Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Chapter VIII.
Officers and their Education. The Claim of “Unity of Origin” for all Officers.

Jaurès aims at providing a total of 50,000 officers for his Nation in Arms, as compared with the 31,000 provided under the existing French system. These 50,000 would consist, as to a third, of professional officers; another third would be civilians who had attained a fairly high standard of military education, based upon a broad general culture; while the balance would consist of non-commissioned officers, raised from the ranks as the reward of merit, and becoming, henceforward, “civil” officers, like the second category. He would thus turn to account, for the purpose of the command, the whole of the intellectual, scientific and moral resources of France at the present stage of her development.

This question of the provision of officers leads Jaurès to a very full discussion of the much debated principle of the unity of origin for all officers.

The chapter need not, however, detain us long, since the more important details upon which he insists are clearly stated in the Army Reorganization Bill which he brought into the French Parliament in November, 1910 (see Chapter XIV). The rest of this Chapter VIII deals mainly with matters which primarily concern France. Jaurès combats the extreme position that, in a truly Republican country, it is necessary that all officers should not only pass through the ranks, but should obtain their promotion by the same process, educational and technical. To any sympathetic observer who should happen to be also a fairly impartial and friendly student of social and democratic evolution, it is particularly interesting to note the remarkable freedom from the mere shibboleths and catchwords of Socialism which Jaurès shows in his treatment of the question how a truly democratic army, representing the strength of the Nation in Arms, eager for peace but resolved to defend national independence, should provide and train its officers.

He has little patience with those theorists of a pseudo-democracy who, with a narrow-minded intolerance of an inequality, even that of intellect and character, insist that the only way to secure the avenue to the commissioned ranks to the proletariat is to reduce to a minimum the educational qualifications and the intellectual standards required of the officer. Against such folly Jaurès protests with vigour and real eloquence. The principle of a common origin for all officers might conceivably be tenable, he thinks, in a communistic society in which private property would have disappeared entirely, so that no class not even the “lower middle,” could secure a better standard of education for its sons than that which was at the disposal of the humblest — and least gifted — child although the great Socialist expresses a very strong doubt whether even a communistic state would not find it necessary, for its own preservation, to confide the direction of its army to men specially trained for that purpose and devoting all their time and their intellect to it; in other words, to professional soldiers.

In any case, (for a society constituted as it is to-day and such as, in spite of socialistic developments and improvements, it is likely to remain), he scouts the idea of lowering the standard of educational and professional attainment in order to place the insufficiently educated and mentally ungifted on the same footing as those who have devoted years of close study to the higher sciences. Such an idea must seem absolutely suicidal, and destructive of all hope of obtaining for the new democratic army, the Nation in Arms, the best, most energetic and most highly cultured minds, which are essentially needed for a profession so difficult and so noble as the profession of arms should be in a nation which entrusts them with the organisation, instruction and education of the whole people for its defence.

In fact, as he points out, the French advocates of absolute unity of origin for all officers do not in the least follow out their theories to their logical consequences. Indeed, so far as the mania for abstract equality goes, it resolves itself mainly into the fact that all officers do, literally, pass through the ranks. But that does not reduce them to a common origin! And this truth is recognized in the system which, while establishing the two years’ service for all (the French law of 1905)[1] only compels students of Saint-Cyr and of the Ecole Polytechnique to do one year in the ranks, after which they pursue their studies for another two years at these schools and then turn to the army, not as privates but as second lieutenants. Nor do they serve even their one year in the ranks quite in the same way as the ordinary private does; for, in spite of every effort to treat them exactly like their comrades, or even to apply a special standard of severity to them, everybody knows that, in virtue of their educational endowment, they are officers in posse. Thus the fiction of unity of origin remains a fiction, as, in Jaurès’ opinion, it ought to be. Indeed, he would do away with it completely and frankly recognize that, in the present state of society, it is no use sacrificing the army and the efficiency of the whole system of national defence by inventing methods to prevent brains and character and education from being attracted to the career of the officer. “With us Socialists,” he writes, “democracy has never stood for mediocrity and a levelling down to a common mean; and, as far as I am concerned, I will never admit that the high preliminary tests or the higher military instruction can be abolished without grave danger for national defence and for the mainspring of French culture.”

1. It must be remembered that Jaures wrote in 1910, long before the Law of 1913 which re-established the “Three Years’ Service. — Editor.