thought that the Greeks could become democratic because they used amateur weapons; but if Athens did have a democratic constitution for two centuries, it was for very different reasons, and almost all Greek states remained conservatively oligarchic in structure. Elsewhere Quigley is more careful not to explain the complexities of history simply by adducing one factor; among many examples, one may cite his treatment of the Middle Ages (p. 813), in which the role of weapons systems is noted but far more weight is assigned to the concept of providential deity (or, in the case of the Latin West, the failure of this ideology to gain command).


   Recently Douglas C. North has observed in an interesting study, Structure and Change in European History, "While there is an immense literature on military technology itself, it has seldom seen explored in terms of its implications for political structure" (p. 25). Quigley tried. but lost his way in details. Specialists may find profit in some of his comments; for the average American citizen the task still remains an open one. 



University of Michigan, .

Ann Arbor  


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