John Lynn in his article “The Evolution of Army Styles in the Modern West” gives an alternative view to conceptualizing the evolution of the armies in the west. Lynn argues that it is institutional factors that are of great importance in understanding the evolution of militaries in the west. Although Lynn does not reject the technological and tactical components in the process of the creation of modern militaries, he does not view these factors as a driving evolutionary force.
The author sees the evolution of western militaries as a continuum that is shaped by what Lynn refers to as “paradigmatic states”. Lynn suggests that other states with similar infrastructure imitate the paradigmatic state either converging in military structure and practice or diverging from the paradigmatic army due to the differences in infrastructure, which does not allow the state to adopt the paradigmatic militaries practices. The article divides the western military evolution from CE 800 to 2000 into seven stages with each being defined by its army style.
The author is in opposition to the revolutionary view and attempts to describe the western military evolution through the core-periphery dichotomy. Lynn as a military historian makes a useful contribution to the literature, but in this article he does not give sufficient information in regards to the driving force behind the evolutionary process. In this article review I will argue that Lynn’s alternative approach is useful in understanding western armies’ history, but this explanation is only partial.
It is not clear whether institutional factors shaped armies or the other way around. Undoubtedly, it is contextual and at certain times institutional forces may have influenced the military structure, but at other times the military organization would have had a great influence on the rest of society. The author undermines the importance of military technological and tactical “revolutions”, without explaining the reasoning behind it.
A more productive approach would have been to realize the importance of institutional factors, but to also understand the crucial role of technology and tactics in the transformation of militaries. Lynn’s insistence on evolutionary approach and rejection of the revolutionary aspects of military history simplifies and weakens his argument. A more integrated approach between evolution and at times acceptance of technological revolution would have strengthened the article. Lynn tries to define and categorize the different army styles in the west from CE 800 to 2000 to describe the evolution of armies in the different stages. The transition of western armies happens at three different rates.
First, gradual evolutionary change progresses by imitation and limited innovation. Second, a more rapid change occurs when the state is not able to imitate and demands substantial innovation to reform the military system. Lastly, radical structural change occurs when the state infrastructure (social, economic, political and cultural) demands the reconstruction of the military system1. This pattern is what Lynn describes as the driving evolutionary force in the military structures of western armies.
The author then goes on to describe the relationship between state infrastructure and the level of imitation. The closer the state is in its infrastructure to the paradigmatic state the easier and more likely it is that “other” states will adopt the military practices of the paradigmatic state, causing a convergence. If the state infrastructure is radically different from the paradigmatic state then these states resort to innovation which could result in a new paradigmatic army to emerge2. Lynn views this process as the core of transformations and change in western militaries.
Lynn then goes on to argue that the process of change, convergence and divergence led the western army through seven army styles: feudal, medieval-stipendiary, aggregate-contact, state-commission, popular-conscript, mass-reserve and volunteer-technical3. Lynn creates a 26 factor core army style matrix to show the seven different styles and the factors that have played a role in the different army styles causing change, convergence or divergence from the paradigmatic armies of the time. The author uses the core-periphery model to show how convergence or divergence takes place.
Countries within the core are more similar to each other and are more likely to imitate and resemble one another’s military structure. The periphery countries being different in infrastructure to the core find it harder to imitate the military structure of the core. Lynn believes that the political, social, economical, and cultural institutions of the country affect the military structure of that particular state. The Cold War for example produced bipolar paradigmatic armies because of the institutional differences between the United States and Russia. Eastern European countries imitated Soviet military structures rather than American ones4.
Lynn basically uses the core-periphery and the paradigmatic army model to put forth the argument of evolution in western armies. Lynn’s social approach to understanding military evolution brings a new light into the historical analysis of militaries. It shows a wider context to view western military transformations from. It is more inclusive of other factors, but comes at the expense of being descriptive and not explanatory enough. Vast literature on western military progression points to the innovations and the revolutionary advancements in technology and tactics.
Lynn underestimates the revolution in military technology and overemphasizes the institutional influences on the militaries of the west. In reality, it is extremely difficult to measure the degree of influence because it is a reciprocal relationship. The revolutions in technology shaped and altered the evolution of western armies and the institutional characters shaped and formed armies as well, it would be too simplistic to say one has more virtue over the other. Lynn does exactly this and views the history of the western militaries in a monolithic framework instead of using multiple frameworks to deepen the understanding.
Lynn does not give an explanation as to how one move’s from one army style to the other. Technological advancements could play a role in this area to explain the change in the trajectory, but the author’s rejection of technological answers does not allow him to do this. Also, Lynn concentrates on institutional factors (recruitment, social composition, and motivation, command administration) to describe his model for evolution yet at various occasions he emphasizes political-economic, military competitiveness, and minimally technological advancements as his explanatory factors for change.
Lynn does not clearly give explanation to what brought on the change in different army styles. In one army style military unreliability, increased political centralization, and increased economic monetarization are emphasized and in other centuries technological improvements or political costs are seen as the most influential. In this way Lynn’s explanatory factors are not internally consistent from century to century. For example, if technology had an impact in one time period than Lynn does not give valid reasoning for why it was not considered important in another century.
One of the most important aspects of militaries is the tool they have to work with. By tools I mean technological and technical tools. The military as an institution is heavily influenced by the technological resources available to it. The military organizes itself around its capabilities and its capabilities come from technological resources the particular military has. For example, the United States in the 21st century is the most technologically advanced military in the world.
The US military organizes itself around its capabilities and as these capabilities advance so do the structure of the military. Lynn however does not consider to the full extent the impact technology has had in transformations in western militaries, which is of most importance to any military. An army fighting with swords will have a dramatically different structure then an army with machine gun power. It is the technological and tactical revolutions and innovations along with the institutional factors that interplay to create, shape and transform armies.
It is wrong to look at a time spam of a millennium in western armies without having to take into serious consideration the technological revolutions that have changed armies and the world for that matter. In conclusion, Lynn’s article is great for a descriptive thought experiment, but to look for explanatory factors in this article would be difficult. It is a good start to viewing military history in a new light and this research will probably start a trend towards other research that tries to explain western military history in different ways.
However, any historical analysis of military history must make a serious account of the technological advancements because militaries are most profoundly influenced by technology. A major difference between the militaries of today and the older ones is the technological capabilities available to them in the contemporary era. Evolution and revolution can be operating in the same stretch of time. Lynn explains the evolution part well, but lacks revolutionary explanation.
It would have been more encapsulating if Lynn had incorporated technological revolutions as part of his explanatory factors in western military transformation. It is very hard to judge whether institutional, political, social or technological reasons gave rise to transformations in western militaries, but one thing that is for sure is that technological influences are too great to omit from an article on history of armies. Bibliography Lynn, John. “The Evolution of Army Style in the Modern West, 800-2000,” The International History Review 18, no. 3 (1996): 505-545.