Rousseau lays out his vision for a new government for the nation of Poland in this treatise. Chapter 12 deals with the military, and has always been among my favorite to read on the issue of organizing a national military and the issue of military service.


OF all the expenses of the republic, the maintenance of the royal army is the most considerable; and the services this army renders are certainly not in proportion to the cost. You will immediately say, however, that troops are necessary to defend the state. I would agree, if these troops actually defended it; but I cannot see that this army ever guaranteed it against any invasion, and I am afraid that it will do no better in the future.

Poland is surrounded by warlike powers which constantly maintain large standing armies of perfectly disciplined soldiers, armies which she herself could never match without soon exhausting herself, particularly in the deplorable condition in which she will be left by the brigands who are now ravaging her. Furthermore, she would not be allowed to rearm; and if, with the resources of a most vigorous administration, she attempted to raise a respectable army, her neighbours, alert to prevent it, would quickly crush her before she had been able to carry out the plan. No, if she seeks merely to imitate them, she will never resist them.

The Polish nation is different by nature, government, customs and language, not only from her neighbours, but also from all the rest of Europe. I should like her also to be different in her military organisation, tactics and discipline, being always herself, not someone else. Only then will she be all she is capable of becoming, and draw forth from her bosom all the resources she is capable of having.

The most inviolable law of nature is the law of the strongest. No laws, no constitution can be exempted from this law. If you look for means of guaranteeing yourselves against invasion by a neighbour stronger than you, you are chasing a will-o'-the-wisp. It would be even more absurd for you to want to make conquests and to acquire offensive power; this is incompatible with the form of your government. Anyone who wants to be free ought not to want to be a conqueror. The Romans were such by necessity and, you might say, in spite of themselves. War was a necessary remedy for the defect of their constitution. Constantly attacked and constantly victorious, they were the only disciplined people in a sea of barbarians, and became the masters of the world by constantly defending themselves. Your position is so unlike theirs that there is no one against whose attacks you would even be able to defend yourselves. You will never have offensive power; it will be a long time before you have defensive power. But you will soon, or more accurately speaking, you already have the power of self-preservation, which will guarantee you, even though subjected, against destruction, and will preserve your government and your liberty in its one true sanctuary, the heart of the Polish people.

Regular troops, the plague and depopulators of Europe, are good for two purposes only, to attack and conquer neighbours, or to bind and enslave citizens. Both of these ends are equally foreign to you; renounce, then, the means which lead to them. I know that the state should not remain without defenders; but its true defenders are its members. Each citizen should be a soldier by duty, none by profession. Such was the military system of the Romans; such is that of the Swiss today; such ought to be that of every free state, and particularly of Poland. In no position to hire an army sufficient for her defence, she must find that army, when necessary, in her inhabitants. A good militia, a genuine, well-drilled militia, is alone capable of satisfying this need. This militia will cost the republic little, will always be ready to serve it, and will serve it well, for after all, we always defend our own goods better than the goods of others.

Count Wielhorski suggests that a regiment should be raised by each palatinate, and kept constantly on an active footing. This supposes that the royal army, or at least the royal infantry, would be disbanded; for I believe that the maintenance of these thirty-three regiments would unduly overburden the republic if it had, in addition, the royal army to pay for. This change would not be without value, and strikes me as being easy to effect; but it can also become burdensome, and its abuses will be difficult to forestall. I should not advise scattering the soldiers as a police force in the towns and villages; that would be bad for discipline. Soldiers, above all professional ones, ought never to be left without a check on their conduct; still less should they be entrusted with any sort of control over citizens. They ought always to march and live together as a body; constantly subordinated and supervised, they should be nothing but blind instruments in the hands of their officers. If they were entrusted with any sort of control, however small, innumerable acts of violence, vexations and abuses without number, would ensue; the soldiers and the inhabitants would become mutual enemies. This is a misfortune that occurs wherever regular troops are found; the proposed regiments, being on continuous service, would acquire the spirit of regular troops, and this spirit is never favourable to freedom. The Roman republic was destroyed by its legions, when the remoteness of its conquests forced it to keep some on continuous service. Once again, the Poles ought not to look about them for things to imitate, not even when those things are good. This goodness, being relative to wholly different constitutions, would be an evil in their own. They should look exclusively to what is suitable to them, not to what others do.

Why not, then, instead of regular troops, a hundred times more burdensome than useful to any people uninterested in conquests, establish a genuine militia in Poland exactly as in Switzerland, where every inhabitant is a soldier, but only when necessary? The institution of serfdom in Poland makes it impossible, I admit, for the peasants to be armed immediately; arms in servile hands will always be more dangerous than useful to the state. Pending the happy moment of emancipation, however, Poland teems with cities, and their inhabitants, if conscripted, could in time of need furnish numerous troops whose upkeep, except during the period of that same need, would cost the state nothing. The majority of these inhabitants, having no land, would thus pay their taxes in service; and this service could easily be distributed in such a way as not to be at all burdensome to them, even though they were sufficiently drilled.

In Switzerland every individual who marries must be furnished with a uniform, which becomes his festive dress, with a rifle, and with all the equipment of a foot-soldier; he is enrolled in the company of his district. During the summer, on Sundays and holidays, these militias are drilled by formations, first by squads, next by companies, then by regiments; until finally, when their turn has come, they assemble in the country, and in succession form small encampments, in which they are drilled in all the manoeuvres appropriate to infantry. As long as they do not leave their place of residence, and thus are little or not at all interrupted in their work, they receive no pay; but as soon as they go out into the country they receive rations and are paid by the state; and no one is allowed to send another in his place, in order that each may receive training and that all may see service. In a state like Poland, with its vast provinces, it is easy to find the wherewithal to replace the royal army with a sufficient number of militiamen, who would be kept constantly mobilised, but changed once a year at least, and drawn in small detachments from all the corps, which would not be seriously burdensome to the individuals, whose turn would come hardly more often than once in twelve or fifteen years. In this way, the whole nation would be given military training, a good and numerous army would always be ready when needed, and it would cost far less, especially in peacetime, than the royal army costs to-day.

To make a real success of this operation, however, it would be necessary to begin by changing public opinion regarding a vocation which will in fact be wholly altered, and to make the Polish people look on the soldier no longer as a bandit who, in order to live, sells himself for five cents a day, but as a citizen who is doing his duty in the service of his country. This vocation must be restored to the honour which it formerly enjoyed, and which it still enjoys in Switzerland and in Geneva, where the best citizens are as proud of being in their corps and under arms as in the town hall and in the sovereign council. To accomplish this, it is important that, in the choice of officers, consideration should be given not at all to rank, credit and fortune, but solely to experience and talent. Nothing is easier than to make skill in the use of arms a point of honour, which will make everyone drill zealously for the service of his country before the eyes of his family and his people; a zeal which cannot be awakened to the same extent in a mob of riffraff which has been enlisted by chance, and is conscious only of the hardships of drill. I can remember the time when the citizens of Geneva manoeuvred much better than regular troops; but the magistrates, finding that this inspired the citizen body with a martial spirit alien to their own purposes, have taken care to suppress this sort of emulation, and have succeeded only too well.

In the execution of this plan, you could, with perfect safety, restore to the king the military authority which naturally belongs to his office; for it is inconceivable that the nation could be used to oppress itself, at least when all those who comprise it are given a share of freedom. It is only with regular and standing armies that the executive power can ever enslave a state. The great Roman armies were unabusive as long as they changed with each consul; and down to the time of Marius, it did not so much as enter the head of any consul that he might use them in any way to enslave the republic. It was not until the great remoteness of their conquests forced the Romans to keep the same armies mobilised for a long time, to man them with ruffianly recruits, and to perpetuate command over them by the proconsuls, that the latter began to feel their independence and to want to use it to establish their own power. The armies of Sulla, Pompey and Caesar became true regular forces, which replaced the republican spirit with the spirit of military government; and this to such an extent that the soldiers of Caesar considered themselves grossly insulted when, in a moment of mutual friction, he called them citizens, quirites. In the plan I envisage, and shall soon have finished outlining, all Poland will become warlike in defence of her liberty against the undertakings no less of the prince than of her neighbours; and I will venture to say that, once this plan has been well executed, the office of commander-in-chief could be abolished and its functions reunited with the crown, without placing liberty in the slightest danger, unless the nation should allow itself to be beguiled by plans of conquest; in which case I would no longer answer for anything. Whoever wants to deprive others of their freedom almost always ends by losing his own; this is true even of kings, and very much more true of peoples.

Why should not the equestrian order, in which the republic really resides, itself follow a plan like that here suggested for the infantry? Establish in all the palatinates cavalry corps in which the whole nobility will be enrolled, each with its own officers, general staff, banners, its own designated emergency quarters, and its fixed annual times of meeting. Let these brave noblemen learn how to drill in formation, to perform all sorts of movements and evolutions, to give order and precision to their manoeuvres, to recognise military discipline. I should not want them to imitate slavishly the tactics of the other nations. I should like them to evolve tactics of their own, tactics which would develop and perfect their own natural and national dispositions; I should like them above all to practice for lightness and speed, learning how to break off, disperse and regroup without difficulty or confusion; to excel in what is called guerilla warfare, in all the manoeuvres appropriate to light troops, in the art of inundating a country like a torrent, of striking everywhere without ever being struck, of continuing to act in concert though separated, of cutting communications, of intercepting convoys, of charging rear-guards, of capturing vanguards, of surprising detachments, of harassing large bodies of troops marching and camping together; I should like them to adopt the methods of the ancient Parthians, whose valour they already possess, and learn like them to conquer and destroy the best disciplined armies without ever joining battle and without leaving them a moment's respite. In short, have infantry, since it is necessary, but rely only on your cavalry, and leave no stone unturned in devising a system which will place the entire outcome of the war in its hands. A free people is not well advised to have fortresses; they are not at all suited to the Polish genius, and sooner or later they everywhere become nests for tyrants, The places you think you are fortifying against the Russians you will inevitably be fortifying for them; and for you they will become shackles from which you will never deliver yourselves. Neglect even the advantages of fortified outposts, and do not bankrupt yourselves for artillery; such things are not what you need. A sudden invasion is a great misfortune, no doubt; but permanent enslavement is a far greater one. You will never be able to make it difficult for your neighbours to enter your territory; but you can make it difficult for them to withdraw with impunity; and that should be your sole concern. Antony and Crassus invaded the territory of the Parthians easily, but to their own misfortune. A land as vast as yours always offers its inhabitants places of refuge and great resources for eluding its aggressors. No human art could prevent sudden action by the strong against the weak; but the weak can provide themselves with means of retaliation; and when experience teaches how hard it is to retire from your country, people will be in less of a hurry to enter it. Leave your country wide open, then, like Sparta, but build, like her, strong citadels in the hearts of the citizens; and just as Themistocles carried Athens away in her fleet, carry off your cities, when need be, on your horses. The spirit of imitation seldom produces anything good, and never anything great. Each country has advantages which are peculiar to itself, and which should be extended and fostered by its constitution. Husband and cultivate those of Poland, and she will have few other nations to envy.

A single thing suffices to make it impossible to conquer her, namely love of country and of liberty, animated by the virtues inseparable from that love. You have just given an ever-memorable example of it. As long as this love burns in your hearts, it may not ensure you against a temporary yoke; but sooner or later it will burst forth, shake off the yoke, and set you free. Work, therefore, without pause or relaxation, to bring patriotism to the highest pitch in every Polish heart. I have already indicated some of the means appropriate to that end. At this point it remains only for me to discuss the one which I believe to be the strongest, the most powerful of all, one which is even infallible in its effects if properly executed; this is to arrange things so that every citizen will feel himself to be constantly under the public eye; that no one will advance or succeed save by the favour of the public; that no office or position shall be filled save by the will of the nation; and finally that, from the lowliest nobleman, even from the lowliest peasant, up to the king, if possible, all shall be so dependent on public esteem that nothing can be done, nothing acquired, no success obtained without it. Out of the effervescence excited by this mutual emulation will arise that patriotic intoxication which alone can raise men above themselves, and without which liberty is but an empty word, and laws but a chimera.

In the equestrian order this system is easy to establish, if you are careful throughout to make it follow a fixed sequence of official promotions, admitting no one to the honours and dignities of the state unless he has previously passed through the inferior grades, which will serve both as a qualification and as a test for those seeking a higher degree of eminence. Since equality among noblemen is a fundamental law of Poland, the career of public service in that country ought always to begin with subordinate positions; that is the spirit of the constitution. These positions should be open to every citizen who is zealous enough to seek them, and who believes himself able to fill them successfully; but they should be the indispensable first step for anyone, great or small, who wishes to advance in this career. Each is free to present himself or not; but once he has done so, he must, unless he retires voluntarily, either advance or be rebuffed with disapprobation. All his conduct must be seen and judged by his fellow-citizens; he must know that his every step is being watched, that all his acts are being weighed, that a faithful account is being kept of all his good and evil deeds, and that this account will influence the whole subsequent course of his life.